Sandor Clegane: Surly When Called “Ser”

Posted: January 20, 2015 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , ,

This post will contain spoilers for Game of Thrones, HBO’s excellent adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

sandor-clegane-1024

Can’t it be A Song of Ice? Just Ice? Must there be Fire?

Season Four of Game of Thrones left a broken and bleeding Sandor “the Hound” Clegane in a pretty bad state. Having prevented Arya Stark from falling into the hands of Lannister-stooge Brienne of Tarth (I’m thinking like the Hound, here) the badly wounded Clegane begged Arya to grant him the mercy of a swift, clean death.

Arya coldly refused and left the Hound to die alone.

It’s a shame, since the Hound’s journey had gotten interesting. Well, some people might argue that his literal journey of walking around the Riverlands wasn’t super-compelling, but I’m talking about the Hound as a character, his narrative journey.

He started out as an ugly goon who guarded Joffrey (which clearly isn’t a point in his favor) but over the seasons had occasionally behaved like someone worthwhile to root for. So I thought I’d talk a little about that.

And pour one out for the Hound. But not water. Pour out some wine.

Straight Up: I think the Hound’s an okay guy.

Boooooorrrrriiiingg! I can imagine you thinking. So the point of this post will just be that even though the Hound is rough and mean on the outside, on the inside he’s a big softie? Everyone knows that!

CartoonSansaSandor

Everyone Knows that the Hound is Actually Adorable!

Fine. That’s not a big revelation. My feeling is though, that it’s not just that the Hound is really a softie on the inside. I’m saying that he’s one of those complicated people who struggle and hate how they are on the inside. That there’s an idealistic fire (maybe fire isn’t a good word to use here, sorry Clegane) inside him that he keeps bottled up, and is expressed externally in a twisted and toxic form.

Here are some things we know from observing the Hound.

When he was a kid his face was mutilated by his older brother, the newly-knighted Ser Gregor.

We know he doesn’t like fire. Like, REALLY doesn’t like fire.

We book-readers know that he hates knights. There’s more evidence for this in the books, sorry show-watchers, but Clegane is not cool with the institution of knighthood. There was a brief stir when Joffrey named Sandor Clegane to be on his kingsguard, since only knights can be part of that order. F— that, Clegane said. He’d wear the white cape, but he’d not be a Ser.

His dislike of the knighthood extends into expressing a balloon-popping opinion towards fanciful tales of knights. Clegane has a habit of mocking Sansa Stark, not in the way that Joffrey does, but more by mocking her childish world-view.

But this is where I start in on methinks he doth protest too much.

Why Are You Always So Hateful?

I think it’s fair to say that the Hound’s a rather unpleasant guy. Game of Thrones is full of mean-spirited rough characters; the Hound’s general crabbiness and in-your-face-ness could easily go without question.

But his attitude doesn’t go unquestioned. In Season Two, after the Hound had saved Sansa Stark from serious abuse at the hands of rioters, Sansa tried to thank the Hound.


Clegane wasn’t all that interested in being thanked, and directed the conversation to one of Sansa’s vulnerable spots: her father.

Sansa responded with the question “why are you always so hateful?”

Clegane evaded the question; it’s a query that goes explicitly unanswered in the series. (Although if we had to guess, having your face mutilated by your older brother and no one doing anything about it might justify permanently waking up on the wrong side of the bed.)

But the fact that the question got asked at all is significant to me. Why should we care? Isn’t it enough that Clegane is a scarred-face psycho? Maybe. It’s just not enough for me. I think it’s meaningful. Why is he so hateful? Why can’t he accept thanks for doing something heroic?

Because he’s messed up. He can’t accept recognition of his heroism, because his self-loathing and complicated love/hate with the heroic ideal comes out as rejection and abuse.

But occasionally we see a crack in this armor.

Sing For Me, Little Bird

Clegane is a man of few words, usually if he’s talking then someone’s about to be dying.

Until he ended up carrying Arya Stark around like a basket of goodies on the way to grandmother’s house, the majority of his non-chicken-related dialogue was with the aforementioned Sansa Stark.

