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The Curse of Harrenhal

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The ruined castle of Harrenhal has a sinister reputation. Every House that is granted the castle soon goes extinct under mysterious circumstances, and every individual that holds it dies as well. Those that have held Harrenhal are often considered up-jumpers, and the ends that they would meet are often considered a result of being overly ambitious. They rose too fast and paid the price. There is a ring of truth to this, but such a characterization is also unfair. Harrenhal is usually given to those from the lower classes of nobility, houses or knights that previously held no castles of their own or had meager holdings. Because it is the largest castle in Westeros, to name any knight or lesser house as lord of Harrenhal is to make them up-jumpers by definition. 

Maybe ambition was the downfall of some Lords of Harrenhal, but every one? That answer seems like a cop-out, and does essentially nothing to further the storyline. 

This theory seeks to propose an alternative. The Houses that have held Harrenhal throughout history were brought down by their own ambitions, but very strangely specific ambitions. Let’s start with the circumstances under which Harrenhal is constructed. 

House Hoare

Harrenhal is constructed by Harren the Black, of House Hoare, King of the Isle and the Rivers. Harren’s grandfather, Harwyn Hoare, was the first Ironborn King to conquer the riverlands and rule as King of the Isle and Rivers. The riverlands were held by the Storm King, Arrec Durrandon. They had been conquered some time earlier by a King Arlan III Durrandon, but by the time that King Arrec comes to power, they are weakly held. With the help of some riverlords, Harwyn defeats Arrec’s forces at Fairmarket and ends the Storm King’s rule over the riverlands. He then takes control of the riverlands himself, ruling from Fairmarket.

Harwyn’s grandson, Harren the Black, desired a seat that better fit a King, and so began the construction of the greatest castle Westeros had ever seen:

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"Harrenhal." Every child of the Trident knew the tales told of Harrenhal, the vast fortress that King Harren the Black had raised beside the waters of Gods Eye three hundred years past, when the Seven Kingdoms had been seven kingdoms, and the riverlands were ruled by the ironmen from the islands. In his pride, Harren had desired the highest hall and tallest towers in all Westeros. Forty years it had taken, rising like a great shadow on the shore of the lake while Harren's armies plundered his neighbors for stone, lumber, gold, and workers. Thousands of captives died in his quarries, chained to his sledges, or laboring on his five colossal towers. Men froze by winter and sweltered in summer. Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters. Harren had beggared the riverlands and the Iron Islands alike to ornament his dream. And when at last Harrenhal stood complete, on the very day King Harren took up residence, Aegon the Conqueror had come ashore at King's Landing. -ACoK -Catelyn I

The construction of Harrenhal itself suggests some supernatural forces at work here. It is built on the shores of the God’s Eye, a very mysterious lake the houses the Isle of Faces. Weirwoods are desecrated and used as rafters for the castle. And on the very day it is completed, Aegon the Conqueror lands in Westeros. 

Many have wondered whether Aegon had invaded Westeros because of Harren the Black, but we’ll leave that up to speculation. While it’s not clear that Harrenhal was the direct cause of Aegon’s invasion of Westeros, it can certainly be said to have indirectly sparked the invasion:

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No king in Westeros was more feared than Black Harren, whose cruelty had become legendary all through the Seven Kingdoms. And no king in Westeros felt more threatened than Argilac the Storm King, last of the Durrandon—an aging warrior whose only heir was his maiden daughter. Thus it was that King Argilac reached out to the Targaryens on Dragonstone, offering Lord Aegon his daughter in marriage, with all the lands east of the Gods Eye from the Trident to the Blackwater Rush as her dowry.

Aegon Targaryen spurned the Storm King's proposal. He had two wives, he pointed out; he did not need a third. And the dower lands being offered had belonged to Harrenhal for more than a generation. They were not Argilac's to give. Plainly, the aging Storm King meant to establish the Targaryens along the Blackwater as a buffer between his own lands and those of Harren the Black.

The Lord of Dragonstone countered with an offer of his own. He would take the dower lands being offered if Argilac would also cede Massey's Hook and the woods and plains from the Blackwater south to the river Wendwater and the headwaters of the Mander. The pact would be sealed by the marriage of King Argilac's daughter to Orys Baratheon, Lord Aegon's childhood friend and champion.

These terms Argilac the Arrogant rejected angrily. Orys Baratheon was a baseborn half brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered, and the Storm King would not dishonor his daughter by giving her hand to a bastard. The very suggestion enraged him. Argilac had the hands of Aegon's envoy cut off and returned to him in a box. "These are the only hands your bastard shall have of me," he wrote.

Aegon made no reply. Instead he summoned his friends, bannermen, and principal allies to attend him on Dragonstone...

On the seventh day, a cloud of ravens burst from the towers of Dragonstone to bring Lord Aegon's word to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. To the seven kings they flew, to the Citadel of Oldtown, to lords both great and small. All carried the same message: from this day forth there would be but one king in Westeros. Those who bent the knee to Aegon of House Targaryen would keep their lands and titles. Those who took up arms against him would be thrown down, humbled, and destroyed. -TWOIAF, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest

It is the conflict between the Storm King and the King of the Isle and Rivers that initially ropes Aegon into Westerosi politics. In the few centuries before Aegon’s Landing, the primary power struggle occuring in Westeros was between the Ironborn and the Storm Kings. The Storm King’s reach the height of their power under Arlan III, who conquered the riverlands. Arrec Durrandon loses the riverlands sometime later to Harwyn Hoare, now King of the Isle and Rivers. Harwyn’s grandson, Harren the Black, is the most feared lord in Westeros and beggars the riverlands to construct the grandest castle in the Seven Kingdoms. Argilac Durrandon, grandson of Arrec, leads an army against Volantis in the disputed lands, and kills the King of the Reach, Garse VII Gardener, but yet is still frightened of Harren’s control over the riverlands, and the grand castle of Harrenhal that he’s constructing. 

This conflict between the Ironborn and the Stormlands is interesting for a few reasons. The Ironborn are unique in Westeros in that they do not worship the Seven or the Old gods, but worship the Drowned God. And a second deity:

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Though most ironborn have naught but scorn for the Seven of the south and the old gods of the North, they do recognize a second deity. In their theology, the Drowned God is opposed by the Storm God, a malignant deity who dwells in the sky and hates men and all their works. He sends cruel winds, lashing rains, and the thunder and lightning that bespeak his endless wroth. -The Storm God, AWOIAF

So this conflict between the Ironborn and the Storm Kings may not be coincidental, and may have roots much deeper than just the recent conflict over the riverlands. In fact, House Durrandon tells an origin story that sounds extremely similar:

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The legends surrounding the founder of House Durrandon, Durran Godsgrief, all come to us through the singers. The songs tell us that Durran won the heart of Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. By yielding to a mortal's love, Elenei doomed herself to a mortal's death, and for this the gods who had given her birth hated the man she had taken for her lord husband. In their wroth, they sent howling winds and lashing rains to knock down every castle Durran dared to build, until a young boy helped him erect one so strong and cunningly made that it could defy their gales. The boy grew to be Brandon the Builder; Durran became the first Storm King. With Elenei at his side, he lived and reigned at Storm's End for a thousand years, or so the stories claim. -TWOIAF -The Stormlands: House Durrandon.

So the origins of House Durrandon begin with a Sea God and a Wind Goddess having a daughter named Elenei. Durran Godsgrief “wins her heart”, but earns the enmity of the sea god and wind goddess. They send storms to tear down every castle he tried to build, until he eventually built Storm’s End, some say with the help of Bran the Builder. After building Storm’s End, he reigned as Storm King for a thousand years, the stories claim, as his children did after him, all the way until Argilac the Arrogant. 

