Features and Columns · TV

Game of Thrones: Who Will Fight in Cersei’s Trial by Combat?

By  · Published on May 13th, 2016

A popular fan theory got a boost from season 6, episode 3.

Before Game of Thrones kicked off its sixth season, I made a few bold predictions as to what we’d see in the ten hours to come. The first of them was that resurrection would be a big theme. Those who have watched the first three episodes of the show know that yes, resurrection is a big deal this year. The real question is how far will they go? Are all the characters who come back George R.R. Martin’s books going to come back for another round in the show? And if some of them do come back – as we think they will – where will their new lives lead them.

This important to remember as we discuss the Trial by Combat that awaits Cersei Lannister and The Faith Militant. As was mentioned in this past week’s episode while Jaime and Cersei met with Qyburn, the crown expects a fight and will use the zombified Ser Gregor to win Cersei’s freedom from persecution and smite some enemies along the way.

But who will be the champion of The Faith? There’s a very popular fan theory that got a boost thanks to some details in this week’s episode. It’s time we talked about it, but not before a little spoiler warning. Below our dearly departed Oberyn, you will find book knowledge and irresponsible speculation.

There are many who believe that Cersei’s Trial by Combat will be less about the Dowager Lioness and more about a pair of brothers whose clash has been foreshadowed since season one. One of whom we know well (and in many instances miss dearly), another of whom took away our favorite Prince Oberyn then didn’t have the decency to die.

We’re talking about one of my favorite crackpot Thrones theories: The Cleganebowl.

What is The Cleganebowl?

To understand one of the most popular Game of Thrones superfan/book reader hashtags – #Cleganebowl – we have to go back to the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s series, A Feast for Crows. In their journey through the Riverlands in search of Stark children, Brienne and Pod are led to a place called The Quiet Isle. It here that they meet a man called The Elder Brother, whose knowledge of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane is unmistakably specific. It’s almost as if he knows The Hound. And even long after The Hound was presumed dead – left to die by Arya Stark – it’s possible that he survived and now lives among the monks of the Quiet Isle.

Martin goes so far as to have Brienne notice a novice gravedigger whose size is unlike any other man at the monastery.

This is where The Gravedigger theory was born. At the time, it wasn’t known what the story would need The Hound for exactly, but many believed him to be alive.

In the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, we learn of Cersei’s plight. Her downfall that leads to walking the streets of King’s Landing “naked and covered in shit.” Through all that torment, we are reminded that the Mother’s Mercy still doesn’t absolve Cersei of her crimes. There will still eventually be a trial.

The Cleganebowl would be the ultimate clash between The Hound, a character whose return would further his redemptive arc, and The Mountain, his older brother who was directly responsible for his deformed look and antisocial nature. Sandor spend multiple seasons (and books) talking about how much he hated his brother Gregor. Now you’re telling me that he might be at a monastery in the Riverlands right when The Faith is going to need a champion against The Mountain? In this story, there are few coincidences. The show rarely wastes time on characters and storylines that aren’t part of some bigger endgame. I still believe this about Dorne, and I damn-sure believe it about The Cleganebowl.

Is Season 6 Setting Up The Cleganebowl?

Whether it’s part of the story’s future or some expert trolling on the part of the show remains to be seen, but Game of Thrones season 6 has already given us plenty of reason to hold on to this theory.

Before the season started, actor Ian McShane gave an interview with the BBC where he said that he’s part of something brief, but special on the show. “So I have this group of peaceful (sort of like a cult peaceful tribe) who have brought back a much loved character everybody thinks is dead.” McShane’s character still hasn’t been confirmed, but we can easily deduce that he’s either playing Septon Meribald (who leads Brienne to The Quiet Isle) or the Elder Brother (or a combined character that serves as both).

And now in episode three, the show is confirming that the Lannisters expect a trial by combat. The show chose to place that revelation in close proximity to Arya in The House of Black and White, talking about how she did, but didn’t want The Hound to die. Reminding us that by the time she walked away from his badly broken body, we kinda liked him.

This week, the show released the episode titles for the sixth and seventh frames of season six. Episode 7’s title: The Broken Man. The title comes from a speech in A Feast for Crows delivered by Septon Meribald. For the curious, you can hear it below.

It stands to reason that we’ll be meeting Septon Meribald soon and possibly being reintroduced to Sandor Clegane in a new form.

If The Faith were searching for a champion, someone who has no love for The Mountain, the Lannisters, or the Crown, they could do worse than to send a raven to The Quiet Isle. And if he wanted to make the trip, Sandor Clegane could easily make it from The Riverlands to King’s Landing in the span of a few episodes, leaving him in the capital of Westeros just in time for an episode ten showdown with his long-hated big brother (or what’s left of him.)

For more discussion of Game of Thrones and the Cleganebowl, check out this week’s A Storm of Spoilers podcast.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)