The Hound actor Rory McCann breaks down that Game of Thrones Cleganebowl fight
Note: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5, “The Bells”
Cleganebowl happened. The Hound vs. The Mountain. Sandor took on his ghoulish undead murderous older brother Gregor in a long-awaited fight that’s seemingly been destined since they were children. Did you bet on The Hound to win? The Mountain? Turns out, the correct answer — appropriately enough for Game of Thrones — was “neither.” Both men perished. Yet The Hound was victorious on a personal level, confronting his terror of fire and concluding the fight on his own terms, carrying his brother into the flames, a literal pyrrhic victory.
On the set of Game of Thrones last spring, EW spoke to The Hound actor Rory McCann about the show and his character’s exit. Getting McCann for an interview was never a sure thing during our years of visits to the Northern Ireland production. The 50-year-old Scottish actor, like The Hound, isn’t much of a talker. Many GoT actors are entirely different from the characters they so convincingly portray (Lena Headey, for example, is nothing like Cersei Lannister). Yet McCann is similar to The Hound in rather likable ways. The man is a quiet, gruff outdoorsman who keeps to himself, yet is totally straightforward when he has something to say. “I’m very close to being The Hound,” McCann notes at one point. Thankfully, for the final season, McCann opened up to lend some insight into his experience and his character. What’s below are the most words we’ve ever gotten out of him.
During the interview, McCann sat in his trailer on the Belfast set. He seemed to fill the entire space. It’s difficult to not to be unnerved by his elaborate and convincing prosthetics for that “scar” on half his head. Our discussion opened with a reference to a scene McCann had just shot, fighting by the fire trench during the Battle of Winterfell…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I hope don’t hate fire in real life because you have to be around a lot of it on this set.
RORY MCCANN: I’m staring into fire most nights now. It doesn’t help having half your face in latex and you just have a pool of sweat underneath. But I maybe have 20 more days to go. No point in complaining about it now.
What did you think of the scripts this year?
Really good. I’m very happy with the way The Hound’s story ends, thank you very much. I love all the endings. I don’t know how they managed to sew it all together. I don’t know how it goes with George R.R. Martin’s ending, if it’s the same or no. I haven’t watched the series much. Only watched a few episodes. I don’t watch the telly. And when the show’s on I’m usually out in the wild sailing or something. I’m looking forward to getting the whole box set and then I’ll watch it when I get the flu.
What was the table read like for you?
It was quite emotional. You’re seeing deaths and it’s all happening in front of you and you’re seeing people get upset and then you get to your bit. It was quite funny when the so-called Cleganebowl started. I secretly brought a trumpet with me. [Co-executive producer Bryan Cogman] is reading [the stage directions] and I’m like, “Can you pause right before I say one of my last lines?” He did and I brought out this trumpet and [blew it]. I got butterflies in my stomach over that fight.
You haven’t shot it yet.
No. I’m getting the fear with that.
The Mountain [actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson] is truly huge. He’s kind of staggering.
I hope he knows his f—ing strength. I’m just going to have to go into Glasgow bar fight mode if it goes the wrong way because he’s a big big boy. One time he ordered chicken and they gave him two breasts of chicken and he just looked up and said, “No, a chicken. Not just chicken. A chicken.” Then he’d be eating again a couple hours later. He’s a beast.
That almost sounds like The Hound’s lines from the tavern scene with the chickens.
Yeah. There have been some great lines for The Hound. I’ve enjoyed all the Arya/Hound road trip stuff. Those were my fondest memories. Anything outside usually because I’m so hot that I’m more comfortable.
What’s the scene you’re most proud of?
I loved doing the Brienne fight. That was great fun. But I loved some of the dialogue scenes with Maisie and myself. It came at the right time when I was just starting to relax. The first couple years on the show I was very nervous all the time. And then I found the character after a couple years. Sometimes I just look in the mirror and go, “F—, there’s no reason to play scary, no wonder that little girl is frightened of me. Less Is more.”
What was unique about this season for you?
The Winterfell battle … I like [director Miguel Sapochnik], I can really connect with him. There are some directors who don’t speak much and if you’re doing your job there are no words back. Younger actors will do a scene and afterwards there’s a look of “want” on their face: “Did I do good?” And with some directors, there’s not a word, not even a nod — he’s not thinking about you but his other 50 jobs. But Miguel is very personable and [fellow GoT director] David Nutter is lovely as well.
