Game of Thrones’ “Long Night” is over, for better or worse, and with the White Walkers defeated, what remains is what’s always been there: the battle for the Iron Throne.
But before Jon or Dany (or Jaime or Tyrion or Arya or basically every other character on the show) can shove a knife through Cersei’s stupid face and plant a more deserving butt in that seat, Game of Thrones has to do something it’s been building toward for many years: Cleganebowl, the battle between the Hound, Sandor Clegane, and the Mountain, Gregor Clegane.
Why does this matter? We’ll get to that. But there’s more than just the history of Game of Thrones to look at; the show’s most recent events, including the Hound’s visions in the flames and adventures with Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, may give us some new insight into how Cleganebowl might play out.
Let’s get that context out of the way first, though.
What Is Cleganebowl?
“Cleganebowl” is the name Game of Thrones fans (and fans of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire before them) have given to the theorized clash between the Hound, Sandor Clegane, and his brother, the Mountain, Gregor Clegane.
This theory was born long ago for those who read the novels, and the reasoning behind it is the same in the show as it was in the books. But since the last book came out almost a decade ago and as far as the books are concerned, the Hound has retired to a religious commune and is out of the running, the most egregious and tantalizing foreshadowing for this fight has taken place in the show’s recent seasons.
Admittedly, it’s a pretty simple story: As Sandor has discussed at various points throughout both versions of Game of Thrones, his brother Gregor is a total dick. When they were kids, Gregor bullied Sandor incessantly, even burning the Hound’s face in a hot brazier as they fought over a toy. That gave Sandor the distinctive scars on his face, an all-encompassing cynicism for the world in general, the fear of fire that has influenced the Hound’s participation in at least two battles, and a burning hatred for his brother that’s lasted their entire lives.
For his part, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane has lumbered here and there throughout the books and the show, wreaking havoc and despair everywhere he went. He brutalized a horse at the tourney in Season 1, and he terrorized Arya during Season 2. In Season 4, he smashed Oberyn Martell’s face even while succumbing to the Red Viper’s deadly poison, and was later revived as an apparently unthinking, mute zombie to lead Cersei’s personal Queensguard. He also has a history of being super terrible in the past; When Daenerys’s father, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, was overthrown, the Mountain reportedly raped and murdered Elia Martel, the wife of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and killed her children–including an infant. Just about everyone has a score to settle with the guy.
When Sandor and Gregor finally came face to face again for the first time since Season 1, it was in the show’s Season 7 finale, during The Fateful Meeting of Named Characters in the dragon pit outside King’s Landing. “Remember me? Yeah, you do,” the Hound told his brother. “You’re even uglier than I am now. What did they do to you? Doesn’t matter. That’s not how it ends for you, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.”
In other words, Sandor doesn’t give a flying chicken whether his brother is a brainless zombie or there’s still a glimmer of the old rotten son-of-a-gun in there somewhere behind those purple eyes. The Hound is going to kill the Mountain in the end, and we couldn’t be more excited for their final throwdown.
How Could The Lord of Light, R’hllor, Fit In?
After Arya Stark casually slipped a dagger into the Night King’s exposed belly fat like so many joking Reddit commenters and fandom s***-posters had accidentally correctly guessed she would over the years, a question arose: Is the story of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the God of Flame and Shadow who the Red Priests worship, now finished?
Melisandre is dead, her mission to gently suggest that Arya do what Arya does complete. Beric is also dead, having protected Arya so she could reach said pep talk. Thoros died last season after getting mauled by a zombie bear, then being fine, then dying later for no reason. And the Red Priestess Kinvara, who you probably don’t remember because she appeared in a single scene back in Meereen two seasons ago, might as well be dead, because there’s no way she’s ever appearing on this show again.
But R’hllor might have one follower left on the continent of Westeros: Sandor Clegane. With every other R’hllor-loving character dead, the Hound may be next to take up the Lord of Light’s cause.
The narrative set-up is all there. The Hound witnessed Thoros bring Beric back to life many seasons ago (after being the one to land the killing blow, in fact), and seemed shaken. He saw visions in the fire that inspired his group of misfits to head north to the Edifice Formerly Known As The Wall, where they helped Jon on his extremely stupid mission to kidnap a zombie. He’s been hanging around with these characters for seasons on end, and despite his projected cynicism, Sandor has seen the signs himself.
And there’s plenty of thematic pay-off to be had in Sandow Clegane embracing the God of Fire. Fire is the tool his brother used to scar him for life, both physically and emotionally; fire is the source of Sandor’s cynicism, and his greatest fear, producing a primal response in him that we’ve seen over and over, whether at the Battle of the Blackwater, his duel with Beric long ago, or the recent Battle of Winterfell. Fire is the Hound’s greatest weakness, and overcoming that weakness could represent the growth of his character if he finally abandons his cynicism and finds inner calm.
Plus, Red Priests get to light their swords on fire. There’s poetic justice in the idea of the Hound bashing his undead brother’s big, stupid head in with a flaming blade, and more importantly–the reason I think the show may actually follow through on this one–it would look awesome.
There are three episodes left to go in Game of Thrones’ final season, and more than anything else, Cleganebowl happening is just shy of certain. Here’s hoping the show manages to do it in a way that has actual narrative and thematic pay-off, and looks cool too.
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