Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen wields a sword while entering Harrenhal in House of The Dragon

The Curse of Harrenhal Is Already at Work for Daemon Targaryen

Harrenhal is a hubris project gone horribly wrong!

Harrenhal is a name that Game of Thrones fans know all too well. Ever since it was namedropped in House of the Dragon, we knew what awaited anyone who set foot in that castle: bad luck or even death. For that’s what the curse of Harrenhal is all about.

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The first time we hear of Harrenhal is in House of the Dragon season 1, when it is the seat of House Strong. Lord Lyonel Strong, who is appointed the Hand of the King to Viserys I after the latter fires Ser Otto Hightower, is the lord of Harrenhal. After he and his son, Ser Harwin Strong (the biological father of Rhaenyra’s three elder sons), are burnt alive in a massive fire, there are whispers once again of Harrenhal being cursed.

However, we know that it’s Lord Lyonel’s younger son, the sneaky clubfooted Lord Larys Strong, who is considered responsible for the fire. In fact, in season 2 episode 3, “The Burning Mill,” when Daemon Targaryen arrives to take charge of Harrenhal, Lord Simon Strong, the castellan of Harrenhal and uncle to Lord Lyonel, expresses his suspicions about it to the prince consort.

Daemon Targaryen sits at the dinner table with Lord Simon Strong, castellan of Harrenhal in House of the Dragon

Daemon’s own stay in the black castle is not without its issues—a leaky roof, voices in the air, visions in his head, and a mysterious proclamation of his dark future. Harrenhal appears every bit the creepy, scary, and cursed place full of ghosts that legend claim it to be in this recent episode.

But where did these stories start? What is this curse that haunts the castle?

The Curse of Harrenhal, explained

You remember how in the Harry Potter series, the position of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was cursed because years ago, Voldemort applied for it and Dumbledore denied him? Since then, not a single professor would stay in the position for more than a year. And the last one, Professor Snape, even died as a DADA teacher!

The curse of Harrenhal is pretty much the same. No house has been able to hold Harrenhal permanently, and all of those that have tried have ended up dead or worse. The Strongs died (and more bad luck is yet to befall that family, you wait). In Game of Thrones, too, Cersei bestows Harrenhal upon Lord Janos Slynt (for helping with the Ned Stark business), but he is later stripped of his title by Tyrion Lannister and dispatched to The Wall. Tywin Lannister was commander the castle for a while, and he ended up dead. Ultimately, the castle went to Lord Petyr Baelish, and we know he died a bad death, too.

Why is Harrenhal cursed?

Sigh. A lot of people, and a King’s hubris, died there, that’s why.

Harrenhal, located in the Riverlands, is the biggest castle in the Seven Kingdoms. It’s got five dizzyingly tall towers. According to Fire and Blood, just its kitchen could fit the whole Great Hall of Winterfell. It has a chamber that’s even bigger than the room with the Iron Throne in the Red Keep. And yet, it is just a depreciating piece of real estate that takes more in upkeep and maintenance than the returns it could give. Why? Because it was roasted in dragonfyre.

Harrenhal was built as a hubris project by Harren the Black of House Hoare, son of Halleck, King of the Isles and the Rivers. You remember him from the tapestry in the opening credits of House of the Dragon season 2? That black lord who carried an axe and was found dead on the floor? That’s Harren, who built the castle as a monument to, well, himself. Modest, eh?

The castle took some forty years to build and almost bankrupt the riverlands’ coffers. There were rumours that Harren had mixed human blood into the mortar to build the stone castle. Many labourers and slaves who helped to build it died, and entire weirwood forests (sacred to the Children of the Forest) were cut down to construct it.

A shot of Harrenhal burning and Harren the Black lying dead before it from House of The Dragon opening credits

Harren the Black thought he had built an impregnable fortress. And from the ground, looking up, it sure seemed like that. But what he didn’t anticipate was Aegon the Conquereor flying over on his dragon, Balerion the Black Dread, and raining dragonfyre from the sky. 

So potent was the dragonfyre that it melted the stone, giving the castle and its towers a charred façade. Harren and his sons were in the tallest tower when they were burnt alive, thus ending his house—and, perhaps, beginning the curse. Each of the towers was given a name, and that tower was henceforth aptly named Kingspyre Tower.

There are stories that Harren and his sons haunt the castle. Harren the Black was, of course, only the beginning. Over the years, Harrenhal has been held by many houses, and has also been a waypoint during war times, like when Tywin Lannister stayed there during the War of the Five Kings. Harrenhal has seen a lot of death and bloodshed, only adding to its accursed spirit.

Interestingly, the Great Council held by King Jaehaerys I—that established the rule that only a male heir could inherit the Iron Throne, and declared Viserys King over Princess Rhaenys—was also hosted at Harrenhal. And we all know how doomed that decision turned out to be! With Daemon Targaryen and Aemond Targaryen both desperate to claim dominion over Harrenhal for their respective rulers, the curse of Harrenhal is looming over their heads already.

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Jinal Bhatt
Jinal Bhatt (She/Her) is a staff writer for The Mary Sue. An editor, writer, film and culture critic with 7+ years of experience, she writes primarily about entertainment, pop culture trends, and women in film, but she’s got range. Jinal is the former Associate Editor for Hauterrfly, and Senior Features Writer for Mashable India. When not working, she’s fangirling over her favourite films and shows, gushing over fictional men, cruising through her neverending watchlist, trying to finish that book on her bedside, and fighting relentless urges to rewatch Supernatural.