Few side stories in all of Game of Thrones have managed to fascinate fans like Cleganebowl.
What started out as a horrific sibling rivalry between two violent people, has been teased for so long by the show that it’s grown into a near mythical encounter. And in season 8 episode 5, fans finally got to see the fight they have been waiting for: Sandor and Gregor Clegane, aka The Hound and The Mountain (resurrected by Qyburn) facing off in a duel to the death.
Beyond their childhood together, Cleganebowl is a faceoff the show has teased on and off since the beginning. But, when the two finally met in episode, there wasn’t a dimming of the lights and a stepping out into an arena. This was hand to hand carnage, two brothers ending their own stories on their own terms, and the combat echoed the past in the most gruesome ways possible.
Just like in their previous fight, all the way back in season 1, the Hound is a far more agile fighter than the Mountain. But what the Mountain lacks in finesse he makes up for in bone-crushing strength. Every swing of his sword cracks stone as the Hound dodges the blade by inches.
If Cleganebowl had turned out to be any kind of normal fight, the Hound would have won easily. But Ser Gregor’s monsterous, ressurected form can’t be hurt by things like stabs, it seems. Ultimately, the Mountain throws the Hound to a wall and smashes his face — his favorite finishing move apparently — but Sandor fights back, stabbing his brother in the eye before plunging them both off steps of the Red Keep and into the fire below.
But even more so than the fight itself, one of Game of Thrones’ most impressive achievements is making this a plot line that fans care about to begin with. And at the heart of the storyline was the transformation of Sandor Clegane from one of the show’s most frightening characters to one of its most loving.
In our earliest introduction to him, Sandor Clegane — the Hound — is talked about like a literal animal. During the first season, he kills a child and seems to revel in his role as the Lannisters’ chief intimidator. But when he first explains that it was his brother Gregor, holding his head to fire when they were children that gave him the burn on the side of his head, the Hound started to open up to fans as a more complicated character than he initially appeared.
As the series progresses Sandor grows frustrated with his complicit role in Joffrey’s atrocities and eventually tries to rise above them. We first get a glimpse of this when he starts to protect Sansa, and later in his begrudgingly paternal relationship with Arya as the two travel together. The ultimate metamorphosis for Sandor, his true transformation from redeemable villain to bona fide good guy comes thanks to Brother Ray (Ian McShane) who shows the Hound that there is goodness in him. Brought back from the edge of death, Sandor is reborn a better person, though still an extremely violent one.
Gregor, on the other hand, mirrors the Hound with unrepentant violence. He never grew tired of his role as a killer and never sought to grow beyond it. He too was reborn, but it wasn’t by Brother Ray and his good-vibes teachings, but by Qyburn and his sub-maester-level science. While the Hound is brought back to a state that’s arguably better than the life he knew before, the Mountain’s new form sits somewhere between life and death.
In one of the Hound’s last big moments before this fateful battle he overcomes his fear of fire to help save Arya, and ultimately put her in a place to kill the Night King. In one of the Mountain’s last moments alive — or not exactly alive — he beheads Missandei, still happy to deliver violence on the Lannisters’ behalf.
For all the resurrections that these two characters have had in the past, it’s likely that episode was our final glimpse of either Clegane. But if they had to go out, at least it was against each other in Cleganebowl, a special family-named fight that truly was the Super Bowl of watching two really big scary people fight each other.