The myths surrounding the creation of Storms End are much more fleshed out that the mythical conflict between the Drowned God and the Storm God, but they are a lot alike. . Other than the greater detail in the story of Elenei, the only main difference is that the Ironborn worship a Drowned God, and the story of Elenei speaks of a Sea God. Although this Sea God is defeated in the story of Elenei, so we might wonder whether the Sea God from the myths of the Stormlands became the Drowned God that the Ironborn worship. Both the Stormlands and the Ironborn seem to have a deep and ancient history of hatred between the two, stemming from this conflict between the sea and the storms. 

However, the conflict between the Storm Kings and the Ironborn is not meant to be the main topic of this post. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to the more LotR-esque aspect of the story of Elenei. 

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By yielding to a mortal's love, Elenei doomed herself to a mortal's death….Durran became the first Storm King. With Elenei at his side, he lived and reigned at Storm's End for a thousand years, or so the stories claim. -TWOIAF, The Stormlands: House Durrandon

I would not be the first to point out the similarities between this story and the story of Arwen in Lord of the Rings:

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Arwen reciprocated Aragorn's love, and on the mound of Cerin Amroth they committed themselves to marry each other. In making that choice, Arwen gave up the Elvish immortality available to her as a daughter of Elrond and agreed to remain in Middle-earth instead of traveling to the Undying Lands. -”Arwen”, Wikipedia

Elenei and Arwen gave up their immortality when they married a mortal man, and doomed themselves to a mortal death. They became, for lack of a better word, *lesser*, in a spiritual or maybe divine dense. In contrast, Durran Godsgrief seems to gain something, to become somehow greater by virtue of having married the daughter of two gods; the stories claim that he ruled for a thousand years. We can’t be sure of what truth there is to Durran’s lifespan, but this is quite similar to the Lord of the Rings:

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Eventually the War of Wrath ended. As Elros and Elrond were Peredhil, or Half-elven, and only in these two remained the line of heroic chieftains of Men in the First Age. The Valar gave to Elrond and Elros the choice of which kindred they would belong to. Elros chose to be of Man-kind and as such he was granted a great life-span. -Elros, Lord of the Rings Wikia.

Elros came to rule the Numenoreans, who were raised to a similar part-elf life existence that included longer life-spans:

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As mentioned, the Númenóreans were the descendants of the Edain, the Elf-friends of the First Age. As a reward for their services during the War of Wrath, they were given the grand island of Númenor as their abiding place. They also received longer life (200 years average), greater height, and greater wisdom. -Numenoreans, LotR Wikia

The only descendants of the Numenoreans left by the time of the LotR trilogy are the Dunedain, like Aragon, which might even be considered pretty similar to the name Durrandon. Whether or not GRRM intended that is irrelevant, but what is clear that is that the story of Elenei involves much more than just the conflict between the sea/wind gods and the Storm King, and seems to be GRRM's version of a similar story told by Tolkien. 

Elenei, the daughter of gods, becomes something lesser when she “loses her heart” to Durran, while Durran seems to become part god, at least greater than the normal human in some way. It is this dynamic that will be the main topic of this theory, an exchange of something supernatural between man and woman, one benefiting from the other. 

Catelyn Stark tells us a story of Elenei that is a lot more specific than Maester Yandel:

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The songs said that Storm's End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King, who had won the love of the fair Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. On the night of their wedding, Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal's love and thus doomed herself to a mortal's death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath and sent the winds and waters to batter down Durran's hold. His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to seabut Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.

Five more castles he built, each larger and stronger than the last, only to see them smashed asunder when the gale winds came howling up Shipbreaker Bay, driving great walls of water before them. His lords pleaded with him to build inland; his priests told him he must placate the gods by giving Elenei back to the sea; even his smallfolk begged him to relent. Durran would have none of it. A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder. No matter how the tale was told, the end was the same. Though the angry gods threw storm after storm against it, the seventh castle stood defiant, and Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei dwelt there together until the end of their days. -Catelyn III, ACoK

Elenei gave her Maidenhead to Durran on her wedding night, and for that she became mortal. The gods were angry with this and killed Durran’s whole family, except for Durran. Durran was protected by Elenei from her parents wroth, and eventually built a castle strong enough to withstand the might of his divine in-laws. 

It is this dynamic that I want you to keep in mind as we read through the history of Harrenhal; Elenei losing her virginity on her wedding night and becoming mortal, while her husband became a grand and mythical King said to rule for a thousand years. Harrenhal was built amidst a conflict between two cultures that both seem to believe in some version of this myth. 

If this conflict between the Sea God/Drowned God and the Storm Kings does have some deeper magical meaning, it makes sense that Aegon the Conqueror chooses to intervene in Westeros right when this conflict seems destined to reach its boiling point; the very day that Harren the Black completes Harrenhal. It would also make sense that once Aegon lands, he more or less moves on Harrenhal immediately. He takes a few castles in the crownlands first, Rosby and Stokeworth, and Lords Darklyn and Mooton march on him in the first real battle of the Conquest, but all of these were necessities; in order to invade anywhere else, they must have a foothold in Westeros. After establishing that foothold, the first King that they march against is Harren the Black in Harrenhal. And Aegon seems quite prepared to eliminate his entire line when he treats with Harren, as if he knows that there is something truly dark about the black blood of House Hoare:

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Aegon: Yield now and you may remain as Lord of the Iron Islands. Yield now, and your sons will live to rule after you. I have eight thousand men outside your walls.

Harren: What is outside my walls is of no concern to me. Those walls are strong and thick.

Aegon: But not so high as to keep out dragons. Dragons fly.

Harren: I built in stone. Stone does not burn.

Aegon: When the sun sets, your line shall end. -TWOIAF, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest

Aegon then took flight on Belarion, and roasted the King and his surviving sons alive in their towers made of stone. As promised, the Black Line of House Hoare ended that night. The greatest castle in Westeros was ruined not long after it was completed; the stone that Harren thought impregnable was melted and charred by the heat of Belarion’s flames, as the King and his sons were cooked alive within the tallest tower of the castle. 

We could guess at the significance of Harren and his sons burning in Harrenhal, but right now it would be just that, a guess. Instead, let’s look at the history of Harrenhal after Aegon’s Conquest, and see if that provides any answers. All the while, keep in mind the story of Elenei and Durran Godsgrief. 

House Qoherys

After House Hoare goes extinct, Harrenhal becomes a “white elephant”:

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It is too big to garrison effectively and too expensive to maintain. Harren allegedly mixed human blood into the mortar for the stonework; some believe that the castle is cursed and haunted due to Harren's hubris and the horrors that have occurred within the castle's walls, with the early deaths of its many rulers as proof. The curse is thought to prevent any lord from holding Harrenhal indefinitely. -Harrenhal, AWOIAF

So there is a logistical reason why Harrenhal should remain abandoned, and why no one has success holding it; it’s simply too big to garrison or maintain. But this still is not a sufficient explanation of the castle’s history, as we’ll soon see. Harren had even allegedly mixed blood with the mortar, which seems far fetched but may mean that blood sacrifice was somehow involved in its construction. Some say that he practiced horrors inside the towers of Harrenhal, and for this the castle is haunted. Whatever the truth, the houses of Harrenhal certainly meet a misfortune greater than just the logistical hurdles of maintaining the castle. Whatever the source of the Curse of Harrenhal, it seems almost certainly supernatural, and tied to the Black Blood that lived and died there. 

However, the biggest castle in Westeros can’t be left empty and unprotected in the middle of the riverlands, particularly when Aegon is trying to conquer and rule a continent. So Aegon grants Harrenhal to Quenton Qoherys, his master-at-arms on Dragonstone. House Qoherys is of Valyrian descent. Although Harrenhal is the largest castle in the realm, and certainly in the riverlands, and even though it is now commanded by one of Aegon’s closest friends and supporters, he names Lord Tully Lord Paramount of the Trident over Lord Quenton Qoherys. This could be seen as evidence that Aegon knew Harrenhal might be cursed, and didn’t want to give the new lord of this cursed castle too much power, although that’s speculative. If Aegon did know that the castle may be cursed, it also may be interesting that Aegon granted the castle to a House of Valyrian descent, one that might be best able to resist whatever darkness lies within the castle walls. 

