Knighthood and misgivings
Updated: Jan 1, 2019
Sandor "the Hound" Clegane and the makings of a knight
The 'middle ages' are represented by the transition period that started at the fall of the Western Roman Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire is known as the Byzantine Empire) around the fifth century, and it lasted until the fifteenth century. The 'renaissance' started in the fourteenth century, merging with the middle ages, then brought it to a close a century later, while the Renaissance itself continued until the seventeenth century. The renaissance is marked by intellect, humanism, art, architecture, politics, science and literature. During the fifteenth century, while most Europe was still in the middle ages, the 'Age of Discovery' started as well, which made men go into the sea to find newer continents or newer routes to old continents.
The Western Roman Empire in a Song of Ice and Fire is, in great part, represented by Valyria, where there was a political unity enforced by violence, represented in our story by dragons. The Roman Empire was the combined and elaborated civilization of the Mediterranean basin, whereas in our story, Valyria was the original area where the Dothraki used to live before they became nomads, the isle of Cedars, Old Ghis, and the Lands of the Long Summer. Both in reality and fantasy, it included manufacture, trade, and architecture, widespread secular literacy, written law, and an international language of science and literature.
The doom of Valyria, removing the influence of the 'Faceless Men' or the dragons, but keeping the complete destruction of the area and the long-term consequence, is probably best compared to what happened to Pompeii. Pompeii was a a Roman city (nowadays Naples sits in its place) that had a major port, with active commerce and trade. The Greeks then arrived and there they built the most important building of its time, the Doric Temple. After that, to control port and city, they built the 'Triangular Forum", a crossroad connecting three important metropolis, and had the whole city surrounded by walls. The part that faced the water, had tufa, which made an invasion difficult. Pompeii flourished and became the first maritime trader in the world. They were known for their unique architecture and the Greeks didn't conquer the city with any sort of military overpowering, they simply controlled it and dominated it, giving to the outside world the impression that Pompeii had some sort of autonomy while in reality it was filled with more slaves than free people and endless cruelty done to them. Even their children were often taken and offered in sacrifice for prosperity or to appease gods.
The Pompeian were used to small earthquakes, but in the year 62 AD, a uniquely large one brought much of the city down. For seventeen years they rebuilt, but since the larger event, they started having tremors more frequently. Surrounded by walls, the slaves were unable to leave, while the free people were unwilling to lose their riches. That being said, most stayed, and in 79 AD, for two whole days, Pompeii had back to back quakes. On the third day, Mount Vesuvius erupted in what still is the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in Europe. An explosion so massive that the thermal energy released was 100,000 times greater than the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima-Nagasaki. Pompeii was destroyed entirely. It is now buried under 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and pumice. Our story has dragons, faceless assassins, intrigue and a plague added to that, but the entire destruction of the city and irreplaceable loss of art and culture, is the same.
The destruction of Pompeii marks the height of the Western Roman Empire. Its fall was inevitable, however, because religion grew and corruption grew with it. When it ended, the Western "barbarians" lost much of the higher cultural practices the Romans had, but the knowledge of its existence and pursue of what had been registered, formed the base for the development of Europe that came in the middle ages, as the scholars and the commonwealth were both aware of the Roman achievement. That is to say, there is a continuity of sorts that goes beyond the period of lost political control, it's a cultural transformation rather than a fall. By the fifth century, Christianity had become a major force and that force influenced Europe at large, and with Christianity, came the knights. Historically speaking, as early as the year 291 AD there were people who could be considered knights, however, that would be a technicality. It simply meant that infantry had horses. When it was time for battle, they would dismount to fight. By the year 768 AD, Charlemagne became king of the Franks, then in 774 AD, king of the Lombards, and in 800 AD, he became Holy Roman Emperor. The history of his life is fascinating. It was while being Emperor that he created the cavalry. With the creation of the stirrup, wars of conquest were fought on horseback. The development of knighthood was slow. Primarily, a knight was a servant, then a warrior, but they were always a monastic order for the Roman Catholic church. The first requirement to be a knight, was the capacity to fight on horseback, so in the middle ages, around the twelfth century, the idea of a knight was linked to horsemanship, especially one who could joust. The other requirement was to be Roman Catholic. A knight could go to a war and be that way a man-at-arms, but a man-at-arms wasn't necessarily a knight. With the First Crusades in 1099, the first two official knight orders were created: the Knights Hospitallers and the Holy Sepulchre. They were essentially soldiers who protected the pilgrims. Only after the Holy Land had been successfully conquered that those orders gained prestige. The title in the middle ages, once the First Crusades ended, started to represent a lower class of nobility. The rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry and a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior.
