The Winterfell Huis Clos


Somehow, we can't help thinking that Martin's universe is supported by hidden structures. Of course, the author would never give us explicitly the keys. Why would he ? No character will spell out what the armature of the story is.

Our suggestion here is that one of those hidden structures, perhaps, is the importance of maternal lineages. As the insistence of the Targaryens to wed women of their own kin proves, they don't count for nothing, even if the Seven Kingdoms form a patriarchal society, where the family name is carried through the male line, which thus essentially defines the noble houses. But it seems fruitful to pay attention to the other side of the genealogy, even if it seems difficult to keep track of.

This is the second part of the exploration of this theme. In the first part, we tried to see what could lie behind Lyanna Stark's maternal lineage, and its relations to Dalla.

After Sansa fled from King's Landing, a little folk tale is reported to the Hound by Polliver.
“I forgot, you’ve been hiding under a rock. The northern girl. Winterfell’s daughter. We heard she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window. But she left the dwarf behind and Cersei means to have his head.”
That’s stupid, Arya thought. Sansa only knows songs, not spells, and she’d never marry the Imp.
(Arya XII, ASoS)

...with big leather wings like a bat…

I suggest that, unlike Arya, we take that story seriously and see where it leads us. We will explore three themes: the story of Harrenhal, the maternal lineage of Sansa, the possibility of Sansa's inheritance of the castle.

Something seems to be hanging over Sansa's fate.


  1. The Bat of Harrenhal
  2. The Story of Harrenhal
  3. Jaime and Brienne, the Shield and the Sword
  4. Catelyn
  5. Alayne Stone
  6. Littlefinger
  7. Tywin
  8. Roose and Qyburn
  9. The Holy Hundred
  10. A Visit of Harrenhal
  11. The Children of Harrenhal
  12. Sweetrobin
  13. The Tourney

1. The Bat of Harrenhal

Of course, the bat belongs to the menagerie familiar to the gothic genre along the black cat, the wolf, the owl etc.

The strange mix of totemism and feudalism that characterizes the Seven Kingdoms provides a privileged lair to the bat: the cursed castle of Harrenhal... which is precisely where Polliver came from when he reported the little story about Sansa, as if the smallfolk of Harrenhal had recognized in Sansa a daughter of their castle as much as a daughter of Winterfell. Indeed, Sansa's maternal grandmother was a Whent, and probably born in the castle.

So Sansa is a Whent on the maternal line. The daughter of the daughter of the daughter of Harrenhal.

Let's examine first the relationship between Harrenhal and bats. First, there are indeed bats in the ruined towers.
The ground floor of the Wailing Tower was given over to storerooms and granaries, and two floors above housed part of the garrison, but the upper stories had not been occupied for eighty years. Now Lord Tywin had commanded that they be made fit for habitation again. There were floors to be scrubbed, grime to be washed off windows, broken chairs and rotted beds to be carried off. The topmost story was infested with nests of the huge black bats that House Whent had used for its sigil, and there were rats in the cellars as well... and ghosts, some said, the spirits of Harren the Black and his sons.
Arya thought that was stupid.
(Arya VI, ACoK)

If Arya thinks it stupid, something interesting must be going on. Bats are involved in another tale taken from the folklore of Harrenhal.
“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. Sometimes I’d hear them scrabbling at the shutters.”
(Brienne II, AFfC)

Mad Danelle is none other than Danelle Lothston, whose sigil is recognized when Brienne wanders in search of Sansa.
The captain’s eyes lingered on her shield. “The black bat of Lothston. Those are arms of ill repute.”
(Brienne II, AFfC)

My first reading of Martin's books was not particularly attentive, but I immediately felt that something curious, perhaps sinister, was going on with the shield carried by Brienne. We will return to it.

Danelle is described in The Mystery Knight.
Mad Danelle Lothston herself rode forth in strength from her haunted towers at Harrenhal, clad in black armor that fit her like an iron glove, her long red hair streaming.
(The Mystery Knight)

House Lothston held Harrenhal before House Whent. Of course, Catelyn Stark's mother was a Whent.
Ser Illifer crooked a bony finger at her shield. Though its paint was cracked and peeling, the device it bore showed plain: a black bat on a field divided bendwise, silver and gold. “You bear a liar’s shield, to which you have no right. My grandfather’s grandfather helped kill the last o’ Lothston. None since has dared to show that bat, black as the deeds of them that bore it.”
(Brienne I, AFfC)
We know how the seat passed to the Whent through the story of Ben Blackthumb.
You know old Ben Blackthumb? He came here as a boy. Smithed for Lady Whent and her father before her and his father before him, and even for Lord Lothston who held Harrenhal before the Whents.
(Arya IX, ACoK)

The last Lothston died during the lifetime of Ben Blackthumb and during the lifetime of Ser Illifer grandfather's grandfather. I presume the grandfather's grandfather was already old at the time of Lothston's demise. Note that Ben Blackthumb is among the few members of the Whent household who survived the turmoil of the war.

Catelyn's mother was Minisa Whent. Since she married a Tully, we can presume she was no less than the daughter of the Lord of Harrenhal: perhaps not Lady Whent's sister, otherwise it would be mentioned if Lady Whent were so closely related to Catelyn. She might have been the daughter of the first Whent who held Harrenhal, which would make of Lady Whent a cousin of Catelyn. If this speculation is correct, Lord Whent had at least a sister (Minisa) and a brother (Oswell of the Kingsguard).

The Whents retained the bat as a sigil when they took the seat of Harrenhal. The Whent banner displays nine bats, while the Lothston had a single large bat. The persistence of the bat suggests something strongly: the bat is more attached to the place than to any particular family.

A logical explanation would be that the Whent who took the lordship of Harrenhal married a Lothston daughter and kept the bat sigil to affirm his legitimacy, somewhat like the Lannisters did in Darry by marrying Lancel to Amerei Frey, and displaying the Darry arms of Amerei's mother. (Hence a persistence of the female line.)

It's conjectural, and not essential for what will follow, but Catelyn's mother's mother might have been a Lady Lothston. In any case, House Tully and House Whent must have been on very good terms two or three generations ago, since Hoster Tully married a Whent, and House Whent inherited Harrenhal after the demise of the Lothstons.

In any case, Sansa has been recognized as half wolf, half bat in the story reported by Polliver.

2. The History of Harrenhal

It is fundamental for the history of Westeros. After the arrival of the Rhoynar, the Seven Kingdoms seem to have known many centuries of stability until...
“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.
Catelyn could remember hearing Old Nan tell the story to her own children, back at Winterfell. “And King Harren learned that thick walls and high towers are small use against dragons,” the tale always ended. “For dragons fly.” Harren and all his line had perished in the fires that engulfed his monstrous fortress, and every house that held Harrenhal since had come to misfortune. Strong it might be, but it was a dark place, and cursed.
“I would not have Robb fight a battle in the shadow of that keep,” Catelyn admitted. “Yet we must do something, Uncle.”
(Catelyn I, ACoK)
Harren the Black was an ironman, and is still remembered as such in the islands.
Aegon the Dragon had destroyed the Old Way when he burned Black Harren, gave Harren’s kingdom back to the weakling rivermen, and reduced the Iron Islands to an insignificant backwater of a much greater realm. Yet the old red tales were still told around driftwood fires and smoky hearths all across the islands, even behind the high stone halls of Pyke. Theon’s father numbered among his titles the style of Lord Reaper, and the Greyjoy words boasted that We Do Not Sow.
(Theon I, ACoK)
We have an account from Old Nan.
Arya was remembering the stories Old Nan used to tell of Harrenhal. Evil King Harren had walled himself up inside, so Aegon unleashed his dragons and turned the castle into a pyre. Nan said that fiery spirits still haunted the blackened towers. Sometimes men went to sleep safe in their beds and were found dead in the morning, all burnt up. Arya didn’t really believe that, and anyhow it had all happened a long time ago. Hot Pie was being silly; it wouldn’t be ghosts at Harrenhal, it would be knights. Arya could reveal herself to Lady Whent, and the knights would escort her home and keep her safe. That was what knights did; they kept you safe, especially women. Maybe Lady Whent would even help the crying girl.
(Arya IV, ACoK)

Old Nan seems to imply that some form of bloodmagic was used to build the castle, which reminds me of the castles at the Wall.
It would be better once they got to Harrenhal, the captives told each other, but Arya was not so certain. She remembered Old Nan’s stories of the castle built on fear. Harren the Black had mixed human blood in the mortar, Nan used to say, dropping her voice so the children would need to lean close to hear, but Aegon’s dragons had roasted Harren and all his sons within their great walls of stone.
(Arya VI, ACoK)

Given that the completion of Harrenhal coincided with the arrival of the dragons, it is tempting to interpret the Conquest as an answer to a plea to stop Harren the Black. It has been noted that the Valyrians and later the Targaryens never dared to come to Westeros before this day, which is a mystery, considering that the Valyrians conquered Dragonstone and were not shy of expanding everywhere beyond the Narrow Sea. Was Westeros warded against the the dragons before the Conquest? Who formulated the plea? Why was Harrenhal so important? Why did Harren the Black, an ironman, build his seat in the Riverlands?

