One of the most-hyped theories in 'Game of Thrones' history finally happened with a surprisingly poignant twist

Skye Gould/Tech InsiderFans of the HBO series guessed the Mountain and the Hound would fight to the death in a 2013 theory called Cleganebowl.
  • Warning: Spoilers ahead for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” season eight, episode, five, “The Bells.”

  • Sandor and Gregor Clegane, the Hound and the Mountain, respectively, met their demise together on Sunday’s episode.
  • This was a long-theorised end for both characters, though the circumstances were completely changed.
  • Known as the “Cleganebowl” theory, the demise of the brothers was first introduced to the fandom in 2013 thanks to 4chan and the NFL Super Bowl.
  • Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.

Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” episode delivered a destructive turn of events when Daenerys Targaryen sacked the city of King’s Landing, resulting in the (foreshadowed) deaths of Jaime and Cersei Lannister. But perhaps the most anticipated moment of “The Bells” came when Sandor and Gregor Clegane fought to the death, bringing about the famed “Cleganebowl.”

Sandor Clegane travelled to King’s Landing with Arya Stark. They were both on separate kill-missions: Arya wanted Queen Cersei, and Sandor wanted to kill his older brother who had abused him as a boy.

While Arya’s mission has been part of her story line on both the show and in the books ever since she first adopted her kill list, the arc leading Sandor Clegane to his fiery death was an invention from the show. And not only was it something showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss crafted, but it seems to have been a way of fulfilling one of the most hyped fan theories in the show’s history.

The Hound Sandor Clegane Helen Sloan HBO Game of Thrones season eight episode five The BellsHelen Sloan/HBORory McCann as Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane on ‘Game of Thrones’ season eight

The term ‘Cleganebowl’ first surfaced in 2013 thanks to the Super Bowl

Two separate fan theories combined to give birth to the Cleganebowl theory. You can read our full dive into those theories here, but it all comes down to people believing the Hound wasn’t really dead (a theory confirmed on the sixth season of the show) and that Cersei would demand a trial-by-combat.

People thought Cersei would name the Mountain as her champion, while the Hound would represent the Faith of the Seven.

It started in 2013, when a 4chan thread about “Game of Thrones” prompted a user to submit their theory:

Cleganebowl origin4chan.comThe original 2013 4chan post.

The title for the theory likely was inspired by the 2013 NFL Super Bowl when the coaches of the opposing teams also happened to be brothers Jim and John Harbaugh. Football fans and sports announcers nicknamed the game “The Harbowl.”

Since The Hound and The Mountain are brothers, and the theory assumes they will have an epic fight, Cleganebowl is the best-fitting title. They share the same last name of Clegane, and this trial by combat would have basically been the equivalent of a Westerosi Superbowl.

This original 4Chan thread references the “valonqar” prophecy, which is yet another theory rabbit-hole you can read about here. So the Cleganebowl theory presumed the Hound was the “little brother” destined to kill Cersei, and that his victory against the Mountain would lead to Cersei’s execution.

Believers in the Cleganebowl are a unique brand of fans. The tagline that generally follows any online allusions to the involved characters is a simple: “GET HYPE.”

Cleganebowl the hound ertac altinoz deviantart Ertac Altinoz/DeviantArtFan art made by Ertac Altinoz in 2016.

There’s an entire subreddit is dedicated to the converted believers, and Google trends data shows massive spikes of interest in the term “Cleganebowl” every year since 2013.

Fans made YouTube videos about Cleganebowl, combining footage from the show with glaring strobe-text and an intense hip-hop/dubstep/electronic music soundtrack, all in the name of building hype for the coming fight.

Here are two of the top-viewed ones [Warning: NSFW language, loud music, and lots of air horns].

The ‘Game of Thrones’ writers kept toying with the Cleganebowl hype-train

As noted, a major part of the Cleganebowl theory rested on the hope that Sandor Clegane hadn’t died when Arya left him badly wounded on the fourth season finale. Fans were beyond excited when guest-actor Ian McShane all but confirmed the return of Sandor Clegane for the sixth season.

Then the episodes began airing, and we saw the glorious return of the youngest Clegane brother to “Game of Thrones.”

Sandor Clegane The Hound Game of Thrones season six Helen Sloan HBO Helen Sloan/HBORory McCann plays Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane on HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones.’

In the meantime on the sixth season, the plotline of Cersei Lannister’s fight against the High Sparrow continued.