The first King of England was king Ecgherht (known as Egbert) who had been exiled by Charlemagne. He returned, conquered and was the first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over all Anglo-Saxon England and receive the title of Bretwalda. He is the Aegon the Conqueror of our saga. His son, Aethelwulf, was highly religious and traveled to Rome with his son to visit the Pope, that's how important the Roman Catholic Church was in that country and that's when history really meets our stories. Knights then were titles brought to England by the influence of Charlemagne. Aethelwulf leaves the throne to his son Aethelbald (who holds a strange resemblance to Maegor the Cruel). Aethelbald actually forced his father to abdicate in his favour and when his father died, he married his widowed stepmother. Also, just like our stories, the church didn't like that and the marriage was annulled after one year. Aethelbald did all he could, but produced no heirs, so when he died, his brother Aethelbert became king for six years, died, was followed by his brother Aethelred, who was king for five years, died, and was followed by his youngest brother, Aelfraed (known historically as Alfred the Great, but was called Elf-counsel and Wise-Elf, much like king Jaehaerys the Conciliator, called also Jaehaerys the Wise or Jaehaerys the Old). Alfred created the Royal Navy and founded a permanent army. Through these years, knighthood grew and to solidify both the importance of the church and the safety of the kingdom that they fought so hard to conquer, the monarchs made knighthood a title worth fighting to attain.
As writing was not a widespread skill, controlling who was a knight, was a job done by the lords of the land. Oftentimes, knighthood would be bestowed during battle and if those lords died during the battles, nobody would log the names, so the system was extremely faulty. To add to it, knighthood could be bestowed by other knights, many of which couldn't properly (or at all) read or write. It could also be bestowed by members of the clergy, lords, monarchs, or - and that is of essential importance – by worth. The two requirements were still mandatory - the capacity to fight on horseback and to be Roman Catholic. Nowadays, a knight is dubbed by the monarch, a bishop, a person who speaks for the monarchy or an appointed representative of the church in a military capacity. The fact that the English monarch, a person who is the head of the Church of England, can bestow knighthood, a Roman Catholic title, on whomever they see fit, even people who have absolutely no fighting skills, like musicians, makes it very clear how far that system has collapsed, but back in the middle ages, it was a valuable title.
The Faith of the Seven was inspired on the Roman Catholic church. The fact the Andals lost the fight against the northerners means the Seven could not be forced in that country and that is why the North had no knights. Their gods did not abide by the system. The fact that knighthood is granted by the king also explains why Lord Eddard Stark, who was not a follower of the Seven, could remove the Mountain's knighthood - He spoke with the King's voice and that was as important as the voice of the king himself. Furthermore, once his knighthood was revoked, Lord Tywin himself wouldn't be able to give it back and he did not, so although Cersei called him "Ser Gregor", he wasn't a knight, but most importantly, even if lord Eddard had not removed the Mountain's title, his actions would. The code of conduct and worthiness, chivalry and Christianity (well, the Seven) made a knight. The Mountain did not abide by any such thing.
The cynicism that his brother, Sandor "the Hound" Clegane, had for the system was well justified. The Hound had been a young boy when his psychopathic brother held his face to the fire. Of all disgusting things that happen in the books, the Mountain's actions continuously rise to the top as horrendous. It's not a matter of honour or valor, it's not even a matter of judging if he is simply a vassal of a tyrant like Lord Tywin or if he is a villain. The Mountain is abominable. Sandor himself tells the story to lady Sansa in a Game of Thrones. "I was younger than you, six, maybe seven. A woodcarver set up shop in the village under my father's keep, and to buy favor he sent us gifts. The old man made marvelous toys. I don't remember what I got, but it was Gregor's gift I wanted. A wooden knight, all painted up, every joint pegged separate and fixed with strings, so you could make him fight. Gregor is five years older than me, the toy was nothing to him, he was already a squire, near six foot tall and muscled like an ox. So I took his knight, but there was no joy to it, I tell you. I was scared all the while, and true enough, he found me. There was a brazier in the room. Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there while I screamed and screamed. You saw how strong he is. Even then, it took three grown men to drag him off me. The septons preach about the seven hells. What do they know? Only a man who's been burned knows what hell is truly like."
Who can blame him for despising the idea of being called "Ser"? His dreams turned bitter when Prince Rhaegar himself, whom Sandor admired so much, knighted the Mountain, so the Hound did everything in his power to differentiate himself from his brother, and although he was callous, his complex behaviour is not of a harmful individual. His actions while fighting aside the Lannisters were often terrible, but he never accepted the idea of violence for violence's sake and never supported sadism. Also, he shows some measure of shame, regret and despite his jaded exterior, guilt. In his mind, before the truth was known, Mycah had attacked the prince and he was following orders. Until lady Arya yelled at him that she had been the one who hit the prince and that Mycah had just run off, the truth he knew was all that mattered. Regardless, it bothered him.
