The Return of the Hound: Breaking the Broken Man

Posted: October 11, 2016 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , ,

This post will talk about Game of Thrones, HBO’s excellent adaptation of the unfinished A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. I’ll focus on the sixth season of the show and in particular, the character of Sandor “the Hound” Clegane.

If you’re not caught up, do so! Forget I mentioned the Hound! And, uh, he probably died in Season Four!


The Hound: You know I”m a wanted man, right? Must you be telling everyone I’m still alive?
The Hound: GRRRRRR…

Okay, now that I’ve misled everyone not-in-the-know, cleverly and indisputably, let’s begin.

Season Six was notable for the majority of the content having gone beyond the bounds of the as-yet-published books. The perspective gap between book readers and television-only watchers narrowed, although book readers still have a vast knowledge base with which to set up expectations. In some cases, these expectations affect the enjoyment of the episodes in various ways. (You know, like when the show does something counter to strongly-held expectations. Sometimes that makes people happy. Not always.)

The reappearance of Sandor Clegane is an example of this in Season Six. Okay, it’s impossible to talk about the Hound’s return without talking a little bit about the books. Long time readers will know that I tend to shy away from too much of that book-learning, but on occasion I do stray into the source details for comparison reasons and other purposes.

If you’re one of those people that hasn’t read the books but plan to one day, it’s your call if you want to be exposed to any book insights. Keep reading at your peril. (But I doubt I’ll be spoiling very much at all.)

“The Hound died there…”

The reveal of the Hound, hale and mostly whole, having been found by a septon, nursed back to health, and living with a peaceful group of the devout tracks closely with the books. Probably does, I mean. The Hound’s actual fate in the books is not 100% confirmed.

In A Feast For Crows, Brienne of Tarth was hunting down disturbing rumors of Sandor Clegane, hoping that he had Sansa Stark with him (I won’t reveal why she thought this, you should go read the books for some cool stuff…) – and she came across something like a monastic commune in the Riverlands. The elder brother (no other name given) in charge told Brienne that the rumors of the Hound leading an army of rampaging bandits were false. That he’d come across the wounded, dying Sandor Clegane.

He begged me for the gift of mercy, but I am sworn not to kill again. Instead, I bathed his fevered brow with river water, and gave him wine to drink and a poultice for his wound, but my efforts were too little and too late. The Hound died there, in my arms.

On the island that housed the commune was Clegane’s horse, and Brienne made passing notice of a large limping member of the group but didn’t really think twice about him. (I seem to recall that he had a hood on, but so did everyone else, probably.)

Brienne might not have thought anything about it, but book readers leapt upon the idea that on the Quiet Isle (the locale of the commune) resided Sandor Clegane, nursed back to health and kept incognito by the elder brother.

Why would the holy-man-in-charge lie about the Hound dying? Well, he did said the Hound and not Sandor Clegane died, so this might be one of those evasive turns-of-phrase, suggesting that the mean-spirited persona of the Hound was dead, but not the literal man.

When I read the passage in AFFC, I assumed that Clegane had turned over a new leaf and was trying to leave his past behind him. Or at least the elder brother was giving him that option.

People who suspected that the Hound was not actually dead were looking for clues that the show would bring this character back. There indeed were clues, and hype was generated.

Hype: Breaking the story of the Broken Man

Once Ian McShane was cast in the role of an unnamed septon whose backstory stated that he’d once been a soldier, the return-of-the-Hound chatter began. The role description fit in not only with the elder brother of the Quiet Isle, but also potentially with another character in A Feast For Crows, Septon Meribald, who acted as a guide of sorts to Brienne as she traveled in the Riverlands.

Meribald is a notable character in the series for delivering an excellent monologue about war, and how it generates broken men.


McShane: I’m to play a saintly, friendly pacifist? I think I’m the victim of type-casting here.

The titles for the episodes, released by HBO, indicated that the seventh episode was named The Broken Man.