A most important feature of Harrenhal is the proximity of Gods Eye. Indeed, Harrenhal is on the shore of the Lake. The island is one of the sacred places of the Seven Kingdoms, where the First Men once made a pact with the Children of the Forest to share Westeros. It is said that that many weirwood are still standing on the Isle of Faces, which is shunned by the population of the Seven Kingdoms. According to the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, Howland Reed went to the island, which seems to still hold power.
“The lad knew the magics of the crannogs,” she continued, “but he wanted more. Our people
seldom travel far from home, you know. We’re a small folk, and our ways seem queer to some, so the big people do not always treat us kindly. But this lad was bolder than most, and one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.”
(Bran II, ASoS)

Does the lake isolate the island from the rest of Westeros? Is this why the weirwood of the Isle of Faces were left alone? Some creature of unknown nature still reside in the island.
“No one visits the Isle of Faces,” objected Bran. “That’s where the green men live.”
“It was the green men he meant to find. So he donned a shirt sewn with bronze scales, like mine, took up a leathern shield and a threepronged spear, like mine, and paddled a little skin boat down the Green Fork.”
Bran closed his eyes to try and see the man in his little skin boat. In his head, the crannogman looked like Jojen, only older and stronger and dressed like Meera.
“He passed beneath the Twins by night so the Freys would not attack him, and when he reached the Trident he climbed from the river and put his boat on his head and began to walk. It took him many a day, but finally he reached the Gods Eye, threw his boat in the lake, and paddled out to the isle of Faces.”
“Did he meet the green men?”
“Yes,” said Meera, “but that’s another story, and not for me to tell. My prince asked for knights.”
“Green men are good too.”
“They are,” she agreed, but said no more about them.
(Bran II, ASoS)

Did Harrenhal benefit from the presence of the Isle of Faces? Or was it built in opposition to the Isle? I would rather believe the latter theory. Indeed,
Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters.
(Catelyn I, ACoK)
I tend to believe that whatever power residing in the Isle has allowed the dragons to come to Westeros.

In any case, we know the story: Balerion the Black burned Harren and all his sons in the Kingspyre. What about the daughters? It seems that Harren had no daughters. Who was Lady Hoare?

The castle never remained long in any house's possession. Here is Littlefinger's account:
“Has someone made a song about Gregor Clegane dying of a poisoned spear thrust? Or about the sellsword before him, whose limbs Ser Gregor removed a joint at a time? That one took the castle from Ser Amory Lorch, who received it from Lord Tywin. A bear killed one, your dwarf the other. Lady Whent’s died as well, I hear. Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways, Strongs... Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)
So it seems House Strong lost the castle to House Harroway and regained it.

Neither House Strong, nor House Lothston is truly extinct, since both house haves their names claimed by exiles within the Golden Company.

However, we are interested in the story of the female line.

House Whent was reputedly wealthy in reason of the fertile lands around the castle. Lord Whent, presumably the father of Lady Whent, and possibly the brother of Minisa, organized the famous tourney where so important events happened. Curiously, the Tullys didn't seem to have attended the tourney at the time, despite their geographical proximity and the close family ties they entertained with the Whents.

3. Jaime and Brienne, the Shield and the Sword

Both Catelyn Stark and Harrenhal played an important role in the story of Jaime and Brienne.

Brienne swore serve Catelyn Stark personally, not House Stark.
Brienne stared at the ground and shuffled her feet. “I do not know your son, my lady.” She looked up. “I could serve you. If you would have me.”
Catelyn was startled. “Why me?”
The question seemed to trouble Brienne. “You helped me. In the pavilion... when they thought that I had... that I had... “
“You were innocent.”
“Even so, you did not have to do that. You could have let them kill me. I was nothing to you.” Perhaps I did not want to be the only one who knew the dark truth of what had happened there,
Catelyn thought. “Brienne, I have taken many wellborn ladies into my service over the years, but never one like you. I am no battle commander.”
“No, but you have courage. Not battle courage perhaps but... I don’t know... a kind of woman’s courage. And I think, when the time comes, you will not try and hold me back. Promise me that. That you will not hold me back from Stannis.”
Catelyn could still hear Stannis saying that Robb’s turn too would come in time. It was like a cold breath on the back of her neck. “When the time comes, I will not hold you back.”
The tall girl knelt awkwardly, unsheathed Renly’s longsword, and laid it at her feet. “Then I am yours, my lady. Your liege man, or... whatever you would have me be. I will shield your back and keep your counsel and give my life for yours, if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”
“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new. Arise.” As she clasped the other woman’s hands between her own, Catelyn could not help but smile. How many times did I watch Ned accept a man’s oath of service- She wondered what he would think if he could see her now.
(Catelyn V, ACoK)
The service led Brienne to be assigned to find Arya and Sansa.

Something funny is going on between Jaime and Brienne, as we have all noticed. It seems to have reached its high point in the Harrenhal baths, the very bathtub Lady Lothston used to fill with blood.
Father, Jaime thought, your dogs have both gone mad. 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)

The strange attraction between Jaime and Brienne might not be entirely natural. We see mutual respect, and even mutual affection, building up during the journey from Riverrun to King's Landing. But the key moment is in Harrenhal. Interestingly, the renegade maester Qyburn took care of both Jaime and Brienne. There is even this curious episode after Qyburn has taken care of Jaime's stump.
“Open your eye.” Qyburn soaked a cloth in warm water and dabbed at the crust of dried blood. The eyelid was swollen, but Jaime found he could force it open halfway. Qyburn’s face loomed above. “How did you come by this one?” the maester asked.
“A wench’s gift.”
“Rough wooing, my lord?”
“This wench is bigger than me and uglier than you. You’d best see to her as well. She’s still limping on the leg I pricked when we fought.”
“I will ask after her. What is this woman to you?”
“My protector.” Jaime had to laugh, no matter how it hurt.
“I’ll grind some herbs you can mix with wine to bring down your fever. Come back on the morrow and I’ll put a leech on your eye to drain the bad blood.” “A leech. Lovely.”
“Lord Bolton is very fond of leeches,” Qyburn said primly. “Yes,” said Jaime. “He would be.”
(Jaime V, ASoS)
Both Jaime and Brienne are bound by an oath to find Sansa.
Her face darkened. “I told you, I will never serve...”
“... such foul creatures as us. Yes, I recall. Hear me out, Brienne. Both of us swore oaths concerning Sansa Stark. Cersei means to see that the girl is found and killed, wherever she has gone to ground...”
Brienne’s homely face twisted in fury. “If you believe that I would harm my lady’s daughter for a sword, you -”
“Just listen,” he snapped, angered by her assumption. “I want you to find Sansa first, and get her somewhere safe. How else are the two of us going to make good our stupid vows to your precious dead Lady Catelyn?
(Jaime IX, ASoS)
Jaime has a gift for Brienne's quest.
“Brienne of Tarth.” Jaime sighed. “I have a gift for you.” He reached down under the Lord
Commander’s chair and brought it out, wrapped in folds of crimson velvet.
Brienne approached as if the bundle was like to bite her, reached out a huge freckled hand, and
flipped back a fold of cloth. Rubies glimmered in the light. She picked the treasure up gingerly, curled her fingers around the leather grip, and slowly slid the sword free of its scabbard. Blood and black the ripples shone. A finger of reflected light ran red along the edge. “Is this Valyrian steel? I have never seen such colors.”
“Nor I. There was a time that I would have given my right hand to wield a sword like that. Now it appears I have, so the blade is wasted on me. Take it.” Before she could think to refuse, he went on. “A sword so fine must bear a name. It would please me if you would call this one Oathkeeper. One more thing. The blade comes with a price.”
(Jaime IX, ASoS)
Jaime explains the story of the sword.
“When Ned Stark died, his greatsword was given to the King’s justice,” he told her. “But my father felt that such a fine blade was wasted on a mere headsman. He gave Ser Ilyn a new sword, and had Ice melted down and reforged. There was enough metal for two new blades. You’re holding one. So you’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel, if that makes any difference to you.”
(Jaime IX, ASoS)
There is a second gift for Brienne's quest. We have seen it already.
The shield was the one Ser Jaime had taken from the armory at Harrenhal. Brienne had found it in the stables with her mare, along with much else; saddle and bridle, chainmail hauberk and visored greathelm, purses of gold and silver and a parchment more valuable than either. “I lost mine own shield,” she explained.
(Brienne I, AFfC)
Here is how Jaime found the shield.
He found an old shield in the armory, battered and splintered, the chipped paint still showing most of the great black bat of House Lothston upon a field of silver and gold. The Lothstons held Harrenhal before the Whents and had been a powerful family in their day, but they had died out ages ago, so no one was likely to object to him bearing their arms. He would be no one’s cousin, no one’s enemy, no one’s sworn sword... in sum, no one.
(Jaime VI, ASoS)

It's worthwile to note that Brienne's search for Sansa is accomplished with the help of two gifts. One of them originates from Sansa's father's line (the sword Ice, partially reforged into Oathkeeper) and the other comes from her mother's line (the shield of Harrenhal). We recover thus the beast, half-wolf, half-bat, into which Sansa was said to have changed to escape King's Landing. Interestingly, Brienne has the shield repainted later. So both the paternal sword and the maternal shield are carried clandestinely.

Both Brienne and Jaime felt truly compelled to fulfill their quest for Catelyn's daughters. There is an insistence of Brienne that she doesn't serve the Stark name, but Catelyn personally.

4. Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark appeared to us as a loving mother caught in a tragedy, and who made understandable mistakes for the sake of her children. We are not going to discuss in-depth such a rich and complex character. Her dislike of Jon Snow falls into the common pattern of the jealousy of the mother for the child of her husband's mistress. However, such dislike was unnecessary and irrational since Jon Snow was clearly designated as a bastard and never claimed any part of the Stark inheritance.