When he became Joffrey's "Knight of the Kingsguard", he was the only one who did not 'obey without question', which shows how he didn't side with sadism, so the king asked the others to hit Sansa. His story beside her is a sort of Beauty and the Beast. There are those who claim she was "precocious", which is a terrible adjective to describe her. Sansa was not precocious in any way, shape, or form. Sansa was stuck in the dream of a child - a fairy tale of sorts. She wanted to be a princess and marry the prince and have babies. That is the basest idea of most wealthy six-year-olds. She was unaware of the world around her, the reality and ugliness of mankind. It was the Hound who brought her to reality, telling her that knights were there for killing and that he was honest while the world was awful. He nearly raped her, pinned her to bed, knife at her throat, and then he broke down and cried. Later, when he talked about it and how he "took the song and meant to take her too", he cried again. He is painted as troubled, and he wishes to do harm, but has a moral code that prevents him from acting on it. Through the Hound, Sansa learned to use her voice. He is a major catalyst for her change in regards to knights - that, of course, until she goes back to fairy-tale-land when she dreams of marrying the Tyrells. Later, when she is forced to marry lord Tyrion, she is hit back by reality, but it was primarily through the Hound that she saw that beauty didn't mean good and lack thereof didn't mean evil. Once he visited her in her chambers during the Battle of Blackwater Bay to say goodbye and offer to help her escape, she went through a transformation and started to see the Hound as a man. She fantasized about him and a kiss they never shared, but the Hound was not there for the kissing. He wasn't there for romance, he wasn't there for girly fantasies. The Hound was there to show the human heart in conflict with itself. He was a Clegane, but he had honour. He didn't want to be a knight or to be called Ser, but he served and protected. He was brooding, he was drunk, and he was honourable.
Without his own viewpoint to read from, he went missing from the story until the Brotherhood brought him in for judgement. When he "killed" lord Beric and was set free, he awaited for the right opportunity to grab Arya. Together they formed his second alliance: 'The Badass and Child" duo, which is another common element of fiction and fantasy. The "Badass" is often male, jaded and overly skilled, described as the 'strong and silent' type, usually with a dark and troubled past. He is generally considered to be rude and stoic. The "child" is often a girl, orphaned in the big bad world and trying to survive. Through their time together, they learn to trust one another despite their original misgivings, until the child learns enough to exercise revenge. It's seen in comic books in Wolverine with X-23, Cable with Hope, then in movies in Leon with the girl Mathilda and even animations, like Wreck-it Ralph. It's also present in literature in Les Miserables, Ser Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet", Gunslinger, and in the universe of Ice and Fire, between Ser Duncan and Egg, where the child is a boy, and even with lady Brienne and Pod, where the genders are both inverted.
Alongside Arya, the Hound discovers he has feelings other than hatred and hurt. They become endlessly attractive to the reader and through her POVs, we see the Hound's new face, a charitable one. Thanks to Arya, he wishes to be better. He did not just lust after Sansa, he was protective, but his heart wasn't moved by her. He wanted to do what was right, but he was also attracted to her. With Arya, he is different. At first, he sees her as the annoying little sister of a perfectly courteous pretty lady, but then he sees in Arya what really matches with him. He wishes to protect her, to guide her, and to be part of her growth. They are an odd family of sorts, and it works beautifully.
He knew who he was and alongside Ser Jaime, he is a character who seems to follow Lord Tyrion's advise of "wearing it like an armour". He wears the snarling dog helm and takes pleasure in seeing that people cower when they see his face. Ser Jaime plays the Kingslayer and repeats what people say about him. Until the bath exchange with lady Brienne, the reader has no idea Ser Jaime was bothered by it. The Hound also boasts about himself being bad, and when the Brotherhood chants that 'the night is dark and full of terrors', he says: "This cave is dark too, but I'm the terror here". It's through Arya that we see otherwise. Alongside Ser Jaime, he feels that knighthood is a fraud. They both resent the system, which, as it is used, is flawed and corrupt. He considers honour and law to be pointless as most conflicts are resolved by violence anyway. Ser Jaime expresses that as well, and both return to a point where they want to do what is right, which goes to show that honour has a place after all. There's every indication that he is the gravedigger at Quiet Isle, and if he is, then he is the sole true survivor of the Clegane family.
All in all, the Hound, does all things a knight does, and at a time where knighthood was bestowed by hedge knights, lords, priests and kings alike, a person's valor was of great importance. He doesn't want to be called "Ser" and no intelligent person will be so brave as to try, but as a magnificent warrior, an honourable man who defended those who would have otherwise perished, and one who qualified to both base requirements - fighting from horseback and having been brought up by the "light of the Seven", the Hound is, beyond reproach, worthy of being called a knight.