Mr Derp: This is one of the scenes in “The Bells” that I didn’t really know what to make of. Sandor is telling Arya that revenge is a dead end path all while he’s seeking revenge on his brother and knows he’s going to die doing it. It just felt a bit hypocritical. Sandor seemed to forget about seeking revenge for a time when he joined that small band of villagers in season 6, but went back to it after the villagers were killed.
• I interpreted Sandor’s words – and actions – to mean that he was already too far gone and so consumed with revenge that it eclipsed everything else in life.
• He told Arya that revenge is all he cared about, and knew it had irrevocably ruined him.
(Jeez, in the post-Long Night party he even turned down a roll in the hay with a more than willing, comely waitress, because – as I think he admitted to Sansa – only one thing would make him happy. Rule of Thumb: If you’re a single guy invited to partake in a no strings attached romp and flatly turn it down…that’s a pretty good indication you’ve lost any capacity for the enjoyment of life.)
• So, in “The Bells” I think he was confessing to Arya that it was too late for him – but not for her.
(He had to bark at her – twice – “look at me! look at me!” just to get her attention before showing her that he was the embodiment of the corrosive effects of prioritizing the pursuit of revenge over life itself; and she really didn’t want to be like him. Sandor wrote himself off as a lost cause; he must have accepted that he was unable to get past his all-consuming desire for revenge to embrace life instead.
• Based on his own logic, he could’ve just walked away with Arya and let the fires, the dragon, or the Dothraki take out Gregor even if Gregor somehow survived the collapsing Keep. I guess Sandor’s permanent physical disfigurement and emotional trauma deprived him of any hope that he could enjoy living more than dying in the process of exacting vengeance.
• Yes, Sandor did forget about revenge for a while when he was in Brother Ray’s hippie commune. But the senseless slaughter of Ray and everyone else only reinforced his worldview that good people get butchered for no reason, life is cruel, and the “weak” are prey for killers… or, if you’ll excuse the pun, that it’s a dog eat dog world.
• Brother Ray espoused a lovey dovey, peace, love and Frisbees philosophy that violence is a disease and you don’t cure it by spreading it; I think Sandor’s retort was that you don’t cure it by dying either. Sandor was right. Turning the other cheek in the face of violence didn’t work.
I guess the sight of Ray’s corpse strung up on the sept beam, and all of the murdered villagers’ dead bodies on the ground, reinforced Sandor’s worldview.
• His reaction – reverting back to his “killer” persona – was to grab an axe, search out the perpetrators, and chop them up. I suppose that in Sandor’s mind the senseless murder of his only friend(s) proved that pacifism is for suckers and vindicated his old cynical worldview that people suck and kindness can get you killed (as he warned Arya when she pleaded for the life of the unconscious pork merchant in S3.)
• Also, I think Sandor’s theological discussion. with Beric in S7e1 (when Beric had no explanation why the Lord of Light kept resurrecting him when Sandor had seen better men hanged, sh*t themselves to death, or beheaded for no good reason – and Sandor observed that if there were any “divine justice” Rabbit Stew Sally would be alive and Beric would be dead) demonstrated that Sandor had not renounced his misanthropic view of humanity, and was not undergoing some kind of Disneyfied metamorphoses from savage brute to redeemed white knight. That may have been impossible. While his innate, obscured “good side” did emerge in his actions (e.g., saving Sansa, fighting for Arya, defending WF), it did not erase the “dark side” produced by the physical and psychological traumas he had suffered. (As he divulged to Arya when he let his guard down in their S4e7 scene: “The pain was bad. The smell was worse. But the worst thing was that it was my brother who did it – and my father, who told everyone my bedding had caught fire… You think you’re on your own?” 😥)
• What I did find a bit hypocritical or inconsistent was that Sandor apparently took it to heart that Ray and Beric, in virtually identical language, assured Sandor that he was still alive because the god or gods had plans for Sandor Clegane; and Beric (echoing Ray’s sermon that it’s never too late to stop killing people and start helping them), successfully recruited Sandor with the pitch: “You can still help a lot more than you’ve harmed, Clegane. It’s not too late for you.”