Book readers hypothesized: could The Broken Man be a signal that the famous speech from A Feast For Crows would be performed on the show? Would Ian McShane be the speaker? People familiar with the speech (it’s great) could imagine hearing McShane saying the words. And since McShane had hinted that he would be responsible for bringing back a beloved character (which some people angrily and erroneously assumed would be Jon Snow) people went on to imagine McShane’s character saying these words to Sandor Clegane. A man who had been broken at the Blackwater.

The expectations were nearly satisfied. McShane indeed played the man who saved Clegane’s life. And in his one episode, he did give a speech that was sort-of an echo of the Broken Man speech. Vaguely.

People who were hoping to hear the actual text out loud were disappointed, with the usual accusations that the showrunners were trolling book fans, or that they had misunderstood the importance of the speech.

I guess. I mean, maybe that’s going on in the writers room.

Writer 1: How can we piss off the book fans this time, without alienating the show-only watchers?
Writer 2: I love this game! Maybe Ramsay can marry someone else?
Writer 3: Let’s not do that.

But in the show’s defense, the Broken Man speech isn’t given to Clegane in the books. Septon Meribald delivers it to Brienne as part of their long wanderings in the Riverlands. And for good reason.

Brienne is a noblewoman, and although she’s not unused to hardship via taking on the path of a warrior, she doesn’t have the perspective of the smallfolk who are affected by the wars of the privileged that force them into terrible situations. Situations that can push them past the breaking point, into becoming outlaws.

It’s important for Brienne to hear this; it’s not that important for Sandor Clegane.

And hey! Brienne’s still in the Riverlands at the end of Season Six. Maybe she’ll come across a wandering septon who will drop some knowledge on her. Nothing would make me happier than to unexpectedly get the Broken Man speech, after so many people set things on fire for not getting it.

But I’m not getting my hopes up, or trying to generate hype. The show is pretty ruthless with hyped fan expectations.

Speaking of that…

RIP Hype: Cleganebowl

Part of the excitement surrounding the potential return of Sandor Clegane dealt with a long-held fan theory that absolutely needs the Hound to be alive to fulfill: the Cleganebowl theory.

As the season began (and how the fifth book ended) Cersei Lannister was due to go on trial, accused of murdering King Robert Baratheon. Because she was the queen mother, she’d exercised her right to trial by combat, with huge, hulking kingsguard Ser Robert Strong as her champion.

Ser Robert Strong? Who?


Silent Bob

Well, everyone pretty much just knows him as Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides. Or the Zombie Mountain. Or Gregorstein’s Monster. Or whatever nickname you want to use.

The show opted not to use the fake identity of Ser Robert Strong from the books so I’ll stop calling him that. (I’ll talk about that some other time.)

As I was saying, in the books and in the show Cersei was facing a trial by combat, with Gregor Clegane (regardless if he was using an alias) as her champion. The question was: exactly who was the Faith going to pony up to take on the formidable Ser Gregor?


Because book readers have had half a decade to ponder this question, the idea of the Faith bringing forth the Hound as their champion seemed the logical move.

  • He famously hated his brother for disfiguring him.
  • He’d been saved by and was living with a religious order, so there was a Faith connection.
  • The Hound is a badass. Who else could the Faith possibly put forward? Lancel?
  • C’mon. The best trial by combats sound like superhero events. The Mountain vs The Red Viper! Why not The Mountain vs The Hound?

Feel free to throw things at me if you wish, Cleganebowl truthers, but I was never a fan of this theory. It seemed a bit too on the nose and convenient. And everything about the community on the Quiet Isle seemed geared towards pacifism and monkish contemplation. The elder brother didn’t seem interested in the political goings-on in the capital. It did not seem a likely move for him to have sent word to the High Sparrow saying “Hey, just in case you need someone brutally murdered, we have Sandor Clegane available.”

