io9's weekly roundtable Battle of Thrones is back to discuss Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode, “The Bells,” which could also have been titled “Everything’s on Fire” and “Well, That Character’s Dead Now Too.” Since we’ve already talked Lannistersr and dragons at length, we’re going to focus on a deeply personal, highly anticipated battle that finally took place amid the chaos of King’s Landing.
That battle, of course, is CLEGANEBOWL, which we once called “Game of Thrones’ most hyped fan theory.” After eight seasons and, really, a lifetime of mutual hatred, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane finally got the chance to fight his brother, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Did it go the way we hoped? Let’s discuss!
Cheryl Eddy: It finally happened. Did Cleganebowl live up to your expectations?
Beth Elderkin: This is a tricky question to answer. Was it a cool battle? Yes. I loved seeing the Mountain without his armor on, taking a look at the monster he had become. It was beautifully shot, and well-executed. But do I feel it needed to happen at all? Not one bit.
Cleganebowl is the perfect example of characters outliving a story. The Sandor Clegane we got to know in season one, the one who needed a rematch with his horrible brother, was not the Sandor Clegane we ended up with in season eight. He’d already moved on, as had we.
Cheryl: I definitely agree. In a season that’s been increasingly about not giving fans what they want, Cleganebowl kind of went against that. It was pretty pure fan service, even if, as you point out, the fans might not be so invested in it at this point.
Beth: I have to admit I was kind of surprised how in the previous episode, Sandor had suddenly decided to make his way down to King’s Landing from Winterfell, bringing Arya along because they’re best bros forever…as they very well should be. I knew exactly what it meant, that we were getting Cleganebowl, and I found my reaction was more, “Meh” than “OMIGODZZZZZ.” What was your reaction when you realized that was finally going to happen? And was it something you’d previously wanted to see…even if it wasn’t something you cared for now?
Cheryl: I was pretty excited actually, haha. The fight was about what I expected, though. You knew the Mountain was going to go for the eye-gouge, and that it was pretty certain that the Hound was going to say some variation on “Why won’t you die?”, and there’d be a zombie/Darth Vader helmet-removal moment. Even the way it ended wasn’t that shocking, because obviously a) they were gonna die together and b) there’d have to be fire involved. The parallel mano-a-mano this episode, that grimy brawl between Jaime and Euron, was actually a little more exciting because you weren’t entirely sure how that was going to play out.
Beth: During that fight scene my husband blurted out: “If Euron kills Jaime Lannister, I’m quitting this show right now.” Five seconds later he got stabbed. It was perfect timing.
Cheryl: That fight almost got to They Live levels. I almost wish it had gone on for longer instead of all the dragon stuff.
Beth: I will say: I think my favorite part of Cleganebowl was how the Mountain killed Qyburn. It was such a good death, quick and bloody. A suitable end for Gregor’s own Dr. Frankenstein.
Cheryl: It was perfect. Also, Cersei’s face as she’s like, “Well, I’m just gonna head downstairs now...”
Beth: So, there is a larger conversation to be had with Cleganebowl about the idea of “plot destiny” on a series like Game of Thrones. While people had differing opinions on whether Daenerys’ character journey matched her eventual decision to burn King’s Landing (I personally feel it did, which I further explained here), I haven’t really seen many people defending Cleganebowl as something that “needed” to happen at this point in the show. And I agree. The Hound’s journey had well moved past it. The character we grew with for eight seasons—the one who bonded with Arya, fought White Walkers, and helped save the world—stopped caring about his stupid undead brother a long time ago.
Given how this means Cleganebowl is probably in the books, and fans had been clamoring for it for a long time (even if they weren’t now), do you think it should’ve happened or not? And what do you think would’ve been a bigger disappointment for fans? Having it and not needing it, or needing it and not having it?
Cheryl: I hadn’t really thought of it until now, but I see a parallel here with Jaime’s reunion with Cersei. He’s changed a lot, or at least we thought he did, but ultimately made the decision to return to King’s Landing and find the sibling he just can’t leave behind. Of course, Jaime and Cersei have a very different relationship than Sandor and Gregor, but it’s almost like the Game of Thrones writers felt like they couldn’t leave either pair separated at the end.
I do think fans would have been bummed to miss out on Cleganebowl—how else was the Mountain gonna die? He could probably have survived the crumbling of the Red Keep otherwise!—even if it ultimately felt like someone with a white board somewhere was just marking off plot threads that needed to be tied off before the final episode.
Beth: I will say, I love how they went out. Plunging into the fiery pit. Together. Reminded me of when Judge Frollo fell off Notre Dame while clinging to that demonic statue. Kept singing about the bells bells bells bells, bells of King’s Landiiiiiiiiiing!
Cheryl: What did you make of the Hound’s farewell advice to Arya?
Beth: I found this interesting. We’ve been talking a lot about Cleganebowl checking off a box on the “fan service checklist,” but another character pointedly did not. And that was Arya. She was determined to cross Cersei Lannister’s name off of her list, but was stopped at the last minute by Sandor, who warned her that pursuing this path was going to kill her in the end. She inevitably chose life over revenge. I saw some criticism that this was unfair, giving Sandor his closure while denying Arya hers. But I felt the exact opposite.
Arya was doing what Sandor should have done. The Arya we know now isn’t the same one we knew before, the one who was saying Cersei’s name over and over again in the prison of Harrenhal. She didn’t need to kill Cersei, just like Sandor didn’t need to kill Gregor. But who knows…we could see Arya kill a queen in the series finale...“Green eyes.”
Cheryl: Famously, Melisandre’s prophecies weren’t always right, but given that Game of Thrones felt the need to underline that particular one just a few episodes back (in “The Long Night”), I do think we may see some follow-through.
Beth, I have to ask...how ready are you for Game of Thrones to be over?
Beth: I’m ready but I’m also not ready. I understand the conversation has gotten tricky recently, because of some undeniable issues with the tone and pace (compared to previous seasons), but this show has also been an important part of my life and fandom for years. I’m not ready for that to be over—especially if it ends on less-than-stellar terms, which all evidence suggests will likely happen. What about you? How are you feeling going into the end of Thrones?
Cheryl: I have similar feelings! I will miss it, even if I’m worried we’re heading into a finale that I may not find satisfying. But I am also ready to get excited about new shows! And, you know, one day reading those last two books if they ever come out.
Beth: Oh Cheryl, you and I well know that Winter will get here before either of those books do.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.