The Red Keep has four levels of dungeons. The third level has small cells with no windows and solid wooden doors, which leaves the prisoners in darkness. Because of this, they are called the "black cells". They are reserved for the most vile and dangerous prisoners, and therefore are not often used. The gaoler Rugen is in charge of the black cells.
There are no windows or beds in the black cells, and not even a bucket for waste. The straw on the floor smells of urine and feces. The doors are made of wood, four inches thick and studded with iron. The dark is absolute. The only light the prisoners receive is when the door is opened to feed them, or if they receive a visitor with a torch. The cells are bitterly cold.
King Maegor I Targaryen ordered four levels of dungeons when he completed the construction of the Red Keep, including the third level of the black cells. He ordered his men to put his nephew and squire, Prince Viserys, in the black cells where he was tortured to death.
Lords Towers, Staunton and Darklyn were briefly imprisoned in the black cells at the start of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen's reign for their supports to his uncle, King Maegor I. Jaehaerys also imprisoned the men who were involved in the torture and death of his brother Viserys, including the King's Justice, the Lord Confessor, the Chief Gaoler, the Commander of the City Watch, and the remaining knights of Maegor's Kingsguard.
When King Jaehaerys I learned about his daughter's sexual adventures with her three male favorites, Roy Connington, Jonah Mooton and Braxton Beesbury, he imprisoned the three lordlings in the black cells for a night.
During the Dance of the Dragons between the blacks and the greens, the master of coin, Lord Lyman Beesbury, was killed by the greens, the first death of the war. Some say he died from a chill after being thrown into the black cells, although Archmaester Gyldayn believed Lyman was murdered by Ser Criston Cole.
Grand Maester Orwyle advised King Aegon II Targaryen of the greens to parlay with Queen Rhaenyra of the blacks, but the king was angered at the suggestion and threatened to have Orwyle thrown into the black cells with his black friends. Others on the green council also supported the idea to parlay, and Orwyle's imprisonment was avoided. However, after the blacks captured King's Landing and the Red Keep, Orwyle was imprisoned in the black cells. He wrote his account of the Dance of the Dragons while in his cell.
Rhaenyra also imprisoned Lord Corlys Velaryon in the black cells, for treasonously warning Addam Velaryon to escape her arrest order. Corlys was later freed and pardoned by Aegon II when he retook the city.
A Game of Thrones
Eddard Stark is held in the black cells when he is arrested for treason. Varys, in his disguise as the gaoler Rugen, visits Eddard in his cell and convinces him to confess to treason in exchange for the life of his daughter, Sansa.
A Clash of Kings
Yoren, a wandering crow for the Night's Watch, has taken several men from the dungeons of the Red Keep, to bring to the Wall. Three of them—Rorge, Biter, and Jaqen H'ghar—were found in the black cells. Yoren keeps them fettered hand and foot in the back of a wagon, and vows that they will stay in irons all the way to the Wall.
The acting Hand of the King, Tyrion Lannister, arrests Grand Maester Pycelle for treason, and has him thrown into the black cells. Later, on Queen Regent Cersei Lannister's request, Tyrion allows Pycelle to be removed from the dungeons.
A Storm of Swords
Tyrion is held in a tower cell after his arrest for the murder of King Joffrey I Baratheon. After the death of Oberyn Martell, Tyrion's champion in his trial by combat, Tyrion is taken to the black cells.
Ser Jaime Lannister has Varys help Tyrion escape the black cells. Varys, in disguise as Rugen, doses the guards' wine with sweetsleep, so that they fall asleep. After a conversation with Jaime, Tyrion walks with Varys down past the fourth level of the dungeons and into a secret passageway.
A Feast for Crows
Cersei Lannister learns that Tyrion has escaped the black cells, and that the guards were found asleep. She orders their deaths, and they are eventually killed by Ser Boros Blount and Ser Osmund Kettleblack. Cersei is also told that the gaoler Rugen is missing.
Cersei tells the former maester Qyburn, who was dismissed from the Citadel for vivisection and necromancy, that he may experiment on the dying Ser Gregor Clegane. However, Qyburn must confine his studies to the black cells.
Jaime Lannister speaks with the chief undergaoler, Rennifer Longwaters, who says that the black cells are not often used. Rennifer says that the only recent prisoners have been Tyrion Lannister, Grand Maester Pycelle, Lord Eddard Stark, and three common men that were given to the Night's Watch. Rennifer says he recommended against freeing those three men.
Cersei tells the small council that Gregor has died and she is sending his head to Dorne. Nevertheless, Qyburn still experiments on something in the black cells. Cersei allows Qyburn to use various prisoners for his work, including her former handmaiden, Senelle, and two female puppeteers. When Qyburn requests the puppeteers for his uses, Cersei recalls how Senelle had come with her to the black cells, unknowing of her fate until Qyburn manacled her. She also recalls hearing a "foul thing screaming in the darkness".
After the puppeteers die, Cersei tells Qyburn to take Lady Falyse Stokeworth for his experiments, to make her disappear. Later, Cersei asks if Falyse is still alive, and Qyburn replies that she is, but "not entirely comfortable", and no longer capable of ruling Stokeworth or even feeding herself.
Cersei has Qyburn torture the Blue Bard in the black cells, to convince him to give evidence against Margaery Tyrell. Cersei later dreams that she is in chains in the black cells, being tortured by Tyrion.
A Dance with Dragons
Falyse Stokeworth has died screaming in the black cells.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 77, Tyrion XI.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 1, Arya I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 8, Jaime I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 7, Cersei II.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 58, Eddard XV.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei V.
- Fire & Blood, The Sons of the Dragon.
- Fire & Blood, Prince into King - The Ascension of Jaehaerys I.
- Fire & Blood, The Long Reign - Jaehaerys and Alysanne: Policy, Progeny, and Pain.
- The Princess and the Queen.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon II.
- So Spake Martin: Stockholm and Archipelacon Report, June 28, 2015
- Fire & Blood, The Lysene Spring and the End of Regency.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 25, Tyrion VI.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 29, Tyrion VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 70, Tyrion X.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 3, Cersei I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 12, Cersei III.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 17, Cersei IV.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 32, Cersei VII.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 36, Cersei VIII.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 39, Cersei IX.
- A Dance with Dragons, Appendix.