When the show had King Tommen abolish the tradition of trial by combat so his mother would have to face a clerical tribunal, I was happy that it put Cleganebowl to rest. Cheer up, this isn’t eliminating the possibility of the Clegane brothers coming to blows in the future, it just won’t be part of a judicial decision making process.


King Tommen loves legal dramas but not pro-wrestling. No Cleganebowl!

I’m also glad that Cleganebowl was deflated almost immediately after the Hound’s reveal, preventing an endless amount of articles being written asserting that Cersei’s trial by combat was going to be amazing when the two brothers battled. Because then more and more people would have become invested in the non-event, and bummed out when it didn’t come about.

I understand how people who had bought in on that particular theory felt disappointment. (Although, to be fair, this is what the story of A Song of Ice and Fire is famous for: an unpredicted game-changing event that is consistent with how the particular world works.)

The showrunners didn’t arrange this to punish us for wanting this particular trial by combat, it just wasn’t going to happen. (Sure, maybe it’ll still happen in the books. Hold out hope, my friends.)

Theories are fun, and the books and the show gives the fans plenty of time to speculate on them. But we shouldn’t let our attachment to them get in the way of what the show delivers.

Sandor Clegane, a New Man?

I shouldn’t be throwing rocks at old theories that have died (unlike the Hound, who was too ornery to die.) I’d rather look forward and try to imagine where Sandor Clegane’s story might lead. (And since I’ve been casting a critical eye at theories, it’s only fair I present some for future mockery.)

The Hound doesn’t seem like he’s turned over a new leaf all that much. He was quick to seek revenge on the Brothers without Banners renegades who’d slaughtered his commune. But there seemed to be a bit of a change in him.

Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr managed to get Clegane to cooperate more or less with them in the hanging of the renegades. Clegane complained about not being able to have the satisfaction of killing them all, or in the bloody manner of his choosing, but there was something about the scene that made me feel that his heart wasn’t full into it. The organized process of the Brotherhood redirected his thirst for vengeance and channeled it into more of a form of justice.


Thoros: We should hang out more.
Clegane: As long as I don’t have to wear a man-bun.
Thoros: Dude, you missed my pun! HANG out more.
Clegane: A man’s got to have a code. No buns or puns.

It seems unlikely for the Hound to join up with the Brotherhood, but Clegane really doesn’t have that much else going on. The people who had taken him in and sheltered him were dead. He’s still wanted for desertion, so sticking with others would likely be his best option. Maybe he’s changed, maybe he’s not. More data is required.

For next season, we should see the Hound moving north with the Brotherhood, roughly in the direction of Arya Stark and Sansa Stark (at the Twins and Winterfell, respectively.)

I’m curious which of Ned Stark’s daughters that Clegane’s story will intersect next. He has a past with both Arya and Sansa, and I think could be important to either of them.

If Clegane is less enchanted with killing, encountering Arya would provide a chance for an interesting dynamic where he could possibly be, as weird as this sounds, her moral compass to restrain her more murderous needs. He’s no longer on her murder-list and we might see how much of McShane’s sermons took root.

Reuniting with Sansa could give Clegane a chance to rise up and be someone more like the hero from Sansa’s songs. It would be satisfying to me if Sansa, now jaded and cynical and infected with Baelish’s influence, could have some of her earlier worldview re-validated by the scary man who had spent so much effort mocking her previous romantic/chivalric notions. Sansa could certainly use more allies. Better allies than Littlefinger.

Littlefinger: Soon, all will be as I have planned. Uhh, why am I bleeding?
Sandor: Oops. I accidentally put my sword through you while you were villaining.
Littlefinger: Clegane? I thought you were dead!
Clegane: One of us is.

It’s greedy of me to want reunions with both Stark girls and for Clegane to be a positive factor for each of them, but I just think what a great and unexpected journey it would be for Sandor Clegane to be an asset for them, when he had been so awful in the early books.

Sandor Clegane – F&%k the King!

Before wrapping up my talk about the Hound, I’d like to discuss some big-picture pathways for Sandor Clegane, and what decisions he might make.

