Simon Russell Beale as Sir John Falstaff in The Hollow Crown

What This ‘House of the Dragon’ Casting Means for Harrenhal in Season 2

House of the Dragon has just made its very first round of casting announcements for season 2, which makes sense considering that principal photography is currently underway and, like all works set in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe, there are more or less a million characters walking in and out of the story at all times.

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This first casting announcement for House of the Dragon season 2 introduces four new characters to us. There’s Alyn of Hull, played by actor Abubakar Salim, described as a sailor in the Velaryon fleet who has already served under Lord Corlys in the Stepstones campaign, which we saw in the first part of season 1.

Considering that Alyn is a Velaryon man, he will likely be on the side of the Blacks, so it only makes sense for the second new character to be on the Greens’ side. Actor Freddie Fox will portray Gwayne Hightower, whom we saw—even though he was covered by his High Tower-shaped helm—getting knocked off his horse by Daemon Targaryen during the tourney in the pilot episode. 

The only glimpse at Gwayne Hightower we got in the first season of House of the Dragon
Everyone’s helm game is really on point, it needs to be said (HBO)

In Fire & Blood, Gwayne is just the youngest of Otto’s children and one of Queen Alicent’s brothers. The family tree has been trimmed down for the show, however, resulting in Gwayne becoming the eldest of Otto’s children and his heir—though that doesn’t make him the heir to the Hightower seat, because Otto is a second son. That’s why he’s unhinged, like all second sons in Westeros. Don’t believe me? Just look at Daemon Targaryen. Aemond Targaryen. Oberyn Martell. Tyrion Lannister. Incidentally, these are all characters I love very much, but that’s an issue for another time.

And then there are two characters revolving around House Strong and the castle the family holds, the massive fortress of Harrenhal. The first is Alys Rivers, played by actress Gayle Rankin, whom the in-universe sources describe at times as a skilled healer or a powerful witch. The second is Ser Simon Strong, Harrenhal’s castellan, whose role will be taken on by a pillar of British theatre, actor Simon Russell Beale.

So who are the Strongs at the time of the Dance of the Dragons?

Ser Simon Strong is not the first member of his House that we have encountered in House of the Dragon. Lyonel Strong—Simon’s nephew, portrayed by Gavin Spokes—appeared first as a member of King Viserys Targaryen’s Small Council as the Master of Laws, and then as the King’s Hand once Otto Hightower was stripped of that particular honor.

But even more than Lyonel, we are definitely familiar with his sons: Harwin Strong, known as Breakbones and portrayed by Ryan Corr, and Larys Strong, dubbed the Clubfoot and portrayed by Matthew Needham.

The three members of House Strong we've seen in House of the Dragon so far are Lyonel Strong, Hand of the King, and his sons, Harwin and Larys
Lyonel and his sons perceiving the bad vibes at the celebrations for little Prince Aegon’s nameday (HBO)

Harwin, the eldest and Lyonel’s heir, had the reputation of being the strongest knight in the realm. He arrived in King’s Landing following his father once he was summoned to the Small Council, and he quickly rose through the ranks of the City Watch. 

And of course he also very likely (according to A Song of Ice and Fire canon) and most definitely (according to House of the Dragon) was the biological father of Princess Rhaenyra’s three eldest sons, Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey Velaryon, who all bore a peculiar resemblance to Harwin and were mockingly called “Strongs” exactly because of that.

Sir Harwin Strong, played by Ryan Corr, holds the youngest of his sons with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon
We were robbed of his relationship with Rhaenyra. Robbed I tell you (HBO)

Then there’s Larys, the secondborn, cunning and as good of a player of the game of thrones as they come. Once again, it’s heavily implied in Fire & Blood but outright confirmed in House of the Dragon that it was Larys who orchestrated the fire that killed his father and his brother at Harrenhal—once the two left King’s Landing following Harwin’s outburst against Ser Criston Cole.

As things stand at the end of House of the Dragon season 1, Larys Strong is the head of his House and the Lord of Harrenhal. But Larys is also a trusted member of the Greens, the Master of Whispers in the Small Council, and the Red Keep’s Lord Confessor—the one who’s in charge of getting information out of prisoners by any means necessary—so he can’t exactly travel back and forth every week between King’s Landing and his seat in the Riverlands. And that’s where the castellan steps in.