Beside her dislike for Jon Snow, another aspect makes her unsympathetic: her resurrection as vengeful spirit. Why did Catelyn Stark among all the victims of the War in the Riverlands come back from the dead to seek justice, vengeance? Her suffering as a mother and as a wife was terrible, but far from unparalleled. So why did Beric Dondarrion decide to give his life for her resurrection?

Beric's decision was certainly motivated by a certain tiredness after so many resurrections. The fact that Nymeria found Catelyn on the Trident does not seem to have influenced Beric and Thoros.
“She is,” said Thoros of Myr. “The Freys slashed her throat from ear to ear. When we found her by the river she was three days dead. Harwin begged me to give her the kiss of life, but it had been too long. I would not do it, so Lord Beric put his lips to hers instead, and the flame of life passed from him to her. And... she rose. May the Lord of Light protect us. She rose.”
(Brienne VIII, AFfC)

However, we can suspect the agency of the old gods. Indeed, the direwolves have been associated to the old gods all along, at least in the Greatjon's eyes. Moreover, Beric Dondarrion, when seated on his "throne" of weirwood roots and watching with his single eye, seemed to be an avatar of Lord Brynden Rivers.

In any case, Lady Stoneheart seems to have a plan in mind. Indeed, the Brotherhood without Banner has ambushed Ryman Frey in Fairmarket and found the crown of Robb Stark.

After having being stolen by the Freys, the crown would end up with Lady Stoneheart, who doesn't wear the crown.
A trestle table had been set up across the cave, in a cleft in the rock. Behind it sat a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded. In her hands was a crown, a bronze circlet ringed by iron swords. She was studying it, her fingers stroking the blades as if to test their sharpness. Her eyes glimmered under her hood.
(Brienne VIII, AFfC)

Lady Stoneheart has much interest in the crown. However, a little detail deserves to be noted. House Whent's sigil consisted in nine black bats. Since a single black bat formed the sigil of House Lothston, it's likely that House Whent merged the bat of the Lothston with the number nine associated with their own family. Robb Stark descended from the Whents. Here is a more precise description of the crown.

The ancient crown of the Kings of Winter had been lost three centuries ago, yielded up to Aegon the Conqueror when Torrhen Stark knelt in submission. What Aegon had done with it no man could say. Lord Hoster’s smith had done his work well, and Robb’s crown looked much as the other was said to have looked in the tales told of the Stark kings of old; an open circlet of hammered bronze incised with the runes of the First Men, surmounted by nine black iron spikes wrought in the shape of longswords. Of gold and silver and gemstones, it had none; bronze and iron were the metals of winter, dark and strong to fight against the cold.

(Catelyn I, ACoK)

There are nine swords, which share with the bats the characteristic of being black. It might be just a coincidence, since Catelyn does not make the connection.

There can only be one reason why Lady Stoneheart is so much interested in the crown: she intends to crown someone. After the death of Bran, Rickon, and Robb, the heir of the kingdom of the north and the Riverlands is Jon Snow, according to Robb's will. However, Catelyn Stark disapproved the choice of Jon as crown prince, especially because of the disinheritance of Sansa. The Blackfish, perhaps linked to the Brotherhood, reminds us of Catelyn's dislike of Jon Snow. So the heir of the crown of the north and the Riverlands, in Catelyn's eyes, should be Sansa.

However, Lady Stoneheart seems only to want vengeance against the Kingslayer.
“What does she want of me?”
“She wants her son alive, or the men who killed him dead,” said the big man. “She wants to feed the crows, like they did at the Red Wedding. Freys and Boltons, aye. We’ll give her those, as many as she likes. All she asks from you is Jaime Lannister.”
(Brienne VIII, AFfC)

So it is unclear to whom Lady Stoneheart intends to give the crown. I am surprised there is no mention of the need to find Sansa, despite Brienne's assurance that she is pursuing her quest.

Here is the last thing we hear about Jaime and Sansa. Brienne reappears unexpectedly at the village of Pennytree to meet Jaime.
“A bite.” She touched the hilt of her sword, the sword that he had given her. Oathkeeper. “My lord, you gave me a quest.”
“The girl. Have you found her?”
“I have,” said Brienne, Maid of Tarth. “Where is she?”
“A day’s ride. I can take you to her, ser ... but you will need to come alone. Elsewise, the Hound will kill her.”
(Jaime, ADwD)

So the desire to find Sansa is still intact in both Brienne and Jaime. Oathkeeper is still with Brienne. (Jaime might not recognize the Lothston shield, because it has been repainted.)

5. Alayne Stone

Sansa could very well have a claim over Harrenhal. Let's forget for a moment the successive attributions of the castle to Janos Slynt and Littlefinger and go back to Lady Whent, who seems dead and the last of her line. 

It seems that the heirs of Lady Whent should be the descendants of Minisa Whent: Edmure Tully, his unborn child, Catelyn Stark (dead), Robb Stark (dead), Bran Stark (disappeared, presumed dead), Rickon Stark (disappeared, presumed dead), Sansa Stark (disappeared), Arya Stark (married to Ramsay Bolton, disappeared), Lysa Tully (dead), Robert Arryn.

That would leave little chance for Sansa to inherit the castle, especially since Lady Whent has been deprived of her birthright.

This follows the standard rules of succession in Westeros. Let's look at the situation along the female line, which is absurd from the point of view of all laws of the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa is the eldest daughter of Catelyn, herself the eldest daughter of Minisa. That could make of Sansa the "legitimate" ruler along the female line, if such a legitimacy had any currency in the Seven Kingdoms (and it hasn't, of course).

Littlefinger has given Sansa the role of his bastard girl. For Sansa to inherit as Littlefinger's heir, two things are needed: the demise of Petyr Baelish and the legitimation of Sansa. Let's discuss the prospects.

There is no sign as yet that Littlefinger intends Sansa to become his heir. In fact, it seems that Littlefinger wishes Sansa to recover her identity for her marriage with Harry the Heir. This is what Littlefinger promises:

Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon... and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back... why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa... Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?”

(Alayne II, AFfC)

Undoubtly, a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back is made for a Stark girl. So it doesn't seem that Littlefinger will marry Alayne to Harry. The promise to Sansa of having the support of every knight of the Vale to recover her birthright illuminates the machination to provide an imposter instead of Arya Stark. Littlefinger is well placed to denounce the imposture and probably expects to exploit this knowledge to make Sansa win back Winterfell.

However, we can already see several events that could derail the plan: the reappearance of Robb's Will, which seems to have designated Jon Snow as Robb's crown prince, or the news of Rickon's survival and duly defended by House Manderly. There is the small difficulty of getting rid of Tyrion – I suppose Littlefinger has a solution for that particular problem (annulment by the septons). Tyrion could even reappear.

If Sansa is not anymore heiress of Winterfell, why not ask for legitimation of Alayne, rather than annulment of the marriage with Tyrion? As the heiress of Harrenhal, and of the lordship of the Trident, Alayne would have one of the most desirable hand in the Seven Kingdoms. The notion, already put forward, that the lordship of Harrenhal is a high enough station for the lordship of the Eyrie would be confirmed.

I don't wish to go any further into speculation, except to add that it seems a basic principle of Martin's storytelling technique that a plan announced to the reader is doomed. The wedding scene has already been described by Littlefinger, hence it will not be repeated for real. Whether the intentions expressed by Littlefinger to Sansa are sincere is an open question, though.

I don't know whether GRRM intends for Sansa the lordship of Harrenhal, but much in Sansa's story prepares for her to reach that situation. It doesn't seem to me that the Alayne Stone persona is a mere parenthesis. Sansa seems to have more prospects as Alayne than as a Stark heiress.  

6. Littlefinger

One could argue that Littlefinger's interest in Harrenhal began with his passion for the daughters of Minisa: Lysa and Catelyn.

It's interesting to link this interest in the eventual lordship of Harrenhal granted to Peter Baelish.
When Tyrion shrugged, Littlefinger burst into laughter. “I thought not. You’re a dangerous little man, Lannister. Yes, I could sing this song to Lysa.” Again the sly smile, the mischief in his glance. “If I cared to.”
Tyrion nodded, waiting, knowing Littlefinger could never abide a long silence.
“So,” Lord Petyr continued after a pause, utterly unabashed, “what’s in your pot for me?” “Harrenhal.”
It was interesting to watch his face. Lord Petyr’s father had been the smallest of small lords, his
grandfather a landless hedge knight; by birth, he held no more than a few stony acres on the windswept shore of the Fingers. Harrenhal was one of the richest plums in the Seven Kingdoms, its lands broad and rich and fertile, its great castle as formidable as any in the realm... and so large as to dwarf Riverrun, where Petyr Baelish had been fostered by House Tully, only to be brusquely expelled when he dared raise his sights to Lord Hoster’s daughter.
Littlefinger took a moment to adjust the drape of his cape, but Tyrion had seen the flash of hunger in those sly cat’s eyes. I have him, he knew. “Harrenhal is cursed,” Lord Petyr said after a moment, trying to sound bored.
(Tyrion IV, ACoK)

…the flash of hunger… It might be the only time we saw Littlefinger betray any emotion. Before Littlefinger had intrigued to have Harrenhal bestowed to Janos Slynt, as retribution for the betrayal of Eddard Stark. Was the attribution of Harrenhal to Slynt a move that made acceptable that Littlefinger would receive the castle in turn? Of course, it doesn't seem likely that Littlefinger would have calculated that Slynt would lose the castle and that he could obtain it.

