A hero. A villain. A chicken-craver, potty-mouthed one-line spouter and, finally, Mountain-destroyer. It’s time to say our final farewells to Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane. When we first meet the Hound, all the way back in Season One, it’s easy to dismiss him as just another villain. After all, this scarred, hulking figure is Prince Joffrey’s personal bodyguard and his fearsome dog-head armour and initial actions (remember when he ran down poor Mycah?) do little to endear us to him. But, thanks to Rory McCann’s sensitive, layered portrayal, a tragic, anti-heroic figure begins to emerge.
Our first hints that there might be more to this brutish warrior occur during the tourney, in which Littlefinger relays Sandor’s fearsome past to Sansa. When Sandor intervenes and saves Loras Tyrell from being beaten to death by the Mountain, we realise that unlike his brother, Sandor has a moral code and a sense of chivalry, even if he is, by his own admission, ‘no true knight.’
McCann’s scenes with Sophie Turner across Seasons One and Two are delicately balanced and a joy to watch; when Sandor offers to take his ‘Little Bird’ away from King’s Landing, viewers are left begging that she’ll take him up on his offer. Sandor is a dangerous man, but McCann’s portrayal leaves us in no doubt that he’s got Sansa’s best interests at heart. Sansa declines, The Hound leaves without her, and the dreams of a thousand SanSan shippers go with him.
It’s in McCann’s scenes with Maisie Williams, however, that the character really took off. McCann, who claimed to feel ‘nervous’ with the character for the first few years, found his feet in this bizarre pairing. Equal parts grumpy captor and reluctant protector, Williams and McCann share great screen chemistry as the disparate parts of Sandor’s personality begin to unravel. He’s by turns compassionate, dishonorable, aggressive, humorous and affectionate, and, when Arya leaves him for dead, even proud of his unlikely ward.
There was much rejoicing when the Hound returned to our screens in Season 6, seemingly a little more mellow thanks to his time with Ian McShane’s Brother Ray. His briefly peaceful stint was not to last however, after a village massacre prompts Sandor to team up with the Brotherhood Without Banners and eventually working for Jon Snow. If someone told you in Season One that the Hound would end up working for the opposite side, you might not think it was very likely, but McCann always let Sandor’s shifts in allegiance feel very natural, keeping the character grounded within himself, always grumpy, always sweary and always quick to his axe.
It would have been easy to let Sandor’s fear of fire slip away as a passing reference, but McCann plays it totally straight, as a survivor with such severe PTSD that at times he is completely paralysed by his phobia and unable to act. When he’s turning tail on King’s Landing or is frozen in place in Winterfell, we see the Hound as a man plagued by past fears rather than one dogged by cowardice.
It’s his hatred for his brother Gregor that forms one of the backbones of Sandor’s faceted character. The long-awaited CleganeBowl was just as violently gripping and brutal as many fans had hoped. This wasn’t an elegant joust, but a grappling brawl between two brothers long locked together by hatred. McCann’s crazed laughing towards the end of the fight is pitched perfectly as both he and the viewers realise there is only one way to kill off the resurrected Mountain. Sandor falls to his fiery demise, taking his brother along with him. It was a fitting, if tragic end, to a man whose life had been hounded (pun intended) by flames.
McCann’s acting career began with a role as an extra on the film Willow, from which he was fired for laughing too much on set! Since then, he’s appeared in films including Alexander, Solomon Kane and Hot Fuzz, as well as various TV shows, including a Scottish BAFTA winning turn in The Book Group. Of course, in my homeland he’ll always be fondly remembered as the ‘Scott’s Porage Oats Guy’ thanks to this stunning advert.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, he was what asked his next destination was. “That’s my f*cking business,” was his response.
The Hound might be gone, but his penchant for snappy, sweary one-liners certainly lives on with the actor who portrayed him.