What is more important is that House Qoherys goes on to rule Harrenhal until the reign of King Aenys I, when several rebellions threaten the rule of the new King. The grandson of Lord Quenton ruled Harrenhal, Gargon Qoherys. Gargon had a horrible...habit:

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He was notorious for his appetite for women and became known as the Guest for his habit of attending every wedding within his domains, so that he might take advantage of the lord's right to the first night-TWOIAF, The Riverlands: House Tully

The ‘First Night’ is a tradition in Westeros, a horribly backwards tradition:

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The first night is a mostly extinct marriage tradition in Westeros. Under this tradition, when commoners or peasants marry, their lord or king might bed the bride on the first night. This tradition sometimes even allows kings to bed the wives of nobles on their wedding night, although this rarely takes place, as a shrewd ruler would be aware of the resentment this would cause and how easily it could make enemies. -First Night, AWOIAF

So Gargon is deflowering every woman that he can on their wedding night. Think back to the story of Elenei, where Durran become somehow greater upon taking Elenei’s maidenhead, while she became somehow lesser; he became Storm King, allegedly ruling for a thousand years, while Elenei became mortal. The surface interpretation of Gargon’s behavior is that he was just lusty and cruel. Though there may be something more to his actions. 

For now, we’ll move on to the next house to be granted Harrenhal. 

House Harroway
 

After the extinction of House Qoherys in 37 AC, King Aenys I grants Harrenhal to House Harroway, and Lucas Harroway becomes Lord of Harrenhal. Two years later, in 39 AC, then-Prince Maegor took Lucas’ daughter, Alys Harroway, as his second bride. For this he was exiled to Pentos for five years, and took Alys into exile with him. Maegor returned to King’s Landing two years earlier to seize the throne for himself, and Alys would return from Pentos a short time later, along with an Essosi sorceress named Tyanna of the Tower. Alys’ father, Lord Lucas Harroway, was named Hand of the King.

Throughout his life, King Maegor would struggle and fail to produce an heir. He had Ceryse Hightower, Alys Harroway, and later Tyanna, all as his brides by 42 AC, yet none gave birth to a living child. For a while it would seem as if Alys might give Maegor the heir he wanted:

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For a brief while in 44 AC, it seemed as if the king might soon have that son he desired so desperately. Queen Alys announced she was with child, and the court rejoiced. Grand Maester Desmond confined Her Grace to her bed as she grew great with child, and took charge of her care, assisted by two septas, a midwife, and the queen’s sisters Jeyne and Hanna. Maegor insisted that his other wives serve his pregnant queen as well. 

During the third moon of her confinement, however, Lady Alys began to bleed heavily from the womb and lost the child. When King Maegor came to see the stillbirth, he was horrified to find the boy a monster, with twisted limbs, a huge head, and no eyes. “This cannot be my son,” he roared in anguish. Then his grief turned to fury, and he ordered the immediate execution of the midwife and septas who had charge of the queen’s care, and Grand Maester Desmond as well, sparing only Alys’s sisters. -Sons of the Dragon

Alys gives birth to a child, if it can be called that. It was a monster with twisted limbs and no eyes. Maegor is beset with grief, if he can feel such an emotion, and has the midwife, septas, and Grand Maester that attended to her all executed. 

However, his third wife, Tyanna of the Tower, convinces Maegor that there is another reason that Alys’ child was malformed:

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It is said that Maegor was seated on the Iron Throne with the head of the grand maester in his hands when Queen Tyanna came to tell him he had been deceived. The child was not his seed. Seeing Queen Ceryse return to court, old and bitter and childless, Alys Harroway had begun to fear that the same fate awaited her unless she gave the king a son, so she had turned to her lord father, the Hand of the King. On the nights when the king was sharing a bed with Queen Ceryse or Queen Tyanna, Lucas Harroway sent men to his daughter’s bed to get her with child. Maegor refused to believe. He told Tyanna she was a jealous witch, and barren, throwing the grand maester’s head at her. “Spiders do not lie,” the mistress of the whisperers replied. She handed the king a list of names.

Written there were the names of twenty men alleged to have given their seed to Queen Alys. Old men and young, handsome men and homely ones, knights and squires, lords and servants, even grooms and smiths and singers; the King’s Hand had cast a wide net, it seemed. The men had only one thing in common: all were men of proven potency known to have fathered healthy children. 

Under torture, all but two confessed. One, a father of twelve, still had the gold paid him by Lord Harroway for his services-Sons of the Dragon

So Tyanna convinces Maegor that Alys’ child was not his, but was born from one of the other men she had been sleeping with instead. However, there is no scientific, biological reason that Alys’ fidelity would have any relationship to the health of her child. Tyanna’s logic assumes either that Maegor’s child could not have been disfigured, or that a random commoner’s child with Alys would necessarily be disfigured. Of course, perhaps she’s wrong, or lying. But if she is right, there is no biological, science based mechanism that would cause her baby to be born a monster simply because she had an affair. Tyanna is a sorceress, so maybe that shouldn’t be unexpected

Whether or not she is wrong or lying about Alys’ child, she definitely seemed to be right about Alys’ affair. Most of the men confessed, and one even still had the gold he was paid. Maegor responds pretty harshly:

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The questioning was carried out swiftly and secretly, so Lord Harroway and Queen Alys had no inkling of the king’s suspicions until the Kingsguard burst in on them. Dragged from her bed, Queen Alys saw her sisters killed before her eyes as they tried to protect her. Her father, inspecting the Tower of the Hand, was flung from its roof to smash upon the stones below. Harroway’s sons, brothers, and nephews were taken as well. Thrown onto the spikes that lined the dry moat around Maegor’s Holdfast, some took hours to die; the simple-minded Horas Harroway was said to linger for days. The twenty names on Queen Tyanna’s list soon joined them, and then another dozen men, named by the first twenty. 

The worst death was reserved for Queen Alys herself, who was given over to her sister wife Tyanna for torment. Of her death we will not speak, for some things are best buried and forgotten. Suffice it to say that her dying took the best part of a fortnight, and that Maegor himself was present for all of it, a witness to her agony. After her death, the queen’s body was cut into seven parts, and her pieces mounted on spikes above the seven gates of the city, where they remained until they rotted.

King Maegor himself departed King’s Landing, assembling a strong force of knights and men-at-arms and marching on Harrenhal, to complete the destruction of House Harroway. The great castle on the Gods Eye was lightly held, and its castellan, a nephew of Lord Lucas and cousin to the late queen, opened his gates at the king’s approach. Surrender did not save him; His Grace put the entire garrison to the sword, along with every man, woman, and child he found to have any drop of Harroway blood. Then he marched to Lord Harroway’s Town on the Trident and did the same there. -The Sons of the Dragon

King Maegor doesn’t just kill Alys, but he ruthlessly exterminates the entirety of House Harroway for the sins of Lucas and Alys. Alys’ death is particularly notable, as maester Yandel specifically avoids speaking about what was done to Alys during her torture. We do know that in the end, Alys’ body was cut into pieces and left to rot. 

Now anyone that has studied a decent bit of Greek Mythology will recognize this act as ‘sparagmos’:

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Sparagmos (Ancient Greek: σπαραγμός, from σπαράσσω sparasso, "tear, rend, pull to pieces") is an act of rending, tearing apart, or mangling, usually in a Dionysian context.

In Dionysian rite as represented in myth and literature, a living animal, or sometimes even a human being, is sacrificed by being dismembered.

There are some really interesting parallels between ancient greek Eleusinian, Dionysian, and Orphic mysteries and the mysteries of ASOIAF, but that’s a discussion for another time. The reason that this greek concept of sparagmos is interesting can be found right on it’s wikipedia page that we linked to above:

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Interpreting the ritual through the lens of the Freudian Oedipus complex, Catherine Maxwell identifies sparagmos as a form of castration, particularly in the case of Orpheus.

