Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 1
There are many standout sequences in Game of Thrones’ season 7 premiere, but one of the quietest takes place between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion, who rest for the night in a little cottage where the former occupants are dead and long-shriveled in the corner. It seems odd that Beric assumes he knows the genders of the mummies in front of him, given that they’re basically gray, skeletal husks. And Game of Thrones isn’t heavy on empathy for the dead, so it’s surprising when he takes the time to envision how they died. It’s even more surprising when the Hound takes the time to bury the corpses, and even tries, awkwardly, to pray over them.
Asked if he knew them, the Hound mumbles, “Not really.” But why not just “No,” and why does such a notoriously harsh, cynical character put so much effort into respecting these victims? Watch this scene from when he was traveling with Arya Stark (back in the season 4 episode “Breaker of Chains”), and a lot of things about the sequence become clearer.
That sequence, where a father and daughter take the Hound and Arya in for the night, lays out why the Hound might be feeling some guilt about finding them both long dead. He predicted it, after all — “They’ll both be dead come winter,” he tells Arya — but he also contributed to it, both by refusing to help them run off the raiders stealing their food, and by assaulting the farmer and taking his money. Would they have starved if he hadn’t done that? Would they have been able to afford to buy food and stay alive a little while longer, or travel someplace safer and warmer? It’s impossible to say, but the Hound certainly didn’t help.
So it’s notable that when he tries to give them a proper eulogy, he’s quoting the father’s previous prayer over dinner, albeit poorly, and in a limited way. By burying them, he’s making a small show of apology for being part of what led to their demise. He’s still a bitter, cynical man, but the Hound’s grown enough to at least feel some pity for people he didn’t pity when it counted.
Game of Thrones isn’t much invested in redemption narratives. Evil people tend to remain evil up until their gruesome deaths, and the Hound certainly has a lot to answer for in this show. But this sad, sordid little scene is a reminder that he sometimes tries to not be the worst he can be, and he is capable of compassion. This sequence is memorable in part because it’s a reminder of Game of Thrones’ long, long story, and its ability to pay off even tiny moments down the road. But it’s also memorable because it shows how much one of its characters can change as a person, one small, sad step at a time.