What Dogs do to Wolves
Both Stark girls embark upon their true character journeys once we reach the end of AGOT. Fatherless, and void of the teachings they both so desperately need; a reality check on either end of the spectrum, if you will. Where Ned Stark left his daughters in parenting – Sansa, politically soft and unable to see through lies, Arya, unable to distinguish that things aren’t always black, white, good and bad. Sandor Clegane arrives in both of their plots as a pseudo-fraternal figure, teaching them hard lessons, and protecting them in his own gruff way.
“What … what does he want? Please, tell me.”
“He wants you to smile and smell sweet and be his lady love,” the Hound rasped. “He wants to hear you recite all your pretty little words the way the septa taught you. He wants you to love him … and fear him.”
-Sansa VI, AGOT
The jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold trope rears its Stranger-resembling head, often smashing Sansa’s “true knight” fantasies throughout AGOT and ACOK, preparing her for the real world she lives in where white knights hit twelve-year old girls with fully mailed gloves on. Offering her a handkerchief and a sad pat on the back, Sandor sees in Sansa what he once used to know, before his face was offered to the fire – and to Gregor’s errant and growing ego and power trip.
“True knights protect the weak.”
He snorted. “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 IV, ACOK
Exploring Arya’s naivety as the series progresses is just as interesting to watch. While Sandor tells Arya that he thought her sister was the one with the romanticized songs in her head, Arya tends to lean to the other side of the naivety scale.
He is a man of the Night’s Watch, she thought, as he sang about some stupid lady throwing herself off some stupid tower because her stupid prince was dead. The lady should go kill the ones who killed her prince. And the singer should be on the Wall.
-Cat of the Canals, AFFC
Where Sansa is a dreamer in AGOT in the romantic sense, Arya tends to refuse to believe that anything could be more complicated than black and white, rejecting the idea that maybe things in life are more complicated than constantly “doing the right thing”. Sandor brings Arya’s ASOS plot depth and introduces the idea to her that being a good person isn’t always easy, and sometimes, the best you can do is to survive.
There was a stink to him too. He smells like a corpse. The man begged them for a drink of wine. “If I’d had any wine, I’d have drunk it myself,” the Hound told him. “I can give you water, and the gift of mercy.” The archer looked at him a long while before he said, “You’re Joffrey’s dog.” “My own dog now. Do you want the water?” “Aye.” The man swallowed. “And the mercy. Please.”
When she came back, the archer turned his face up and she poured the water into his mouth. He gulped it down as fast as she could pour, and what he couldn’t gulp ran down his cheeks into the brown blood that crusted his whiskers, until pale pink tears dangled from his beard. When the water was gone he clutched the helm and licked the steel. “Good,” he said. “I wish it was wine, though. I wanted wine.”
“Me too.” The Hound eased his dagger into the man’s chest almost tenderly, the weight of his body driving the point through his surcoat, ringmail, and the quilting beneath. As he slid the blade back out and wiped it on the dead man, he looked at Arya. “That’s where the heart is, girl. That’s how you kill a man.”
-Arya XII, ASOS
Sandor teaches Arya how to kill, and he teaches her that there are different types of killing – that life, much like the stories we are currently reading, is writ in shades of grey, not always black and white.
“Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy”
The rasping voice trailed off. He squatted silently before her, a hulking black shape shrouded in the night, hidden from her eyes. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing. She was sad for him, she realized. Somehow, the fear had gone away.
The silence went on and on, so long that she began to grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand. “He was no trueknight,” she whispered to him.
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,” he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.”
-Sansa II, AGOT
Keeping Sansa and Sandor’s relationship mildly platonic for the sake of this post, we break down the idea that Sansa Stark, a thin, young wolf-girl, brought a grown, emotionally torn, hulking man to his knees by singing him a song. And not just any song. A song of mercy.
“I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened. “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” she heard him say. He gave her arm a hard wrench, pulling her around and shoving her down onto the bed. “I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.”
Her throat was dry and tight with fear, and every song she had ever known had fled from her mind. Please don’t kill me, she wanted to scream, please don’t. She could feel him twisting the point, pushing it into her throat, and she almost closed her eyes again, but then she remembered. It was not the song of Florian and Jonquil, but it was a song. Her voice sounded small and thin and tremulous in her ears.
Gentle Mother, font of mercy,
Save our sons from war, we pray,
Stay the swords and stay the arrows,
Teach us all a better way.
-Sansa VII, ACOK
While Sandor steps in to parent Sansa and Arya in some of life’s harsher lessons, the two Stark girls surprisingly teach Sandor a few lessons of their own. Sansa, showing him empathy, that while there is anger and war and killing, there are still beautiful things, and still ways to be kind. She sings to him of mercy, of finding a better way. You can always come back.