• From his decision to join with the Brotherhood to serve “a greater purpose,” and going beyond the Wall with Jon on his silly wight hunt, and then helping to defend WF, I thought Sandor might find some noble purpose in life that would eclipse his lifelong desire to even the score with Gregor.
(On the other hand, Beric’s pitch did include the
the acknowledgment: “You’re a fighter. You were born a fighter.”)
• Another way I’ve tried to reconcile the apparent contradiction in Sandor’s own death wish versus urging Arya to save herself because killing Cersei would mean sacrificing her own life, is to accept that like other characters (e.g., Jaime), doing “good” or even helping more than they’ve harmed in the past doesn’t constitute complete absolution, and does not wash away ingrained hatred or self-loathing.
Like a relapsing addict, the “honorable” Ser Jaime abandoned Brienne and reverted back to his self-hating, wicked sister-loving self.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jon Snow could not help but abide by his avowed purpose to “guard the realms of men” even though it meant killing his girlfriend (and assassinating his Queen), sacrificing his honor, and (once again) risking his likely execution. Like Jaime, he could not escape his nature.
• Similarly, for all his efforts to repudiate “the Hound,” acknowledge his guilt and “help more than he’d harmed,” Sandor Clegane could not get past the pain that had made him the vengeance-obsessed Hound in the first place.
• I had held out hope that his expressions of guilt and shame for the “things” he’d done in his confession to Brother Ray would be a first step in his salvation. Then when Sandor asked: “If the gods are real, why haven’t they punished me?” and Ray replied “They have”, I thought he was ready to turn over a new leaf. His genuine remorse for assaulting and robbing Rabbit Stew Sally’s father and callously leaving them to perish because they were “weak,” seemed to suggest that his conscience had awakened. His begrudging camaraderie with Thoros and Beric, and joining with them in their quest to defend against an existential threat, appeared to signal that he was ready to rejoin humanity, and may have found a lofty, noble purpose for his life instead of his single-minded pursuit of ale, wine, chicken, and Gregor’s demise.
• In my wishful thinking fanfic head canon, I wanted Sandor to sail off into the sunset with Arya, or serve as Lord Commander of Sansa’s Queensguard. At the very least, since he was already living on borrowed time after being left for dead, I hoped he’d go out in a literal and figurative blaze of glory, braving his fear of fire and sacrificing himself to save the lives of his sobbing surrogate daughter(s) – a tragic and melodramatic weepfest of an ending (though admittedly cliched).
• I have to concede that the ending we got was probably more faithful to the spirit of the show. (Only a handful of characters got a truly “heroic” death. Off the top of my head, Lyanna Mormont, Theon, Barristan and Jorah come to mind. I’d include Beric too, except he already had a half-dozen previous deaths.)
• For the mean-spirited, foul-mouthed character who started out as Joffrey’s homicidal attack dog, carved up patsies for sport, boasted that “killing is the sweetest thing there is,” earned the title of “The Worst Sh*t in the Seven Kingdoms”, and provoked Arya to scream “burn in hell!” and promise that someday she was going to put a sword through his eye and out the back of his skull, to conclude Sandor’s story with his affectionate words to Arya while gently cradling her head, and then Arya calling out to him as he walked away: “Sandor! … Thank you.” was probably the best kind of ending I could hope for without degenerating into sappy sentimentality.
• Sure, a glorious hero’s death would have pleased me but wouldn’t really be faithful to the shades of grey of Sandor’s character. Nor would a
complete transformation of reformed bad guy turned lovable good guy (who already cheated death) who lives happily ever after
•. Going off to meet his unalterable fate while convincing his young protege that unlike him, she could still choose life over vengeance; with both of them accepting that while he was doomed it wasn’t too late for her, and she should not and need not follow in his footsteps, was the most I could reasonably hope for.
