The seventh episode of the sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones lulled as it meandered around its principal storylines, but it stood out for the reappearance of two beloved characters and the potential — although unlikely — death of a third.
The episode opened with the return of Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), also named The Hound, who had been left for dead by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in an earlier season. The Hound represents an important return because he is one of the show’s great monsters.
His name, The Hound, expresses his animalistic features and foregrounds his preference for instinct over reason. Moreover, The Hound suffers from a characteristic physical abnormality. His brother burned him with an iron at a young age, and he still wears the scars on his face and head. However, like all the best monsters, he has endearing, loveable qualities that attract and fascinate viewers.
Firstly, he’s a character of great contrasts. He possesses an immense body, an incredible skill at fighting, and a nihilistic vision of reality, but he repeatedly becomes a guardian angel for children. He did the ruthless bidding of Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) before he abandoned his post and eventually became the protector of Arya Stark. During his time with Arya, he repeatedly attempted to sell her for ransom, but that didn’t keep him from establishing a meaningful relationship with the girl and protect her on numerous occasions.
Moreover, there’s a subtle but comic dimension to The Hound. Physically, the burns on his face have left him with an unfortunate bald spot that he covers with a bad comb over, and his walk, which often has a limp, at times recalls the cartoonish movement of great comedic characters.
He also has a memorable sense of humor. Like his use of the sword, the wit of The Hound is quick, blunt, and jarring. He doesn’t speak often, but when he does, he uses only the most vulgar and offensive language to disavow kings, honor, social structures, women, and anyone or anything else he’s been hired to defend.
He doesn’t fear retribution for the way he speaks, even while standing before Joffrey Baratheon, because The Hound doesn’t fear death. More than any other aspect of his character, the hound’s utter indifference toward his own mortality is what makes him a character we want to be.
This isn’t something the character tells us; instead, The Hound shows us the feeling of liberation that comes from not caring about how you look or what others think about you. He’s a character who’s accepted the senselessness and absurdity of the social world and therefore lives by a different code, one that isn’t always apparent, but one that seems to make sense for a character like The Hound.
The second character to return was another protector, Bronn (Jerome Flynn). The once defender of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is now the right-hand man, in the most literal sense possible, for Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Also like The Hound, he has an asymmetrical physical appears from an early act of domestic violence: his parents beat him as a child and eventually broke his nose one day with kitchenware.
He differs greatly from The Hound, however, in most every other way. He fights with skill and speed rather than blunt force, and he enjoys rubbing elbows with high society. He may have accepted that social life is meaningless, but unlike the nihilistic Hound, Bronn laughs before the absurd.
Further, he’s a hedonist who gravitates naturally toward food, wine, and sex, and represents the much-needed comic relief that keeps the show palatable for a wide audience. He fleshes out the humanity in all the people he meets through his humor, charm, and weakness for temptation. He attracts us because he also is a person we all want to be: embracing the vicissitudes of life and making sure one’s time on earth isn’t wasted.
It’s curious, therefore, that in an episode so driven by male protectors Arya would be attacked and presumed dead. If there’s one thing the show has taught us, however, it’s that a death is never truly a death until the body is on the slab (and even then there’s exceptions).
The Waif (Faye Marsey) finally catches up to Arya for abandoning her training and stabs her multiple times in the stomach, but Arya fights back and escapes. It’s hard to believe this will be the end of Arya, but her situation is dire. She’ll likely need some type of magic to survive, but that doesn’t seem out of the question after seeing the resurrection of both The Hound and Jon Snow (Kit Harington).
Speaking of Snow, he’s not a gifted recruiter. His road trip around the north to recruit armies recalls Chris Farley’s initial (unsuccessful) attempts to sell brake pads in Tommy Boy. Meanwhile, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) has something up her sleeve for High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), but that storyline will likely drag until the final episode of the season.
Hopefully, we’ll see Tyrion in the next episode.
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