What was it like reuniting with [Arya Stark actress Maisie Williams]?
She’s all grown up now and knows everything that’s going on. It’s been great seeing her again. The last parting shot with Arya and The Hound is lovely. She calls him “Sandor” for the first time in the whole 7, 8 years. It’s a lovely moment. And the parting moment with Sansa was lovely too.
For Cleganebowl, you had figured this fight would happen.
I’m dead. It would have been nice to keep living and go on a road trip and do a spin-off. But I’m absolutely delighted. I’m blessed to be given this storyline. Blessed to be given storylines in the past seasons with all the [Westeros] politics going on — that we were able to have a Hound-Arya road trip. The Hound seems to get some great one liners. You could have a T-shirt factory with just the one-liners I’ve been given. I’ll be glad to be out of a job where I’m in hours of makeup. I’m always on set first. I’ve been trying to sleep on the floor [of the trailer which seems too small for him] for the past 6, 7 years. I’ll bring my own caravan next time. I’m due for an upgrade.
What are your thoughts on how the fight goes down?
I hope I have enough gas in the tank to do it right. It’s a massive fight. I think it’s going to take three days to film it. He’s going to be throwing me. I’m absolutely sure I’m going to be limping for months after it and that’s the reason my last filming days are the fight. It’s a glorious death. He’s laughing at it. The Hound can see that [The Mountain] can’t be killed by sticking a dagger in his eye. He has to be burnt. Of all the things Cleagane has to do, he has to go into the fire. That’s the sacrifice. But his pain is over.
It’s so right for his storyline.
Maybe he could have found peace and wandered off. But this is a fine way to go. It seems pretty beautiful to me. How lucky to be an actor who gets ends up on one of the biggest and best shows in the world. I see panic in some [fellow castmates] eyes: “What are we going to do now?” Relax. Don’t worry. We’re on the map now.
You’ll always have this. And it will always be currency to a studio or network when they can say in a press release that they cast a Game of Thrones actor.
That’s why I feel it will carry me through a few years. I’ve certainly not wanted to do a job when it’s close to time to shoot Thrones again. I’ve been pretty unavailable the last six or seven years. I’m very protective of that.
So why have you kept to yourself so much?
It’s an ongoing thing. Before each season, I phone all my friends and tell them I don’t want to speak or have any contact with anyone at all. I make myself lonely before every season, purely because I’m going onto Thrones. I don’t want contact with anyone before starting the job. It’s only been in the past couple years I’ve started to talk to people and go out to pubs and be with the other actors. Before that I was the weirdo who was going back to my room or in the gym. I was doing a scene with [Tormund Giantsbane actor Kristofer Hivju] and he went to hug me as his character and I said, “Don’t touch me.” And I’m so like that home. I’m very close to being The Hound. I’m not used to human touch. I’m a bit of a recluse. Now I’ve made some friends. I’ve started to relax. I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a hell of an education. But now I’m just itching to get the hell away in this boat I’ve been building…
What kind of boat is it?
It’s an old wooden ketch. Two masts. All wood, 45 years old. Gorgeous thing with a peat fire inside it. I’d like to go away for a couple years. Maybe I’m meant to take a nice job after this. We’ll just see.
You live a pretty rustic life.
I’m a sailor and spent all my years trying to do up boats. Now I’m thinking of finishing my last few scenes sand sailing off into the sunset. That’s my dream.
That sounds fantastic. Where are you going to go?
That’s my f—ing business.
That should be the end of this story. It’s a perfect final quote for McCann and/or The Hound. But there’s a final bit. When we spoke to Maisie Williams on the set, she had something to say about working with McCann again after they spent several seasons apart. McCann thinks being around his castmates all these years has changed him, opened him up more. But he’s not the only one who’s changed.
“Rory would always chat with me [when filming the earlier seasons] about adventures he’d have in his life — buying a piece of land and living in bunker — all these crazy things he’d do,” Williams said. “Before I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ Now I’m like, ‘Oh, I just bought a piece of land next to the sea too.’ I realized he’s really shaped me quite a lot as a person. I’ve realized his way of life does seem really appealing and I’ve learned a lot from him. I respect his friendship and loved working with him this year.”
HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.