Harwin Strong & Criston Cole's Fight Is Deeper Than HOTD Reveals

Warning: Spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 6 and George R. R. Martin's book Fire & Blood.Harwin Strong and Criston Cole's fight in House of the Dragon has a deeper history, as revealed in the book Fire & Blood. In House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6, "The Princess and the Queen," Criston makes a thinly veiled accusation that Harwin is the father of Rhaenyra's children — a taunt that leads to a fight between the two knights in the practice arena. Although the provocation was enough on its own to cause Harwin to snap and attack Criston, the characters share a deep history unseen in House of the Dragon's earlier episodes.


HBO's House of the Dragon is based on Fire & Blood, George R. R. Martin's tome chronicling the events leading up to and during the Targaryen civil war, known as the Dance of the Dragons. The source material contains a plethora of extra details and backstories — more than the Game of Thrones prequel series has time to show, even with its jam-packed and fast-moving timeline. House of the Dragon often circumvents parts of Fire & Blood to keep pace, meaning that finer details of the characters' histories and motivations are easily lost. Among these are Harwin and Criston's previous encounters described in the book, which deepen the intensity of their entanglement during House of the Dragon's sixth episode.

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The scuffle between Harwin Strong and Criston Cole in "The Princess and the Queen" is not the pair's first face-off. The two knights also fight each other in Fire & Blood at a tourney celebrating Rhaenyra and Laenor's marriage. That earlier battle ultimately leads to Criston shattering Harwin's collarbone and elbow, resulting in the latter receiving the nickname "Brokenbones." During this same tourney, Criston kills Joffrey Lonmouth, as he does in House of the Dragon season 1, episode 5, but in the book, it's with an over-zealous blow with his Morningstar. Criston's proposal to run away is also rejected by Rhaenyra earlier in Fire & Blood, and she has already replaced Criston with Harwin as a lover by the time of her wedding. House of the Dragon condenses most of these moments into the wedding feast in episode 5, and as a result, the tensions between Criston and Harwin are not as pronounced in the show as they are in the book.

Why Didn't HOTD Include Harwin & Criston's Book Fight?

house of the dragon ser criston cole jousts daemon targaryen

The main reason House of the Dragon did not include Harwin Strong and Criston Cole's earlier fight from Fire & Blood is probably practical: there just isn't enough screen time. The tourney could have become a distraction tacked onto the end of Rhaenyra and Laenor's wedding. Instead, House of the Dragon sews together the key beats for one dramatic climax. Criston still kills Joffrey, fueled by rage after being rejected by Rhaenyra. This climax in House of the Dragon episode 5 initiates Alicent and Criston's relationship, as well as Harwin and Rhaenyra's after he rescues her during the commotion. These big moments for Harwin and Criston set up their future tensions without going to the lengths that Fire & Blood could.

Why Harwin Strong Is So Much Stronger Than Criston Cole

House of the Dragon Ser Harwin Strong Ryan Corr

Rhaenyra chooses Criston Cole to become part of the Kingsguard due to his fighting prowess, especially after he defeats Daemon in House of the Dragon's pilot episode. In contrast, Harwin Strong is labeled in Fire & Blood as the strongest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Although Criston's agenda is more to expose Harwin as being the father to Rhaenyra's children, rather than to fight him, he's still defeated rather easily during their brawl in "The Princess and the Queen." Harwin is nicknamed "Breakbones" initially in the book due to his superior strength. Later, Harwin becomes "Brokenbones" after Criston beats him at the tourney. Perhaps this incident suggests that Criston could have put up more of a fight in House of the Dragon episode 6 against Harwin had he so desired.

Why Harwin Was Punished For Hitting Criston (But Cole Wasn't For Killing Joffrey)

Criston Cole at Rhaenyra's wedding in HOTD episode 5

The fact that Harwin Strong is effectively banished for his overreaction to Criston Cole's goading, while Cole gets away with killing Joffrey Lonmouth, is puzzling. Not only does Criston brutally kill Joffrey, but he also strikes Laenor, who is soon to marry Rhaenyra, who is the heir to the throne. Criston gets away with his actions thanks to Alicent, who interrupts his would-be suicide attempt and advocates for him. Alicent is the queen, making it reasonable to assume that she would be able to bend the weak King Viserys's ear and forge a believable explanation for the killing. Joffrey is armed with a dagger during the incident, so perhaps Alicent could claim that Joffrey attacked Criston first. The public nature of Joffrey's murder still puts this reasoning on thin ice, but it's the most plausible explanation for how Criston is not only left unpunished but is promoted as Alicent's protector.

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George R. R. Martin overcomes this difficulty in the book by having Criston kill Joffrey at the tourney, where weapons and fighting are at least permitted. Harwin is less fortunate than Criston due to the implications of his actions. While Joffrey's murder also kills his knowledge of Criston's secret affair with Rhaenyra, Harwin's actions expose his own. Harwin's character is also brought into question by the rumors. So strong is this gossip that Harwin's father, Lord Lyonel Strong, even attempts to step down as Hand to the King. Harwin's treatment is still harsh, and if more of Fire & Blood's tourney appeared in House of the Dragon, then Criston's lack of punishment would have been more understandable. However, given the amount of material House of the Dragon has to cover, these concerns are probably forgivable.

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