We live in a time of memes. Something comes up, blows all of the internet away for a few weeks, and disappears overnight. We don’t talk about the Backpack Kid much anymore, and you’d have to go pretty far to find a friend who knows much about the dancing baby.
But there are few Internet trends in Internetdom that have been as hard stuck as Cleganebowl. It’s a mythical battle that has been years in the making between two of television’s biggest characters. And, in tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, we finally freaking got it.
Join us, right now, for a rundown of television’s most-wanted mashup since Ross and Rachel (don’t @ me). Let’s see how it all played out.
Cleganebowl: A Closer Look
In HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, one of the many interweaving storylines is the awful sibling rivalry between two extremely violent knights. Ser Gregor Clegane, a gigantic, almost-mute brawler with a penchant for eye-gouging, crushing heads and decimating everyone with swords. And his brother, Sandor, “the hound”, a curmudgeon whose face was burned by Gregor when they were children.
To call this an online phenomenon would be to sell it extremely short. Aside from a short clash at a jousting tourny in season 1, the two characters have never clashed in the eight years since this show began.
This fight has been teased for so long that it’s actually become a near-mythical showdown. Most people never thought it would happen. Some called it too “on the nose”. And others (myself included) assuming the showrunners would save it for a time when they most needed it.
And they needed it tonight.
Season 8 Has Been Pretty Bad
The Game of Thrones writers famously took a year off to put out the last season. And, much as it angered Reddit and the truest of the nerds to hear their favorite show was going to be drip-fed to them, when we found out the new season would have hour-plus-long episodes, we figured “That’s probably why”.
But, and this is just my opinion, this season has actually been pretty bad. Over the course of the last season, we have had an entire episode where an army with hours left until a fight literally just make their peace with each other. And, like, not in a well-written kind of way, but more in an “I just emptied out my toy box full of Game of Thrones figurines, how would these random characters kiss and make up” sort of way.
Like I said: all my own opinion. And I like a bottle episode or two, when the mood grabs me, but between the pointless, nowhere conversations, blurry snow effects, and lack of interesting deaths, it just didn’t work. Did you like it? Join me in the comments section.
We’ve had a slow-cooking incest political drama, which is so delightfully Game of Thrones. But it hasn’t…done as much as I thought it would. Like, there have been a lot of shocked faces and cheek grabbing, but beyond that it’s been building to something. And I mean…really building. Like…watching a bunch of builders practice building by building nothing all day, every day, for no reason.
Until tonight. When Daenerys Targaryen lost her damned fool mind and set fire to most of King’s Landing, and most of the innocent bystanders, killing everyone.
Also, during the battle, something magical happened. Something bowl shaped. Something accompanied by air horns.
In season 8 episode 5, fans finally got the fight they have been waiting for since Osama Bin Ladin died. Sandor and Gregor Clegane, The Hound and The Mountain facing off in a fight to the death.
And, for those who haven’t been following along with the homework, The Mountain is undead. He was brought back by Qyburn, the creepy former maester with a boner for reanimating dead tissue. Qyburn, the man who The Mountain killed without a second’s hesitation in this episode.
And it was fantastic. The showrunners treated this figtht like the pivotal plotpoint it is and that means not treating it like a meme, first and foremost. There wasn’t any lame start to the fight, lights dimming and an arena ready for a fight. This was a brutal, close quarters hand-to-hand fight between two brothers who hate each other, ending in both of their deaths.
And the combat features enough echoes of the past to give us the weight we need while still keeping it as gruesome as possible.
As I’ve mentioned, they do clash in a brief skirmish in Season One, and, just like back then, the Hound is clearly a far more agile fighter than his brother. But, as has always been his style, the Mountain makes up for his lack of finesse with Mortal Kombat-style violence and extreme strength.
The Mountain’s swings take whole chunks out of stones around them. The Hound dodges and hacks away at the hound, impaling him a few times without any effect, until they’re both left at an impasse.
Cleganebowl: The End
The Hound throws himself and his brother through a wall and into a miles-long plunge into firey streets below. This, as has been pointed out by many people more talented than me, is poetic, as Sandow overcomes his fear of fire and kills The Mountain with the same fire he used to ruin his younger brother’s life.
Even with eight seasons and eight years to prepare for this, most of us weren’t sure how this fight would go. Two of the biggest deaths in the show, slid into the penultimate episode for a true, earnest Cleganebowl.
Ser Gregor’s monsterous, unstoppable form that can’t be hurt or slowed down by stabs. After more than a few episodes where I was left thinking “Oh, so we’re just not going to kill anyone important anymore?” this episode ended with the one achievement I would always forgive them by way of.
At the warm heart of this storyline is Sandor Clegane’s transformation from frightening antihero to frightening hero. In his first scene, people talk about Sandor Clegane like he’s a literal animal. He kills a child (and seems really happy with himself for doing so). He serves the royals unflinchingly until he eventually leaves o a journey of discovery and starts his transformation.
Gregor Clegane is a mirror to the hound, in that he is also a violent killer, but he never progresses past that definition. An unrepentant and unsympathetic psychopath, he never grows tired of killing and being cruel. He was reborn, as well, but not spiritually. He got killed in a fair fight by Oberyn Martell and brought back as a Frankenstein’s monster by Qyburn. And he becomes the closest thing Westeros has to its own White Walker, his new form stuck somewhere between life and death.
Cleganebowl: The Last Word
I haven’t loved this season of Game of Thrones. I love this show, and I love the writers, and I love the characters, and I will watch every episode ever. But things have not moved quickly enough for me in this episode and there have been a lot of wasted opportunities so far.
But tonight, the Clegane brothers fought on a stairwell as King’s Landing fell to dragon’s fire all around them. And that was just ducky.
What did you think? Was Cleganebowl enough? Did it deliver on eight years of sometimes fan-servicehype? Did you hear the air horns? There were no air horns, but did you hear them in your heart?
Sound off in the comments.