Sansa starts out the series rather naive and shallow. Her world was one filled with ladylike obligations and tales of brave knights and princesses. This fanciful world was turned upside down when Cersei orchestrated a purge in the capital to secure her son Joffrey’s rule, and Joffrey carried that forward by beheading Ned Stark and unceasingly tormenting Sansa.

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In Season Two, the Hound encounters Sansa alone in a corridor and behaved consistent with his usual manner.

Clegane: Would you sing a song for me, little bird? Sing me a song about knights and fair maidens? Go on. Sing.
Sansa: You won’t hurt me.
Clegane: Sing!
Sansa: I don’t know any songs. Not anymore.

In response, the Hound steps back, his face softening a bit. He had that mix of sadness in his usual unpleasant what’s-that-smell expression. Then Tyrion Lannister shows up and defuses the situation entirely, providing both Clegane and Sansa a chance to exit the situation.

Sansa’s statement of no longer knowing any songs about the chivalric mythos appeared to resonate with Clegane (in my opinion) and was an indication of his having a similar loss. Clegane was mutilated when he was a young boy. It’s not impossible to imagine that before that happened, he had had a young mind full of fanciful knightly tales. That he and Sansa had both had their courtly romantic dreams taken from them.

Super Sandor to the Rescue

Despite his unpleasantness, Sandor does spend a lot of his screen time protecting Sansa.

Clegane manages to prevent Sansa from attempting to kill Joffrey (which would have doomed her) at the end of season one, and he did it in a way that earned no punishment for Sansa. He backs Sansa’s attempt to save Ser Dontos the drunken knight on Joffrey’s name-day celebration, he covers Sansa with his white kingsguard cloak after Tyrion stopped Sansa’s public humiliation, and he dramatically saves her from a rioting mob.

When the Blackwater burned, Clegane decided it was time to leave. He went to Sansa’s chamber to rescue her from the castle falling to Stannis’ forces.

She was reluctant and stated that should Stannis prevail, he wouldn’t hurt her. The Hound angrily tried to explain that Stannis would hurt her. The world was filled with killers. Everyone was a killer.

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Sansa was unmoved and knew that there was no danger in refusing to come with the Hound. No danger in staying put and no danger to her from the Hound. Clegane left her in peace.

My feeling is that the Hound couldn’t convince Sansa to come because he also didn’t believe what he was saying. That she would be alright. Possibly, her courtesy would be her armor.

He certainly had the ability to physically make her leave, had he been committed to doing that. He just wasn’t committed to that course.

I’m not saying that we should consider Clegane a great guy for not abducting Sansa when he could. In general, not-abducting people should be considered the status quo. To be considered heroic or classically “knightly”, it’s probably a minimum requirement that one should be actually doing something heroic rather than simply opting not to be villainous.

For my money, Clegane’s shining moment came late in Season Four when facing off against Brienne of Tarth.

Up until the moment before the fight with Brienne the Beauty, Clegane had pretty much been Arya Stark’s captor. His recognized motivation was to ransom her off to someone who would pay a reward. He did have enough scruples that he wasn’t going to turn her over to the Lannisters (although doing so would not be safe for him either.)

Although Brienne’s intentions in regards to Arya were good, it just wasn’t a situation that could be adequately explained in a trustworthy way. Clegane refused Brienne’s offer on Arya’s behalf and poked holes in Brienne’s promise to take her to safety.

BrienneArya

There Are Two Really Vicious People in that Picture. And Brienne.

Hound: There’s no safety you dumb bitch. If you don’t know that by now, you’re the wrong one to watch over her.
Brienne: And that’s what you’re doing? Watching over her?
Hound: Aye. That’s what I’m doing.

For me, this was where Clegane committed to a classical heroic role. He chose to put himself in harm’s way on behalf of a child who had promised to kill him, when he could just as easily negotiate some payment from Brienne. It’s not unbelievable that this could possibly open the door for a pardon (if Brienne was a Lannister agent, which she was not.)

It’s a powerful moment in his story, followed up by a powerful moment when Arya takes her leave of him.

Clegane’s defense of Arya is almost a redemptive moment, but it falls short.

Because of Mycah’s death.

