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