We all have our theories about Game of Thrones. They range from the sensible, like 'Jon Snow isn't dead' and 'Sansa Stark is pregnant with Ramsay Bolton's child' all the way through to the insane: 'Benjen Stark is Daario Naharis' and 'It was all Hodor's dream'. However, none is quite as outlandish - yet deliciously enticing - as Cleganebowl. Odd name for a theory, right? Let me explain what it is, and why it could happen in Game of Thrones season 6.
As you might have gathered from the name, this theory concerns the brothers Clegane: The Hound, who is left for dead by Arya (in the TV show), and The Mountain, who is preserved from death by non-Maester Qyburn to serve as Ser Robert Strong. You remember Gregor 'The Mountain' Clegane? He's the fella who crushed poor Prince Oberyn's head to pulp during Tyrion's trial by combat. At first glance it seems a total crackpot assertion that they'll somehow meet again - one is supposedly dead, the other is a zombie in Kingsguard armour. However, the Cleganebowl theory suggests they will not only meet, but fight to the death to determine the fate of Queen Regent Cersei. Wut?
Let's look at the facts first, then. The Mountain is still semi-alive, and is in the service of the Lannisters at King's Landing. We know from teaser trailers that he'll be employed in Cersei's revenge against the Sparrows, who imprisoned her in season 5. We also know that Cersei was told by a witch (when she was a child) that she'd have three children (yes), that all three would die before her (two out of three - doesn't look good for Tommen), and that she herself would be killed by someone referred to as “Valonquar”. In high Valyrian, 'Valonquar' means 'younger brother'. Throughout the show Cersei has strongly believed that the witch was referring to Tyrion, which is partly why she so firmly believes he killed Joffrey in season 4 and aims to have him executed. But that all seems too obvious for a show like Game of Thrones.
Now to the speculation, which fills in the blanks of the theory. The Hound was left for dead by Brienne / Arya, but we never see him die. In Game of Thrones that leaves the door open for a potential return, no matter how unlikely. Similarly, in the books, the Hound is merely left for dead (under different circumstances) but... and here it gets interesting... it's strongly hinted at in A Feast For Crows that he's alive. Brienne is scouring the land for any sign of Sansa or Arya and she visits the Quiet Isle - a retreat for religious members of The Faith. Here she speaks to the Elder Brother who admits that he found The Hound and tried to help him as he lay dying. When questioned he says that The Hound is 'at rest'.
While at the Quiet Isle, Brienne sees a very large man digging graves outside the monastery, who happens to have a burnt face. This has led many to speculate - very sensibly - that the Elder Brother returned Clegane to the monastery, healed him, and convinced him to disassociate the 'Hound' aspect of his character. In other words, to let go of the hate and anger that makes him 'The Hound'. So that could well explain what happened to Sandor Clegane after he was left for dead.
Nice theory, but there are still plenty of holes. What would possibly bring Sandor and Gregor together, and why would they end up fighting? And why is it called 'bowl'? That last one is easy - it's a reference to the 2013 Superbowl, here the coaches of the opposing teams were brothers - Jim and John Harbaugh. But what would bring The Hound to King's Landing? And why Cersei?
Ok. Cersei, despite being returned to the Red Keep, is still accused by the Sparrows of incest. She lied to free herself from prison, but remains under suspicion: quite rightly - she has actually committed the 'crime' she's accused of. Cleganebowl theory suggests that Cersei will be accused of incest, and will choose trial by combat to decide her fate, believing that zombie-Mountain can beat any man alive in single combat. If this is the case, the Sparrows would have to choose a champion too. Given that they have links to the Quiet Isle, they could - quite easily - send word to the Elder Brother and ask for their fighter. Who would you choose? Yeah, Sandor Clegane. All of a sudden you have the brothers Clegane in an arena, fighting to the death. Cleganebowl!
There's a lot of reaching in this last part of the theory. It's easy to believe that Clegane is alive, but you have to make a lot of assumptions to place him a trial by combat against his brother. However, there's one piece of recent evidence that lends credence to it all: Ian McShane. Speaking recently to BBC Breakfast, the Deadwood star gave some clues about his role in Game of Thrones season 6. Here's the direct quote for you:
“My character is an ex-warrior who’s become a peacenik. So I have this group of peaceful … it’s like a cult, peaceful tribe … who have brought back … I bring back this beloved character that everyone thinks is dead. So, I’ll leave it at that.”
An ex-warrior running a peaceful group? That sounds an awful lot like the Elder Brother. According to the books, he was a former Knight (with healing powers - eyebrow-raising intensifies) who fought at the Battle of the Trident, for House Targaryen. Knocked unconscious during the fight, he's left for dead - his armour stripped and his body dumped in the Trident. He wakes up naked on the Quiet Isle and forms his peaceful group. Now, did you watch that teaser trailer that dropped a few weeks ago? Here we see a flashback of a Targaryen soldier fighting in a battle. Many assume it's Ser Arthur Dayne, former Commander of the Kingsguard ... but what if it's the Elder Brother? Dayne dies in the tower of Joy, in Dorne, but the background to the fight in the teaser trailer looks much more like mid-Westeros landscape than anywhere in the hotter, dryer Dorne. I'd even suggest that - if you dig deep enough - Dayne and the Elder Brother could be the same person (given that both 'die' at the same time, and Dayne's demise happens during the fuzzy bit of history that will likely explain Jon Snow's parentage - and we need someone who is actually alive to explain all that), but that's a whole other can of worms.
We could, in fact, be looking at the Elder Brother's backstory in the teaser trailer, if Ian McShane indeed assumes this role in Game of Thrones. Now, if this is the case ... why else would the Elder Brother be in season 6 other than to bring back The Hound? McShane has already told us that he's bringing back a popular character - there are very few 'ambiguously dead' characters in the show (Stannis, Jon Snow, the Hound) so that certainly works in favour of the Cleganebowl theory.
So, that's the case for The Hound fighting the Mountain in King's Landing, which would likely happen at the climax of season 6. If the two are fighting Cersei's trial by combat, one of them has to win. What if it's The Hound, who is the younger of the Clegane boys? That would mean death for Cersei, if she is found guilty of incest. She would, indirectly, be killed by 'younger brother'. Or Valonquar in Valryian. Cleganebowl: it's so, so on!