“You remember where the heart is?” the Hound asked.
She nodded. The squire rolled his eyes. “Mercy.”
Needle slipped between his ribs and gave it to him.
-Arya XIII, ASOS
Where the mercy that Sandor taught Arya was a physical mercy, a kill, showing her that sometimes death is better than life for those that are in anguish (and not the last time we will see that represented in either of the character’s arcs), it is the first mercy to open Arya’s eyes to seeing the world around her. War strewn, the ground littered with porridge-textured dead people, maggots every inch of the way; Jon introduced “Stick em with the pointy end”, but Sandor introduced “why”.
“And the little bird, your pretty sister, I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her. I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too. I should have. I should have fucked her bloody and ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf.” A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy … avenge your little Michael …”
“Mycah.” Arya stepped away from him. “You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.”
The Hound watched her saddle Craven through eyes bright with fever. Not once did he attempt to rise and stop her. But when she mounted, he said, “A real wolf would finish a wounded animal.”
-Arya XIII, ASOS
Arya’s moral code changes from this point forward. It takes entering a literal House of Black and White, for Arya to start the journey of coming to terms with morality not being a simple yes and no answer. While she hasn’t quite perfected the lesson (as we know Dareon’s fate and the fates of several to come), she is very much so ‘in progress’ on the topic, much like Sansa is currently on the road to becoming politically savvy.
Give up on this quest of yours. The Hound is dead.
“You sound as if you pity him,” said Brienne.
“I did. You would have pitied him as well, if you had seen him at the end. I came upon him by the Trident, drawn by his cries of pain. He begged me for the gift of mercy, but I am sworn not to kill again. Instead, I bathed his fevered brow with river water, and gave him wine to drink and a poultice for his wound, but my efforts were too little and too late. The Hound died there, in my arms. You may have seen a big black stallion in our stables. That was his warhorse, Stranger. A blasphemous name. We prefer to call him Driftwood, as he was found beside the river. I fear he has his former master’s nature.”
The horse. She had seen the stallion, had heard it kicking, but she had not understood. Destriers were trained to kick and bite. In war they were a weapon, like the men who rode them. Like the Hound. “It is true, then,” she said dully. “Sandor Clegane is dead.”
-Brienne VI, AFFC
Sandor’s arc embodies major ASOIAF themes: Mercy, reclaiming identity, and resurrection. In moving Sandor off the page and into the quiet isles, it gives George time to develop Sandor’s characterization in a believable manner, while not wasting too much page time. In exposition that offers Brienne’s plot progression, we are also told where Sandor has gone and what he is doing there.
She sang for mercy, for the living and the dead alike, for Bran and Rickon and Robb, for her sister Arya and her bastard brother Jon Snow, away off on the Wall. She sang for her mother and her father, for her grandfather Lord Hoster and her uncle Edmure Tully, for her friend Jeyne Poole, for old drunken King Robert, for Septa Mordane and Ser Dontos and Jory Cassel and Maester Luwin, for all the brave knights and soldiers who would die today, and for the children and the wives who would mourn them, and finally, toward the end, she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him.
-Sansa V, ACOK
When Sansa prayed for Sandor, her prayer was answered– Sandor was quite literally given a place to die, to reclaim his identity in resurrection, and a place to heal.
“My lord is wise,” Thoros told the others. “Brothers, a trial by battle is a holy thing. You heard me ask R’hllor to take a hand, and you saw his fiery finger snap Lord Beric’s sword, just as he was about to make an end of it. The Lord of Light is not yet done with Joffrey’s Hound, it would seem.”
-Arya VII, ASOS
We are told quite literally by Thoros: The Lord of Light isn’t done with Sandor, yet. Sandor is given to the Quiet Isle, in preparation for his role in the wars to come, whatever that may be.
Frankenstein’s Monster: Putting the Dog to Sleep
I desired that I might pass my life on that barren rock, wearily, it is true, but uninterrupted by any sudden shock of misery. If I returned, it was to be sacrificed or to see those whom I most loved die under the grasp of a daemon whom I had myself created. (20.18, Frankenstein)
I planned on exploring Frankenstein and his Monster in regards to Sandor killing the creator who made him this way, but the parallels of Qyburn creating Ser Robert Strong ring just as true. Where Sandor Clegane is given a chance at resurrection, at a second life, at changing his ways, Gregor Clegane shows us that sometimes, in such villainy, sometimes there is no coming back. While Gregor has done terrible, awful things, he is reduced into a piteous shell of a being, a monster, with no physical chance at coming back and embracing humanity.
