A Dog's Life Brings Death: The Tortured Soul of The Hound as Seen Through A Game of Thrones
The Hound brings menace and mystery to an intriguing supporting character
He saves the life of the young knight whom his brother sought to kill after being embarrassed after losing a joust. He did so by through the use of his sword. He brought the sword up against the most dreaded fighter in the kingdom. When the King ordered a cease to their fight and after the raging evil brother storms off, the young knight turns to his savior and refers to him as ''Sir'' to which the man replies ''I am no sir.''
He is Sandor Clegane, The Hound. And he is not a sympathetic character. He, too, is a wanton murderer as evidenced by his slaughter of the terrified 12 year old son of a local butcher whom The Hound was told to bring to the court of the king. When Micah, the boy, fled, The Hound cut him in two with the same sword blade previously employed for a heroic act.
The Hound truly is a strangely compelling character in the ''A Song of Ice and Fire'' novels and also the accompanying Game of Thrones HBO television series. Sandor Clegane is who he is. Battle weary, tortured, and outside of it all, he remains an intriguingly well crafted supporting character who reflects the brave cruel world of author George R.R. Martin's imagination.
The Hound: Mixing Literary Criticism with Psychoanalysis
''A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.''
Analyzing the character of The Hound can be performed from a number of different angles. All of them and none of them are right.
Trying to craft an analytical portrait in the form of literary criticism can often be a lot closer to fiction than nonfiction. By that, it is meant works of critical analysis seeking to examine the themes, motivations, and symbolism of a work are written by people far removed from the actual author of said work. As a result, the criticism may be purely derived from the imagination of the critic instead of having any real connection with the source material. As entertaining a work of literary criticism may be, the words just as well may be fiction since the analysis is really quite frequently fiction masquerading as nonfiction. In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series (Again, known to most through the Game of Thrones HBO program), authors or works of criticism can craft he analysis of the characters that does not have to veer far off from the source material. Often, the characters are good enough to speak their mind and reveal their motivations. The Hound definitely does this in both the books and in the television series.
The Hound: A Dark, Brooding Reflection of the Spawn of Inhumanity
Sandor Clegane, The Hound, is a brutal, wanton killing machine filled with anger and hatred. He is also filled with contempt for the hypocrisy be sees in the world. One reason we do not find him so revolting, besides the sympathy for his abusive childhood, is we do understand when it comes to the subject of hypocrisy, it is difficult to say he is at all wrong.
Brilliantly created and conceived by George R.R. Martin and brought to life by Rory McCann, The Hound remains one of Game of Thrones more interesting and complex characters. While not a major character in the story, the depth to the murderous protector of King Joffrey allows him to rise above mere stock character status. Wanton killing machines are common in action/adventure/fantasy works because their actions are used by less than stellar creators to keep things moving along. In true works of hackery, when the narrative gets boring, these characters show up and create mayhem. Often, they are strictly action motivated and rarely character driven. Their actions serve as marginally motivated mechanical purpose.
The Hound rises above this and the character must do so because Game of Thrones is, honestly, a soap opera. Soap operas work best when the characters are deep and complex. The epic novels (and HBO series) delve deep into the characters presented in the narrative, the characters are much more memorable and intriguing.
And yes, to a degree, The Hound really is a stock character, but a fully evolved one. A villainous antihero who was born of rage. For merely playing with a toy knight, his brother, Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, took the young, seven year old Hound, and thrust his face in a fireplace leaving him horribly disfigured. The incident also left him angry and forever raging against the world. The insane rage he would feel eventually drove him to become a wanton killer, but a killer who does his deeds in service of his King and his Prince. A cruell Prince nonetheless who, ironically, sees The Hound as a surrogate father. Since the has his own hatred towards a neglectful father, Prince Joffrey acts in a brutal and mean spirited towards the man who serves as his loyal protector.
More reasons for The Hound to be raging and bitter.
Childhood Pain Never Dies
Adults often carry rage from childhood with them into adulthood and The Hound acts in accordance with his long suffering internal pain. An unending cycle of pain it is. He lashes out and slaughters so many who come before his path, a path of revenge that never truly comes to an end because it cannot. At least not in that manner.
The Hound is on a path of loneliness, isolation, and misanthropy. The behavior is not unlike so many who never actually take the time to address the true source of their pain and, instead, choose to wallow in it allowing
Anger born of abuse and childhood dysfunction is not going to heal on its own or ever become forgotten. It remains within the psyche of the child even as he grows into adulthood. A distorted, angry, cynical view of the world emerges. For The Hound, the rampages he goes on most certainly strike major fear in others. As long as he can keep others fearing him, they stay away. Through terrifying everyone, he makes it extremely difficult for them to hurt him.
The adult mind and personality is shaped by experiences that occurred in childhood. Abused children can grow into adults who also inflict abuse, as is the case with The Hound. From the situation his abusive childhood emerged from, The Hound also developed a cynical outlook on life. Namely, he found disdain for the entire concept of chivalry. All of his brutal actions are somewhat of a rebuke to the entire notion and code of ethics chivalry claims to present.