At any rate, here is the scene when Petyr Baelish is granted the seat.
When the herald called, “Lord Petyr Baelish,” he came forth dressed all in shades of rose and plum, his cloak patterned with mockingbirds. She could see him smiling as he knelt before the Iron Throne. He looks so pleased. Sansa had not heard of Littlefinger doing anything especially heroic during the battle, but it seemed he was to be rewarded all the same.
Ser Kevan got back to his feet. “It is the wish of the King’s Grace that his loyal councillor Petyr Baelish be rewarded for faithful service to crown and realm. Be it known that Lord Baelish is granted the castle of Harrenhal with all its attendant lands and incomes, there to make his seat and rule henceforth as Lord Paramount of the Trident. Petyr Baelish and his sons and grandsons shall hold and enjoy these honors until the end of time, and all the lords of the Trident shall do him homage as their rightful liege. The King’s Hand and the small council consent.”
On his knees, Littlefinger raised his eyes to King Joffrey. “I thank you humbly, Your Grace. I suppose this means I’ll need to see about getting some sons and grandsons.”
Joffrey laughed, and the court with him. Lord Paramount of the Trident, Sansa thought, and Lord of Harrenhal as well. She did not understand why that should make him so happy; the honors were as empty as the title granted to Hallyne the Pyromancer. Harrenhal was cursed, everyone knew that, and the Lannisters did not even hold it at present. Besides, the lords of the Trident were sworn to Riverrun and House Tully, and to the King in the North; they would never accept Littlefinger as their liege. Unless they are made to. Unless my brother and my uncle and my grandfather are all cast down and killed. The thought made Sansa anxious, but she told herself she was being silly. Robb has beaten them every time. He’ll beat Lord Baelish too, if he must.
(Sansa V, ASoS)

Tyrion was the first to conceive a rational reason for Littlefinger's interest in Harrenhal: to acquire a status acceptable for marrying Lysa Tully.
Tyrion studied the slender man with the pointed beard and irreverent grey-green eyes. Lord of Harrenhal an empty honor? Bugger that, Father. Even if he never sets foot in the castle, the title makes this match possible, as he’s known all along.
(Tyrion III, ASoS)
  Littlefinger confirmed that to Sansa.
She had thought about that. “Joffrey gave you Harrenhal. You are lord in your own right there.”
“By title. I needed a great seat to marry Lysa, and the Lannisters were not about to grant me Casterly Rock.”
“Yes, but the castle is yours.”
“Ah, and what a castle it is. Cavernous halls and ruined towers, ghosts and draughts, ruinous to heat, impossible to garrison... and there’s that small matter of a curse.”
“Curses are only in songs and stories.”
That seemed to amuse him. “Has someone made a song about Gregor Clegane dying of a poisoned spear thrust? Or about the sellsword before him, whose limbs Ser Gregor removed a joint at a time? That one took the castle from Ser Amory Lorch, who received it from Lord Tywin. A bear killed one, your dwarf the other. Lady Whent’s died as well, I hear. Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways, Strongs... Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)
However, Littlefinger will not be accepted easily as the Lord of the Trident.
That did not please Lord Emmon. “Harrenhal is a ruin, haunted and accursed,” he objected, “and Baelish... the man is a coin counter, no proper lord, his birth...”
(Jaime V, AFfC)
We have two possible readings of Littlefinger's interest in Harrenhal. We can believe what Tyrion has guessed and Sansa has been explained: that the lordship is a mere stepping stone to reach an even higher position, and that the lordship is undesirable. Perhaps Petyr Baelish deludes himself, and he is subject to the curse of Harrenhal.

Given the flash of hunger witnessed by Tyrion, I am not sure we should understand Petyr Baelish's lordship of Harrenhal as a mere cold calculation. Something else might be at work.

As we will see now, Harrenhal exerts a fascination on another character.

7. Tywin

During the war of the five kings, Lady Whent surrendered her castle to the Lannisters. Lord Tywin intends to occupy the stronghold.
“I have no intention of remaining here. We must finish our business with young Lord Stark before Renly Baratheon can march from Highgarden. Bolton does not concern me. He is a wary man, and we made him warier on the Green Fork. He will be slow to give pursuit. So... on the morrow, we make for Harrenhal. Kevan, I want Ser Addam’s outriders to screen our movements. Give him as many men as he requires, and send them out in groups of four. I will have no vanishings.”
“As you say, my lord, but... why Harrenhal? That is a grim, unlucky place. Some call it cursed.”
“Let them,” Lord Tywin said. “Unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers. Send forth Vargo Hoat and his freeriders as well, and Ser Amory Lorch. Each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.”
“They will burn, my lord,” Ser Kevan said, rising. “I shall give the commands.” He bowed and made for the door.
When they were alone, Lord Tywin glanced at Tyrion. “Your savages might relish a bit of rapine. Tell them they may ride with Vargo Hoat and plunder as they like-goods, stock, women, they may take what they want and burn the rest.”
(Tyrion IX, AGoT)

Tywin is upset that Cersei has awarded the place to Janos Slynt and he expresses an uncharacteristic respect for the ruinous castle.
The man’s father was a butcher, and they grant him Harrenhal. Harrenhal, that was the seat of kings! Not that he will ever set foot inside it, if I have a say. I am told he took a bloody spear for his sigil. A bloody cleaver would have been my choice.” His father had not raised his voice, yet Tyrion could see the anger in the gold of his eyes.
(Tyrion IX, AGoT)
Finally, we hear a startling rumor.
The talk was that Lord Tywin planned to restore Harrenhal to glory, and make it his new seat once the war was done.
(Arya VII, ACoK)

This would have no reason to be mentioned if it weren't true. Why would Tywin Lannister abandon his ancestral seat of Casterly Rock to wear the mantle of Harren the Black? Tywin Lannister seated in Harrenhal would be a challenge for the Iron Throne. We never heard Tywin mention such a project later in the story. In any case, the place holds a fascination for Tywin Lannister.

If holding the castle for a time was not sufficient, Tywin's intention to be seated in Harrenhal might have made him subject to the fabled curse.

Let's recapitulate the effect of the curse on lords and castellans. It started with Harren the Black incinerated in his tower. Houses Strong, Harroway, Lothston and Whent could not hold the place for very long. The Lothstons left a particularly sinister mark, with Lady Lothston bathing in blood. Lady Whent lost her castle to the horrors of the war of the five kings. She might have been assassinated on Littlefinger's orders. Tywin Lannister perished murdered by his own son. Janos Slynt was sent to the Wall where he was beheaded for disobedience (not a particularly gruesome death). Amory Lorch was devored by a bear. Robb Stark (whose banner had been raised above Harrenhal by Roose Bolton) perished in a violation of guest right at the Red Wedding. Roose Bolton is still alive (will he meet the same end than Tywin?). Vargo Hoat was dismembered and forced to practice self-cannibalism. Gregor Clegane died poisoned after months of suffering. Polliver was killed by the Hound. The castle is now held by ser Bonifer Hasty and his Holy Hundred.

8. Roose and Qyburn

Roose took possession of Harrenhal with a few thousand men. It seems several things happened that we had only a glimpse of. First, here is what Roose did initially.
Tothmure had been sent to the axe for dispatching birds to Casterly Rock and King’s Landing the night Harrenhal had fallen, Lucan the armorer for making weapons for the Lannisters, Goodwife Harra for telling Lady Whent’s household to serve them, the steward for giving Lord Tywin the keys to the treasure vault.
(Arya X, ACoK)

It is tempting to understand that Roose took the treasure and blamed the steward for the theft. Perhaps, Roose found something of interest in the castle. In particular, there is the curious book burning scene.
Roose Bolton was seated by the hearth reading from a thick leatherbound book when she entered. “Light some candles,” he commanded her as he turned a page. “It grows gloomy in here.”
She placed the food at his elbow and did as he bid her, filling the room with flickering light and the scent of cloves. Bolton turned a few more pages with his finger, then closed the book and placed it carefully in the fire. He watched the flames consume it, pale eyes shining with reflected light. The old dry leather went up with a whoosh, and the yellow pages stirred as they burned, as if some ghost were reading them.
(Arya X, ACoK)

We don't know what Roose understood from that book. The book burning happened the day Roose decided to betray his king. It's conceivable that Roose decided to become a kingslayer for another reason than mere political ambitions. What role did Harrenhal play in Roose's betrayal?

The presence of Qyburn in Harrenhal is interesting. He came as one of the Brave Companions. After entering Roose's service, he forgot the Bloody Mummers and became Roose's personal maester. It would seem that he did something to Jaime and perhaps Brienne as well when he leeched some blood from Jaime's eyes. Qyburn administered dreamwine to Jaime just before Jaime's strange dream that preceded Brienne's rescue.

Later, after having entered Cersei's service, Qyburn would create Robert Strong, an invincible knight, which, curiously, has been given the name of a house that once held Harrenhal.

9. The Holy Hundred

The Holy Hundred, a clerical order sworn to the Faith of the Seven, took possession of Harrenhal. It is led by Bonifer Hasty.

