Game of Speculation: I Argue Against Cleganebowl

Since we have signs of Sandor Clegane reappearing in Game of Thrones S6, there’s a fan theory going around my fellow Throners that goes basically like this: the healed and reborn Sandor Clegane turns up in King’s Landing as the Faith’s champion in Cersei’s trial by combat, whereas Cersei’s champion is Ser Robert Strong, who is very obviously a re-animated Gregor Clegane. Thus, Cersei’s trial by combat is the premise for the Ultimate Showdown of the Clegane Brothers. We call this theory Cleganebowl.

I admitted yesterday that I don’t like Cleganebowl, but I didn’t really have an argument against it. Since then, I’ve given it some thought, and now I have an argument against it. I don’t think this is going to happen. It’s not outside the realm of possibility, but I think it’s an extremely unlikely scenario, in both books and show. Let me tell you why. The arguments against Cleganebowl are, from least to most important, as follows:

1. Logistical. Sandor was badly injured last we saw him. The gravedigger we see in AFFC appears “lame,” meaning physically disabled, with impaired mobility. He’s not in fighting shape. The Faith may be fanatics, but they are not delusional. They want a champion who’s likely to win. If the gravedigger on the Quiet Isle is Sandor Clegane (and I’m fairly sure he is), then he is not a good candidate for single combat with the Mountain.

That’s just in the books, though, right? What else do I have for my case against?

2. Emotional. From what we see of the gravedigger, and the way the Elder Brother talks about the Hound, it sounds like he doesn’t want any more of that shit. He wants a quiet life where no one orders him to kill anyone. The Elder Brother seems not to want to put Sandor into another life of violence. It would be unfulfilling to have Sandor finally escape his life of being the Lannisters’ trained attack dog, and then have the Faith send him back to King’s Landing to enact more violence. What was the point of Sandor saying “fuck the city” if he has to go back to be a pawn in the game of thrones?

3. Narrative. The religious order that has apparently taken Sandor into their care is not the same as the Faith Militant which has put Cersei on trial. In order for Sandor to be chosen as the Faith’s champion, he would first need to be under the control of the Faith Militant. He’s not with the Faith Militant, he’s not traveling with the Sparrows, he’s with the brothers on the Quiet Isle, and they are not involved in Cersei’s trial by combat.

That’s another argument that centers on the books, though. The show is a separate issue, yes? The show could have Sandor fully recover from his injuries, and end up with the Faith Militant, and they could send him to King’s Landing to do battle with his brother. What’s wrong with that?

4. Thematic. Cleganebowl expresses a revenge fantasy. The mutilated little brother comes back out of the blue and puts a righteous smackdown on the evil big brother who tortured him long ago. Through the trial by combat, the abused little brother finally gets a chance to deal out the justice his evil big brother deserves. Even if Sandor doesn’t know until he gets there that he’ll be fighting Gregor, the appeal of this idea is revenge.

The problem is that Game of Thrones doesn’t like revenge.

The Mountain has already won a trial by combat in which his opponent was more interested in getting revenge than in winning the fight. Oberyn Martell probably would’ve won if he’d simply focused on killing the Mountain as quickly and cleanly as possible, but he had a point to make, and his own agenda to advance, and that agenda cost him his life and Tyrion his freedom.

Even better, a major theme of the S5 finale was that, put crudely, revenge is bullshit. There can be good reasons to kill someone, but revenge is not one of them. Ellaria Sand wanted revenge for Oberyn, so she killed an innocent girl and possibly started a new war in which thousands of blameless people will be killed. Arya wanted revenge, and it was fun to watch her poke Meryn Trant’s eyes out, but that was not what her mentors at HoBaW wanted her to do. She was supposed to do a job, and she neglected that job in favor of crossing a name off her list. She’s now being punished for making the wrong choice.

The most obvious case of Revenge is Bullshit is my dear Brienne. I think we can all agree that she went in the wrong direction in the finale, yes? She wanted revenge for Renly (and, I must also point out, for the upheaval that his death wrought on her own life), and in her determination to avenge her chosen king, she accomplished nothing except to make herself unavailable when Sansa finally lit her candle. Nobody benefitted from Brienne’s vow to avenge Renly except, ironically, for Stannis getting the relief of a quick death. His claim to the throne was already fucked by that point. He probably wouldn’t have lived to see the end of that day if he’d been left alone. Nothing was accomplished except for an end to his suffering. Nothing was made better for Brienne or anyone she cared about. Sansa and Theon had to escape their captivity through a suicide attempt. If you look at the way Brienne’s actions are shot during the finale, you just know she’s going to regret this. When she finds out that Sansa jumped off the wall, you know that Brienne will see that killing Stannis was the shittiest decision she ever made. It was a shitty decision because her sole argument for killing Stannis was to punish him for killing Renly. There was no good reason to go after him.

After seeing how Oberyn Martell lost his fight to the Mountain, and how Brienne missed Sansa’s candle, the message is very strong that Game of Thrones does not reward characters for making decisions based on a desire for vengeance. Both books and show: not interested in indulging our revenge fantasies. Revenge is bullshit. If Sandor does show up in King’s Landing to beat up his undead brother to advance the Faith’s case against Cersei, his undead brother will probably kill him for real, and what a waste that would be.