What is Ser Simon’s role, exactly?

Ser Simon Strong is the current Lord’s great uncle, and as the castellan, he’s in charge of managing and defending House Strong’s seat of Harrenhal in his absence. Considering that the Riverlands are the first to get torched as soon as there’s half a hint of a war in Westeros and that Harrenhal is such a pivotal location throughout the history of the Seven Kingdoms, Ser Simon is definitely going to have the Dance knocking at his doorstep next season.

What follows are spoilers for the main event of House of the Dragon, based on Fire & Blood.

The first faction to conquer Harrenhal is the Blacks. The necessity of taking this particular stronghold was already mentioned in the final episode of season 1, “The Black Queen,” and it’s a feat that is going to be accomplished by Daemon and his dragon Caraxes. Ser Simon surrenders the castle to the prince—because of course he does; the prince comes with a dragon—and is then held hostage by him, together with all the other members of House Strong residing at Harrenhal.

Once the balances of the war shift, however, Harrenhal passes to the Greens when Ser Criston Cole and Prince Aemond Targaryen leave King’s Landing to chase after Daemon in the Riverlands. Sadly, we all know that Aemond has a hard time managing his anger and his desperate thirst for revenge, and that he doesn’t particularly appreciate House Strong—so he accuses Ser Simon of treason by having yielded too easily to Daemon and challenges him to a duel.

A picture of Aemond Targaryen, played by Ewan Mitchell, revealing his famous sapphire eye in House of the Dragon
The most unhinged Targaryen out there is actually quite intertwined with Harrenhal and the Strongs because we love some good irony in this house (HBO)

By then, Ser Simon is an aged knight and Aemond is quite young and very skilled with the blade, as he himself reminded us in “The Green Council.” The prince makes quick work of Simon and for good measure feeds what remains of him to his dragon Vhagar. And then he proceeds to order that every other member of House Strong be put to the sword. Because of course he does—Targaryens are known for their level-headedness, after all. 

Why were there never any Strongs in Game of Thrones?

House Strong was a very ancient and prominent house in the Riverlands, yet we never did see any of its members by the time the events of Game of Thrones rolled around—because there were none left. The Dance completely wiped them out, but one might also say that the Harrenhal curse got to them just as it got any other house that tried to rule it through the years.

Harrenhal was built by Harren the Black, the last King of the Isles and the Rivers. It was—and still is—the largest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, with sprawling walls and high towers and immense halls. It was for that reason that Harrenhal was chosen as the location for the Great Council we saw in the opening scenes of the House of the Dragon pilot because no other hall in the realm could have held all the lords and ladies who attended it. 

Harren the Black believed the castle to be impregnable, but of course, he hadn’t accounted for dragons. Aegon Targaryen and Balerion rained fire upon the castle during the Conquest, twisting it into the half-charred stronghold it remained for all the centuries to follow until the time of Game of Thrones.

A picture of Harrenhal as it appears in Game of Thrones
What a monument to the pride of men (HBO)

Ever since then, the castle has been believed to be cursed. It sits on rich lands, sure, but it’s too expensive to garrison and maintain properly, and every family that elects it as its seat eventually dies out so that no Lord can hold it indefinitely—a sort of constant punishment for Harren the Black’s hubris.

I’ve also always particularly loved Harrenhal for the place it occupies in the story, narratively speaking. It’s a microcosm for feudalism itself, born of violence and pride that endlessly generates more violence and pride, where one family after the another climbs to the highest seat without ever being able to keep it. It’s more or less what the Iron Throne does, but Harrenhal disposes of its ruling families much quicker.

And I also adore how Harrenhal is a castle that is to the nobles of the land what every castle in Westeros is to the smallfolk: A place built with the blood of the smallfolk who worked on its construction for 40 years, that swallows people and never lets them go—all castles are perceived like this to the smallfolk, though some more than others. But Harrenhal is considered cursed and “unique” because it does the same to nobles, Targaryen princes included. It’s brilliant. I can’t wait to see it in action once season 2 of House of the Dragon rolls around.

(image: BBC)


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.