The approach of the Holy Hundred is announced by a sinister omen: a triple hornblowing. In view of the imporrance of triple hornblowing at the Wall, and for Euron's horn, such a detail deserves notice, even if its significance is unclear. Indeed, the Horn of Herrock reminds me of the large, magical horn we saw with Euron and at the Wall (black and twisted and banded in old gold).
Ser Addam’s outriders had reported that the gates of Harrenhal were closed and barred. Jaime drew his men up before them and commanded Ser Kennos of Kayce to sound the Horn of Herrock, black and twisted and banded in old gold.
When three blasts had echoed off the walls, they heard the groan of iron hinges and the gates swung slowly open.
(Jaime III, AFfC)
The Holy Hundred would find a place of depravation.
“One of the captives was always begging food,” Rafford admitted, “so Ser said to give him roast goat. The Qohorik didn’t have much meat on him, though. Ser took his hands and feet first, then his arms and legs.”
“The fat bugger got most, m’lord,” Shitmouth offered, “but Ser, he said to see that all the captives had a taste. And Hoat too, his own self. That whoreson ’ud slobber when we fed him, and the grease’d run down into that skinny beard o’ his.”
Father, Jaime thought, your dogs have both gone mad. 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)

Here is another detail to keep in mind about Harrenhal. Only three characters have lived through all the turmoil.
Of Lady Whent’s people, only three remained—the cook who had opened the postern gate for Ser Gregor, a bent-back armorer called Ben Blackthumb, and a girl named Pia, who was not near as pretty as she had been when Jaime saw her last.
(Jaime III, AFfC)

We might learn a thing or two about the dark history of Harrenhal through Ben Blackthumb, who had served Lord Lothston before the Whents. Bonifer is intent of purifying Harrenhal.
He took his own supper in Hunter’s Hall with Ser Bonifer Hasty, a solemn stork of a man prone to salting his speech with appeals to the Seven. “I want none of Ser Gregor’s followers,” he declared as he was cutting up a pear as withered as he was, so as to make certain that its nonexistent juice did not stain his pristine purple doublet, embroidered with the white bend cotised of his House. “I will not have such sinners in my service.”
“My septon used to say all men were sinners.”
“He was not wrong,” Ser Bonifer allowed, “but some sins are blacker than others, and fouler in the nostrils of the Seven.”
(Jaime III, AFfC)
Ser Bonifer demonstrated clearly his misogyny.
And you have no more nose than my little brother, or my own sins would have you choking on that pear. “Very well. I’ll take Gregor’s lot off your hands.” He could always find a use for fighters. If nothing else, he could send them up the ladders first, should he need to storm the walls of Riverrun.
“Take the whore as well,” Ser Bonifer urged. “You know the one. The girl from the dungeons.”
“Pia.” The last time he had been here, Qyburn had sent the girl to his bed, thinking that would please him. But the Pia they had brought up from the dungeons was a different creature from the sweet, simple, giggly creature who’d crawled beneath his blankets. She had made the mistake of speaking when Ser Gregor wanted quiet, so the Mountain had smashed her teeth to splinters with a mailed fist and broken her pretty little nose as well. He would have done worse, no doubt, if Cersei had not called him down to King’s Landing to face the Red Viper’s spear. Jaime would not mourn him. “Pia was born in this castle,” he told Ser Bonifer. “It is the only home she has ever known.”
“She is a font of corruption,” said Ser Bonifer. “I won’t have her near my men, flaunting her... parts.”
(Jaime III, AFfC)
Jaime considers the metal of which the Holy Hundred are made of.
“Can you hold Harrenhal with just your Holy Hundred?” Jaime asked. They should actually be called the Holy Eighty-Six, having lost fourteen men upon the Blackwater, but no doubt Ser Bonifer would fill up his ranks again as soon as he found some sufficiently pious recruits.
“I anticipate no difficulty. The Crone will light our way, and the Warrior will give strength to our arms.”
Or else the Stranger will turn up for the whole holy lot of you. Jaime could not be certain who had convinced his sister that Ser Bonifer should be named castellan of Harrenhal, but the appointment smelled of Orton Merryweather. Hasty had once served Merryweather’s grandsire, he seemed to recall dimly. And the carrot-haired justiciar was just the sort of simpleminded fool to assume that someone called “the Good” was the very potion the riverlands required to heal the wounds left by Roose Bolton, Vargo Hoat, and Gregor Clegane.
But he might not be wrong. Hasty hailed from the stormlands, so had neither friends nor foes along the Trident; no blood feuds, no debts to pay, no cronies to reward. He was sober, just, and dutiful, and his Holy Eighty-Six were as well disciplined as any soldiers in the Seven Kingdoms, and made a lovely sight as they wheeled and pranced their tall grey geldings. Littlefinger had once quipped that Ser Bonifer must have gelded the riders too, so spotless was their repute.
All the same, Jaime wondered about any soldiers who were better known for their lovely horses than for the foes they’d slain. They pray well, I suppose, but can they fight? They had not disgraced themselves on the Blackwater, so far as he knew, but they had not distinguished themselves either. Ser Bonifer himself had been a promising knight in his youth, but something had happened to him, a defeat or a disgrace or a near brush with death, and afterward he had decided that jousting was an empty vanity and put away his lance for good and all.
Harrenhal must be held, though, and Baelor Butthole here is the man that Cersei chose to hold it. “This castle has an ill repute,” he warned him, “and one that’s well deserved. It’s said that Harren and his sons still walk the halls by night, afire. Those who look upon them burst into flame.”
“I fear no shade, ser. It is written in The Seven-Pointed Star that spirits, wights, and revenants cannot harm a pious man, so long as he is armored in his faith.”
(Jaime III, AFfC)

So, it seems that the Holy Hundred chose to occupy Harrenhal precisely because the place is cursed. Ser Bonifer is certain that their holiness will preserve them of the curse.
“Then armor yourself in faith, by all means, but wear a suit of mail and plate as well. Every man who holds this castle seems to come to a bad end. The Mountain, the Goat, even my father...”
“If you will forgive my saying so, they were not godly men, as we are. The Warrior defends us, and help is always near, if some dread foe should threaten. Maester Gulian will be remaining with his ravens, Lord Lancel is nearby at Darry with his garrison, and Lord Randyll holds Maidenpool. Together we three shall hunt down and destroy whatever outlaws prowl these parts. Once that is done, the Seven will guide the goodfolk back to their villages to plow and plant and build anew.”
(Jaime III, AFfC)

For some reason, Bonifer Hasty describing himself as a godly man reminds me of Craster using the same phrase. In any case, Ser Bonifer seems dangerously overconfident.

Bonifer is immediately hostile to the hordes of wolves which infest the region of the Trident.
“No beast would be so bold,” declared Ser Bonifer the Good, of the stern sad face. “These are demons in the skins of wolves, sent to chastise us for our sins.”
(Jaime III, AFfC)

A final note about Bonifer Hasty. He was once implicated in a romantic relationship with Rhaella Targaryen. So ser Bonifer was once devoted to the Targaryen female line.

10. A tour of Harrenhal

We don't have much of an explanation for the curse of Harrenhal and what might be hidden there. Perhaps a little inventory of the place is in order.

It is enclosed by gigantic walls. The most visible features are the five towers.
Whatever names Harren the Black had meant to give his towers were long forgotten. They were called the Tower of Dread, the Widow’s Tower, the Wailing Tower, the Tower of Ghosts, and Kingspyre Tower.
(Arya VII, ACoK)

The name Widow's Tower might indicate that Harren's wife survived the fire of Balerion. Indeed, the story says that Harren and all his sons perished in the flames. All five names were given to the towers after Harren's demise.

The towers are gigantic as well. The smallest is half again as tall as Winterfell's tallest tower (the burned tower). Here is Arya's general impression.
Sometimes she thought they were all mice within those thick walls, even the knights and the great lords. The size of the castle made even Gregor Clegane seem small. Harrenhal covered thrice as much ground as Winterfell, and its buildings were so much larger they could scarcely be compared. Its stables housed a thousand horses, its godswood covered twenty acres, its kitchens were as large as Winterfell’s Great Hall, and its own great hall, grandly named the Hall of a Hundred Hearths even though it only had thirty and some (Arya had tried to count them, twice, but she came up with thirty-three once and thirty-five the other time) was so cavernous that Lord Tywin could have feasted his entire host, though he never did. Walls, doors, halls, steps, everything was built to an inhuman scale that made Arya remember the stories Old Nan used to tell of the giants who lived beyond the Wall.
(Arya VII, ACoK)
The hall of a hundred hearths is spectacular.
Clutching her, Jaime let them herd him across the yard to a vast draughty hall, larger even than the throne room in King’s Landing. Huge hearths lined the walls, one every ten feet or so, more than he could count, but no fires had been lit, so the chill between the walls went bone-deep. A dozen spearmen in fur cloaks guarded the doors and the steps that led up to the two galleries above. And in the center of that immense emptiness, at a trestle table surrounded by what seemed like acres of smooth slate floor, the Lord of the Dreadfort waited, attended only by a cupbearer.
(Jaime V, ASoS)
The slate floor occurs only in one other place: in the kitchen of the Nightfort.

Like the Nightfort's kitchen, Harrenhal's kitchen is domed. (However the Night's fort kitchen is impiously octagonal, not round.)
Hot Pie ate even better; he was where he belonged, in the kitchens, a round stone building with a domed roof that was a world unto itself.
(Arya VII, ACoK)

In the Seven kingdoms, few buildings are domed: mainly sept and some extraordinary buildings like the dragonpit in King's Landing and the Tower of the Sun in Sunspear (while across the Narrow Sea, we see many domes in Braavos, Volantis etc). Among the survivors of the turmoil, there is a cook.