So the ancient greek concept of sparagmos was a form of castration. Alys is a woman, so she of course cannot be castrated in a traditional sense, but she can certainly be dismembered. 

If we view this dismemberment as an act of sparagmos, a form of castration, then some pretty simple parallels can be drawn between House Harroway and House Qoherys; both screwed the wrong people, literally, and were castrated and exterminated for it. 

After House Harroway is eliminated, Maegor declares that the strongest of his knights should receive Harrenhal. Ser Walton Towers receives the castle, but House Towers will fail in two generations. There is no reason given for why House Towers apparently just spontaneously failed, and no mention of them between gaining and losing Harrenhal, so for the moment we’ll pass over House Towers. Although, towards the end of this theory we will return to this house with an explanation. 

House Strong

After House Towers mysteriously died out, Harrenhal is awarded to Lyonel Strong. King Viserys I eventually appoints Lyonel as his Hand of the King. Lyonel’s son, Ser Harwin Strong, was Commander of the City Watch, and also sworn shield to Princess Rhaenyra. It was also rumored that he was much more than that to Rhaenyra, for when she married Laenor Velaryon and gave birth to three stout young boys with brown hair and brown eyes, many speculated that Harwin Strong was the father instead of Laenor. Adding to the rumor was a widely held belief that Laenor preferred his own gender over woman. 

These rumors about the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children would go on to spark, or at least contribute to, the civil war known as the Dance of Dragons. Harwin and Lyonel Strong would never live to see the war, however, as both are killed in a fire at Harrenhal in 120 AC. 

The year 120 AC sees string of deaths that are very fortunate for Princess Rhaenyra and her uncle Prince Daemon. It is known as the Year of the Red Spring for the many deaths that occurred. Daemon is married to Laena Velaryon, the sister of Laenor, who dies after giving birth to a stillborn child. Laenor is slain in a quarrel with his friend, or possibly lover, Qarl Correy, in Spicetown. Harwin and Lyonel Strong are killed along with the rest of House Strong, as we had mentioned. 

To top it all off, Daemon and Rhaenyra wed that same year. Is it a coincidence that Daemon’s wife, Rhaenyra’s husband, and Rhaenyra’s rumored lover all died within the same year, and Daemon and Rhaenyra married that same year as well? I think not. The Testimony of Mushroom even goes so far as to accuse Daemon of arranging these murders, and the murder of Qarl Correy as well, who was never seen again after the murder of Laenor:

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According to The Testimony of Mushroom, Prince Daemon Targaryen paid Correy to kill Laenor to free Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen for himself and offered him escape from Spicetown but had him murdered and the body disposed

Septon Eustace similarly accuses Prince Daemon of killing the Strongs as well:

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Next to perish were the elder Strongs. Lyonel Strong, Lord of Harrenhal and Hand of the King, accompanied his son and heir Ser Harwin on his return to the great, half-ruined castle on the lakeshore. Shortly after their arrival, a fire broke out in the tower where they were sleeping, and both father and son were killed, along with three of their retainers and a dozen servants. The cause of the fire was never determined. Some put it down to simple mischance, whilst others muttered that Black Harren’s seat was cursed, and brought only doom to any man who held it. Many suspected the blaze was set intentionally. Mushroom suggests that the Sea Snake was behind it, as an act of vengeance against the man who had cuckolded his son. Septon Eustace, more plausibly, suspects Prince Daemon, removing a rival for Princess Rhaenyra’s affections. Other have put forth the notion that Larys Clubfoot might have been responsible; with his father and elder brother dead, Larys Strong became the Lord of Harrenhal.

Whatever set the blaze at Harrenhal, it seems awfully coincidental that Rhaenyra’s rumored lover’s family is killed in this same year when everyone standing between Rhaenyra and Daemon seem to be dying. The same year they marry. Larys Strong is the last member of House Strong, and he is executed at the end of the Dance by Cregan Stark. The Dance itself was, in many ways, rooted in the rumors about Rhaenyra’s children. 

This is a very chaotic time period, and the truth of the allegations that are thrown around can’t be known for sure. However, there seems to be only one reason that House Strong is relevant to the drama surrounding the throne, and only one reason it was roped into the deaths of the Year of the Red Spring; because Harwin was the rumored father of Rhaenyra’s child. 

Just like House Qoherys and House Harroway, a member of House Strong had sex with the wrong person, or at least was so accused, and this almost certainly led to their downfall. Lyonel Strong also rises all the way to Hand of the King before he’s killed, just like Lucas Harroway. 

House Lothston

After the Dance of Dragons, King Aegon III rules with his brother, Prince Viserys, as Hand. Viserys’ son, Prince Aegon, later King Aegon IV, is found abed with Falena Stokeworth. Viserys apparently doesn’t approve of this relationship:

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Lady Falena “made him a man” in 149, when Aegon was fourteen. When a Kingsguard found them abed together in 151, his father wed Falena to his master-at-arms, Lucas Lothston, and persuaded the king to name Lothston Lord of Harrenhal in order to remove Falena from court. However, over the next two years, Aegon paid frequent visits to Harrenhal. -TWOIAF, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV

So Falena is married off to Lucas Lothston, and both take their seat at Harrenhal. This is meant to keep Falena away from Aegon, but Aegon makes frequent visits to Harrenhal anyways. Falena never gave Aegon any acknowledged children, but there were rumors that these frequent visits spawned one child: Jeyne Lothston:

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Lady Jeyne Lothston, daughter of Lady Falena, the king’s first mistress, by either Lord Lucas Lothston or the king himself. -TWOIAF

Jeyne Lothston, while possibly being King Aegon IV’s daughter, was also his eighth mistress. It was said that Aegon slept with mother and daughter at the same time:

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Jeyne was brought to court by her mother in 178, when she was fourteen. Aegon made Lord Lothston his new Hand, and it was said (but never proved) that he enjoyed mother and daughter together in the same bed. -TWOIAF

Lucas Lothston is also made King Aegon’s Hand while he presumably has sex with Lucas’s wife and supposed daughter. Eventually all three are sent from King’s Landing because Aegon gives Jeyne the pox. 

But as generations pass the Lothstons gain a sinister reputation. 

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Ser Illifer paid him no mind. "A barefoot man looks for a boot, a chilly man a cloak. But who would cloak themselves in shame? Lord Lucas bore that bat, the Pander, and Manfryd o' the Black Hood, his son. Why wear such arms, I ask myself, unless your own sin is fouler still . . . and fresher." He unsheathed his dagger, an ugly piece of cheap iron. "A woman freakish big and freakish strong who hides her own true colors. Creigh, behold the Maid o' Tarth, who opened Renly's royal throat for him." -Brienne I, AFFC

It is unknown whether this Lord Lucas is the same as the Lord Lucas that married Falena, but regardless, his deeds are considered dark and shameful. His son Manfryd is even referred to as Manfryd of the Black Hood. 

Eventually, House Lothston meets its downfall during the reign of King Maekar I. 

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Their line was ended in madness and chaos when Lady Danelle Lothston turned to the black arts during the reign of King Maekar I. -TWOIAF, The Riverlands: House Tully

There are rumors of her evil deeds in AFfC:

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"My old ma used to say that giant bats flew out from Harrenhal on moonless nights, to carry bad children to Mad Danelle for her cookpots -Brienne II, AFFC

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He found himself remembering tales he had first heard as a child at Casterly Rock, of mad Lady Lothston who bathed in tubs of blood and presided over feasts of human flesh within these very walls. -Jaime III, AFFC

So the line of House Lothston ends with Mad Danelle Lothston, who had turned to the dark arts and was killed by King Maekar I. 

Like the other houses of Harrenhal, the Lothstons were killed. And like Houses Harroway and (probably) Strong, they were killed by the Targaryens, the very people like appointed them to the seat in the first place. 

Also like Houses Harroway and Strong, one of their members, two actually, slept with the King or heir to the throne. Lord Lucas Lothston was also named Hand of the King, just like Lord Lucas Harroway and Lord Lyonel Strong. 

