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Rodrik Harlaw is the Lord of Harlaw, Lord of the Ten Towers, and Head of House Harlaw. Harlaw is not the largest of the Iron Islands but the richest and most populous. He is known as Rodrik the Reader because of his interest in reading, especially significant as Ironborn culture despises literacy. Rodrik owns a large collection of books, taking up one of the towers and spilling into other parts of his castle.

Rodrik is captain of the Sea Song. His eldest sister Gwynesse believes she should have had Harlaw as she is seven years elder then Rodrik. His other sister Alannys married Balon Greyjoy, ruler of the Iron Islands, and had three sons, Rodrik, Maron and Theon, and a daughter, Asha. When Balon Greyjoy rebelled against Robert Baratheon he lost his two eldest sons, Rodrik and Maron, and his only surviving son was sent to be a ward of Eddard Stark. Rodrik's two sons died at the Battle of Fair Isle and he is a widower. Rodrik's various relatives are vying to become his heir. Rodrik's chosen heir is his cousin Harras "the Knight" Harlaw, whose mother was a Serrett.

After Robert's death Balon rebels again, attacking the North. Theon betrays his foster-family and attacks Winterfell. However the Ironborn invasion begins faltering, the North is too large and the Ironborn are not capable at land warfare. Theon is captured by the monstrous Ramsay Snow and tortured. Balon Greyjoy dies, apparently falling from a bridge during a storm. The day after his death, Balon's eldest brother Euron "Crow's Eye" Greyjoy, who Balon exiled years ago, returns and claims the Seastone Chair. Balon's youngest brother Aeron "Damphair" Greyjoy is horrified, fearing Euron, and wants another of his brothers, Victarian Greyjoy, to succeed. However Victarian is younger then Euron, so Aeron decides to call a Kingsmoot, a method by which the Ironborn used to elect their Kings.

Rodrik's niece Asha tries to claim rule of the Iron Islands, as Balon's chosen heir. Rodrik tries to tell her the Ironborn will not accept a woman as ruler, and tells her not to go to the Kingsmoot on Old Wyk. He tries to placate her by offering to make her heir to Ten Towers, but she refuses.

At the Kingsmoot Rodrik calls Asha's name. However Euron reveals his plan to conquer Westeros with dragons and is elected King. Rodrik tells his niece to flee the Iron Islands, fearing Euron will kill her as her claim is stronger then his. Asha travels to Deepwood Motte, the last Ironborn refuge in the North, which she seized.

Euron begins his conquest by seizing the Shield Islands. Rather then give lordship of the Four Islands to his men, he gives them to men who might oppose him. Rodrik's heir, Ser Harras Harlaw, the Knight of Grey Garden, is given Greyshield for his role in the surrender of Grimston. Euron feats on Oakenshield, in the hall of the captive Lord Humfrey Hewett. He announces his plans to sail to Slaver's Bay and claim Daenerys and her dragons. Euron claims to have sailed the Smoking Sea and at Valyria, found a dragon-horn. Rodrik is skeptical of this, asking Euron if his claims are true, leading to the other Ironborn saying they want to continue their raids in Westeros. Realizing his power is faltering, Euron tells Victarian to sail the Iron Fleet to Slaver's Bay instead.

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