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"Harren the Black thought this castle would be his legacy. The greatest fortress ever built: the tallest towers, the strongest walls. The Great Hall had thirty-five hearths. Thirty-five, can you imagine? Look at it now...a blasted ruin."
Tywin Lannister to Arya Stark[src]

Harrenhal is a huge castle, the largest one in all of Westeros, though it is also the most ill-omened. It is located on the northern shore of the Gods Eye lake at the heart of the Riverlands, south of the River Trident and northwest of King's Landing.




Harrenhal before its destruction

It was built centuries earlier by King Harren the Black. He was betrayed by his bannermen during the War of Conquest and the castle was largely melted by dragonfire: while Harren had thought the castle's walls were tall enough to withstand any assault, he neglected to consider that the Targaryens' dragons could fly right over them. As a result Harrenhal is half-ruined, with stone towers melted and twisted by the flames of the dragons, giving it an ominous and nightmarish appearance. No lord has held the castle for long since Harren's death.

Aegon the Conqueror granted Harrenhal to his bannermen of House Qoherys, which eventually became extinct. They were followed by Houses Towers, Harroway, Strong, and Lothston. All of them, like the Hoares and Qoherys before them, died out, leading to the castle of be considered a cursed place. Several tales are told of Harrenhal, including the tale of Mad Lady Lothston, the flaming ghosts of Harren and his sons, and of servants who go to sleep and are found turned to ashes the following day.[1]

Harrenhal Pin

Map showing the location of Harrenhal on the continent of Westeros.

Harrenhal is seen as something of a white elephant: while it is technically the biggest castle in Westeros, it is so ridiculously large that the surrounding area cannot possibly produce the necessary food to support the massive army needed to fully man it. Rulers of Harrenhal usually lose money and resources simply by possessing it. As a result, Harrenhal is rarely if ever fully manned. Moreover, it was never fully repaired after being blasted with dragonfire by the Targaryens three hundred years ago, which combined with the fact that the garrison is never as large as the fortifications require, means that Harrenhal really isn't one of the most defensibly formidable castles in Westeros.[2]

The surrounding lands subject to Harrenhal are actually some of the richest and most fertile in all of Westeros, being located in the watersheds of both the Trident River and Gods Eye lake. In peacetime, a noble House can actually become quite wealthy from holding Harrenhal - provided that they hire only a skeleton force to defend it instead of a full garrison. It is a testament to the sheer size of the castle that even the most productive farmlands in Westeros cannot support enough troops to fully garrison it. Nonetheless, the unwary often see Harrenhal as a great reward or prize in war, without pausing to consider that there is actually little net profit in holding it.[3]

By the time of the War of the Five Kings, Harrenhal was held by House Whent, until they were stripped of it and the castle was given to House Slynt as a reward for Janos Slynt's betrayal of Eddard Stark.[4] However, due to the area being a warzone, Slynt never actually occupied the castle and was stripped of it when Janos Slynt was sent to the Wall . In Season 2, it is used as the main forward base for Tywin Lannister's army in the Riverlands during his campaign against Robb Stark. However, the Lannisters later withdraw their forces to defend King's Landing in the decisive Battle of the Blackwater. At the beginning of Season 3 the abandoned castle is re-captured by the Northern army (Robb Stark's maternal grandmother was a Whent, so he has some direct claim to the castle), and Robb left a detachment of the Northern army under Roose Bolton to hold the castle.

Season 1

Catelyn Stark recognises a knight of Harrenhal at the Crossroads Inn and asks him if he is loyal to Lady Whent and Catelyn's father, Whent's liege lord. When he replies this is the case, she asks his aid in restraining Tyrion Lannister and receives it.[5]

King Joffrey Baratheon gives the castle of Harrenhal to Janos Slynt, commander of the City Watch, for his part in betraying Eddard Stark.[6]

Following the Lannister defeat at the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Lord Tywin Lannister announces that he will take his army of 30,000 men, capture Harrenhal and use it as the forward base for his army in the Riverlands while Robb Stark's numerically superior forces consolidate near Riverrun.[7]

Season 2


The towers of Harrenhal.

Arya Stark, Gendry, and Hot Pie are taken prisoner and taken to Harrenhal.[8]

Tyrion Lannister offers Harrenhal to Petyr Baelish along with lordship over all of the Riverlands in exchange for his aid in the release of Jaime Lannister.[9]

After the Battle of the Blackwater, King Joffrey grants Harrenhal to Lord Baelish for his aid in arranging the Lannister-Tyrell alliance.[10]

Season 3

The Northern army prepares to seize Harrenhal, only to find that Ser Gregor Clegane has already abandoned the castle and put all the Northern and Riverlands prisoners to the sword.[11]

After receiving news of the death of Lord Hoster Tully, Robb Stark departs from Harrenhal.[12] Lord Roose Bolton remains in command of the ruined castle, along with a portion of the northern army.[13]

Notable residents of Harrenhal

  • Lady Shella Whent, called "Old Lady Whent", the former Lady of Harrenhal and head of House Whent. Presumably deceased.

Lannister occupation

  • Lord Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Warden of the West. Made Harrenhal his seat while waging war in the Riverlands. Now in King's Landing.