• Both actors did a great job. He went from barking at her to affectionately touching her head and looking in her eyes while speaking tenderly to her. She went from angry and laser-focused on “I’m going to kill her!” until he physically pulled her back and his words softened her snarling face, and she looked up at him with puppy dog eyes – the hardened killer turned back into the sweet girl she used to be.
• I tell myself it was fitting that Sandor Clegane, a warrior afflicted with incapacitating PTSD from his childhood, couldn’t just walk away without taking care of “unfinished business.” Though he did overcome his paralyzing fear of fire when he saw Arya in peril during S8e3, the ineradicable, permanent aftereffects of the gruesome torture and disfigurement inflicted on him at the hands of his brother and the betrayal by his father, had turned him into an antisocial monster for most of his life. That he simply couldn’t undo the damage despite his thwarted attempts to live a peaceful life, while Arya could still turn back and regain some measure of her innocence, was kind of jarring at first. However, the show did set up Sandor for his date with doom. (I suppose that was one of the purposes of showing his inability to join in the celebration of surviving the Long Night, and then leaving in the middle of the festivities to head to KL knowing he’d never come back. Not sure what his initial reaction upon seeing Arya riding up to him – For f*ck’s sake!” – was supposed to mean, though it did make me chuckle.)
• Sandor’s resignation to his fate reminded of a line from my favorite movie of all time. At the outset of the story, the protagonist had been left for dead with a scarred face after he futilely attempted to save his family from paramilitary marauders who burned his home with his family inside. He joined a band of other victims seeking vengeance against the marauders.
After years of bloody guerrilla warfare, all of his compatriots eventually surrendered – but he did not. He was branded an outlaw and a hefty price was put on his head. Soldiers, posses, and bounty hunters hounded him. He just wanted to be left alone, but everywhere he went he had to fend off mercenaries, soldiers and opportunists who recognized the distinctive scar on his face from Wanted posters, and looked to to cash in on the reward money. After a few years and several hundreds of miles of eluding his pursuers, it finally looked like he might have some respite, and a chance to start a new life in the remote frontier.
Still, he was haunted by flashbacks and nightmares of his burning cabin, the screams of his family, and the image of the sword crashing into his face right right before blacked out.
A friend he’d made during his odyssey tried to assuage him, suggesting that since so much time had passed maybe his pursuers had already given up and forgotten about him.
His response: Sometimes there ain’t no forgettin’.”
Same with Sandor…He just could not put his anger behind him and forget about retribution. Sad and tragic, yet not without an exchange of genuine affection right before the very end.
• There’s also a line from my third all-time favorite movie that kind of applies: that people can’t escape their nature.
Without giving away too much of the plot: Two people unexpectedly fall in love: A paramedic blackmailing a tycoon who had hired a hit man to murder her mother twenty years before, and the private investigator hired by the tycoon to track down the blackmailer.
During a final cash drop in a darkened, crowded theater, the tycoon suddenly suffers a heart attack. The blackmailer is in the audience incognito, but immediately gets up and rushes over to resuscitate him – because that’s her nature.
she has to abruptly leave the country and disappear. She calls the “accountant” from the airport, tells him she’s leaving town forever, and asks him to join her – while also revealing that she had already figured out he was really a P.I. (They’re both smart cookies – a perfect match.) It pains him to say that he can’t go with her.
He can’t escape his nature either. (Solving complex cases is a therapeutic way for him to deal with a trauma he suffered as a boy.)
P.S. I think this movie was loosely based on a Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I’m not sure about that. The movie is
So sorry it took so long to get to the point. (I still haven’t figured out how to cut, paste, condense, and edit text with the “upgraded” IOS I stupidly downloaded.)
I was trying to convey that in real life as in fiction, sometimes people just can’t escape their nature – even when they know it’ll lead to their ruin or another, better option is readily available. (A qualified shrink might also say that traumas early in life can affect a person’s “hardwiring” and shape behavior into adulthood.)
That’s my completely speculative, totally unqualified reasoning for Sandor continuing on a dead-end path to certain death while at the same time urging Arya to abandon her hit on Cersei, and turn around and save herself.