His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips. (5.2, Frankenstein)
Who could pity the monster that Gregor Clegane has become? Even before the necromancy, the countless rapes, murders, tortures, all because he could. No one stopped him. He awoke one day, big enough to shove his brother’s face into a brazier, and no one stopped him. His father covered it up for him. He wanted, and he took. The mysterious Clegane sister, dead, the father, dead. And no one stopped him. Sandor, a young man, leaving home to find some place to belong and survive, before he was next. Gregor’s rise to power is best put by Sandor: no one could withstand him. So, once more, who could pity the monster he has become?
While Cleganebowlers everywhere cheer and chant and don their yellow “GO DOGS!” foam fingers, we are brought to an important point.
The Hound can not kill The Mountain, because the Hound and the Mountain are dead.
Instead of Cleganebowl, let me just offer you the following: clegane-soul.
Alright. That was a joke. Stay with me.
Sandor can’t beat his brother, because there’s no beating a sad, pathetic, hollow zombie. This isn’t the Hound and the Mountain. No one is as accursed as the kinslayer, and it should never be easy to kill a family member. Where killing Gregor would’ve been the Hound’s dream about a year ago, the Hound turned up dead. Sandor will be giving his brother the gift of mercy, taught to him by the two little girls that snuck beneath his skin.
“Mercy, mercy, mercy,” she sang sadly.
As she dragged it up the muddy bank, one of her little brothers came prowling, his tongue lolling from his mouth. She had to snarl to drive him off, or else he would have fed. Only then did she stop to shake the water from her fur. The white thing lay facedown in the mud, her dead flesh wrinkled and pale, cold blood trickling from her throat. Rise, she thought. Rise and eat and run with us.
-Arya XII, ASOS
“Mercy, mercy, mercy.” Both Stark girls sing their songs of mercy. Arya has dedicated so much time now in the Literal Morality House of Black and White, preparing and washing dead bodies, skinchanging and dreaming of wolves, that her plot is sure to lead her back to Westeros. And in her dreams, we know she’s been in the Riverlands.
Maybe some real wolves will find you, Arya thought. Maybe they’ll smell you when the sun goes down. Then he would learn what wolves did to dogs. “You shouldn’t have hit me with an axe,” she said. “You should have saved my mother.” She turned her horse and rode away from him, and never looked back once.
-Arya XIII, ASOS
Arya’s black/white morality problem hasn’t come quite to its head yet. But it will. Because, as the audience knows, saving Arya’s mother wouldn’t have happened – it just isn’t that easy, wolf girl. And Arya herself will have to learn that when she comes back to Westeros, when she makes it to the Riverlands, and when she comes face to face with Mother Merciless herself. While she dragged her out of the stream and life was given to her, Arya will be the one to put the fish back in the water. Mercy, mercy, mercy – a real wolf would finish a wounded animal.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” she murmured. The Hound was right, she thought, I am only a little bird, repeating the words they taught me. The sun had fallen below the western wall, and the stones of the Red Keep glowed dark as blood.
-Sansa VI, AGOT
“You have a good heart, my lady,” she said to Sansa. “Not every maid would weep so for a man who set her aside and wed her to a dwarf.”
A good heart. I have a good heart. Hysterical laughter rose up her gullet, but Sansa choked it back down.
-Sansa V, ASOS
Where Arya has spent time learning to give and show mercy, we spend books with Sansa where she has given quite a bit too much of it. Where Arya wields a sword, Sansa wields her courtesy, her arsenal appearing soft edged.
But those equipped weapons will change, too. As Sansa gains agency in the Vale, learning to be the lady of a house, she begins to awaken to the treachery of those manipulating her for political gain, specifically Petyr Baelish.
What if it is truth he wants, and justice for his murdered lady?“ He smiled. “I know Lord Nestor, sweetling. Do you imagine I’d ever let him harm my daughter?”
I am not your daughter, she thought. I am Sansa Stark, Lord Eddard’s daughter and Lady Catelyn’s, the blood of Winterfell. She did not say it, though.
-Sansa I, AFFC
So when Petyr lies, on his hands and knees, in front of all of the northern lords and lords declarant, begging for mercy- the mercy she’s shown grown killers and men, the mercy she’s given to her enemies- Sansa will show a different sort of mercy.
When Petyr is begging mercy, mercy, mercy, when Sansa finds all of Lord Baelish’s betrayals, remember that she is giving herself mercy for once. Mercy. For her family, for her, for basically anyone in the universe who has ever had to deal with this disgusting man.
Tl;dr Sandor will kill his brother out of mercy, which is one of the main themes of his character arc, and a concept that the Stark sisters helped instill in him and he in them.