While Daenerys finally reaching Westeros was the big payoff Game of Thrones fans have been waiting ages for, the season seven premiere, “Dragonstone,” had another moment of personal revelation that, while quieter, was no less poignant: After taking refuge at a seemingly abandoned farm, Sandor “the Hound” Clegane buries the farmer and his daughter whose fate he sealed back in season four by taking the money they’d hidden. His heartfelt (albeit rusty) eulogy is a stunning moment years in the making that feels as earned as any major moment in the series’ history.
Death is such an essential part of the Game of Thrones universe that it’s easy to become numb to it unless it happens to a favorite character or in particularly awesome fashion. But the Hound’s recognition that the poor father and daughter he abandoned to their certain deaths in season four deserved better, while a small concession, is one of the most dramatic perspective shifts the show has executed.
Characters on Game of Thrones don’t make it this long for no reason, and with the exception of a brief disappearance last year, the Hound has entrenched himself as one of the longest-tenured players on the series. His continued presence in a series that has few qualms about dispatching characters who’ve outlived their narrative use, combined with his actions in “Dragonstone,” signals a shift that becomes all the more intriguing as the series moves toward its endgame: Westeros’s preeminent nihilist may have finally found purpose after all.
The Hound’s personal development aligns with Game of Throne’s shifting focus
While Arya and Daenerys got the big, rousing moments in “Dragonstone” — poisoning the remaining Freys (good riddance to the McPoyles of Westeros) and reclaiming the Targaryen ancestral home, respectively — Clegane shouldered much of the episode’s dramatic arc.
Last season when they met at the Riverlands, Beric Dondarrion told him, “You can still help a lot more than you’ve harmed, Clegane. It’s not too late for you.” The Hound agreed to accompany Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners on their journey north, ostensibly to fight the White Walkers. Season seven picks up there, with a scene that suggests the Hound may wind up having the most powerful redemptive arc on the series.
In “Dragonstone,” Clegane and the Brotherhood spend the night at a seemingly abandoned farm and discover the corpses of a farmer and his daughter, who killed themselves rather than suffer starvation through the winter. The farm in question is the very one where the Hound and Arya stayed while he was bringing her to Lysa Arryn in season four. Back then, when Clegane robbed the farmer of his remaining gold, he justified it to a distraught Arya by saying, “They’ll both be dead come winter” — just one in a series of fatalistic decisions from a character who has never found much to support in the form of banners or basic human decency.
This is precisely why the Hound is poised to have the most profound character arc on the series. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have spent much of Game of Thrones illustrating that the squabbles over the Iron Throne pale in comparison to the looming threat beyond the wall (Davos Seaworth says as much in one of the season’s trailers). When the White Walkers were a distant threat and it seemed like all that mattered in Westeros was ruling the realm, there wasn’t room for a nihilistic character like Sandor “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the king” Clegane to serve a larger role; the show’s political landscape gave him an excuse to kill while keeping a clear conscience, but no greater purpose.
But the time Clegane spent with Septon Ray last season clearly opened him up to the idea of being in service to something greater than himself — and the senseless murder of Ray’s followers by rogue Brotherhood members allowed him to see from the other side the impact of senseless killing. As the show’s focus has continued to shift to the icy existential threat heading toward the wall, the life-or-death stakes allow room for Clegane to become a much-needed (anti)hero. He’s been given the opportunity to fight for something infinitely more significant than protecting Joffrey.
The Hound’s transformation has the potential to make him one of the show’s most important characters
Arguably, it’s more powerful and affirming for a character like the Hound to go from believing in nothing to risking his life to fight for the preservation of humanity than it is for, say, Tyrion to finally be properly valued by Daenerys, or Sansa going from naive would-be queen to cunning political operator. Clegane developing a belief system and moral code is a much greater shift than any of the other characters simply realizing they had misplaced priorities; for the Hound, something is finally taking the place of nothing.
Clegane’s character development is even more powerful when you compare it to that of his brother, Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, who has moved to the complete other end of the humanity spectrum and now exists as an unthinking, obedient weapon for Cersei, whose sole purpose is to kill for her political gain. As the Hound continues on his path toward redemption (or something close to it), the stakes of a potential “Cleganebowl” become less of a “pretty bad versus really bad” situation and more of the kind of unambiguous good versus evil conflict that Game of Thrones rarely gives us.
Crucially, the Hound may be beginning to find faith through the Lord of Light as he continues his travel with the Brotherhood. Vox critic at large Todd VanDerWerff celebrated the Hound in his winners and losers recap of the season premiere “for overcoming his fear of fire to gain prophetic gifts,” and the scene in “Dragonstone” where he stares into the hearth at the behest of Thoros of Myr and sees the army of the dead shows that he is capable of opening himself up to a higher power, and of being a vessel for something he doesn’t yet fully understand.
It’s a bit premature to put much stock into the notion that Clegane may in fact be Azor Ahai, which has been gaining steam recently, but perhaps where there’s smoke there is indeed fire (and a flaming sword). The show has trimmed down its regular cast of characters considerably, especially those who aren’t members of the three central families. And yet not only did Benioff and Weiss bring the Hound back last season, but he also got considerable screen time in “Dragonstone,” laying the groundwork that the Hound’s personal growth and enlightenment may end up playing a bigger role in the war to come than his brute strength and killer instinct ever could have.