Mycah the Butcher’s Boy, and Clegane the Butcher

Even though I think Sandor Clegane is in part driven by early-established heroic aspirations, the schizophrenic conflict between idealism and harsh pragmatism sometimes manifests as less-than-heroic behavior. He serves Joffrey as the prince’s bodyguard and later as kingsguard. He’s party to some bad activities.

Beric Dondarrion’s Brotherhood without Banners brought the Hound to trial for misdeeds, but most of the charges he rightly deflected as the work of his brother, Ser Gregor. (The BwB did do a pretty crappy job of leveling charges against the Hound.) But there’s one action he had no real excuse for.

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Arya accused the Hound of killing Mycah, and it took some of the wind out of the Hound. The best he could offer up was “hey, I was just following orders,” and that’s not really any kind of excuse.

There’s no question that he murdered Mycah the Butcher’s Boy. I find it hard to believe that the Hound couldn’t capture Mycah and bring him back. He just wasn’t motivated to do so.

His failure to deal honorably with Mycah comes back to haunt him at the end of Season Four.

When the Hound lay wounded and in agony, he was resigned to death. He asked Arya Stark for the mercy of a quick, clean death. She was reluctant, even though he was on her death-list for killing Mycah.

Had she done so, I probably would have interpreted that as a redemptive end for Clegane. Even though Arya wanted the Hound dead, killing him cleanly to spare him pain would be something like forgiveness.

But she wasn’t in a forgiving mood.

The Hound then tried to goad Arya into wanting him dead right then and there, by telling her that he had cut Mycah down. That Mycah had begged for mercy, but the Hound had shown him none.

Clegane went on to say that he should have raped Sansa when the Blackwater burned, that he’d have at least one happy memory.

This tactic backfired. Arya had already demonstrated a desire to recreate a sympathetic moment to Lommy’s death when she killed the Lannister goon Polliver. She now had the Hound begging for mercy, and was not going to show him any.

And so she left him to die, unredeemed.

Dying Alone’s a Crappy Way to Die.

I have a soft spot for the Hound, I admit it.

It’s hard for me to justify liking someone who on his metaphorical death-bed admitted regret for not raping a young woman.

In my defense, I can’t take the Hound at his word at that moment. Like Sansa, I felt that the Hound’s threatening exterior was a bluff, and Sansa rightly called the bluff.

He wasn’t going to harm her, and if he could have done it all again, knowing the future, he still wouldn’t have harmed Sansa.

But if he’d known the future, he would have certainly had a different strategy in mind for dropping Arya off for a reward.

Arya: So, are you taking me to the Twins to ransom me off?
The Hound: Nope! We’re getting to the Eyrie before your auntie’s dead. I need someone alive to hand me the coin.
Arya: Whaaaaat?

But this isn’t LOST, there’s no time travel where Clegane can try for a do-over. But that’s neither here nor there.

Lost - Jack and Vincent

Live Together, Die Alone.

Arya abandoning Clegane to die from either his injuries, exposure, or that festering wound that Biter had given him short-circuited the possibility of the Hound making to the end of some kind of redemptive journey. That might be unsatisfying to some, but it’s kind of an expected consequence in the book series and television show.

Not everyone gets to be redeemed.

Characters with potential sometimes die off. Sometimes in unsatisfying ways. While others who might deserve death manage to persistently avoid the Stranger. (He’s the hit-man for the Seven, the New Gods.)

And it’s not really that unsatisfying that someone who was on Arya’s list dies in a manner that’s in sync with the actions that got them on her list. Arya has a story as well to be told.

In Defense of Ser Sandor Clegane

My belief that Clegane still had an idealistic and heroic set of values is pretty much just that, a belief. People should be skeptical, I really don’t have any proof, just interpretations.

I’m just choosing to view the Hound as someone who had the potential to be one of the series’ heroes.

Loras

That’s Adorable!

That he saved Ser Loras in Season One, not just because it was a chance to fight with his brother Ser Gregor, but that it was the right thing to do to save someone who was otherwise a fine example of chivalry.

That he strove to protect Sansa, not simply because (as some people like to suggest) that he had the hots for her, but because she was an innocent in need of protecting.

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Likewise why he went to great lengths to deliver Arya Stark to safety, not merely to someone willing to pay.

Put a Leash On This

Yeah, this has gone a bit long for just a “hey the Hound’s a big adorable softie on the inside” type of character retrospective. I’ll stop here.