To complete the mention of certain coincidences between certain features of Harrenhal and the Nightfort, we can note that Harren's brother was Lord Commander of the Watch and that Old Nan used to say that Harrenhal has been built with blood in the mortar, an expression that Jon Snow used to described the history of the castles at the Wall to Stannis.

Was Harrenhal relationship to the Isle of Faces similar to the the relationship of the Nightfort to the land beyond the Wall, where weirwoods still stand in the wild?

There is no sept at the Nightfort. But there were at least two in Harrenhal. One is functional and never described beyond the following mention.
The high and humble crowded into the sept together to pray.
(Arya VIII, ACoK)

The other sept is ruined.
The Tower of Ghosts was the most ruinous of Harrenhal’s five immense towers. It stood dark and desolate behind the remains of a collapsed sept where only rats had come to pray for near three hundred years.
(Arya X, ACoK)
Perhaps the oddest element in Harrenhal is the bear pit.
King Harren the Black had wished to do even his bear-baiting in lavish style. The pit was ten yards across and five yards deep, walled in stone, floored with sand, and encircled by six tiers of marble benches.
(Jaime VI, ASoS)

It seems that bear fighting is traditional in Norvos. Vargo Hoat is a Qohorik, and Qohor might share the tradition with its neighbor Norvos. This might be why Vargo Hoat brought a bear to Harrenhal.

In any case, the bear pit in Harrenhal could very well be an import from across the Narrow Sea. Marble is hardly in use in the Seven Kingdoms, why did Harren insisted on having a marble benches? Did he expect important spectators for the bear fighting?

Like everything else in Harrenhal, the godswood has been conceived on a larger scale than any other castle's. It covers twenty acres, while the notorious Winterfell godswood covers only three acres.
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.
(Arya IX, ACoK)

It's not clear how old is the heart tree. It is not described as particularly large. Does it predate Harren the Black? Since a face has been drawn into the tree, I suppose the tree dates from the time of the First Men. So Harrenhal has been built around the godswood – or perhaps replaced a more modest castle built there. The face has an uncommon feature: the mouth is a veritable hole dug into the tree. The holiness, or unholiness, of the place did not escape Jaqen.
“Swear it,” Arya said. “Swear it by the gods.”
“By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it.” He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood. “By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it.”
(Arya IX, ACoK)

The hollow mouth reminds me of the weirwood at Whitetree where wildlings apparently made sacrifices. What relation is there between the heart tree and the curse of Harrenhal?

It might be interesting to compare to the Wolf's Den, which seems to have had a troubled history until the Manderlys took over. It is tempting to attribute the bloody stories to the agency of the spectacular weirwood planted in the Den.

The curse of Harrenhal reminds me of another cursed place. Let's look at the Wailing Tower, which is the main lair of the bats of Harrenhal.
Arya slept in a shallow niche in the cavernous vaults beneath the Wailing Tower, on a bed of straw.
(Arya VII, ACoK)
The ground floor of the Wailing Tower was given over to storerooms and granaries, and two floors above housed part of the garrison, but the upper stories had not been occupied for eighty years. Now Lord Tywin had commanded that they be made fit for habitation again. There were floors to be scrubbed, grime to be washed off windows, broken chairs and rotted beds to be carried off. The topmost story was infested with nests of the huge black bats that House Whent had used for its sigil, and there were rats in the cellars as well... and ghosts, some said, the spirits of Harren the Black and his sons.
Arya thought that was stupid. 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.
(Arya VII, ACoK)
Away from the gates and the stables, the great castle was largely deserted. The noise dwindled behind her. A swirling wind gusted, drawing a high shivery scream from the cracks in the Wailing Tower.
(Arya IX, ACoK)

Above, the wind keened through the Wailing Tower.
(Arya X, ACoK)
Clouds were blowing in from the west, hiding the stars, and the Wailing Tower screamed mournfully at every gust of wind.

(Arya X, ACoK)

Let's look now at another cursed place.
Hardhome had been halfway toward becoming a town, the only true town north of the Wall, until the night six hundred years ago when hell had swallowed it. Its people had been carried off into slavery or slaughtered for meat, depending on which version of the tale you believed, their homes and halls consumed in a conflagration that burned so hot that watchers on the Wall far to the south had thought the sun was rising in the north. Afterward ashes rained down on haunted forest and Shivering Sea alike for almost half a year. Traders reported finding only nightmarish devastation where Hardhome had stood, a landscape of charred trees and burned bones, waters choked with swollen corpses, blood-chilling shrieks echoing from the cave mouths that pocked the great cliff that loomed above the settlement.
Six centuries had come and gone since that night, but Hardhome was still shunned. The wild had reclaimed the site, Jon had been told, but rangers claimed that the overgrown ruins were haunted by ghouls and demons and burning ghosts with an unhealthy taste for blood. “It is not the sort of refuge I’d chose either,” Jon said, “but Mother Mole was heard to preach that the free folk would find salvation where once they found damnation.”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)

“Cotter Pyke’s galleys sail past Hardhome from time to time. He tells me there is no shelter there but the caves. The screaming caves, his men call them. Mother Mole and those who followed her will perish there, of cold and starvation. Hundreds of them. Thousands.”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)

Hardhome and Harrenhal have in common something like the screaming caves and the burning ghosts with an unhealthy taste for blood.

Recall the book that Roose burned which, in Arya's eyes, had the semblance of being read by a ghost in the hearth. Recall the tale:
Nan said that fiery spirits still haunted the blackened towers. Sometimes men went to sleep safe in their beds and were found dead in the morning, all burnt up.
(Arya IV, ACoK)

11. Harrenhal's Children

The women of House Whent seem to have been remarkably infertile. Lady Whent died without children. The fifth wife of Walder Frey, Sarya Whent, died without children, whereas every other Lady of the Crossing bore numerous children.  Wynafrei Whent, wife to Danwell Frey, never bore a living child. Minisa Whent seems an exception to this rule, but she died in childbed. Lysa Arryn had difficulties bearing children: many miscarriages and a sickly child. Catelyn Stark did not suffer from such an affliction, of course.

In Harrenhal, pretty Pia has been raped repetitively, and never fell pregnant, as Jaime Lannister noted.
“If she’ll have you, take her. She’ll teach you a few things you’ll find useful on your wedding night, I don’t doubt, and you’re not like to get a bastard by her.” Pia had spread her legs for half his father’s army and never quickened; most like the girl was barren.
(Jaime IV, AFfC)

Something non natural seems to happen with the conception of children. I suppose that people would have noticed if Harrenhal induced barrenness as a general rule.

However every child of Catelyn Stark is gifted with the ability of warging. Edmure Tully does not seem to have inherited any particular ability.

Obviously, Harrenhal has played an essential role in Arya's story. She witnessed the worst horrors of the war there. This is the place where she received the iron coin from Jaqen, which led her to the Faceless Men. Jaqen has gone to Harrenhal following his own volition, presumably because he had to meet Lord Tywin. He seemed to have a certain understanding of the place.

Let's examine the role of Harrenhal for the other Stark children.

There does not seem any connection between Bran and Harrenhal, except this little detail while Bran is in the cave of the children of the forest.
As Hodor he explored the caves. He found chambers full of bones, shafts that plunged deep into the earth, a place where the skeletons of gigantic bats hung upside down from the ceiling.

(Bran III, ADwD)

Of course, nothing is guaranteed to happen. But it seems Rickon is destined to be fostered in White Harbor. It doesn't seem Wyman Manderly survived the battle in Winterfell. Hence, Rickon might fall into the orbit of Wyman's heir: Wylis Manderly. Lord Wyman feared for his son when he learned about his captivity in Harrenhal.

“King Robb has no more loyal servant than Wyman Manderly. I would be loath to see my son languish at Harrenhal any longer than he must, however. That is an ill place. Cursed, they say. Not that I am the sort to swallow such tales, but still, there it is. Look at what’s befallen this Janos Slynt. Raised up to Lord of Harrenhal by the queen, and cast down by her brother. Shipped off to the Wall, they say. I pray some equitable exchange of captives can be arranged before too very long. I know Wylis would not want to sit out the rest of the war. Gallant, that son of mine, and fierce as a mastiff.”

(Bran II, ACoK)

Ser Wylis went through awful times in Harrenhal, being held prisoner there twice. First, when Tywin held the castle, and then when Gregor Clegane conquered it again. Here is what happened to him the second time.

When they brought it to him, he found that the Goat’s lips had been sliced off, along with his ears and most of his nose. The crows had supped upon his eyes. It was still recognizably Hoat, however. Jaime would have known his beard anywhere; an absurd rope of hair two feet long, dangling from a pointed chin. Elsewise, only a few leathery strips of flesh still clung to the Qohorik’s skull. “Where is the rest of him?” he asked.
No one wanted to tell him. Finally, Shitmouth lowered his eyes, and muttered, “Rotted, ser. And et.”
“One of the captives was always begging food,” Rafford admitted, “so Ser said to give him roast goat. The Qohorik didn’t have much meat on him, though. Ser took his hands and feet first, then his arms and legs.”
“The fat bugger got most, m’lord,” Shitmouth offered, “but Ser, he said to see that all the captives had a taste. And Hoat too, his own self. That whoreson ’ud slobber when we fed him, and the grease’d run down into that skinny beard o’ his.”

(Jaime III, AFfC)

Ser Wylis seems pretty much traumatized by the experience.