Waxing on the Otherworldly
In the exchange between The Hound and Sansa, we gain an insight into the brutally cynical world of a very tortured man. He has been consumed with a self-loathing and a hatred that has forever ruined his outlook on the world. No one would mistake The Hound for an intellectual nor someone prone to self-reflection. Clegane is a man who has come to a conclusion about the world and his own worldly experience do little more than reinforce his conclusions.
In the novels, there are a number of exchanges between him and Sansa. Often, he bullies her until she finally garners the courage ask him if he is not afraid to face the judgment of the Gods for the atrocities he has committed. The Hound's response once again betrays his cynicism:
“Tell me, little bird, what kind of god makes a monster like the Imp, or a halfwit like Lady Tanda’s daughter? If there are gods, they made sheep so wolves could eat mutton, and they made the weak for the strong to play with.”
Superficially, this may seem like an philosophical examination of the world. It isn't.
The true sentiment The Hound here is, if there is a God, how could he let what was done to me occur? What did I as a child do to deserve the pain that was inflicted upon me? The notion of sheep being killed by wolves and the weak being attacked by the strong is not only a reflection of his world view nor is the bringing forth to the surface his own penance about his violence towards others.
The sentiments may be a reflection of the turmoil he feels about the abuse that had been directed towards him. The biography of The Hound is a brutal one and he likely would blame God if he believed in him.
The Fraud of Chivalry
“True knights protect the weak.” says Sansa to The Hound. Of course, The Hound has a much different take on the subject of knights.
“There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.”
Sansa's response to his musing is to tell him he is awful. The Hound has a rather curt reply.
“I’m honest. It’s the world that’s awful. Now fly away, little bird.”
Curt as it may be, this is reality as far as The Hound is concerned.
Reality is often perceived reality and that perception comes from various life experiences. For the pampered Sansa, the world is nowhere near as awful as The Hound makes it out to be. For The Hound, the dark and cruel vision of the world is the only one he knows. It might mot even be fair to call how he sees the world as cynical. The image he has gained of the world is one rooted in how he has been treated and what he has seen, felt, and touched with his own senses. The evil, awful world truly is real to him and, because he is unique in his experiences with it, he becomes the outcast unable to connect with others. In the social feudal class system in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, he can simply assume a role (or, rather, is forced into his role based on his birth status) and simply continue to allow his perception of the world to continue to be what it is.
The notion that there are no true knights could be Martin's nod to the historical accuracy of the thuggish nature of knights as opposed to the romanticized myths that have perpetuated over the years. Knights, as The Hound states, are little more than killers.
Again, the world view of an adult is often shaped by what is seen in childhood. The mind becomes wired a certain way and this shapes behavior. The Hound is, of course, a mentally ill, misanthropic sociopath. He is a killer but not a murderer as his kills are state sanctioned. He kills at the bequest of a Prince who soon becomes his King.
And no, we cannot ignore the relationship between Th Hound and his brother, the most vile of knight in the kingdom.
In the narrative, The Hound is spewing much venom against his brother, The Mountain, who is a violent, brutal, thug who murdered his own father for an inheritance. Yet, The Mountain is revered as the greatest and most powerful knight in the kingdom. The Mountain is a gangster whose role is to kill and pillage and he does this well. His name strikes fear in all who hear it. He is given the title of knight to sanitize his actions.
The symbolism of these characters is not exactly far removed from reality. History is filled with those who lacked ethics and morals, yet rose to great prominence and success. Some were world leaders and others merely had an impact on a microcosmic level. For both, actions have been sanctified and justified based on achieved success. There is little profound to be said about such outcomes. That is merely the way it is.
When he finally (or rather, nearly faces judgment) The Hound defends his existence in another curt manner:
''I don’t lie about what I am. So, kill me, but don’t call me a murderer.''
A killer is a killer because he kills but not all killers are murderers. Murder can never be sanctioned by the state, but killing can be. The Hound kills on behalf of the state or, at least he did until abandoning his post in the war and leaving Joffrey's side.
The Hound is His Own Man
The Hound remains a compelling supporting character despite his psychological dysfunction. His role is not a major one, but he is a fleshed out, motivated character who does offer more than a stock role. He does not really start out that way and is presented as purely evil for his slaughter of the butcher's son, a mere child. The Hound is set up as an evil villain and slowly becomes an antihero (of sorts) as the narrative progresses. The cynicism of the world The Hound exists almost allows the reader/viewer to look past the murder of Micah.
The kingdom in A Game of Thrones are dark and violent places. Life has very little value and to live in such an environment comes with an understanding that life can end with little warning. The fall of the more pampered protagonists such as Tyrion and Arya reflect the shock out being so isolated these facts are never truly accepted.
The Hound is far from a complex character, but he is a compelling one. He does reflect a gritty reality of a darker side of the world few wish to experience, but might be forced to.
Look for more Game of Thrones and related hubs as the new season commences.
The Hound, sadly, is no longer going to be part of the series.