It’s no secret that George R. R. Martin draws inspiration from popular history to trace the fate of some of his characters. If Rhaenyra Targaryen was inspired by Empress Matilda, it is easy to identify the commonalities between Ser Larys Strong and King Richard III. The story of the last king of the Plantagenets, defeated in battle by Henry Tudor, is part of the Wars of the Roses which, in theory, was the material for Game of Thrones, but is applicable here. And yes, he is the representative of Littlefinger, one of the worst villains in the saga.
It took me a while to get on the path of one of the most dangerous men in the plot: Ser Larys Strong. He’s been on the scene for a while, but now we have the confirmation that he was and that of House of the Dragon, an ambitious player who had his father, Ser Lyonel Strong, and brother, Ser Harwin Strong, killed to serve Alicent Hightower. Obsession? Strategy? Love?
Played by actor Matthew Needham who has previously been cast in Chernobyl and Dr. Who is more assiduous in the theater, including in plays by the English bard, Matthew is one of the most important names in the cast. It’s good to stay connected.
Ser Larys Strong was born with a physical defect – a twisted foot – that earned him the “nickname” of “clubfoot”, which prevented him from learning to fight or dreaming of a worthy profession in his time. To make matters worse, being the youngest, he saw his brother, Harwin, having everything he would ever have: fame, respect, position, and inheritance. Another obvious parallel to Richard of York, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest and by far the most unlikely to ever hold the crown of England, who suffered from proven scoliosis but gained a reputation as a limp and hunchback thanks to Shakespeare.
“I, who am deprived of harmonious proportion, error of formation, deceptive, misshapen, unfinished work of nature”, he describes himself in the opening monologue. “So, since I cannot be a lover who enjoys these days of gentle practices, I am determined to be a bad villain and hate the empty pleasures of these days. I hatched conjurations, dangerous plots, amid dreams, accusations, and drunken prophecies, to throw my brother Clarence and the King against each other, in a deadly hatred“, he continues. A perfect description for Larry.
Ser Larys was born into an honorable family, House Strong, loyal to the Targaryens since the invasion and therefore owning the gigantic Castle of Harrenhal in recognition. Ser Lyonel, the father of Larys and Harwin, was part of the King’s Little Council, discreet, thoughtful, and constant. Gradually, he gains the trust of an always susceptible King Viserys I, to whom he always gives good advice even if it is not for personal benefit. When Otto Hightower‘s ambitions trump the game, it’s Ser Lyonel who rises, rightfully so.
We meet the brothers at Aegon II‘s 2nd birthday celebration when Rhaenyra disappears and the tension between her and her father is clear. Lyonel is not yet the hand of the King, but he is the one who suggests the best alternative for the future Queen: marrying Laenor Velaryon, who would resolve several conflicts in just one union. By this time Ser Harwin was part of the Royal Patrol (led by Daemon Targaryen), but Larys, as he explains to the women, prefers to stay close to them as he cannot move around easily due to his physical defect. Observant, not only does he keep track of all the gossip (he keeps quiet and is forgotten among them), he fishes out the anxieties and insecurities of the young Queen Alicent Hightower.
In the series (and the book), Larys is a man of few words and friends, and he mirrors a clearly isolated Alicent. His decisions are surprising because, being the brother of Ser Harwin and son of Ser Lyonel, it was to be expected that he would be neutral or on the side of the blacks, but he is one of the main articulators of the greens. For some, the motivation for turning against Rhaeynra was precisely to blame her for the shame she brought to her family, but that will come later. For now, we know that it was he who took the common obstacles to him Alicent out of the way, killing his father and brother and becoming heir to Harrenhal.
With the support of the Queen, Larys becomes Lord Confessor and Master of Whispers in Viserys’ small council. With the death of the King, Larys is openly part of the green faction at court, supporting the coronation of Aegon II Targaryen, leading the blood pact among those present, and being the first to cut off his own hand to take the oath.
