Warning: contains seasons 1-7 spoilers.
He killed Mycah the butcher’s boy and countless others, was the enforcer of the monstrous Joffrey Baratheon, and kidnapped young Arya Stark for ransom. He was also maimed by his truly monstrous brother at the age of six, rescued young Sansa Stark from a baying crowd of would-be murderous rapists, and was left for dead on a lonely hillside. Sandor Clegane aka The Hound is a man with layers.
Currently, he’s joined up with the heroes and embarked on a long, slow, and very cold path to redemption. After being nursed back to health by a Septon of the Seven (hello, Ian McShane!) whose slaughter he avenged, Clegane is on the side of the angels now. Or at least the side of the living…
Before the season seven premiere (therefore containing no spoilers for it), we enjoyed a roundtable chat with Rory McCann that we’re only now allowed to share, taking in his character, the physical demands of the role, his favourite fight scenes to film, and where he stands on the matter of the long-anticipated clash between The Hound and his brother The Mountain, nicknamed by fans ‘Cleganebowl’.
Are you anticipating Cleganebowl as much as the rest of us? How would the Hound go about beating the Mountain?
Yeah, I’ve heard of this Cleganebowl. Bring it on! I’ve met [Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays The Mountain] a couple of times and he’s a big boy, I think I’d be the Jack Russell sort of [growls and mimes dodging about] so yeah. It’d be interesting if it happened. It’s what drives the Hound still, he’s still got a lot of anger, he’s reminded everyday with his burned face of why he’s like that and it’s shaped his character so it’ll be amazing if we met and that happens, but we’ll see.
Do you think redemption is possible for The Hound?
He was left in season six with a chance of redeeming himself according to [Beric] Dondarrion. ‘Join us, join the Brotherhood Without Banners and redeem your past and help us fight the problems in the North’. So that might happen. I can’t reveal which path the Hound will take but it’s well worth the wait, I can assure you. I’m still limping [laughs].
Which approach works better in Westeros, being a loyal follower, or being a lone wolf?
[The Hound] was loyal in the past – he did what he was told even if he didn’t agree when he was looking after Joffrey, but then he went off on his own and did his own thing. In these circumstances in Westeros, with the big evil coming from the North, we’re all going to have to get together.
What specific physical training do you have to do for the role?
The training in my real life, I try to do that. I keep fit and sail a lot, I’ve got quite a physical lifestyle. To be honest, I have actually been injured since last season so I’m a bit worried. I’m going for tests. Don’t worry, I’ll be back! The main injury was actually throwing too many snowballs in between takes, I’ve got snowball-shoulder but I’m getting no sympathy for it!
What is the atmosphere like on set?
Compared to other jobs that we do, it’s actually a very quiet set. We never stop for lunch, either. There’s so much to do.
It’s been hard, a lot of the scenes I’ve been doing and there’s not been a blizzard about, they’ve got to create a blizzard, which means a couple of fans the size of this table with people throwing snow in front of it and bits of paper in your face and in your ears and in your eyes, and that’s been hard where there’s dialogue going on. There’s been a lot of dialogue going on where actors can’t hear each other, we’re literally lip-reading with the noise of these fans. We’re lip-reading and then having to sort it out in the sound-studio six months later, it’s quite frustrating, that.
Are you also able to enjoy watching the show as a fan?
I haven’t actually watched all of it. I’m way lost. I’ve met actors on Game Of Thrones and have no idea who they are and apparently they’ve been there for years. But you know, it’s fine. I am going to watch it, in a couple more years I’ll have the big box-set and a DVD player one day and a dose of the flu and a big crate of wine and I’ll probably think ‘thank God it’s all over, now what’s this all about?’ [Laughs].
How do you feel the show has developed over the seasons?
You’ve definitely felt that the scale’s gone up, you’ve felt that the budget’s gone up. You’re going ‘oh my God’, this must have cost millions just to make the set, never mind the hundreds of people spilling onto it. You can see that, you’ve felt that all around. The battles are getting bigger. You can kind of imagine the sewing up of this saga is going to be… they’re not going to hold back are they? It’s just going to get even bigger. We were very, very impressed this year.
When I get a script now these days I feel like David and Dan know me so well that half the stuff I read it and go ‘well, I would say that anyway’ and that isn’t just necessarily ‘Hi, are you the Hound?’ [growls] ‘Fuck off’, I mean some real sentences.
So it feels as though they’re writing for you?
That’s what I feel. It’s easier for us then, obviously.
When the Hound was left for dead, were you in on the secret of his return?
Which season was that? Oh yeah, I got a kind of twinkle in the eye, ‘don’t worry, but don’t tell anyone’. There was a six, seven month wait and there was a deal made and it was just ‘shut the fuck up, just keep on saying…’ I had to do a couple of Comic-Cons where I was out, I was just lying, lying, lying and people were saying ‘he’s denying it too much now’. So that was hard but I got the nod saying yes, you are in.
Every year you go around a big table [at the read-through] and there’s many actors there and there’s no talking for the first five minutes because everybody’s seeing if they die and when they die.
Did you get specific instructions on how to answer when you were supposed to be dead?
It was just deny, deny, deny. It’s all over!
How has it been to move around Westeros and be paired up with different characters over your time?
When the Hound left King’s Landing I felt that I was leaving a big section there with all that going on. Nearly everything I did there was a lot of studio work and with all the costume and everything it was just so hot, then suddenly I’m on a road trip with Arya and I’m out in the countryside and nearly all of it’s Ireland? Happy days! It’s almost like my little spin-off TV show. That was just a wonderful period.
Which scenes do you have the fondest memories of filming?
I like my fights. The first one which was really, really hard technically was the Beric Dondarrion fight in the cave scene with the fire. Even extras were saying they can’t believe we were able to do that. You couldn’t breathe. It was just so physical it was almost unpleasant.
The Brienne fight was just wonderful, that was great fun, I love Gwendoline and it was great working with her and then we got off to an amazing place in Iceland, high up in the mountains to do it and I was one happy bunny.
Rory McCann, thank you very much!
Game of Thrones Season 7 is available now on Digital Download