Game of Thrones Season 8: Cleganebowl and the Mountain Explained

We examine the long and sordid history that led to Cleganebowl on Game of Thrones, and why it felt therapeutic.

Game of Thrones Cleganebowl Explained the Mountain

This Game of Thrones article contains major spoilers for Season 8 episode 5, “The Bells.”

Last night’s Game of Thrones was a bitter pill for many to swallow. While there have been hints and teases going back to the very first season that Daenerys Targaryen would do what she did and live up to her House words—Fire and Blood—that doesn’t mean fans had to like it when the moment came. It really is the opposite of fan service when one of our perceived heroes has a tragic fall to darkness at the eleventh hour of a television series. Meanwhile Cersei Lannister, who we thought was the last big bad of the series, died not with any beloved character plunging in the knife, but as a scared and pitiful woman realizing that the ugly world she’d built around her was about to crash on her head.

The genuine lack of fan service only weeks after Arya Stark killed the Night King (or Avengers offering nothing but for three hours) is a bit bewildering. So thank goodness for Cleganebowl. Aye, the old gods and the new smiled on us by giving hardcore fans the most purely metal showdown between the Brothers Clegane. With Sandor and Ser Gregor finally meeting burnt to red eye within the tower of the Red Keep.

For clarity to those who do not recall, the sordid history of the Cleganes was set-up way back when Sansa Stark, still but a naïve girl whom the Hound would describe as a “little bird,” learned the truth about his gruesome scars. In the novel A Game of Thrones, the Hound volunteers this information to Sansa, but in the show it is whispered in her ear like silky poison by Littlefinger. It’s a preface to the first time the two Cleganes cross swords (on screen at least) during a joust in Ned Stark’s honor. As Littlefinger tells it on the show:

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“Has anyone ever told you the story of the Mountain and the Hound? Lovely little tale of brotherly love. The Hound was just a pup, six-years-old maybe. Gregor, a few years older, was already a big lad, already getting a bit of a reputation. Some lucky boys are just born with a talent for violence. One evening, Gregor found his little brother playing with a toy by the fire, Gregor’s toy. A wooden knight. Gregor never said a word. He just grabbed his brother by the scruff of his neck and shoved his face into the burning coals. Held him there while the boy screamed, while his face melted.”

In the series, Littlefinger seems to tell it so as to give viewers some backstory on the guy Rory McCann plays with the ugly burn scars (and just to be a creeper on Sansa). However, it also precedes the Hound then losing in a joust to Loras Tyrell, the Flower Knight. Gregor, aka the Mountain Who Rides, takes it about as well as can be expected and cuts off his own horse’s head and tries to do the same to Loras before the Hound intervenes—but not for honor and not for Loras’ sake. He does it because it is the opportunity he’s always wanted to get revenge on his big brother and kill him for ruining his face, ruining his ideal of knightly chivalry, and terrifying him of fire to this day. Yet King Robert Baratheon intercedes, ordering they stop their squabbling before a good fratricide can be committed.

Ever since that moment, fans of book and show alike have waited with baited breath for the day that the Hound and the Mountain would finish their bad blood which goes back to their childhoods. It seemed inevitable one must kill the other, even more so when in the second novel/season, the Hound forsakes the Lannisters who they both serve and escapes into the riverlands where the Mountain is acting like a genocidal warlord. They never did cross paths though, at least not while the Mountain was alive.

read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – White Horse Explained

Indeed, last night finally confirmed for us once and for all that the Mountain died when he fought the Red Viper (or shortly afterward). It’s been intentionally vague how much of him was Undead after Qyburn got his hands on the fresh meat, but if you can recall, the Mountain had one of the most epic duels in Game of Thrones history when he fought Ser Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper. Rushing into King’s Landing like Inigo Montoya, Pedro Pascal’s Dornish prince had every reason to kill Ser Gregor Clegane. More so than the Hound since Gregor raped and killed Oberyn’s sister on Tywin Lannister’s orders, also murdering her infant children before her eyes too. Yet the Red Viper’s showboating and demand for the Mountain to admit his crimes led to him suffering a fraction of his sister’s fate by having his eyes gouged out and his skull squished like a grape.

… but not before stabbing the Mountain many times. Each slice of his spear introduced a slow-acting venom to Ser Gregor’s bloodstream. A venom that Qyburn reported to Cersei would invariably kill Ser Gregor unless the former maester did… something to the Mountain’s body that implicitly involved as much magic as science—Qyburn had been thrown out of the Citadel because of his dabbling in blood magic and dark arts. While we never know exactly what Qyburn’s methods were, it always seemed nebulous if the Mountain actually did die on Qyburn’s operating table and came back a bit like a Frankenstein’s Monster or if he was still alive and just badly scarred by the combination of poison and magic.

Last night made all things clear. When the Hound approached his brother, who was still dressed like knight in literally shining honor, Sandor basked in the moment like a dog about to descend on a bone. The ever quiet Mountain likewise thirsted for this confrontation, killing his creator like some sort of wannabe Boris Karloff before drawing his sword against the Hound. It was one of the few laughs of the night when Cersei used this as her opportunity to exit stage right. And a fight commenced that answered some questions.

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a)    The Hound is indeed a better fighter than the Mountain since he got multiple killing strikes in.

and…

b)   It doesn’t matter, because the Mountain is already dead. A type of zombie created by magic, even the ol’ trusty destroy the brain technique doesn’t work on Ser Gregor since Sandor stabs him right through the eye and brain.

Cleganebowl is thus doomed to end in a draw that I compared in my review to Rocky III. With the Hound pushing the Mountain through the ruined walls of the burning Red Keep and into the dragonfire below, their legacy of eternal combat ends something akin to the final shot of the movie where Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed’s boxing enters the realm of oil painting legend—left to forevermore duel in our imaginations. Only in this case the oils are flames, with the Hound holding his brother’s face to the fire at the bitter end.

It’s a little hokey, but given how bleak Daenerys’ turn is, I will take this bit of fan service, thank you very much. The Hound might never have wanted to be a knight, but he had a noble end by taking the demon in shining armor he always knew to be a monster with him. Who says we can’t have nice things?

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David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.