None had any defiance left; especially not Ser Wylis, a bushy-faced tub of suet with dull eyes and sallow, sagging jowls. When Jaime told him that he would be escorted to Maidenpool and there put on a ship for White Harbor, Ser Wylis collapsed into a puddle on the floor and sobbed longer and louder than Pia had. It took four men to lift him back onto his feet. Too much roast goat, Jaime reflected. Gods, but I hate this bloody castle. Harrenhal had seen more horror in its three hundred years than Casterly Rock had witnessed in three thousand.

(Jaime III, AFfC)

We never saw Wylis directly in White Harbor, and we could not see how he has recovered. But his return was feasted at the very moment of Lord Wyman secret meeting with Davos. It's possible that Wylis traumatic experience in Harrenhal will eventually influence Rickon.

Despite having campaigned at length in the Riverlands, Robb Stark never set foot in Harrenhal. His banner floated there beside the banner of the Dreadfort while Roose Bolton ruled the castle. I suppose the banner of every Targaryen king floated above Harrenhal as well at some point. I don't see why that should make Robb Stark subject of a curse. We have noted already the noticeable occurences of the number nine: as the number of bats on the Whents' sigil, and as the number of sword on Robb's crown.

After this review of the Stark children, let's turn to another child born of the female descendance of the castle.

12. Sweetrobin

Robert Arryn is introduced surprisingly early in the story. It happens in the crypts of Winterfell, where the dialogue between Ned and Robert is intense. Given that the conversation contains much of our introduction to the story, it's remarkable that so much of it is about Sweetrobin.
“We both did.” Ned paused a moment. “Catelyn fears for her sister. How does Lysa bear her grief?”
Robert's mouth gave a bitter twist. “Not well, in truth,” he admitted. “I think losing Jon has driven the woman mad, Ned. She has taken the boy back to the Eyrie. Against my wishes. I had hoped to foster him with Tywin Lannister at Casterly Rock. Jon had no brothers, no other sons. Was I supposed to leave him to be raised by women?”
Ned would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin, but he left his doubts unspoken. Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word. “The wife has lost the husband,” he said carefully. “Perhaps-the mother feared to lose the son. The boy is very young.”
“Six, and sickly, and Lord of the Eyrie, gods have mercy,” the king swore. “Lord Tywin had never taken a ward before. Lysa ought to have been honored. The Lannisters are a great and noble House. She refused to even hear of it. Then she left in the dead of night, without so much as a by-your-leave. Cersei was furious.” He sighed deeply. “The boy is my namesake, did you know that? Robert Arryn. I am sworn to protect him. How can I do that if his mother steals him away?”
“I will take him as ward, if you wish,” Ned said. “Lysa should consent to that. She and Catelyn were close as girls, and she would be welcome here as well.”
“A generous offer, my friend,” the king said, “but too late. Lord Tywin has already given his consent. Fostering the boy elsewhere would be a grievous affront to him.”
“I have more concern for my nephew's welfare than I do for Lannister pride,” Ned declared.
(Eddard I, AGoT)
Ned and Robert return to Robert Arryn a moment later.
“His son...” Ned began.
“His son will succeed to the Eyrie and all its incomes,” Robert said brusquely. “No more.” That took Ned by surprise. He stopped, startled, and turned to look at his king. The words came
unbidden. “The Arryns have always been Wardens of the East. The title goes with the domain.” “Perhaps when he comes of age, the honor can be restored to him,” Robert said. “I have this year to think of, and next. A six-year-old boy is no war leader, Ned.”
“In peace, the title is only an honor. Let the boy keep it. For his father's sake if not his own.
Surely you owe, Jon that much for his service.”
(Eddard I, AGoT)

All this makes me inclined to believe that the Lord of the Eyrie is not likely to die soon as a character of little significance. Within the conversation, the only hint of Sweetrobin's importance seems to be that Tywin seems interested in fostering the boy, something that he had never done. Of course, I presume Tywin is aware that the boy is difficult.

We would tend to dismiss such a sickly child, so capricious and mean, and raised by a half-crazy, possessive and unpleasant mother.
“Come to Mother, my sweet one.” She straightened his bedclothes and fussed with his fine brown hair. “Isn't he beautiful? And strong too, don't you believe the things you hear. Jon knew. The seed is strong, he told me. His last words. He kept saying Robert's name, and he grabbed my arm so hard he left marks. Tell them, the seed is strong. His seed. He wanted everyone to know what a good strong boy my baby was going to be.”
(Catelyn VI, AGoT)

We all understand that Jon Arryn's last words refer to King Robert and the truth about the paternity of his heirs: it's about the strength of the Barratheon seed, the prominence of black hair in this family etc. Why would the Lord of the Eyrie devote his last thoughts to the Barratheon line? After all, shouldn't Lysa's interpretation be taken more seriously, even if those very words are preceded by what is, under all appearances, an unwise motherly bias. Isn't it likely that a father reserves his last words for his only and long awaited son?

Lysa repeated to Sansa what she had told Catelyn.
He is eight. And not robust. But such a good boy, so bright and clever. He will be a great man, Alayne. The seed is strong, my lord husband said before he died. His last words. The gods sometimes let us glimpse the future as we lay dying.
(Sansa VI, ASoS)

We heard something about sickly children who would become great men.
“In a sense. Those you call the children of the forest have eyes as golden as the sun, but once in a great while one is born amongst them with eyes as red as blood, or green as the moss on a tree in the heart of the forest. By these signs do the gods mark those they have chosen to receive the gift. The chosen ones are not robust, and their quick years upon the earth are few, for every song must have its balance. But once inside the wood they linger long indeed. A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. Greenseers.”
(Bran III, ADwD)
Of course, it is Lord Brynden's lecture to Bran.

So could Sweetrobin have the gift? There are a few hints of that. There is a striking image the first time we see him with his mother.
She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy breast, tipped with red.
(Catelyn VI, AGoT)

The colors of Lysa's breasts match those of the weirwood, whose color is often called pale. And, especially, the situation of child depending on his mother for nourishment recalls Lord Brynden in a symbiosis with the trees. I noticed the resemblance, even before I read the confirmation of the analogy in GRRM's very words.
Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child.
(Bran II, ADwD)

The needs of Sweetrobin with his mother mirror those of the greenseer with the tree.

What are the signs that Sweetrobin has the gift? Is he in contact with the old gods? He might be. Here is Sweetrobin at the Eyrie.
The wretched boy had started it, looking down on him from a throne of carved weirwood beneath the moon-and-falcon banners of House Arryn.
(Tyrion V, AGoT)

Could the weirwood throne be a channel for green dreams? Are there green dreams? We don't know that, because Sweetrobin's sleep seems controlled by Maester Colemon.
Robert Arryn's shaking sickness was nothing new to the people of the Eyrie, and Lady Lysa had trained them all to come rushing at the boy's first cry. The maester held the little lord's head and gave him half a cup of dreamwine, murmuring soothing words. Slowly the violence of the fit seemed to ebb away, till nothing remained but a small shaking of the hands. “Help him to my chambers,” Colemon told the guards. “A leeching will help calm him.”
(Sansa VII, ASoS)
“I am not hungry,” he decided. “I want to go back to bed. I never slept last night. I heard singing. Maester Colemon gave me dreamwine but I could still hear it.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)
Colemon lingered a moment before following. “My lord, this parley might best be left for another day. His lordship's spells have grown worse since Lady Lysa's death. More frequent and more violent. I bleed the child as often as I dare, and mix him dreamwine and milk of the poppy to help him sleep, but...”
“He sleeps twelve hours a day,” Petyr said. “I require him awake from time to time.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)

The situation is similar to Bran with Maester Luwin. Indeed Luwin does not like green dreams and wolf dreams. After Bran has dreamt of being a wolf:
The door to his bedchamber opened. Maester Luwin was carrying a green jar, and this time Osha and Hayhead came with him. “I've made you a sleeping draught, Bran.”
Osha scooped him up in her bony arms. She was very tall for a woman, and wiry strong. She bore him effortlessly to his bed.
“This will give you dreamless sleep,” Maester Luwin said as he pulled the stopper from the jar. “Sweet, dreamless sleep.”
“It will?” Bran said, wanting to believe.
“Yes. Drink.”
Bran drank. The potion was thick and chalky, but there was honey in it so it went down easy. “Come the morn, you'll feel better.” Luwin gave Bran a smile and a pat as he took his leave. Osha lingered behind. “Is it the wolf dreams again?”
Bran nodded.
“You should not fight so hard, boy. I see you talking to the heart tree. Might be the gods are
trying to talk back.”
“The gods?” he murmured, drowsy already. Osha's face grew blurry and grey. Sweet,
dreamless sleep, Bran thought.
(Bran I, ACoK)

I shall add this curious line. A sign that the three-eyed crow might have tried to contact him.
Robert was afraid of men with moles.
(Alayne I, AFfC)

Indeed Lord Brynden has a famous birthmark on his face. There is another hint that Sweetrobin wouldn't be happy in Lord Brynden's cave.
“Music soothes him,” she corrected, “the high harp especially. It's singing he can't abide, since Marillion killed his mother.”
(Alayne II, AFfC)
Indeed the Children of the Forest sing in the cave.
And they did sing. They sang in True Tongue, so Bran could not understand the words, but their voices were as pure as winter air.
(Bran III, ADwD)