Ser Varys’ leadership makes him remind us of several – awful – Game of Thrones villains at different times. Like Varys, it has a consistent information network. Like Littlefinger, he acts on the quiet and profits from the chaos. Like Euron Greyjoy, he killed his brother, and like Ramsay Bolton is adept at physical torture as a source of power, submission, and strategy.
The relationship between him and Alicent is complex, to put it simplistically. When the Queen’s grandson is brutally murdered by Blood and Cheese, it is Larys who tortures one of the two at the Queen’s personal request. He is the one who draws up the lists of faithful blacks so Ser Criston Cole could attack and undermine the enemy side. And it does a lot more for the greens.
I particularly believe in Ser Larry’s passion for Alicent. He sees her as a rare flower in an inhospitable garden and has drawn himself the symbol of a Bee, abandoning the Strongs. Bees represent many things, from teamwork, dedication, and divine love. It also makes honey, a not-so-subtle allusion that it is sweet but can be malicious, as Laenor tells Rhaenyra, that gossip is passed like honey in Viserys’ ears through Alicent. And through Larys to her. If it hadn’t been for him, Alicent would have taken the time or never learned the truth about Rhaenyra the night she seduced Ser Criston Cole. And I suspect it will be he who will help hasten Viserys’ death.
In the conflict of A Dance with Dragons, Ser Larry will be vital. The 1st season will show its importance, but in the next ones even more. In the first stage, the Greens will come out ahead, with heavy losses as one of his bastard nephews, Lucerys, is killed by his other uncle, Aemond, but eventually, the Blacks regain the upper hand, seriously injuring Aegon II and Rhaenyra taking the Iron throne.
In this phase, it will be with the help of Larys that Aegon and his two sons escape using a secret passage in the palace. His plan is efficient and decisive for the conclusion of the story. He separates the princes, sending one to the care of the Hightowers in Oldtown and the princess to the Baratheons in Stormsend. Disguising King Aegon as a commoner, he boldly flees to Dragonstone, rightly believing that Rhaenyra could never have imagined seeking her half-brother in her own stronghold.
The one who becomes suspicious of Larys is precisely Prince Aemond, who believes that his mother’s suspected ally could have helped Rhaenyra, although what he was doing was undermining the Queen’s hold over the capital. For example, when Helaena Targaryen kills herself, Larys spreads the news as if Rhaenyra had executed her stepsister. With her unpopularity growing, Rhaneyra has to flee King’s Landing. Larys had a place of honor at the coronation of Trystane Truefyre, who also feigned allegiance only to secure the release of an imprisoned Alicent and the return of the Greens to the throne. That’s because upon arriving at Dragonstone, Rhaenyra is surprised to find Aegon II and is cruelly killed by her brother, ending (in theory) the conflict.
Larys’ dual role will be increasingly daring. He has control of Alicent, and convinces her to spare Ser Corlys Velarion and Rhaenyra’s son Aegon III. Eventually, he plots the death of Aegon II (I’m summarizing the conflicts, they follow!) and Ser Larys – in amazement – helps Rhaenyra and Daemon’s son ascended to the throne.
Ser Larys’ downfall comes with the arrival of Lord Cregan Stark, faithful to the blacks and holding the position of Hand of the King. He uncovers the Master of Whispers’ entire plot in the rise and assassination of Aegon II, saving only Ser Corlys Velarion from execution. Ser Larys makes one last request, which is granted, that in addition to his head, his defective foot is cut off as well. His body was buried at Harrenhal, and, being the last of the Strongs and without heirs (with his brother’s bastard children already dead), House Strong died along with him.
In this way, we will have to bear with great pain the presence of Ser Larys who will be directly linked with Rhaenyra’s fate.
In a universe of villains, he certainly stands out as one of the most cunning and dangerous in the Game of Thrones universe, but he will be defeated in battle. No horses…