DyingSandor

Thank the Seven He’s Shutting His Trap! Seven Hells!


(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)

Comic panel featuring the Hound and dead Mycah from Dynamite Entertainment’s A Game of Thrones monthly comic book.

Adorable image of Sansa singing to the Hound was found here: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/a-song-of-ice-and-fire/fanart/10

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there. (Just not the conversation between the Hound and Brienne.)

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. KG says:

    The scenes between The Hound and Sansa sometimes felt like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and I think Arya is more deadlier than The Hound 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree in both cases. Interestingly enough, George RR Martin used to write for the Beauty and the Beast television series (1987 – 1990)

      Arya is certainly deadly. I mean, in a straight up honest fight, I’d prefer fighting her to the Hound. But if she wanted me dead, it wouldn’t end up being a straight up honest fight, I’d eventually end up dead.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gatesmctaste says:

    I really loved The Hound as a character, it was often hard to guess his motivation for protecting Arya, was it just for money? I often believed he felt sorry for her and all she has lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. inertialconfinement says:

    The Hound is definitely an intriguing character. I think because of his background he had a lot deep loathing toward himself and “the system.” Sansa and Arya both entered into that cynicism themselves after leaving Winterfell. They quickly realized justice wasn’t to be sought in the system–they had to bring it themselves. I think Clegane recognized this in the Stark girls and related to it, so as much as he hated himself for it, he felt drawn to them. Sort of a “us versus them” mentality. But in the end, Arya hated him just as much as he hated himself. Clegane was a bit delusional in the relationship he had with Sansa and Arya.

    I liked Martin’s portrayal of Clegane because he set it up to follow the whole “Beauty and the Beast” storyline, but then was like, “yeah, like that would happen in reality!” Then set up a redemptive arc with captor and captive bonding through their journey only to again say, “Yeah, like Arya is going to forgive him that easily!” I like when tropes are turned on their heads. Keeps us on our toes.

    Like

  4. jennnanigans says:

    Yes!

    The Hound is hands-down one of my favorite characters, too. He’s a victim of cruelty who first becomes a cruel person himself in self-defense (I can’t imagine getting his face burned was the first or only cruelty visited on him by Gregor) in order to survive in the world, and then begins to question his own part in that circle. But change is hard, and while he might occasionally choose to not kill someone, when all you have is a sword everyone looks like a victim.

    I wonder if his narrative would have changed if he hadn’t met the Stark girls at all. Being a Lannister henchman must have been pretty cut and dry since they were the wealthiest and most powerful family he had yet encountered, and therefore the biggest bully, but then he becomes involved with the Starks, who are powerful but also honorable. Yes, it doesn’t do them much good in the long run but maybe he saw a kindred spirit in them. They were people who didn’t let the actions of others influence them, and resolution can be another form of strength. That kind of strength certainly would be appealing to that poor man who would in some ways always be that disfigured little boy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fantastic comment! I respect you favoring the Hound. I find him fascinating as well.

      Like

    • The more I think over Jennnanigans’ comment, the more I want to give the Hound a hug. I’d probably insist on him being totally in chains or something before I attempted that, though. And not the kind of loose chains that could be used to throttle me or something.

      Like

      • jennnanigans says:

        LOL!

        ANGRY hugs! Like hugs from a tiger. Or, in a super tenuous connection, Aslan from the Narnia books, because He Isn’t a Tame Lion.

        When he was with the Lannisters, he was a beaten dog, the kind that turns on its master if given the chance. The Starks helped him find his inner hero dog, that would pull them from a fire if they needed him. I have such more thoughts on this doge but I’m at work and have a busy weekend coming up! ;P

        [something something joke about underdog that I’m too lazy to write]

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m looking forward to more along these lines! Thank you

          Like

          • jennnanigans says:

            Ha ha, I had more thoughts! 😛

            I started rereading ASOIAF and saw some things I had forgotten/didn’t notice.