Perhaps there is some connection between Falena and Jeyne sleeping with King Aegon IV, and Mad Danelle Lothston eventually going crazy and turning to the Dark Arts. Even if there is not, and it was simply the mysterious curse of Harrenhal that drove the Lothstons crazy, Falena sleeping with Aegon is still the reason that they went sent to Harrenhal in the first place. 

Which means that just like House Qoherys, House Harroway, and House Strong, House Lothston was destroyed because one of their members had sex with the wrong person. This is a pretty clear pattern. The Houses that hold Harrenhal are definitely overly ambitious, but overly ambitious in a very specific way. Each of these houses has a member that has sex with the King or the King’s heir and another that rises to position as Hand of the King. House Qoherys is the only exception, but Gargon’s death can be even more so attributed to sleeping with the wrong women, just not a member of the royal family. 

A pretty strong pattern seems to be emerging. In light of this, we can possibly revisit House Towers.

House Towers

We have very little information about how House Towers met its end. We know that Ser Walton Towers won Harrenhal in a melee, but died shortly after, and two generations later House Towers was extinct. A generations is somewhere between 20-25 years, meaning two generations is somewhere around 40 or 50 years. So House Towers died out sometime approximately around 90 AC, late in the reign of King Jaehaerys I. 

The death of every other house that ruled Harrenhal has been caused by some member sleeping with someone they shouldn’t have, usually a member of the royal family. If that’s the case, perhaps this is why we know very little about the extinction of House Towers; the people responsible had good reason to keep their involvement secret. 

If House Towers is to fit into the same pattern as the other houses of Harrenhal, we would expect to see evidence of a Targaryen having a secret affair around the time that House Towers went extinct, sometime late in the first century AC. 

Meet Gael Targaryen, the Winter Child, the last child of King Jaehaerys I:

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She disappeared from court in 99 AC, allegedly dying of a summer fever, but in fact she had drowned herself in the Blackwater after having been seduced and abandoned by a traveling singer, leaving her with nothing but a growing belly. -'Gael Targaryen', AWOIAF

Gael commits suicide by drowning herself in the Blackwater because she was pregnant with a bastard child. Summer fever is the official excuse, but those in the Red Keep must have seen her stomach, some maester must have attended to her to check if she was pregnant in the first place. The fact that she was pregnant isn’t a secret you can keep from the maesters and others in the Red Keep. 

What you can keep secret, is the real father. If Jaehaerys did not want the identity of the true father to become known, blaming some unknown traveling singer is a decent cover. House Towers coincidentally comes to their end around this same time, and the reason why that happened is a complete mystery. As if the real people behind their extinction wanted to keep their involvement a secret. 

What if Gael was impregnated by a member of House Towers, and King Jaehaerys orchestrated their elimination in response, just like every other Lord of Harrenhal. He blamed it on a traveling singer, not wanting the realm to know what really happened, and the reason for the extinction of House Towers was lost to history. 

Which brings us to Gael herself. Gael was a simple-minded woman. In that state, whatever her degree of disability, it is somewhat strange that she was so aware of the social consequences of fathering a bastard that she would take her own life. However, it is completely understandable that she would take her own life...if her own father had just orchestrated the death of her lover and his entire family. We wouldn’t expect someone that was ‘simple-minded’ to understand the social repercussions of having a bastard child, but we would certainly still expect them to grieve at the loss of a loved one. 

Not only is it possible that House Tower falls into the same pattern as the rest of the Houses of Harrenhal, but if it does, it fully explains the circumstance around Gael Targaryen’s suicide.

The one common thread connecting Houses Qoherys, Harroway, (maybe) Towers, Strong, and Lothston is that they all had sex with someone that should not have, and all meet their end as a result. Many of them rose in influence at the same time, many Lords of Harrenhal serving as Hand of the King right around the time that their children were sleeping with a member of the royal family. Perhaps these lords were using sex to work their way to the top in the same way that people still do today, and have always done. However, some of the actions of the houses of Harrenhal suggest that some dark magic is involved instead. 

The Lothstons turn to dark magic, supposedly cannibalism and blood sacrifice. Alys Harroway's stillborn children are blamed on her affair, despite the fact that there is no non-magical way that an affair could affect a woman’s children in such a way. The reign of Maegor is full of strange occurrences that are implied to be related to sex in some way. The story of Elenei is a lesser known myth-based example of magic related to sex, but there is a much more familiar example within the text of the main series. 

Melisandre

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Davos raised a hand to shield his eyes, and his breath caught in his throat. Melisandre had thrown back her cowl and shrugged out of the smothering robe. Beneath, she was naked, and huge with child. Swollen breasts hung heavy against her chest, and her belly bulged as if near to bursting. "Gods preserve us," he whispered, and heard her answering laugh, deep and throaty. Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone.

Panting, she squatted and spread her legs. Blood ran down her thighs, black as ink. Her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both. And Davos saw the crown of the child's head push its way out of her. Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre's straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat. He had only an instant to look at it before it was gone, twisting between the bars of the portcullis and racing across the surface of the water, but that instant was long enough.

He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who'd cast it. -Davos II, ACoK

Melisandre gives birth to a shadow child, fathered by Stannis. The birth of this shadow assassin comes at a cost to Stannis, as if Melisandre has taken something from him to father the shadow child:

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"Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and **the king's fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him." Melisandre moved closer. "With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high. . . if you truly wish to serve your king's cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . ." -Davos III, ASoS

Melisandre seems to imply that her shadow child lessened Stannis’ life-fire, whatever that may be; a soul? Regardless, it’s not all that different from the story of Elenei and Duran Godsgrief; something seemed to be transferred between the two upon Duran taking Elenei’s virginity. All of the Houses of Harrenhal seem to have fallen prey to ambitions that very closely resemble this mysterious mechanism of gaining power through sex. In fact Harrenhal was built amidst a conflict between the Ironborn and the Storm Kings, the roots of which bring us right back to the story of Elenei. 

Viewing this history of Harrenhal with the story of Elenei in mind leads to some interesting interpretations. 

Gargon Qoherys made liberal use of his right to the first night, taking women’s virginity on their wedding day. Our theory suggests that there may be some magical significance to this habit, possibly Gargon attempting to gain control over his vassals in the same way that Duran gained supremacy over the storms. It might also explain why he was castrated; not only as revenge but in an effort to undo whatever Gorgon had done by exercising his right to the first night. 

Alys Harroway cheats on Maegor many times, and Tyanna suggests that this caused his child to be stillborn. The truth of the matter is murky, but further investigation would lead down a road that seems to end with Tyanna, Ceryse, and sex based magic as well. Lucas Harroway also rises in power and influence, becoming Hand to King Maegor. Alys is dismembered when Maegor discovers her affair, which strongly resembles the ancient greek ritual of sparagmos, a form of castration; just like Gargon Qoherys was castrated.

The official history of House Towers is sparse, but this theory suggests that a member of House Towers impregnated Gael Targaryen, and King Jaehaerys secretly had the House exterminated while blaming the pregnancy on a generic traveling singer. Out of grief for her lost lover and hatred for her father, the simple-minded Gael drowned herself in the Blackwater. 

Harwin Strong was rumored to have fathered the bastard children of Princess Rhaenyra. House Strong is eliminated, except for Larys, in 120 AC, the Year of the Red Spring. The other two deaths, Laena and Laenor, seemed to serve the purpose of allowing Rhaenyra and Daemon to marry. Harwin and his families lives do not stand in the way of their marriage, however, not any legal sense. But if Harwin Strong had taken something from Rhaenyra, like Duran did from Elenei and Melisandre did from Stannis, then it might make sense for Daemon to arrange for the murder of his wife’s ex-lover before their marriage. Just like Lucas Harroway, Lyonel Strong rose in influence to the position of Hand before he died. 