On the third episode of season six, “Oathbreaker,” Cersei told Jaime of the plan to position the undead-Mountain as her champion in a trial-by-combat. He remarked that it was “one trial by combat [he] looked forward to watching.” That scene, penned by showrunners Benioff and Weiss themselves, felt like a direct nod to believers in Cleganebowl.

But then Benioff and Weiss dashed the very hype they had stirred.

King Tommen, manipulated once again by the High Sparrow, declared trial-by-combat unlawful in the Seven Kingdoms on the eighth episode of season six. As quickly as it seemed we were getting Cleganebowl, the theorised circumstances for the fight were suddenly impossible.

HBOQyburn and Cersei came up with the plan to blow up the Sept of Baelor with wildfire after trials by combat were canceled.

The sixth season ended, and the Cleganebowl-believers looked ahead to the seventh season for more clues about the coming fight.

Their optimism was rewarded when Benioff and Weiss once again dropped several major teases about Cleganebowl. First came the scene of Sandor Clegane literally digging a grave. Before we knew he would return, “The Gravedigger” theory was the shorthand for people’s guess about Sandor’s survival after Arya left him for dead. Benioff and Weiss seemed to once again be talking directly to Cleganebowl theorists by staging a scene with Sandor digging a grave.

And on the seventh season finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Sandor confronted his brother and gave him a warning.

The Hound Mountain Sandor Gregor Clegane Game of Thrones season 7 finaleMacall B. Polay/HBOThe Hound and the Mountain faced off on the seventh season finale.

“Remember me?” Sandor asked his brother. “You’re even f—— uglier than I am now. What did they do to you? Doesn’t matter. That’s not how it ends for you brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.”

In case you need reminding, Gregor brutally maimed his little brother when they were just children. Gregor found Sandor playing with one of his toys and flipped out, taking the young Sandor and pressing his face into their roaring fireplace. This resulted in Sandor’s scarred and burned visage, and gave the youngest Clegane a lifelong phobia of fire.

So Sandor’s words to Gregor on the seventh season finale made it sound as if he planned on returning someday to kill his older brother.

None of this Cleganebowl-related storyline has appeared in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books. In fact, it’s rather debatable whether Sandor Clegane will ever re-enter the story in a meaningful way, since many believe his “resurrection” among a peaceful religious group is the best possible ending for his story.

But Benioff and Weiss cashed fully in on the Cleganebowl hype, regardless of Martin’s unknown plan for the two deadly brothers.

The Mountain and the Hound Game of Thrones season 8 Episode 5 The BellsHBOCleganebowl happened at last.

“We’ve always wanted to see these two face off again,” Benioff said in HBO’s “Inside the Episode” segment. “And they finally did.”

The way ‘Game of Thrones’ brought about Cleganebowl was surprisingly poignant and connected to Arya

Arya and Sandor Clegane entered King’s Landing together, but as Daenerys began raining destruction upon the city and the castle started falling down around them, Sandor urged Arya to turn back. He told her how the idea of revenge had consumed him all his life.

“And look at me. Look at me! You wanna be like me?” Sandor asked Arya. “You come with me, you die here.”

Sandor Clegane the Hound and Arya Stark Game of Thrones season eight episode five HBO Helen Sloan/HBOSandor Clegane and Arya Stark on ‘Game of Thrones.’

Sandor was once on Arya’s kill-list, back when she only called him the Hound. He’s had one of the more morally murky arcs on the series, starting out as a Lannister lapdog who killed innocents, like Arya’s friend Mycah (“the butcher’s boy”).

But as he and Arya spent time together in the Riverlands on seasons three and four, Sandor Clegane became her protector of sorts. By the fifth season, when Arya was in Braavos, we learned that she took the Hound off her kill list. And here, on the second-to-last episode of the series, Arya called him Sandor and said a simple “thank you.”

So as Cleganebowl unfolded, the scenes cut between Arya desperately trying to escape King’s Landing, choosing life over revenge, with Sandor struggling to finally destroy his lifelong nemesis. The fight came to an end when Sandor launched them both out of the castle tower and into the blazing rubble of the city, but not before he stabbed Gregor through the eye.

Back on the third season, just before the deadly Red Wedding, Arya turned to her then-captor.

“Someday, I’m gonna put a sword through your eye, and out the back of your skull,” she told Sandor Clegane.

All these years later, Sandor turned this threat into a reality against his brother, and then threw himself headlong into the fire he feared for so long. Perhaps, in that final moment, he was thinking of Arya Stark, the young girl who helped him grow the most.


For more insights like these, preorder “The Unofficial Guide to Game of Thrones” by Kim Renfro here.

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