            1. During one of Sansa and Sandor’s early interactions, he flat out tells her that she’s the first person he’s ever told the truth about what happened to him. I don’t have the quote in front of me but he says something along the lines of ‘There are a lot of rumors but here’s what really happened to my face.’ Of course he says it in a very combative way so some of that message is lost – I remember reading and thinking less about WHAT he was saying than HOW he was saying it – which is just some damn good writing and character development. Like Frankenstein’s creation, he’s struggling to communicate with others.

            2. After the tourney where he gets into a fight with Gregor, he is named Champion. The narrative (i.e. Sansa, so it might be unreliable) suggests that it was the first time he had ever had anyone cheer for him as a hero. So, and I might be extrapolating here, but what if it was the first time he had ever really stood up to Gregor? There are all kinds of other cans of worms that could be opened there, but my point is that if it was the first time, then the first time he did it he actually had the affection of the commons AND won a huge bag of money at the same time. That’s a big reward for such a huge gamble.

            I guess at the heart of the matter was the fact that loyalty was never the Hound’s problem – after all, he was Joff’s bodyguard, and Cersei wouldn’t have trusted her precious little psychopathic treasure to just ANYONE. Said person would have had to prove himself unflinchingly loyal to the most paranoid person in the world – so while it’s incredibly shitty that he rode Mycah down, it isn’t entirely out of character for the Old Hound. [insert facile joke about old dogs and new tricks].

            *SPOILER MAYBE?*

            I keep thinking of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader when he finally has his ‘you know what I am DONE’ moment and throws the Emperor down the energy shaft.

            /epic ramble

            Like

            • Wonderful feedback! It’s a shame that the show had Baelish telling Sansa the Hound’s story instead of the Hound, since as you say, it can be interpreted as his attempt to communicate in his messed up way. And I had forgotten the detail from Sansa’s point of view that his being declared champion and cheered (as if it was the first time anyone cheered for him or saw him as something other than a scary goon) could play into this hidden longing to be a hero-figure.

              I give Loras a massive thumbs up for insisting that Sandor was the champion.

              Like

  5. […] already wrote an incredibly detailed and moving breakdown of why the Hound is so compelling, so go here to read […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Philwray says:

    The Hound is arguably my favourite character, and the above article only cements the idea that in his own tortured way, he was the true knight that Sansa so idealised.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. alcoholicrattlesnake says:

    This was a really pleasant read. Very insightful :D. I like your attention to all the details. And I agree with you. Sandor Clegane cannot be viewed from just one angle. He is not a POV character, yet he is complex. I like how troubled he is. And yes! You’ve said it well: he’s so messed up, he hates himself, he hates everything. I also agree with you about his last words. Those were meant to anger Arya and make her kill him. There are so many more things to discuss about him and the way he interacts with the Stark girls.
    I think he has great potential to become a true knight, a hero.

    Although not in the book, the fight between the Hound an Brienne was beautifully done. I like both characters and that fight was both torture and delight to me.

    I’m planning to do a reread and uncover some more nuances to this character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for much for your comments, I appreciate it.

      (People, the commenter above has some GREAT character analyses of Sandor Clegane on her blog, I recommend everyone check it out.)

      I also consider Clegane an unknighted-knight, with the potential to be a redeeming force for good. (As ill-defined a thing as “good” is in the shadowy world of A Song of Ice and Fire.)

      Thank you again for your feedback!

      Like

  8. […] a busy roadway, and the sidewalk is buffeted by the hot winds of passing cars. I was thinking about a blog post I’d read about a particularly complex character from A Song of Ice and Fire: Sandor Clegane. A […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. If someone has already brought this to your attention I apologize, but I think you’ll find this video intriguing. I follow several ASOIAF theorists on YouTube, but these two, James and LaDonna are absolutely amazing. They not only have very deep character analysts but theories about what might happen in the later books. Not to mention a fierce understanding of what deeper tropes/paradigms Martin is working with. The link goes to a video about the Hound and how his entire being is a façade he fabricated in order to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Clegane, the Hound (there is an even better and more comprehensive defense of the Hound located here on Patrick Sponaugle’s blog).  Everything we are told about the Hound insists that he is a soulless murderer who will obey the […]

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] Clegane, the Hound (there is an even better and more comprehensive defense of the Hound located here on Patrick Sponaugle’s blog).  Everything we are told about the Hound insists that he is a soulless murderer who will obey the […]

    Liked by 1 person

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