WARNING! SPOILERS for House of the Dragon 1x06, 'The Princess and The Queen'.
Ever since the day the great stone castle of Harrenhal was completed, many of the people of Westeros have considered it cursed, and for good reason. Lords who take the seat of Harrenhal are prone to meeting an unfortunate end, or facing otherwise bad luck, sometimes before even setting foot inside the castle itself. While it has not often been discussed onscreen, we saw the bad luck associated with Harrenhal throughout Game Of Thrones, and we are seeing it again in the series' prequel, House of The Dragon, through the recent tragic fate of Lord Lyonel Strong and his eldest son, Harwin.
Let's take a look at the history of Harrenhal, and it's dreaded curse.
The Origins Of Harrenhal
In the time before Aegon I conquered Westeros, both the Riverlands and Iron Islands were ruled over by House Hoare. Since taking power, the ruling seat of House Hoare had been a Towerhouse in the town of Fairmarket. However, King Harren Hoare, soon to be known as Harren the Black, longed for something more impressive when he came to his throne. He designed the massive castle of Harrenhal, named for himself, and demanded that the people built it for him.
Harren the Black's cruelty became known throughout all of Westeros. Harrenhal took nearly forty years to build. The wealth and resources of the Riverlands and Iron Islands were drained almost entirely during the build, Harren angered his people by cutting down sacred Weirwood trees for building material, and thousands of workers died, either from pure exhaustion, or falling from the castle's towers. Many Westerosi people believe the blood of those who died building Harrenhal resulted in the curse.
The Burning of Harrenhal, and Aegon I's rule
In what would appear to be the first example of the curse, construction on Harrenhal was completed the very same day that Aegon the soon-to-be Conqueror and his sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, arrived in Westeros with their dragons, Balerion, Vhagar, and Meraxes. The Lords of the Riverlands, angered by all that had been taken from them to build Harrenhal, abandoned Harren the Black to join Aegon in his conquest. Aegon was willing to let Harren keep Harrenhal and the Iron Islands in exchange for bending the knee. Harren, wrongfully believing that the walls of Harrenhal would protect him, refused Aegon's terms. Aegon ordered Balerion to burn Harrenhal, with Harren roasted to death inside, ending the line of House Hoare. The castle itself was left with a permanent twisted, melted appearance.
Aegon gave Lordship of Harrenhal to his Master at Arms, Quenton Qoherys. Unfortunately, the mantle eventually passed to Quenton's son, Gargon, who developed an unpopular habit of attending every wedding in his domain to take advantage of the Lord's right to the First Night. He was eventually murdered, rendering House Qoherys extinct.
Maegor the Cruel, and the fight for Harrenhal
When Maegor I, also known as Maegor the Cruel, came to the Iron Throne, Harrenhal was the seat of his Hand, Lord Lucas Harroway. Harroway's daughter, Alys, was one of Maegor's Queens. When Alys gave birth to a deformed child, Maegor's Mistress, Tyana of Pentos, convinced him that she must have been unfaithful, prompting the King to execute Alys, Lucas, and the entirety of House Harroway, rendering them extinct and Harrenhal Lord-less.
Maegor then decrees that the seat of Harrenhal will go to his strongest Knight, but, rather than a traditional Tourney, the decision is made via a brutal, bloody brawl in the streets of Harroway's Town, named for the dead former Lord. Ser Walton Towers won the seat, but died shortly afterwards from wounds sustained in the brawl. House Towers was extinct entirely two years later.
The Tragedies of House Strong
During the reign of Jahaerys I Targaryen, Harrenhal was granted to House Strong, who became the first House to hold the castle for more than two generations. Sadly, the curse would eventually catch up with the Strongs as well, as seen in episode six of House of the Dragon. Lord Lyonel Strong, Hand of the King to Viserys I Targaryen, escorts his eldest son, Harwin, to Harrenhal to assume his responsibilities as the castle's future Lord after Harwin is dismissed from King's Landing's City Watch over a brawl with Ser Criston Cole. Sadly, both Lyonel and Harwin are killed when a mysterious fire engulfs Harrenhal.
In Fire & Blood, the Targaryen History book on which House of the Dragon is based, the exact cause of the fire is not revealed, though there are rumours that either King Viserys or Corlys Velaryon secretly ordered the death of Harwin Strong in the hope of silencing the rumours that Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey, the sons of Princess Viserys Targaryen and Laenor Velaryon, were secretly Harwin's bastards. In the TV series, the fire was lit by a group of condemned criminals hired by Larys 'Clubfoot' Strong, Lord Lyonel's second son. With his Father and elder brother dead, Larys inherits Lordship of Harrenhal. However, without spoiling the finer details of what's to come, Larys eventually dies without an heir, leaving Harrenhal, once again Lord-less, and all legitimate Strongs wiped out.
The Tourney at Harrenhal
Harrenhal continued to gain and lose Lords over the years, passing through the hands of House Lothston, who became known for unpleasant deeds, and House Whent. During the reign of Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, Lord Walter Whent held a Tourney at Harrenhal to celebrate his daughter's Nameday. Aerys's heir, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, won the Tourney, shocking the realm when he gave the title of Queen of Love and Beauty to Lyanna Stark, rather than his own wife, Elia Martell. For this reason, the Tourney at Harrenhal is seen as an event that sowed the seeds of Robert's Rebellion, and the fall of the Targaryen dynasty.
Meanwhile, the members of House Whent were plagued with fertility issues in subsequent generations. By the time Game of Thrones begins, the Whents are very near extinct.
War of the Five Kings
Harrenhal regularly changes hands throughout Game of Thrones, often offered as a prize by King Joffrey Baratheon in return for service during the war, but those who take the seat, even briefly, fall prey to unpleasant happenings. Harrenhal is first granted to Janos Slynt, the Commander of the City Watch, for his role in thwarting the 'traitor' Ned Stark, but he is stripped of his new title when Acting Hand Tyrion sends him to the Wall in season two, believing him untrustworthy. Slynt is executed in season five, after disobeying the orders of Lord Commander Jon Snow.
Tywin Lannister makes Harrenhal his main base during the War against the Northern armies, with the captive Arya Stark acting as his cupbearer. Tywin is eventually murdered by his son, Tyrion.
Robb Stark and the Northern armies make a stop at Harrenhal shortly before many of them are killed in the Red Wedding. Roose Bolton, who had briefly held Harrenhal for Robb before betraying him to the Lannisters, was, like Tywin, murdered by his own son, Ramsay.
From the end of season two, the official Lord of Harrenhal is Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish, granted the castle by Joffrey in return for securing the Lannister-Tyrell alliance. However, he never actually made it into Harrenhal, as the castle was either occupied by Northern forces, or Littlefinger himself was occupied with other schemes.
These schemes eventually catch up with him, and he is executed by Arya Stark in season seven,
Harrenhal ends Game of Thrones as it began.. Lordless and unwanted, the unluckiest seat in Westeros.