The Clegane Brothers
It’s time to talk about the Cleganes. When I launched my site, the number one question I received was, “But what about The Hound? Look how badass he is!” While I maintain my original argument that Sandor isn’t as good as many people say, I concede that I ought to have included him in my rankings regardless of whether or not I feel he’s the best. After all, I wrote an entire post about Jorah Mormont’s trainwreck fight scenes, so there’s no reason to exclude the brothers Clegane. So to right my former wrongs and to do my part in keeping the CleganeBowl hype alive for another year, here’s how the two of them size up.
First off, I need to say that The Mountain won’t be added to the tier list just yet. That’s because as far as I’m concerned, Gregor Clegane is comprised of two different characters. The first Mountain is the one we see stumble around in a duel with Oberyn Martell. Sure, he’s strong enough to cut off a horse’s head, but this seems less impressive when we see Sandor cut a man in half and Stannis slice off the top of a man’s skull at the battle of Blackwater. The Mountain that Rides is, as one might expect from the imagery of such a nickname, slow, hulking, and easily outmaneuvered. In fairness, Bronn’s reluctance to duel Gregor is understandable – one small mistake during the fight could prove fatal against someone of The Mountain’s size and strength.
Based on what we see in the first five seasons, The Mountain would have landed at the bottom of the rankings along with Jorah. His main strength is his pure bulk, but the supposedly legendary feat of beheading a horse with one blow is matched by considerably smaller characters. His utter lack of agility and reliance on gigantic, tempo-wasting attacks are, as far as I’m concerned, enough to place him in the lowest tier.
But then we have the more or less undead Mountain of season six. The reason I can’t place The Mountain into my tier list is because until we see more of him fighting, it cannot be determined whether or not he violates rule five, which states that only humans or human-equivalent characters will be considered. In his brief skirmish with the Faith Militant, we see Gregor take an axe to the chest. The Mountain didn’t flinch or show any signs of injury or weakness even as the axe pierced his armor. Even though he’s as slow as ever, The Mountain with all of his strength and seeming invulnerability is too inhuman, as far as I’m concerned, to be ranked. His new strength comes from innate but unnatural abilities, not skill or technique. Therefore, Gregor Clegane is officially declared completely badass but indefinitely removed from the tier list. The only way I would consider ranking him is if we discover that he’s susceptible to injury when we see him fight in the future.
The Hound, however, deserves a ranking. But before I get into that, I want to clarify why I didn’t include Sandor in the first place. My original intention was to include only the characters who I could see people favoring as the best, not to make a list of every character in the show who held a sword. When I was taking my notes, I was confident that Clegane wouldn’t finish anywhere near the top so I didn’t bother to rank him at all. Also, most of his fighting was done against unnamed extras of the Baratheon and Lannister armies. His fear of fire, though not common knowledge, represents a glaring liability, and we see him left for dead after losing to Brienne. That being said, let’s talk about The Hound’s notable fights and take from them what we can.
Most of The Hound’s fights are against extras. From these battles we can determine a couple of things. As was mentioned above, Sandor is strong enough to cut an armored man in half, which is no small feat. He’s also intimidating and relentless in battle. In his own words, “[The Hound is] a big fucker and [he’s] tough to kill.” That being said, slowness seems to run in the Clegane family. Just like his older brother, Sandor seems to rely on brute strength rather than any using any of the finesse we see in the swordsmen of the higher tiers. His attacks are all dramatically telegraphed – almost every blow is preceded by a roar or grunt while winding up with his sword.
All of this is wasted tempo and provides a skilled opponent with plenty of time to attack and quickly incapacitate him. Because of this, Clegane cannot claim a particularly high ranking; our current champions Bronn and Tormund would make quick work of him. I explain further, but I fully believe that The Hound is a perfect fit for Tier Three.
Now, on to CleganeBowl, the long-anticipated duel of Sandor and Gregor that many hoped would take place during Cersei’s intended trial by combat. When we speculate on a battle between the two of them, it’s important to consider the fact that both Cleganes have a fairly similar approach to battle: they get angry, grunt a lot, and swing their swords around without much consideration to any strategy other than “I want to cut this person in half so I’m going to.” Even with the differences in size and bulk between the brothers, both of them are strong enough to decide a battle with one successful attack, as we see in their respective fights with Beric Dondarrion, Oberyn Martell, and several unnamed extras. Therefore, I’m operating under the assumption that either Clegane, should he land a single blow with his sword, will end up killing the other.
We see in his duels with Beric and Brienne that The Hound is willing to move around a bit, dodge attacks, and throw punches in addition to attacking with his sword. His dodges don’t do anything to capitalize on his opponent’s momentum or tempo, but we at least see that he’s more willing to move around and utilize both the terrain and his off-hand than The Mountain. Because of this, I believe that Sandor will be able to outpace Gregor in a battle. He won’t do so as dramatically as Oberyn did, but even a small tempo advantage can be the deciding factor in a fight. This advantage is apparent during their brief skirmish during The Hand’s Tourney.
While most of the fight is just the two of them swinging back and forth with evenly-paced, broad attacks and blocking each other, you can see that The Hound is able to pick up speed and embarrass his brother when King Robert demands that the fighting stop. The Mountain had already begun an attack and The Hound still had plenty of time to analyze the trajectory of his brother’s sword and dramatically evade it by kneeling to the king. I argue that this brief clash holds a similar dynamic to the duel between Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark – The Mountain wants to kill someone, whether it’s Loras Tyrell, his brother, or anyone else. Meanwhile, Sandor is more collected and seems more interested in holding off Gregor’s attacks rather than having any desire to retaliate and kill him. Just as Jaime could have killed Ned had he really been trying, I believe that Sandor could have outmaneuvered his brother and landed a decisive attack but had no intention of doing so.
Of course, this analysis is an educated guess based on my guidelines for interpreting swordfights. There are a number of factors that could just as easily cause CleganeBowl to go in the favor of The Mountain. I am assuming that the duel will happen while The Hound is emotionally collected. We see that when he truly gets angry, as compared to his usual baseline of moderately-boiling hatred, he tends to make even larger, time-wasting attacks. When this happens, he prefers to stand in place and exchange blows in a contest of strength. Grabbing Brienne’s sword after she called him “Ser” was brutal and intimidating, but it was also nearly-suicidal. If Sandor makes similar bad decisions against his brother or if he opts to stand still and try to outmuscle him in a rage-fueled arm wrestling match, then he will lose. Again, Bronn’s assessment that one mistake against Gregor might prove fatal was spot on.
Finally, I’ve been assessing The Mountain as he was prior to his Frankensteinesque resurrection. I assume that decapitation would kill him, but we don’t that for certain. For all we know, The Mountain could have an arm lopped off or be cut in half and still continue to fight. The Hound could get his sword stuck in the Kingsguard armor while dealing what would normally be a fatal blow, not unlike Jon Snow’s first encounter with a wight. Ultimately, it boils down to whether or not The Mountain can be killed by anything short of total dismemberment. If so, I think that Sandor would win CleganeBowl. If not, it may very well take a dragon to kill The Mountain for good.