Cleganebowl finally happened in Season 8 of Game of Thrones, but The Winds of Winter may change that.
Sandor “the Hound” Clegane and Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane have always been at odds with each other. Game of Thrones presented their relationship as a tumultuous one, fraught with anger and hatred. They were the Cain and Abel of HBO’s mega-popular series. After years of resentment, fans speculated that the brothers would eventually fight each other in a duel to the death. This became known as Cleganebowl.
Cleganebowl seemingly originated after Cersei Lannister’s call for a trial by combat in Season 4 of the TV show, following the death of her son Joffrey. Book fans were split between liking the idea and hating it, with some likely not caring whether Cleganebowl happened or not. The fan theory was popularized even further when a YouTube video declared that fans “get hype” for the speculated duel.
Whether fans predicted it early on or showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss capitulated to the hype, Cleganebowl finally happened — in spectacular fashion — in Season 8’s divisive second-to-last episode, “The Bells.” But there’s no telling whether Cleganebowl will actually happen the same way in George R.R. Martin’s books.
Based on what we know so far, The Winds of Winter — the sixth book in A Song of Ice and Fire series — might avoid Cleganebowl altogether for one major reason.
A Tale of Two Brothers
The Clegane brothers’ rivalry started young, though it’s safe to say that Sandor had much better reasons to hate his brother. Gregor, who was five years older than Sandor, was always considered monstrous. By the time he became a knight and bannerman for House Lannister, he was considered to be one of the most ruthless and fearsome knights in the Seven Kingdoms.
Sandor grew up in his brother’s shadow and feared Gregor who, with the strength of three men and a reputation, seemed unstoppable. Then came the moment that forever defined their relationship. No more than six or seven years old, Sandor received a gift from the local woodcarver. However, he liked Gregor’s gift, a wooden knight, much better and took it to play with.
In response, Gregor ruthlessly shoved young Sandor’s face into the burning coals of a fire and held him down. Sandor was physically and mentally scarred, one side of his face irrevocably damaged. Perhaps the worst part of it all is that their father lied to everyone about the incident, telling them bed sheets caught fire and gave Sandor his scars.
“There was a brazier in the room. Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there while I screamed and screamed. You saw how strong he is. Even then, it took three grown men to drag him off me.” —Sandor to Sansa Stark, A Game of Thrones
Sandor eventually followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined up with House Lannister, but he never took the vows that would have officially made him a knight like his brother and was widely known to despise them. Meanwhile, Gregor became famous for brutally raping Elia Martell and murdering her along with her infant son, Aegon Targaryen. The elder Clegane was also rumored to have killed his father, sister, and his first two wives. So, while Sandor was also a killer, Gregor was seen to be especially cruel and sadistic.
From Book to Screen
The Hound and the Mountain’s journeys from Martin’s books largely match-up with the events of Game of Thrones. Sandor typically played guard to the Lannister family and other royals visiting King’s Landing.
After the Battle of the Blackwater in Season 2, Sandor defects from his duty to the Lannisters and leaves King’s Landing. He’s later captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners and nearly killed by them and Arya Stark, whom he kidnaps and attempts to ransom to her mother and brother, Catelyn and Robb (RIP).
Long story short, Arya and Sandor eventually bond over their hatred of Gregor and vow to kill him, but she ditches him, leaving him for dead after his battle with Brienne of Tarth. Though Sandor lives through the ordeal and shows back up in Game of Thrones, the Hound and Brienne never actually fight in Martin’s books and he’s presumed to be dead.
Gregor, on the other hand, is dealt a fatal blow after fighting Oberyn Martell in a trial by combat. Gregor ruthlessly bashes Oberyn’s head in, but there’s enough time for Oberyn to poison him. On the show, Gregor survives and is experimented on by the sinister Maester Qyburn, who turns him into an obedient killing machine.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Gregor’s head is severed and sent to Dorne. However, Qyburn does create an unbeatable warrior named Ser Robert Strong. Fans suspect that Ser Robert and Gregor are one and the same, though there’s no telling who’s head is actually beneath the fighter’s helmet.
Will Cleganebowl happen in the books?
In Game of Thrones, Sandor ended Cleganebowl by throwing himself at Gregor, sending them both to their fiery doom. It was somewhat of a fitting end, knowing Gregor felt the rage of the flames he tortured his brother with as kids. It’s possible this could play out the same way in The Winds of Winter, but it shouldn’t.
It’s unclear if either brother is alive or dead by the end of A Dance with Dragons. Gregor’s been zombified, sure, but he’s missing a head, which makes it hard to say whether he's really Ser Robert. Meanwhile, Sandor was last seen bleeding out where Arya left him. In search of Arya and Sansa, Brienne comes across a monastery and spies a lone gravedigger. In keeping with the character's return in Season 6 of the HBO series, many fans believe the gravedigger is Sandor, though Brienne is told that the “Hound is dead. Sandor Clegane is at rest.”
All that said, it would be a mistake for Cleganebowl to happen. It wasn’t very satisfying in the show and it’s sure to be less satisfying if it happens in The Winds of Winter. This is especially true considering Sandor’s personal journey thus far. Sandor’s entire life has been spent trying to fight the urge to be violent. He hated Gregor for the brutality and violence he so easily used against people. Sandor wanted to be better than his rage-fueled brother, as evidenced by his loyal protection of the Stark sisters. He’s had a lot of missteps, but the Hound’s path towards a life of less violence has been satisfying. Still, it was frustrating to see Sandor develop meaningful friendships and find a cause bigger than revenge, only to give his life at the end of Season 8 to fulfill the vendetta he'd outgrown.
If the Hound is indeed revealed to be the gravedigger, then it might be best to let him live out the rest of his life in peace — or at least leave his fraternal grudge in the past. He’s suffered at the hands of his brother long enough.
The Winds of Winter does not yet have a scheduled release date.