Less than a week from Halloween! Now’s a good time to talk about a rather spooooooky character from Game of Thrones.
This post’s topic will be Ser Gregor Clegane. If you’re not up on the latest season of Game of Thrones, then you’re way behind. Get caught up! We’ll wait.
(We won’t. Let’s get started.)
The Monstrous Mountain
Gregor Clegane was a bad enough character before Qyburn got to experiment on him.
- In the first season, he was a scary, angry, horse-beheading rage-a-holic.
- In the second season, he was a terrifying torturer.
- He didn’t appear in the third season (off hunting, and occasionally killing Beric Dondarrion), but …
- … in the fourth season he took on the dynamic Red Viper of Dorne and ended the Viper’s life with dramatic, brutal finality.
But even though he delivered the death-blow to Oberyn (which also delivered a guilty verdict to Tyrion Lannister) the poison that coated the prince of Dorne’s spear was eating away at Clegane’s insides, all but guaranteeing the Mountain that Rides a painful and lingering death.
Disgraced ex-maester Qyburn got to work, preserving the Mountain’s life and his strength, but leaving what little humanity Clegane had behind.
The process to keep Gregor Clegane alive changed him. Even moreso in the books. He became Ser Robert Strong.
Season Five of Game of Thrones concluded with Queen Cersei’s naked walk of shame, a depiction that pretty faithfully captured the moment from the books. When Cersei finally made it, bloody and covered in filth, to the safety of the Red Keep, Qyburn was there to assist her and to introduce her to Ser Robert Strong, the newest member of the Kingsguard. It was explained that Ser Robert had taken a vow of silence until all of King Tommen’s enemies were slain.
Book readers 99.99% knew that this previously-unknown, hulking kingsguard was in reality Gregor Clegane, who had been pronounced dead a short time after Tywin’s death.
The looming presence of Ser Gregor in his kingsguard armor (with the modified, face-concealing helmet) was a dramatic moment on the show. So dramatic, that I didn’t realize at the time that Qyburn didn’t introduce him as Robert Strong like he did in the books.
I’m not sure if anyone else with book knowledge noticed the omission. In-between the fifth and sixth seasons, numerous articles, features, YouTube videos, etc. were produced referring to the zombie Mountain as Ser Robert Strong.
I hadn’t realized that the show had dropped the alias until deep into the sixth season, when Cersei reassured Qyburn’s little birds not to be anxious in the presence of her murderous bodyguard. “It’s just Ser Gregor.” At that point, I went back and rewatched the tail end of Cersei’s walk of shame.
May I have the honor of presenting the newest member of the kingsguard? If it please your grace, he has taken a holy vow of silence. He has sworn that he will not speak, until all of his grace’s enemies are dead. – Qyburn
I felt a bit foolish, since I would have sworn that Qyburn had called him Robert Strong on the show. It made me regret all of my “Silent Bob” references in my tweets during Season Six.
So why would the show drop this book detail, of the pretense of the zombie Mountain going under a pseudonym?
Actually, I’ll give the show credit for this change.
What’s in a name?
In the books, the Lannisters were trying to patch things up with Dorne after the death of Oberyn during Tyrion’s trial. Well, “trying to patch things up” might be the best case optimistic viewpoint. It’s probably more fair to say that the Lannisters were trying to minimize the damage.
So it was publicly announced in King’s Landing that Ser Gregor died after the trial, and a large skull (allegedly the Mountain’s) was sent to Sunspear as a token of goodwill. The Lannisters hoped that the Martells would accept that the accused slayer of Princess Elia was dead, killed by a Martell. Perhaps the matter was not settled well, but would possibly be considered well-settled.
It would be diplomatically awkward to send Ser Gregor’s head to Sunspear, and also have Ser Gregor, seemingly alive but not very talkative, serving on the kingsguard. So this mystery knight, “Ser Robert Strong” was produced by Qyburn to serve.
I mean, it’s possible that the gigantic knight under the concealing armor is not Ser Gregor. Maybe his actual skull was sent to Dorne. Maybe Qyburn resurrected the long-dead Ser Duncan the Tall (who was not as tall as Ser Gregor, by most accounts.)
