The actor behind fan-favorite The Hound discusses the epic showdown between the Clegane brothers in “The Bells”, reuniting with Maisie Williams, and why he brought a trumpet to the final read-through.
HBO: The cast sat down for a big final read-through of the last season — what was that like?
Rory McCann: I’m probably the same as most actors [when we get scripts]. First thing we do is find our bits — to hell with everyone else, when am I going to die? What the hell is going to go on? — but I was aware of quite a few actors who said they didn’t do that. I didn’t actually believe them, but when we got together for the read-through I could see by the tears and shock some of them really didn’t know what was going on. Particularly Kit Harington [who plays Jon Snow]. That was funny. He had no idea, he was just in shock. But I’d read my bits, so it was very exciting. I remember bringing a big trumpet and keeping it underneath the table; I told [writer] Bryan Cogman, who usually does all the narration in between the dialogue with great passion, to take a pause when Gregor and Sandor meet for the final showdown. I brought the trumpet out and blew it with the whole cast in the room. I don’t think they knew what was going on but it was me pretending that Clegane Bowl is on.
HBO: Had you been looking forward to that fight as much as the fans?
Rory McCann: Absolutely. I’ve been thinking about it for years, honestly. We had this sparring session in Season 1 all those years ago, and this was the end of the journey, a completion. I’m so grateful they decided to write that in. It was a lot of fun.
HBO: Were you satisfied with that being your character’s ending?
Rory McCann: I’d written myself off once the fight started — there’s a chance by the end of it that Sandor is probably blinded and he’s pretty broken up. But he had enough energy to complete his mission and stuff his brother’s face in the fire, even if it meant ending his own life. I think the Hound would have been quite happy with that. I think he knew when he rode out with Arya and said, “I don’t plan on coming back.”
HBO: The fight looks pretty brutal. What was performing it like?
Rory McCann: Well training-wise, I started to work out, and then I thought, “What is the point of putting on any muscle at all when you are fighting the officially strongest man in the world?” It’s going to make no difference at all. So I could relax there. The fight was brutal. The set had been built for that one purpose alone, for Clegane Bowl, and took months of building: It was absolutely incredible. But when we heard it was all going to be on stairs — it’s the last thing big men want to do, go up and down on a set of stairs — that was quite worrying. There was worry of twisting our ankles or hurting ourselves. But it was an amazing experience. My sister, who was also with me for that fight all those years ago, was there with me pouring a bottle of water down my back in between takes. It was wonderful.
We lost our swords after a few moves, and then it just got down and dirty. I had the stuntmen saying to the strongest man in the world “When you pick up Rory, just throw him at half strength onto the wall over there” and I’m going, “Woah, woah, woah, that’s still a lot of brute force, can we go down to 10 percent maybe?” So I was a bit battered and bruised. But Hafþór [Júlíus Björnsson, who plays the Mountain] was suffering big time as well. He had a prosthetic in which he could barely drink, nevermind eat, and was extremely hot as well. But he did fantastically. He’s actually a gentle soul. I had to encourage him to strangle me more, to press into my eyes more; he’s absolutely a big gentle man and aware of his strength, thank God. He’s a great guy, and it was a legendary fight.
HBO: Before your final showdown you have a wonderful little moment with Arya, played by Maisie Williams. What was it like being reunited with her again this season?
Rory McCann: We’ve been on a hell of a road trip together. Arya’s completely different from the little girl the Hound first met. There’s a real respect for her. In that scene, there’s a dragon above us, things are tumbling down, but he’s trying to get one last message through to her: she doesn’t need to live her life full of hate and anger, there can be another way. It’s too late for the Hound, he’s decided.
Working with Maisie has been magical. I still can’t quite believe that amongst all the politics of this big story we were almost allowed our little road trip on the side. It’s definitely one of the happiest jobs I’ve ever had. I love working outside. So it brought back great memories working with her. She’s a fantastic actress and she kept me on my tip-toes that’s for sure.
HBO: What will you miss the most about working on this series?
Rory McCann: Am I going to ever have a greater written story or character that’s so perfect for me? The amount of different directors was a great opportunity too. Working with the best of the best. They all work differently, so I learned a lot from that. I still haven’t watched the whole show, but I may try to set up a projector on my boat and play Game of Thrones on my main sail as I go. One of my sails has a dog on it as well. It’s just a little nod.
I felt like [creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] knew me so well that when I opened up the scripts in the last few years it was almost the way I talk, and my mannerisms. They used parts of me big time. It’s never going to be the same again. They understood us. We were having dinner at David and Dan’s house in Belfast and I cracked open a beautiful bottle of whiskey. And it was late, and I was doing the main part of my fight with the Mountain the next day and Dan stood up and said, “You have a big day tomorrow,” and took my glass away. And I sounded like a little boy saying, “But I don’t want to go home!” I had to leave the party early. It was like a family thing. Course, the next day when I was getting tossed down the stairs I said to him, “Do you not think it would have been better if I had been still drunk?”
I’ll miss all of that, but I’m glad it’s over as well. I won’t miss the hours of makeup and hulking around the armor, I can see myself when we started, I’ve got no gray in my beard, and now I do and I’m hobbling around like an old man. But happy memories. I’ll heal soon. It’s never going to be as good as Game of Thrones, it can’t be, but boy were we lucky.
The final episode of Game of Thrones premieres Sunday at 9 pm.
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