House Lothston had a similar scandalous affair. Falena Stokeworth had sex with Prince Aegon, and was forced to marry Lucas Lothston and live at Harrenhal. Her daughter, Jeyne Lothston, would later grow up to have relationships with King Aegon IV as well, even though his last mistress could barely stand the sight of him. Why? Does she become his mistress simply because he is King? Or does she have something more Melisandre-esque in mind? On that note, did many of King Aegon IV’s other mistresses have similar schemes? Bethany Bracken was groomed to seduce Aegon with the help of Barba, Aegon’s former mistress, and her father Jonos Bracken, Hand of the King, despite the fact that she could not stand the King’s embraces. Lucas Lothston eventually rises to the position of Hand, just like Lucas Harroway and Lyonel Strong. But instead of being summarily executed at the peak of their power like the rest of the houses of Harrenhal, Lucas is removed as Hand, sent back to Harrenhal, and House Lothston lives on for generations. Until they become increasingly crazy, and Mad Danelle Lothston has to be executed for practicing the dark arts, her family is exterminated as well. No other family lives long enough for us to see the effects of their sexual exploits, if there were any. The only one that does, goes crazy. 

It would seem to me that the curse of Harrenhal is intimately related to the story of Elenei, and magic based on sex. Each house that ruled Harrenhal quickly rose to prominence and was then brought down by their sexual proclivities. 

This pattern has held well so far, so perhaps it’s time to examine a House that doesn’t fall prey to this pattern, and see if there is any reason why they had not.

House Whent

After the extermination of House Lothston, House Whent is granted Harrenhal. House Whent is a notable exception to the pattern we’ve discerned above. Tragedies befall them, but they were never overly ambitious or had any scandalous sexual exploits. Not only are they never exterminated, but that are relieved of their possession of Harrenhal and forced to flee. They are the only family to escape the curse of Harrenhal.

While Arya serves at Harrenhal, she inadvertently discovered a good reason for this:

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Harrenhal was vast, much of it far gone in decay. Lady Whent had held the castle as bannerman to House Tully, but she'd used only the lower thirds of two of the five towers, and let the rest go to ruin. -Arya VII, ACoK

There are five towers at Harrenhal, and Shella has completely abandoned three, while only using the lower third of the other two. 

Let’s recall the death of Harren the Black:

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Harren and his sons had died in Kingspyre Tower, that was why it had that name, so why should they cross the yard to haunt her? The Wailing Tower only wailed when the wind blew from the north, and that was just the sound the air made blowing through the cracks in the stones where they had fissured from the heat. If there were ghosts in Harrenhal, they never troubled her. It was the living men she feared, Weese and Ser Gregor Clegane and Lord Tywin Lannister himself, who kept his apartments in Kingspyre Tower, still the tallest and mightiest of all, though lopsided beneath the weight of the slagged stone that made it look like some giant half-melted black candle. -Arya VII, ACoK

Even Arya notes that if any place is to be haunted, it is the Kingspyre tower. Shella Whent only uses the lowest portions of two towers, which is likely why House Whent never fell prey to the same tendencies that other Lords of Harrenhal have. This implies that the curse of Harrenhal is related to the death of Harren the Black and his sons, in the highest towers of the castle, and that they haunt the upper towers still. 

This would somewhat explain why the curse also seems to manifest itself in ways that relate to the story of Elenei, because the story of Elenei was central to the feud between the Ironborn and the Storm Kings, which was reaching a boiling point as Harren was building Harrenhal. The black soul of Harren Hoare haunts the castle still, his desire for power still manifesting in each new inhabitant. 

The fact that the curse of Harrenhal can be avoided even suggests that there may have been a reason why it was granted to certain houses.

House Qoherys was from Valyria, so perhaps they were thought to most likely to resist the curse. Lord Quenton Qoherys was also Aegon the Conqueror’s, master-at-arms on Dragonstone. King Maegor, the very epitome of darwinism, gives Harrenhal to whichever of his knights is last standing in a great melee, as if to weed out the weak and give Harrenhal to the strongest candidate, and this happens to be House Towers. Osmund Strong constructed the defenses of King’s Landing, and well, it’s right there in the name. Lucas Lothston was Aegon IV’s master-at-arms in the Red Keep, like Quenton was on Dragonstone, and who better to look after the demon offspring of your son than the man that taught him how to fight?

Many people associated with Harrenhal after the Whents are removed will meet untimely ends, but the castle is officially given to Janos Slynt. 

House Slynt

Janos Slynt never steps foot in Harrenhal. Perhaps it is for that reason that he also does not fit our pattern well. Just as Shella Whent was seemingly able to avoid the curse by avoiding certain areas, perhaps so too did Janos avoid the curse because he never set foot in Harrenhal. 

Although, before Janos can even truly take possession of his new castle, Tyrion sends him to the Wall to take the Black. The oaths of the Night’s Watch prevent men from fathering children or having families, so of course Janos can’t act out Harren’s lust for power in the way that the rest of the houses of Harrenhal have. Although, he does grasp for power in his own way, refusing to obey the orders of the newly elected Lord Commander Jon Snow, for which he is executed. It’s not so clear that Janos avoided the curse of Harrenhal at all, it may have just manifested in a different fashion. 

This might then imply that Shella Whent did not avoid the curse either. On the surface she took no clear actions that involved a scandalous relationship. But her husband, Lord Walter Whent, organized the Tourney of Harrenhal in 281 AC, where Prince Rhaegar crowned Lyanna Stark Queen of Love and Beauty; the most scandalous love affair in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. Perhaps House Whent did fall prey to the curse of Harrenhal, and we’re not privy to the extent of their schemes. 

Which brings us to the final house to be granted Harrenhal... 

House Baelish

House Baelish is really just Lord Petyr Baelish, granted Harrenhal after Jonos Slynt is sent to the Wall. While Littlefinger is the only member of his very new house, he’s working hard to change that. Many have speculated about the parentage of Robin and Littlefinger’s relationship with Lysa, which I won't discuss at length here. It is interesting that, like the rest of the inhabitants of Harrenhal, Littlefinger becomes the de facto ruler of the Vale through his relationship with Lysa. 

More significant than his relationship with Lysa, though, are his actions towards Sansa. The previous inhabitants of Harrenhal have all scandalous sexual relationships, and this theory proposes that their actions should be viewed in the light of the story of Elenei, in that they are trying to gain power and influence by usurping the life-fire of other Houses. Every other House of Harrenhal has seemingly attempted to gain power through a scandalous sexual relationship, and Littlefinger seems to be the absolute epitome of this phenomenon. 

Many people have drawn comparisons between Petyr Baelish and Bael the Bard, who both had eyes for a daughter of Lord Stark. It seems unlikely that their similar names and deeds would be coincidental, and almost certainly an indication that there is significance in the taking of a Lord’s daughter. Perhaps particularly the daughter of Winterfell. 

This theory suggest that the story of Elenei is not simply a myth, and that it’s not only relevant to Elenei, but is a description of a magical process that still happens to this day in the world of ASOIAF. I don’t claim to the know the precise workings of this process, only that something can be transferred from woman to man when they have sex, or visa versa. Melisandre calls this ‘something’ life-fire, and demonstrates for Davos one result of a woman taking life-fire from a man in the cave beneath Storm’s End, in a process that seems to be very much the opposite of whatever process took place in the story of Elenei. 

I also contend that the story of Elenei is central to the conflict between not only Duran and the Sea God, but also the Drowned God and the Storm God, and the conflict between the King of the Isle and Rivers and the Storm King that is occurring immediately prior to Aegon’s Conquest. (This ancient conflict is likely reflected elsewhere in the feud between the Walrus-men and the Antler-men north of the Wall, and possible the religion of the Three Sisters as well). The actions of the houses of Harrenhal suggest that this sex related transfer of life-fire does not only apply to Elenei, but is a process that occurs with other noble houses as well, at least House Targaryen and House Stark. Melisandre even suggests that lowly Davos the Onion Knight would be suitable. I make no claims to know the nature of this life-fire, who has it, or in what amounts, only that it is possible for life-fire to be exchanged during sex, with varying end results. The two ways in which we definitely know that this can happen, the story of Elenei and Melisandre’s shadow-child, seem very much like opposites. The story of Elenei also shares many things with the story of Azor Ahai, and may be of equal or even greater importance, despite the little attention it receives. 

