Game of Thrones Clegane-bowl (an author’s perspective)


Like a lot of people I’ve been into a Game of Thrones for the last five years or so (yes I was late to the party). And, like lots of people online, I’ve found parts of the final series to be somewhat lacking.
One of the scenes that I’d like to look at in more detail is the long-awaited Clegane-v-Clegane smack-down. That final epic fight between the huge brothers. Or Cleganebowl as the internet has dubbed it.

Straight up, the fight itself was a visual masterpiece and really well choreographed. It was great spectacle, and I’d even go so far as to say it has a really interesting mini-ark, with rise, fall and “darkest moment”.
But as part of the broader narrative, I found it lacking in stakes.
People (or readers) want character motivations, and given Thrones has been a largely character driven it’s expected that character motivations should be the driving force behind something this “big”. 
When it comes to character motivations, I’ve found that people associate more keenly with a character who’s fighting for something rather than against something.
I’d argue that the Clegane bros aren’t even fighting against something, they’re just fighting because it’s all that’s left between them – which is in and of itself a beautiful tragedy.
But let’s see what difference it makes when we give the characters motivations, let’s give Sandor something to fight for.

In the original, the two brothers face off on the staircase, eyeing each other for a moment before drawing steel and readying themselves for battle.
Then they engage in epic combat. Sandor has the upper hand at first, battering the Queens-guard armour from Ser Gregor's body. Eventually the sheer indestructability of the older brother gives Gregor the upper hand and he beats Sandor down again and again, eventually going for his signature head-crush. Life and sight slipping away, Sandor fumbles for his knife and stabs his brother again and again, but Gregor just won’t die.
In a final act of desperation, Sandor tackles his older brother through the castle wall, sending them both plunging to a fiery and poetic death.
Totally epic and works pretty well for TV, but in writing the reader is going to be asking why they’re doing this.

Copyright (C) HBO

So in my version...
 Arya and Sandor sneak into the Red Keep and search out Cerci much as before (only without the “this is what revenge gets you” talk – that will come later).
They find Cerci and Qyburn, and Arya lunges in for the kill only for Gregor to grab her and start crushing the life out of her. Her vision darkens and for a moment all seems lost.
Sandor’s massive sword, the same one that ended Eddard’s life all those years ago, crashes through Gregor’s arm, almost cleaving it in two, and the younger Clegane rips Arya from Gregor’s monstrous grip.
Arya blinks away blood and looks up, unable to move as Sandor interposes himself between the massive brute and Arya, protecting her.
The brothers fight up and down the ruined stairwell, the dragon flying overhead, the city burning below. Arya is too shocked and hurt to do anything but watch as Sandor is beaten down again and again. But each time he gets up and puts himself between her and the Mountain, protecting her to the last.
Miraculously Gregor is kicked through a broken section of wall to fall to his eventual death and Sandor slumps back, bloodied and broken. Dying.
Tears and blood blurring her vision Arya crawls to Sandor for one final farewell. This is where he tells her, begs her, with his dying breath to turn away from the path of revenge. Because this is how it ends. Always.

What I’m really trying to get at is that this, Sandor sacrificing himself for her, is the ultimate culmination of Sandor and Arya’s relationship and that him dying for her give his death and the whole fight added meaning.
This is something I’m trying to be conscious of in my own writing. I trend toward more plot-centric stories and I like my epic action set-pieces (Andy McDermott’s Wilde Chase books are a big influence in this respect), which makes it far too easy to fall into writing the first style of scene, all flash but it boils down to two people fighting because that what the plot needs them to do.
It’s all about walking that fine line between characters being caught up by events and characters doing things because the plot needs them to.
TLDR, there always needs to be a “why” and it always needs to make sense for the character in that moment.

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