Although he was only in a few episodes in Season 7, suddenly Harrag the Ironborn has become the only character I truly care about on Game of Thrones, and I'm heartbroken that we may never see him again. The acting by Brendan Cowell elevated him far from being simply a mid-level boss that Theon had to overcome on his way to saving his sister Yara from their evil uncle Euron.
Life for everyone in Westeros is tough, but for the Ironborn, it's particularly tough. Yet Harrag has risen up the ranks to become a captain, so he's clearly faced many hardships on his way to where he is now. He showed the strength to change from the Ironborn ways and stand behind Yara as the new Queen of the Ironborn. But when Euron came attacking, everything fell apart.
The main plot is that his ship rescued Theon, they came to Dragonstone to request help from Daenerys, and then when he learned of the incoming death march of White Walkers and their undead army, he threw in the towel and decided to backslide into his murdering and pillaging ways. But much as people added in additional scenes between the Stark siblings at Winterfell that took place off camera, I have added in further dialogue between Theon and Harrag that was not included on the show.
In my version (which of course is not anything close to canon), Harrag realized that the world was changing and getting smaller. It was time for the Ironborn to mature and become a greater force for good instead of simply roaming the oceans as pirates. Who better to align with than Daenerys, the Queen of Dragons, and be a part of the winning team.
But taking a stand means facing greater challenges than simply fist fighting against your fellow Ironborn or attacking passing merchant ships. War can annihilate your entire fleet, which is exactly what happened when Euron surprised them in the dead of the night. Harrag managed to flee to survive. Even if he wasn't with Yara's team at the time, he certainly didn't rush to assist them in the heat of the battle. So, when his team pulled Theon aboard, he saw himself reflected in Theon's own fear. Yet, as captain of the ship, he was forced to continue to hold up a brave face.
Clearly, Theon had at least one off-screen conversation with Harrag, convincing him to take them back to Dragonstone to request Daenerys' help in rescuing Yara. In my version, they spoke further, openly discussing Harrag's fears of facing off against King Euron. Harrag saw the way Euron quickly and decisively took out Yara's fleet, so what hope would they stand against him with just one remaining ship? It's not easy to sneak back into the Iron Islands.
When they learn that Daenerys is far too busy to help them with their rescue mission, that's strike two. There's a whole shot just of Harrag looking upset. And then when they learn that the undead will be taking over the world soon, that's it. It's over. Harrag loses all will to continue and decides to give up. He knows what he's doing is not right, so he tries to sneak his men out when Theon is busy chatting with Jon Snow. You can see the look on his face when he gets caught by Theon, a flash of shame that he quickly covers up with a scowl.
Harrag is so terrified to take on Euron and face off against the undead that he would rather risk ending it all right here, on this beach, where at least he knows it will be immediate, without any drawn out torture and terror that could occur from his enemies later on.
A lot of people wondered how Theon could have possibly defeated such a larger, stronger man. But Harrag was not prepared for a real fight at the time. He probably assumed that he could take out Theon with one or two punches and throws, and Theon would simply give up. He's completely shocked that Theon keeps getting back up, showing no signs of being the timid weakling he had been when hauled back on his ship, a only few episodes back.
Even though he threatens twice to kill Theon, he feels torn and conflicted about it. Theon may have been a thorn in his side for not having the strength to take on his uncle or all his other failures (captured by the Starks, couldn't hold Winterfell for long, captured by the Boltons, couldn't prevent Euron from becoming King), but he was still the son of the previous king and the brother of the possible queen. At this point, he's also quite winded from the fight lasting longer than expected. Plus all that armor he's wearing was very heavy.
When Harrag discovers that Theon is invincible where it matters, then it's all over. All the strength in the world cannot make up for a loss of spirit. He gives up and cannot be bothered to throw Theon off or protect himself from the rain of blows that follows. Although I was upset at Theon for most likely crushing Harrag's skull beyond repair, I get why he did it. In this world, you don't want to almost kill your opponents, as that can be detrimental for you (see The Mountain vs Oberyn, The Hound vs Brienne, The Waif vs Arya, etc). And why didn't Harrag mount Theon and punch him to death early on? He probably figured that Theon would quickly fold, and it wouldn't look all that impressive to his mates for him to murder such a presumed weakling.
In my version (which again, I didn't write the script.. the actual producers tell a much more realistic story, but hey, who doesn't sometimes create revisions for their favorite shows), back on the ship, Harrag trusted Theon and would do everything for him, but he felt that the rest of the Ironborn did not. He felt that Theon would need to prove himself to them by taking on a fearsome opponent, and he offered himself up. As he was already too scared to take on Euron and the undead, he would rather simply lose to Theon instead of needing to continue fighting against bigger and scarier evils. When he yelled a second time to Theon that he would kill him, he was basically saying "Look, I've been beating you left and right.. if you're going to show some offense, you'd better to it now, or else I really will need to go ahead and kill you."
Although the odds are quite slim, I'm hoping that Harrag will return in Season 8. Some believe that instead of being killed, he was simply knocked out. I prefer that Harrag returns as a good guy, but I will gladly see him again as a villain as well, or even a good guy who becomes a villain (or vice versa). Just bring him back!!! Or feature him in one of the Game of Thrones spin-offs! Or someone put him in more prestige movies or tv shows, so that he can continue to perform for a large audience! He's already shown that he can hold his own with Tyrion Lannister and Euron Greyjoy. Let's do this!!