Harren the Black, in a conflict with the Storm King and aware of this ancient myth that forms the foundation of their feud, has supernatural desires in accordance with what the story of Elenei implies. When he is roasted alive in the Kingspyre Tower, his soul, his *life-fire*, lives on in the melted stone of the tower, compelling the inhabitants to act upon the will of Harren the Black in his desire for power. Why Harren’s soul lived on, whether it was the weirwood rafters or the melted stone of the tower or some other reason, I’ll leave to another discussion.  

TL;DR: All of the houses of Harrenhal were brought down by their sexual exploits. The story of Elenei is the key to understanding the history of these houses, from House Hoare to House Baelish, and also solves many smaller mysteries along the way. 


 

Edited by ASwordAhai
typos, formatting, clarification

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Hard for me to ignore a Harrenhal thread. Interesting read.

It is interesting to note the parallels between the Harroways, Lothstons and Strongs in how they couple with a king/heir and become the Hand. But it seems important to note that while the Harroways and Strongs were undone by the intrigue surrounding their Targaryen connections, Lothston wasn't, holding possession of the castle generations after Lucas Lothston did his time as hand. Lothston dodged the "curse" longer than anyone except Whent.

I'll probably have more to say when I digest a bit.

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On 2/2/2018 at 10:07 AM, Damon_Tor said:

Hard for me to ignore a Harrenhal thread. Interesting read.

It is interesting to note the parallels between the Harroways, Lothstons and Strongs in how they couple with a king/heir and become the Hand. But it seems important to note that while the Harroways and Strongs were undone by the intrigue surrounding their Targaryen connections, Lothston wasn't, holding possession of the castle generations after Lucas Lothston did his time as hand. Lothston dodged the "curse" longer than anyone except Whent.

I'll probably have more to say when I digest a bit.

This is very true.

However, House Lothston of Harrenhal did begin with a scandalous affair with a member of the royal family, and then they had another. Every other house of Harrenhal had a similar affair as well. The only difference is that House Lothston wasn't immediately exterminated. 

I think your question may instead be the answer to another. The only House that held Harrenhal and wasn't eliminated after their affair quickly turned to the dark arts. Perhaps that's why the rest of the houses that held Harrenhal were exterminated after their affairs. 

 

Also, what are your thoughts on the bit about Gael Targaryen and House Towers? I'm aware that it is literally impossible for my assertion to be proven, but i feel like it makes so much sense. What is the purpose of Gael's existence, as a character? And why did the house in possession of the largest castle in the realm simply disappear from history around the same time? And both of those things are just bonuses, the main thing is that it means House Towers perfectly fits this pattern as well. 

It's like killing three birds with one stone it fits so well. 

Edited by ASwordAhai

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On 1/31/2018 at 1:54 PM, ASwordAhai said:

The ruined castle of Harrenhal has a sinister reputation. Every House that is granted the castle soon goes extinct under mysterious circumstances, and every individual that holds it dies as well. Those that have held Harrenhal are often considered up-jumpers, and the ends that they would meet are often considered a result of being overly ambitious. They rose too fast and paid the price. There is a ring of truth to this, but such a characterization is also unfair. Harrenhal is usually given to those from the lower classes of nobility, houses or knights that previously held no castles of their own or had meager holdings. Because it is the largest castle in Westeros, to name any knight or lesser house as lord of Harrenhal is to make them up-jumpers by definition. 

I really like your theory and think it well thought out, even the point about Gael although as you admit yourself it can't be proven.

However i would like to point to two possible exceptions to Harrenhal being granted mostly to unimportant nobles:

House Strong was important enough to be mentioned as one of the house that followed house Tully in declaring for Aegon during the conquest, combined with the fact that there predecessor as Lord of Harrenhal did not get all the lands of there own predecessor house Harroway, yet house Strong is one of the richest and most powerful houses short of being a great house. This indicates that the lands they held before being granted Harrenhal where not a small holding.

House Harroway is also a exception there lands where so large that after there fall it was divided into three parts, Harrenhal to house Towers, Lord Harroway's town to house Butterwell and the remaining Harroway lands to house Darry. The latter two parts would have been theirs before they where granted Harrenhal and where apparently so big that Maegor divided they original Harroway holdings over two Lords indicating they where already a significant house before being granted Harrenhal. 

 

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18 hours ago, ASwordAhai said:

This is very true.

However, House Lothston of Harrenhal did begin with a scandalous affair with a member of the royal family, and then they had another. Every other house of Harrenhal had a similar affair as well. The only difference is that House Lothston wasn't immediately exterminated. 

I think your question may instead be the answer to another. The only House that held Harrenhal and wasn't eliminated after their affair quickly turned to the dark arts. Perhaps that's why the rest of the houses that held Harrenhal were exterminated after their affairs. 

 

Also, what are your thoughts on the bit about Gael Targaryen and House Towers? I'm aware that it is literally impossible for my assertion to be proven, but i feel like it makes so much sense. What is the purpose of Gael's existence, as a character? And why did the house in possession of the largest castle in the realm simply disappear from history around the same time? And both of those things are just bonuses, the main thing is that it means House Towers perfectly fits this pattern as well. 

It's like killing three birds with one stone it fits so well. 

I'd caution you that you're looking for a pattern and filling it in when you don't find it: Whent doesn't fit the pattern either. No affairs we know of, no dark arts rumors, they held the castle for a long time, and none of them as far as we know were ever Hand to the King. The others break the "pattern" for other reasons; only half of the holders of the castle fit the "affair with royal, becomes hand" pattern, which means it isn't really a pattern at all.

That's not to say that house Towers doesn't fit, just warning you not to assume it does.

It is interesting, though. I would direct you to what happens to Gargon Qohereys when he dies: there's reason to believe he lives on in the weirwood of Harrenhal. As such, maybe his lust is somehow infectious. Maybe what Danelle Lothston was really doing was sacrificing children to the Weirwood so their innocence would dilute the lascivious persona of the tree. Maybe it worked; but her house paid the price for it, and when Whent took over the "curse" was gone because of what she had done, allowing Whent to rule in relative normalcy. You'd still have to assume House Towers fits and we don't know it, but it would explain why Qohereys and Lothston don't quite fit (as the houses that created and broke the curse, respectively) and why Whent doesn't fit at all (they took over after the Lothstons had broken it). Just a thought.

Also something to ponder: the date when dragons stopped being born falls within a few years of House Lothston taking over Harrenhal (we don't have an exact date the last dragon was hatched, but the last living dragon died two years after Lothston acquired Harrenhal). The date on which dragons could be hatched again coincides with when house Whent (which was almost certainly descended from house Lothston) was expelled during the War of the Five Kings. Perhaps it wasn't simply a coincidence that Aegon I began his invasion the very day Harrenhal was completed.

Not sure if there's a neat way to connect the "Harrenhal is anti-dragon" or the broader "Harrenhal is anti-magic" hypotheses to the sex-magic stuff we're talking about here.

Edited by Damon_Tor

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On 2/6/2018 at 3:46 PM, Damon_Tor said:

I'd caution you that you're looking for a pattern and filling it in when you don't find it: Whent doesn't fit the pattern either. No affairs we know of, no dark arts rumors, they held the castle for a long time, and none of them as far as we know were ever Hand to the King.

But Arya herself notes an explanation for why that is. It may be true that they don't fit with the rest of the houses, but we're also explicitly given a reason why the Whents may not have fallen prey to the curse. 

On 2/6/2018 at 3:46 PM, Damon_Tor said:

The others break the "pattern" for other reasons; only half of the holders of the castle fit the "affair with royal, becomes hand" pattern, which means it isn't really a pattern at all

I guess I really should have been more clear with what I consider the pattern to be here. The "becomes Hand" part was mostly just included to flesh out the similarities between many of the houses. It's true that when you keep adding details to the pattern, it disappears. But this post was never meant to be about the Hand of the King, it was meant to be about sex. 