Currently, Westeros is being carved up by various powers.

  • Cersei more or less controls King’s Landing (let’s give her the Crownlands. the West, and the Riverlands too) by virtue of all of her political enemies in her vicinity being dead.
  • The Dorne and the Reach is choosing Daenerys.
  • The North is backing Jon (and maybe the Vale is too, at least to rule the North?)
  • Euron Greyjoy has made big claims, tremendous claims, to make the Iron Islands great again, so we’ll have to see what happens with that.

But what monarch will earn the Hound’s loyalty?

Euron probably won’t be all that appealing to the non-Ironborn demographic. The Lannisters would be unlikely to take the Hound back into their service. It’s possible that Sansa Stark could convince Clegane to fight on behalf of Jon Snow.

I guess my big question is how will he react when Daenerys arrives, supported by dragons?

Fire is Clegane’s weakness, since he’s carrying the scars, literal and figurative, of fire-based childhood trauma. Dragons are fire made flesh and therefore are probably Clegane’s least-favorite mythological creatures.


Will Clegane decide to serve Daenerys, since he would not under any circumstances want to be on the wrong end of a dragon about to belch fire? Or, on the flipside, would the idea of dragons and their dragonfire being a factor in Westeros so terrify and enrage Clegane, that’ll he go to extreme lengths to destroy the dragons first?

(Obviously, there are other options, like him running away, but that would be somewhat of a cop-out for the character.)

Hopefully, some of this will be answered in The Winds of Winter, before Season Seven comes out.


Oh little bird. He’s never finishing those books…

Okay, that’s enough about the younger Clegane brother. Next post (in two weeks) will feature Sandor’s big brother Greg. Just in time for Halloween.

(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.)

Image of cutesy toy versions of the Clegane brothers came courtesy of Sarah Boswell’s twitter feed. She was kind enough to give me permission to use the image, because she’s awesome. Follower her on Twitter at @S_Bos81

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. (Just not the elder brother’s dialogue from A Feast For Crows.)

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 2016 Some Rights Reserved

  1. writingjems says:

    I was never a big fan of Cleganebowl, so I’m not disappointed that it didn’t happen. Trial by Combat was such an obvious solution that I, along with Cersei, was really thrown for a loop when Tommen banned it. I, unlike Cersei, was happy for the subverted expectations.

    Speaking of expectations, I really had none for where Sandor’s story is going, but I like your theories involving Arya and Sansa. I feel like his connection to Arya is stronger, so it might be more interesting to see them reunite. Being faced with someone she couldn’t kill might give her second thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If I had to choose which girl for the Hound to meet up with, it would definitely be Arya.

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad to hear that Tommen’s decree came as a pleasant surprise.


      • jsebastian says:

        I’ve got to agree with the commenter above m’lord, definitely more interested in seeing Arya and The Hound face each other again. This was great though, do you have any interest in sharing your Game of Thrones articles with our readers on as we await the seventh season?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. erinb9 says:

    Very interesting. I find the Hound to be one of the most fascinating characters of the series, because it’s nigh impossible to decide whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

    I can’t help but like him, maybe because I get the sense that he’d *like* to be good but understands the world is too ruthless a place for that kind of vulnerability. You don’t sense that he enjoys brutality for its own sake or walks away from it emotionally unscathed.

    The amazing thing is how he meets the septon who shows him he’s still redeemable. It’s his come-to-jesus moment and in 99.9% of shows, he would then turn around and embrace the light.

    But the septon and everyone else gets slaughtered, confirming the Hound’s belief that decency gets you killed.

    It feels like his near-redemption moment, which he would maybe perceive as nearly embracing reckless idiocy.

    Don’t know where his story arc goes from there, but I’m anxious to find out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you have an excellent assessment of the Hound and what’s going on in his head. I honestly won’t be surprised if he becomes a legitimate selfless hero or one of the worst (but still sympathetic) villains.