There’s one argument against Cleganebowl that I don’t buy, and that’s the idea that it would be resurrecting a dead character, which would be shitty storytelling. I don’t think Sandor Clegane’s reappearance would be a resurrection. We were allowed to assume he was dead, but his death was never really confirmed. If he didn’t really die, then it’s not a resurrection. Jon Snow will be a resurrection. Sandor Clegane was never really dead.

I don’t rule out the possibility that Sandor will be chosen to battle Ser Robert Strong in Cersei’s trial by combat. Anything could happen. In order for him to win the fight, though, the writers would have to find a way to sell the reappearance to us in a way that doesn’t feed our revenge fantasies. They’d need to make it work while making it clear that revenge is not the victory of this fight. It’s not out of the question, but it’s a tough sell.

I just wrote a lot of words about why a certain idea probably won’t happen. What, then, is my idea for what Sandor Clegane will do, once it’s established that he’s still alive? Well, that’s what I haven’t yet figured out. I needed to get these thoughts off my chest first. I think that when we see Sandor Clegane alive, he’ll be living quietly, and non-violently. His near-death experience will have given him a new set of priorities. What might his place in the story be, when we see him again? Give me a while to think about that. With the show’s divergence from the books, there are a number of possibilities. I simply think Cleganebowl is among the least plausible of those possibilities.

7 thoughts on “Game of Speculation: I Argue Against Cleganebowl

      • Last year, I wrote up a big post on predictions for the end of the series. My stab at Sandor Clegane’s story kind of goes like this: (disclaimer: my thought processes are usually not as in depth or as coherent as yours – but you know that already)

        At some point, Arya is going to return to Westeros with some dangerous skills and a dark mindset. Even if she’s not a full on Faceless “No One”, she’ll be sharing some of their worldview. The way I see it, her journey will intersect at some point with the Hound.

        Arya will make what will seem to her a good offer: she’ll put in a good word for Clegane to join the Faceless Men, since
        1) he’s a killer. I mean that’s all he ever goes on about… I’m a killer, you’re a killer, Gandhi was a killer, etc.
        2) he’s already demonstrated a core element of Many Faced God belief, that death can be a gift, he’s given it as mercy, he’s begged or it as mercy
        3) and if anyone would have a motivation to change their face, it would be Sandor Clegane

        But I want Clegane to refuse, because he’s sick of killing. I want Arya to have her world view challenged by someone who has been in the dark world she’s currently treading, to provide an example of a less violent alternative.

        Can this still happen if Cleganebowl happens? I guess, although I am in sync with all of your arguments. I want Sandor to choose to give up wanting to get revenge on Gregor.

        It might still happen in some way, and Clegane might end up working with Jaime against Ser Robert Strong. I was re-reading A Game of Thrones recently, and when Bran was in a coma and dreaming of falling and seeing far off, he saw Sansa on the kingsroad surrounded by shadows (the death of Lady, I think.) And also:

        “One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound.Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.”

        I’m assuming the golden armored was Jaime, and the stone-armored person is the Mountain (which are big and rocky…)

        Since the Mountain was looming over both the Hound and Jaime (in my interpretation) I feel like it is signficant. We know why the Mountain would loom over Sandor, but not over Jaime (other than Ser Robert Strong is a kingsguard problem, now.)

        Anyway, prophecy aside, I am really less invested in Sandor interacting with the Mountain for revenge, and more invested in Sandor interacting with Arya for redemption, either his or hers. I’m fine if things don’t work in regards to Arya.

        • That’s chapter 17, yes? I confess that I gave most of the first book a very quick read-through, but I’ll give that chapter a closer read tonight after work.

        • I don’t know it by the chapter numbers, but that sounds right. Bran chapter, he’s still in his coma, after Catelyn and the unnamed Summer deal with the Valyrian steel wielding hitman.

        • I read the chapter earlier tonight, and I don’t think the significance of Bran’s dream goes that far into the future. The visions he’s seeing in that chapter are of the present. When he sees his family on the Kingsroad, it’s about them dealing with the current issue of losing Nymeria and killing Lady, with Arya being all angry and withdrawn and Sansa being openly miserable and vulnerable. The shadows are Jaime most likely, Sandor very obviously, and I think the big one looming over them is Robert Baratheon. The black blood in his visor represents the pain that’s going to hit the Starks when Ned gets too involved with the royal family. It represents Robert’s death, Ned’s execution, and all the fallout of those events on the rest of the family. I might try and put some more thought into what Sandor’s and Jaime’s shadows represent in that vision, but I don’t think Gregor is an element in that scene.

        • I have a hard time thinking that the stone armored figure is Robert, since there are other allegorical ways to present him. I remember the first time I read it, that I didn’t think it prophetic, mostly it’s not, but the section with Jon lying alone in a cold bed with the memory of warmth leaving his cold body made me wonder about that on the re-read.

          Vague prophecies are dangerous to interpret, so I try not to get too invested in how they strike me. For a bit, I was thinking that the beautiful figure was Renly, and the stone armor figure was Stannis, but again, I couldn’t go with that since Renly is so strongly associated with green and an antlered helm, and there’s no Stannis Hound connection.

          Thank you for reading and responding. I think it’s cool that we can discuss alternative reads.

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