And in that way I think it's a little disingenuous to say that there isn't really a pattern at all. Forget the Hand of the King, forget the small caveats about who the houses of Harrenhal had sex with and what their exact position was. The central pattern still remains. Every house of Harrenhal from Qoherys at least to Lothston had scandalous sexual exploits.

I would think that basic fact warrant's further explanation, even if the rest of the similarities are cast aside. But on the topic of more specific patterns that don't quite describe every house, many of the deviations have pretty damn convenient explanations. At least twice they turn out to explain unexpected things; House Towers explains Gael Targaryen and House Lothston explains why the rest of the houses of Harrenhal were destroyed. 

 

Edited by ASwordAhai

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9 hours ago, ASwordAhai said:

Every house of Harrenhal from Qoherys at least to Lothston had scandalous sexual exploits.

I think it's more correct to say that every house in Westeros had scandalous sexual exploits. Basically every generation of any given noble house, there's always at least one son or another putting his dick someplace he shouldn't. The Red Keep has had far more sex scandals than Harrenhal from 0-300 AL. Winterfell has probably had more sex scandals than Harrenhal in just the past generation, what with Brandon deflowering Barbary Ryswell, Lyanna running off with Rhaegar, and Eddard coming home with a bastard. Or House Baratheon: Robert's womanizing, Renly's homosexuality, and Stannis fucking a sorceress. Or house Lannister: The twins' Incest and Tyrion's whoring. It's hard to find a noble house that isn't rife with sex scandal.

What's unusual about Harrenhal's ruling houses isn't that there were sex scandals, but rather that those sex scandals tended to destroy the house in question.

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26 minutes ago, Damon_Tor said:

I think it's more correct to say that every house in Westeros had scandalous sexual exploits. Basically every generation of any given noble house, there's always at least one son or another putting his dick someplace he shouldn't. The Red Keep has had far more sex scandals than Harrenhal from 0-300 AL. Winterfell has probably had more sex scandals than Harrenhal in just the past generation, what with Brandon deflowering Barbary Ryswell, Lyanna running off with Rhaegar, and Eddard coming home with a bastard. Or House Baratheon: Robert's womanizing, Renly's homosexuality, and Stannis fucking a sorceress. Or house Lannister: The twins' Incest and Tyrion's whoring. It's hard to find a noble house that isn't rife with sex scandal

Come on, you have to realize how disingenuous that is. 

You said it's that they were eliminated as a result of their scandal that is significant, but that ignores one thing. The fact that they tend to be summarily eliminated allows another house to move into harrenhal and fall prey to the exact same behavior. Meaning we're not talking about the sexual exploits of one house, we're talking about five different houses all in quick succession. All falling prey to essentially the same behavior. It's crazy to write that off as just par for the course.

Is there any other castle that produced even 3 love affairs with the royal family?

Quote

Lyanna running off with Rhaegar

Where at....? So...maybe 4 affairs? 

Edited by ASwordAhai

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18 minutes ago, ASwordAhai said:

Come on, you have to realize how disingenuous that is.

I'm having a reasonable discussion with you here. I like what you've come up with. "What else could explain this data" is a reasonable part of any discussion. It would do you and your hypothesis no favors to pull punches. Don't take it personally, it isn't meant that way.

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On 2/8/2018 at 9:41 AM, Damon_Tor said:

I'm having a reasonable discussion with you here. I like what you've come up with. "What else could explain this data" is a reasonable part of any discussion. It would do you and your hypothesis no favors to pull punches. Don't take it personally, it isn't meant that way.

That was a pulled punch? If that was a personal attack, it must have been the weakest one in the history of the internet. I said your line of thought was disingenuous, why is that so offensive? Because I wasn't trying to be. Honestly, it seemed as if you were being purposely contrarian just for argument's sake, which is pretty much the definition of disingenuous. To liken the pattern at Harrenhal to run of the mill sexual proclivities is not a sincere argument; i really hope not.

As I've said, has any other single castle produced so many people that have had affairs with the Targaryens? 

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Well thought out theory, I enjoyed reading it. The mystery surrounding Harrenhal is very interesting. I'm a long time lurker but I wanted to comment. What stood out to me, and I notice hasn't been commented on, was the cutting down of the Weir Wood Trees and their use in construction of the castle. 

The Iron Islanders worship the Drowned God, so the act of building next to the Gods Eye and Isle of Faces, and cutting down weir woods holds no significance to them. However, what about the remaining Children of the Forest or the Old Gods/Green men that supposedly live on the Isle of Faces? Any thoughts on how they might come into play involving the curse? Howland Reed goes on a quest to commune with the Green Men and then ends up at the Tourney of Harrenhal so maybe it's all connected? 

Also, all the uses of blood in the description, ie. blood in the mortar, all the blood that was shed there, (even taking a maiden head for Lords right would be bloody but probably didn't take place in Harrenhal) could these have been considered "sacrifice" to the weir wood beams (trees) within the castle? Therefore invoking the Old Gods and/or old magic (CoTF) in some way? Could explain why or how Dark Magic was performed by Mad Danelle, and even (I forget who commented it above) the making and breaking of the curse if House Qoherys and Lothston were inadvertently or purposely giving blood to the trees. I don't really have any theories or patterns to contribute but would love to hear thoughts on the potential use of blood magic as it relates to the curse, the old gods, and or the sex and deaths of the houses. 

Another thought, you mentioned House Qoherys being valyrian descent... therefore potentially familiar with blood magic? 

 

 

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On 3/2/2018 at 4:08 PM, Miss007els said:

What stood out to me, and I notice hasn't been commented on, was the cutting down of the Weir Wood Trees and their use in construction of the castle. 

Yes, I also have a feeling this might be important.

And further, with weirwoods not being of great significance to the Ironborn, why would Harren include a 20 acre godswood in his castle?

Quote

A Clash of Kings - Arya IX

Arya climbed. Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father's men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air. A broken branch became Joffrey. She struck at it until it fell away. The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons. When her arm grew weary, she sat with her legs over a high limb to catch her breath in the cool dark air, listening to the squeak of bats as they hunted. Through the leafy canopy she could see the bone-white branches of the heart tree. It looks just like the one in Winterfell from here. If only it had been . . . then when she climbed down she would have been home again, and maybe find her father sitting under the weirwood where he always sat.

Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground. The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly.

And if gods could be hurt, could they also take revenge? Especially so close to the Isle of Faces...

And there are definitely events which seem to tie together wayward sexuality, weirwoods and blood:

Quote

The World of Ice and Fire - The Targaryen Kings: Aenys I

After the Conqueror's death, it did not take long before challenges to the Targaryen rule emerged. The first of these was the bandit and outlaw named Harren the Red, who claimed to be a grandson of Harren the Black. With the help of a castle servant, Harren the Red seized both Harrenhal and its current ruler, the infamous Lord Gargon (remembered as Gargon the Guest for his custom of attending every wedding in his domain to exercise his right to First Night). Lord Gargon was gelded in the castle's godswood and left to bleed to death while Red Harren proclaimed himself Lord of Harrenhal and King of the Rivers.

 

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The thing about curses, though, is they only seem to come true in hindsight. So a house that is cursed in some way goes extinct and everybody says that it was the curse. A house that is not cursed goes extinct and everybody says, what a shame that such a good house should go extinct.

And if a cursed house does not go extinct but suffers some other misfortune like the death of a child or a fire, well, they're cursed. But if a similar fate befalls a non-cursed house, how sad.

And a third possibility is that the mere fact that the world thinks you are cursed brings about the bad outcome -- nobody wants to marry into a cursed house, nobody wants to trade, etc.

So in Martin-world, it is very possible that cursed places like Harrenhal are retribution from the gods or the result of some evil, location-based magic, or they may just be coincidence.

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