      (Or something in between, which is more realistic.)

      He’s a great character to talk about.

      Liked by 1 person

      • erinb9 says:

        Thanks–that’s my impression of him, anyway. He grew up unable to even trust his brother, seeing constant brutality. He doesn’t seem to enjoy being violent and is quick to disillusion Arya when she starts thinking he’s a good guy.

        I think that reveals his conscience. A true sociopath would’ve used Arya’s impression to his advantage.

        It makes me think he’ll eventually become a hero, but who knows? GoT doesn’t shrink from nasty endings.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Haylee says:

    I love the Hound so I very much enjoyed reading this (even if it has taken me days!!) I don’t think I really thought much about his future allegiances, I was just happy he had returned (and with a somewhat more agreeable demeanour) but hmmm… yeah the dragon fire thing could be an issue. I’d hate it if he was against Dany and he ultimately died in the way he fears the most 😦
    In other news, very happy we have Joanna and Dave entertaining our earlobes again – so all we’re now missing are Westworld posts… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Uh oh, that sounds like pressure to write something up about Westworld… I’ll give it some thought…

      Yes! The Hound is back, and we can both hope good things for him (and resignedly accept that good things always come mixed with bad things too.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. jennnanigans says:

    “Clegane: A man’s got to have a code. No buns or puns.”

    BWAH HA HA HA HA HA!!!!! *wipes away a tear*

    I can’t believe I missed this when you first wrote it 2 weeks ago! Where the hell have I been?

    GREAT summation of a complex man. I wasn’t originally on board with Cleganebowl, and then I kind of was, but I’m okay with it not happening. I don’t know how Dead Mountain will fall, or even if he will at all, but I’m very curious. Maybe Jaime gets enough left-handed practice in to take him on? Guessing is fun!

    I don’t want to believe Sandor’s part in the story is done. I kind of want him to meet back up with Sansa. Some of those terrible things he told her about have happened to her, she’s lost her illusions and now knows how to appreciate and utilize his Certain Set of Skills. And my god, can you imagine if he and Brienne were her Queenofthenorthsguard? Just the two of them, standing at attention a yard or two apart, seething with barely restrained hatred… the only thing uniting them is their willingness to die to protect her…


  5. The best statement I’ve ever heard about Cleganebowl comes from YouTube theorist Alt Shift X. He says the main justification for it is that it would be “totally, wicked, awesome man.” When you dig down into it, the entire thing falls apart. The Hound would probably be arrested the moment he set foot back in King’s Landing for desertion, though…I suppose conceivably he could earn his freedom/another chance by being the faith’s champion.

    I’m kind of happy that the prospects have been quashed, too. I think the showdown between Sandor and Gregor will happen, and sure, fans can call it Cleganbowl, but it’s not going to be like the hype train wanted.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Aseret Nelly says:

    Its my opinion that the much favoured Clegane bowl was too obvious a device, so I’m very glad the show didn’t go there. However, I am intrigued to see how Sandor’s story continues. Despite his bloodthirsty comments on killing the renegades that slaughtered his friends, I hope to see remaining in Sandor, some of the changes that the septon may have wrought with his peaceful stance and thought provoking speeches.

    If I could choose, then I would want him to meet up with Sansa again. Arya (IMO) has developed on in the vein that she was in when he last saw her. Not much has changed except her skill level.

    But Sansa has undergone a serious personality change. She isn’t anymore the young girl dreaming of romance, handsome princes and elegant castles, nor is she the fluttery “little bird” the Hound rescued from the rapists in the market… She’s had several massive doses of cruel reality and I am curious how the Hound/Sandor would react to her now. I think he had a soft spot for her innocence before, but I suspect he might admire her strength now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’m also in your camp. There would be a lot to mine dramatically from Sandor Clegane meeting up with Sansa again. I think I’d like the Hound to miss the soft spot that he was so harsh about before.


Speak Your Mind (Please) (Oh, first timers will be Moderated...)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.