But since the show is not trying to have any diplomatic exchanges between King’s Landing and Dorne (other than sending Jaime to Dorne to steal away Myrcella, see how that worked out) there’s no reason to pretend the zombie Mountain is anything other than the zombie Mountain.
The Undead Gregor. UnGregor?
Wait. Is the Mountain really an undead zombie? I’d probably have to check in with Qyburn about that, if the Mountain actually died and was brought back to life with necromancy, or if the extreme steps to keep him alive just really messed Ser Gregor up.
I personally consider Ser Gregor and Khal Drogo’s situation rather similar.
- Khal Drogo was dying from an infection, probably caused by or exacerbated by Mirri Maz Duur. To save him, Daenerys authorized some pretty extreme stuff, which kept him alive, but not 100% there.
- Gregor Clegane was dying from poison, definitely caused by Prince Oberyn Martell. To save him, Cersei authorized Qyburn to do whatever was necessary. The ex-maester kept Gregor alive (in my opinion) but not 100% there.
I’m okay with calling the Mountain a zombie, since the definitions of what a zombie is can vary. Happy Halloween! Zombies are great Halloween topics!
So What’s Up With His Face?
Clearly, something unnatural is going on. The Mountain has this disgusting purple-y look to him. It’s no wonder he has a full helmet.
Among some book-readers, there’s even crazier speculation that there’s literally nothing inside the helmet, that the skull that was sent to Dorne was actually Ser Gregor’s head, which is also why he’s not speaking. (To be fair, some people believe that Qyburn transplanted a different head onto the body. Which doesn’t make it that much less crazy a theory.)
I tend to believe that in the books the package sent to Dorne is not Clegane’s skull, Qyburn just had a big skull lying around like any good mad scientist. Who would know the difference? No one had the Mountain’s dental records in Dorne.
But there is a cool Bran vision in the first book that lends some credence to the empty helmet theory. I just don’t subscribe to that being the literal truth.
It would certainly be odd if Ser Robert Strong in the books was a person other than Gregor Clegane, and certainly unsatisfying to people looking forward to a battle between the Clegane brothers (sometimes called Cleganebowl.)
I think that if the Mountain was a headless animated corpse, it would also not be as satisfying from a story perspective, since Sandor Clegane wouldn’t get a chance to meaningfully kill his brother.
The primary expectation for Ser Gregor during the previous season was that he would represent Cersei in her trial by combat. King Tommen eliminated this questionable form of legal discovery, so Cersei opted to eliminate her trial altogether. Clearly she’ll have an ongoing need for Ser Gregor as a protector and occasional head smasher.
Cersei, despite her control of the Iron Throne, does not seem to be in a very secure position, with Team Targaryen in motion for a comeback. Daenerys clearly has an advantage because of her mythological monsters.
But the Mountain might be categorized as a monster out of myth himself. Fearless, mighty, and probably hard to kill, if given the chance Ser Gregor might be able to eliminate at least one dragon from Dany’s arsenal. Dragons can be slain, and Westeros has seen dragonslayers before.
Okay, I shouldn’t let crazy speculation get the better of me. One Frankenstein-Monsterlike individual might be a tactical asset, but hardly can count as strategic assets like dragons.
Unless Qyburn can make more.
I assume he can. I’m not exactly sure what Qyburn’s actual procedure was, but if he turned one dying knight into… whatever Gregor is now, he could probably do the same thing to a dozen or so. It would be symbolic for him to just try to create seven of them, and provide Queen Cersei seven fearless and frightening queensghouls. I mean, queensguards. Although why stop for symbolism when you can mass-produce mindless myrmidons?
I guess this hypothetical host of horrors wouldn’t be that much different than Queen Daenerys’ Unsullied. Just created via time-efficient but dark science, instead of taking years and years of conditioning to crush warrior-slaves of their identities and wills.
Maybe this speculation isn’t crazy after all.
Hope everyone who celebrates Halloween has a great time, with all the zombies and ghouls running about. If things turn out the way I’m imagining, that’ll be a good description of events happening in the North and in the Crownlands in the upcoming season.
But be careful if you go looking to celebrate at the Red Keep.
Kids in Costume: TRICK OR TREAT!
Cersei: I choose violence.
(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
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