Northern occupation

Behind the scenes

Concept artist Kimberley Pope explained the elements she came up with for Harrenhal's design: "I added the thorns, dead trees, and suggested it would be nice to have the lake as a sulphuric crater, toxic and dead, still suffering from the devastation brought about by the burning of Harrenhal." The walls of Harrenhal's major towers are also supposed to appear so large that to characters inside the complex they seem like mountains in the background.[14]

Production Designer Gemma Jackson said that in order to develop the look of Harrenhal, she visited Cambodia and the ruins of Angkor Wat to get a feel for how a vast but crumbling castle complex should appear, with many broken walls overgrown with vines and creepers. Many of the walls were broken when it was burned with dragonfire, and more have since fallen into ruin but not been repaired, because the entire castle is too big to adequately maintain). To emphasize this, the paths through the Harrenhal set were designed to be deliberately confusing, so the camera is never quite sure what is right around the next bend: informal "entrances" to different sections of the castle will suddenly appear as characters pass through large broken gaps in old walls. The Lannister troops have also haphazardly assembled some wooden constructions in their makeshift camp within the older stone walls - and because all of the trees were burned away long ago, they mostly just broke up whatever old rotting furniture or half-burned support beams they could find within the castle itself and hastily hammered them together into new forms. The combined effect gives Harrenhal a confusing, maze-like quality. Jackson also added large broken stones around the bases of many of the walls, to emphasize that they are crumbling into ruin, and their upkeep is so neglected that no one even expends the effort to clear the fallen stones away. [15]

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Harrenhal is a colossal castle consisting of five massive towers (the Tower of Dread, the Widow's Tower, the Wailing Tower, the Tower of Ghosts, and the Kingspyre) and immense walls.

The castle was built over 300 years ago by House Hoare, the ruling house of the Iron Islands which had overrun and conquered the Riverlands. It took three generations to construct. King Harren the Black completed the castle, boasting that it was impregnable. Unfortunately, the day he completed the castle was the same day that Aegon the Conqueror invaded Westeros. His dragons were not obstructed by the towering walls and roasted Harren and all his heirs alive in the tallest tower of the castle, now known as the Kingspyre.

Since Harren's death the castle has passed through a number of other noble houses (Qoherys, Towers, Harroway, Strong, and Lothston), each of which has come to ruin for one reason or another. Also, every castellan to command the castle's garrison has come to a horrific end. This has led to the common superstition in Westeros that Harrenhal is cursed. Prior to the War of the Five Kings House Whent, loyal vassals to Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun, held the lordship of Harrenhal.

Harrenhal is considered extremely ill-reputed place not only due to the alleged curse: according to Jaime Lannister, Harrenhal has seen more horror in its three hundred years than Casterly Rock had witnessed in three thousand.

Due to its central location in contested borderlands, since its construction Harrenhal has fallen to hostile siege more times than any other major castle in Westeros (within the same three hundred year time period). Aegon the Conqueror infamously burned and half-ruined the castle not long after it was finished using his dragon Balerion. It was also attacked during the Faith Militant uprisings - or rather, the early localized rebellions against Aegon I's sons which later coalesced into a wide-scale conflict. A rebel leader styling himself Harren the Red, claiming to be Harren the Black's bastard, established himself at Harrenhal but was crushed. Harrenhal was one of the focal points of the major campaigns during the Dance of the Dragons and changed hands multiple times. It was probably attacked during the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Ironically, the one major continent-wide war which Harrenhal was not directly besieged in was Robert's Rebellion - yet in many ways, the spark of the rebellion began at Harrenhal. It was during a great tournament at Harrenhal that Rhaegar Targaryen controversially crowned Lyanna Stark as the Queen of Love and Beauty - and his later abduction of Lyanna set the entire war in motion.

During the Dance of the Dragons, Harrenhal gained the dubious distinction of being one of the few castles to have been burned out twice with dragonfire. While it is loosely said that it fell to "dragons" during the War of Conquest, only one dragon was actually present - though Aegon I's mount Balerion the Black Dread, the largest Targaryen dragon, was more than sufficient to bring it to ruin. During the Dance, however, which occurred 130 years later, the faction loyal to Aegon II captured Harrenhal, aided by his younger brother Aemond One-Eye riding the dragon Vhagar. Later the strategic situation changed and the army had to withdraw, but to deny use of the castle to their enemies, Aemond used Vhagar to burn out every wooden structure in the entire complex. So ultimately multiple "dragons" did burn Harrenhal - just not at the same time.

By the War of the Five Kings, Harrenhal had fallen into such disrepair that Shella Whent's household had completely abandoned three of the five great towers of the castle, letting them fall into ruin. Even in the two remaining towers, they only occupied and continued to service the bottom fifth of each tower - put another way, only about two fifteenths of the castle's potential living space was actually being used and maintained.

After House Lannister takes Harrenhal, most of its household keep on serving the occupiers. However, Arya Stark, Jaqen H'ghar, Rorge and Biter free the Northern prisoners after Lord Tywin and the Mountain leave the castle under the command of Amory Lorch. The Brave Companions seize the chance to turn on Lorch and deliver the castle to Roose Bolton, who was commanding the Northern forces east of the Trident, with whom they had previously made a deal. Later Roose leaves Harrenhal to attend Edmure Tully's wedding, granting the command of the castle to Vargo Hoat.

According to the TV series official pronunciation guide developed for the cast and crew, "Harrenhal" is pronounced "HAIR-in-hall".

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