Sweetrobin is very much in danger of dying of excess of sweetmilk, which, I suppose, is the same substance as sweetsleep.
“Is that your counsel, maester? That we find a wet nurse for the Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale? When shall we wean him, on his wedding day? That way he can move directly from his nurse's nipples to his wife's.” Lord Petyr's laugh made it plain what he thought of that. “No, I think not. I suggest you find another way. The boy is fond of sweets, is he not?”
“Sweets?” said Colemon.
“Sweets. Cakes and pies, jams and jellies, honey on the comb. Perhaps a pinch of sweetsleep in his milk, have you tried that? Just a pinch, to calm him and stop his wretched shaking.”
“A pinch?” The apple in the maester's throat moved up and down as he swallowed. “One small pinch... perhaps, perhaps. Not too much, and not too often, yes, I might try...”
“A pinch,” Lord Petyr said, “before you bring him forth to meet the lords.”
“As you command, my lord.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)
The waif explains to Arya the nature of the substance.
“Sweetsleep is the gentlest of poisons,” the waif told her, as she was grinding some with a mortar and pestle. “A few grains will slow a pounding heart and stop a hand from shaking, and make a man feel calm and strong. A pinch will grant a night of deep and dreamless sleep. Three pinches will produce that sleep that does not end. The taste is very sweet, so it is best used in cakes and pies and honeyed wines. Here, you can smell the sweetness.”
(Cat of the Canals, AFfC)
But Lord Robert needed to be calmed on the vertiginous descent from the Eyrie.
“Give his lordship a cup of sweetmilk,” she told the maester. “That will stop him from shaking on the journey down.”
“He had a cup not three days past,” Colemon objected.
“And wanted another last night, which you refused him.”
“It was too soon. My lady, you do not understand. As I've told the Lord Protector, a pinch of sweetsleep will prevent the shaking, but it does not leave the flesh, and in time...”
“Time will not matter if his lordship has a shaking fit and falls off the mountain. If my father were here, I know he would tell you to keep Lord Robert calm at all costs.”
“I try, my lady, yet his fits grow ever more violent, and his blood is so thin I dare not leech him any more. Sweetsleep... you are certain he was not bleeding from the nose?”
“He was sniffling,” Alayne admitted, “but I saw no blood.”
(Alayne II, AFfC)
I understand that sweetmilk is made with a pinch of sweetsleep. And later.
“Just give him a cup of the sweetmilk before we go, and another at the feast, and there should be no trouble.”
“Very well.” They paused at the foot of the stairs. “But this must be the last. For half a year, or longer.”
(Alayne II, AFfC)
Littlefinger expects Robert to die.
When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time.
(Alayne II, AFfC)

What if the sweetsleep and the near death experience that could come with it make Sweetrobin open his third eye?

I shall say that a completely different reasoning led me to the greenseer suspicion. But I do not want to go into that reasoning here. Of course the greenseers are related to the Children of the Forest, or at least to the worshippers of the Old Gods. However, the Arryn are noted for being of pure Andal blood.
The Arryns are descended from the Kings of Mountain and Vale, one of the oldest and purest lines of Andal nobility.
(Appendix, ASoS)

What did Jon Arryn mean when he said: The seed is strong ?

Other questions: why was Tywin Lannister interested in fostering Robert Arryn, while he had fostered no other child before? Why did Lysa Arryn leave abruptly King's Landing with Robert (it is not out of fear for Robert after Jon Arryn's death, since she poisoned her husband and had no particular reason to feel threatened)? Did she sense that some people had an undue interest in her son?

Sweetrobin, at best, throws chamberpots at those who displease him, and at worst, wants to make them fly through the Moon Door. It's worrying to think what he could do with the power of greenseer: a hundred skins, a thousand eyes and a wisdom as deep as the roots of the trees. It's interesting now to look back at Bran's Fall, and the discussion about letting him live. It was obvious for us that he should live. But now, we can only hope for the best now that Bran seems to be inheriting the weirwood throne beyond the Wall. From my perspective, Sweetrobin is a sort of (perhaps evil) twin to Bran.

The same question arises for Sweetrobin. Except that it seems a folly to give so much power to a capricious and irresponsible boy. The question of his life or his death arises in much more thorny terms. I don't know how Sansa would learn about whatever gift her cousin has, but she seems to be in position to save Lord Robert or to let him die. The moral quandary could be her responsability. Sansa's choice.

13. The Tourney

It's time to turn to the famous tourney at Harrenhal. The events of the period are essential to the understanding of the present time. Hints are coming little by little, consider for example the "southron ambitions" of Rickard Stark, which sheds a different light on Aerys' fear of betrayal. An in-depth study of the tournament could turn out to be an in-depth study of the whole story, this is why we are going to limit our investigation.

According to Jaime, the tourney was conceived by Lord Whent as an act of vanity.

“Harrenhal was where they gave me the white cloak,” he whispered back. “Whent’s great tourney. He wanted to show us all his big castle and his fine sons. I wanted to show them too. I was only fifteen, but no one could have beaten me that day. Aerys never let me joust.”

(Jaime IV, ASoS)

Barristan Selmy's account is less self-centered.

“The tourney Lord Whent staged at Harrenhal beside the Gods Eye, in the year of the false spring. A notable event. Besides the jousting, there was a melee in the old style fought between seven teams of knights, as well as archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, a tournament of singers, a mummer show, and many feasts and frolics. Lord Whent was as open handed as he was rich. The lavish purses he proclaimed drew hundreds of challengers. Even your royal father came to Harrenhal, when he had not left the Red Keep for long years. The greatest lords and mightiest champions of the Seven Kingdoms rode in that tourney, and the Prince of Dragonstone bested them all.”

(Daenerys IV, ASoS)

So Lord Whent spent a fortune in this tourney. The most remarkable family in attendance is the the Starks, since the tradition of jousting seems to belong to the south.

Here is Meera Reed's account of the tourney. She mentioned the daughter of the castle, who seems to have been Shella Whent.

“The daughter of the great castle reigned as queen of love and beauty when the tourney opened. Five champions had sworn to defend her crown; her four brothers of Harrenhal, and her famous uncle, a white knight of the Kingsguard.”
“Was she a fair maid?”
“She was,” said Meera, hopping over a stone, “but there were others fairer still. One was the wife of the dragon prince, who’d brought a dozen lady companions to attend her. The knights all begged them for favors to tie about their lances.”

(Bran II, ASoS)

Meera confirmed a moment later.

As my prince commands. The daughter of the castle was the queen of love and beauty, with four brothers and an uncle to defend her, but all four sons of Harrenhal were defeated on the first day.

(Bran II, ASoS)

The white knight of the kingsguard was Oswell Whent, a brother of Lord Whent. It seems all four sons died in the war. The daughter of the great castle was under all appearances Shella Whent, who has never married, it seems.

What is at stakes in such a tourney? Of course, the victory brings fame to any knight. But ostensibly, the victor wins the right to name the queen of love and beauty. Why not play the game of reverting the point of view? The ladies compete for the title and the knights are mere instruments.

The tradition of crowning a queen of love and beauty seems to stem from the tradition of chivalry. The queen in question being honored by a title which seems purely honorific, and leaves the elected lady in a fundamentally passive position. It is not systematic in the series. There is no such queen in The Mystery Knight (that can be explained perhaps because the tourney celebrated a wedding, and no other lady than the bride should be celebrated). Jorah Mormont crowned Lynesse Hightower at Lannisport. At the Hand's tourney, no such queen was named (perhaps Robert wasn't fond of the tradition after what happened at Harrenhal).

I wonder if the custom does not refer to an older rite, now forgotten, when queens had real power. We have yet to see a testimony of a time when women were the rulers – except in the sacrifice seen in a vision by Bran before the heart tree of Winterfell. Obviously, the crowning of Lyanna is the cause of consternation, which seems to go beyond what one would expect for Rhaegar's boorish behavior with respect to his wife. After all the Targaryens were famous for playing by their own rules, and didn't feel compelled to respect the customs of the common men.

In that occasion, the choice of the queen was the cause of the dismay.

Robert had been jesting with Jon and old Lord Hunter as the prince circled the field after unhorsing Ser Barristan in the final tilt to claim the champion’s crown. Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.

(Eddard XV, AGoT)

Why was the crowning of Lyanna so scandalous? After all, she was only a girl at the time. Is it because Elia Martell was snubbed? It was not gallant, but, after all, of little consequence. What is the significance of the choice of the queen? Even Daenerys, always well disposed towards her family, is shocked at what happened.

“But that was the tourney when he crowned Lyanna Stark as queen of love and beauty!” said Dany. “Princess Elia was there, his wife, and yet my brother gave the crown to the Stark girl, and later stole her away from her betrothed. How could he do that? Did the Dornish woman treat him so ill?”

(Daenerys IV, ASoS)

In any case, one can summarize the tourney as the passing of the crown of love and beauty to Lady Whent, daughter of the castle to Lyanna Stark, a representative of a distinct and important female lineage. Other ladies had champions during the tourney: Elia Martell and the dozen companions she brought, including Ashara Dayne, well loved by Barristan Selmy, and dishonored by a Stark.

If there is significance to the two female lineages of interest to us: the lineage of Lyanna Stark, and the lineage of Lady Whent, it is worthwhile to note that it is present in the Stark children – if we assume Jon Snow to be Lyanna's son, of course.

After going through all the story, it seems to me that it is as if the cursed castle had a will of its own, pushing out unfit rulers, sending Brienne and Jaime on quests, and calling perhaps its "rightful" ruler, Sansa Stark.

The Winterfell Huis Clos