The last time we saw anti-hero Sandor Clegane, better known on Game of Thrones as The Hound, he had been abandoned by Ayra Stark and left to die, denied by her the mercy of a quick death as penance for his crimes.
He didn't appear in season 5, so we assumed that he had succumbed to his injuries and died, as is the fate of most characters on the show. However, a recent report from Watchers on the Wall indicates that actor Rory McCann (who portrays The Hound on the hit TV show) has been spotted at a hotel in Belfast commonly used by Game of Thrones cast members during filming.
Of course it's all unconfirmed speculation at this point, but if the show borrows a particular plot-line from the books, there's every reason that we could see The Hound returning in season 6.
The Gravedigger Theory
In season 4 of Game of Thrones Sandor is badly wounded following a battle with Brienne of Tarth, who is hunting for the Stark sisters. They fight when he refuses to hand over Ayra and he is left badly beaten, still suffering wounds from previous battles.
In A Storm of Swords (the book from which season 4 is adapted) in place of Brienne he fights with two of his brother's men at the inn at the crossroads. Though he and Ayra defeat them he's seriously injured in the fight (mainly due to the fact that he's pretty drunk) and his wounds become infected. Ayra eventually abandons him under a tree to die.
In the show this is the last we see of him. However his name continues to be tossed around in the books. During the events of A Feast For Crows Brienne receives reports that the Hound is roaming with a pack of outlaws, killing, raping and looting. She seeks him as she has heard rumours that he has a Stark girl in his company, whom she believes to be Sansa (at this point she thinks Ayra is likely dead).
Brienne eventually ends up at a monastery on an island called the Quiet Isle. There she speaks with the Elder Brother of the monks, who possesses information about Sandor and the Stark girls.
The Elder tells her that it is Arya, not Sansa, who was travelling with Sandor. He also claims that The Hound is dead. He tells her that The Hound died in his arms; the Elder buried him and left his distinctive hound-shaped helm as a grave marker - it is this helm that is being worn by the man who is now impersonating The Hound, using it to commit atrocities in his name.
So, what does this have to do with a Gravedigger?
When Brienne arrives on the island she notices a novice monk digging graves, and has a brief conversation with the Elder Brother about him.
"They passed a lichyard where a brother bigger than Brienne was struggling to dig a grave. From the way he moved, it was plain to see that he was lame. As he flung a spadeful of the stony soil over one shoulder, some chanced to spatter against their feet. “Be more watchful there,” chided Brother Narbert. The gravedigger lowered his head. When Dog went to sniff him he dropped his spade and scratched his ear. “A novice,” explained Narbert."
The Gravedigger Theory, as first posited on A Forum of Ice and Fire a few years back, theorises that the Novice Gravedigger is in fact Sandor Clegane.
There's a number of facts given to support this theory.
The way the Elder Brother speaks
When the Elder discusses Sandor's fate he never says "Sandor is dead." Rather he says "The Hound died there, in my arms.".
He talks about Sandor Clegane and The Hound as though they were separate beings. It has been suggested that the Elder views The Hound as a facet of Sandor's personality, the part of him that was driven by rage and revenge against his brother.
He also speaks about Sandor as though he has intimate knowledge of his personality, knowing things about him that only Sandor could have told him, and too much to have learned from a dying man.
“I know a little of this man Sandor Clegane. He was Prince Joffrey's sworn shield for many a year, and even here we would hear tell of his deeds, both good and ill.
If even half of what we heard was true, this was a bitter, tormented soul, a sinner who mocked both gods and men. He served, but found no pride in service. He fought, but took no joy in victory. He drank, to drown his pain in a sea of wine. He did not love, nor was he loved himself. It was hate that drove him. Though he committed many sins, he never sought forgiveness.
Where other men dream of love, or wealth, or glory, this man Sandor Clegane dreamed of slaying his own brother, a sin so terrible it makes me shudder just to speak of it. Yet that was the bread that nourished him, the fuel that kept his fires burning. Ignoble as it was the hope of seeing his brother's blood upon his blade was all this sad and angry creature lived for ... and even that was taken away when Prince Oberyn of Dorne stabbed Ser Gregor with a poisoned spear.”
What does 'death' mean to the Elder?
The Elder discusses how he himself came to be on the island; many years ago when he was a soldier fighting at the Battle of the Trident he fell and was knocked unconscious. Believed dead, he was stripped of his armour and his body dumped into the Trident. He floated downriver until he awoke on the Quiet Isle.
He describes himself as "dying" on the Trident to be reborn into his "second life". As he speaks of his own death as a soldier and rebirth as a monk it is believed that he speaks of The Hound's death in a figurative manner also.
"The Hound is dead, Sandor is at rest."
The Elder is also referred to as an extremely skilled healer, so if anyone could have saved Sandor from his injuries it would've been him.
The presence of Sandor's horse, Stranger, in the isle's stables provides another clue. Stranger had previously shown himself to be a very difficult and vicious beast, and it was said that Sandor was the only one who could handle him.
The Quiet Isle is notoriously difficult to reach due to the quicksands surrounding it, and it would have been impossible for the Elder to bring Stranger there without the help of Sandor.
From the passage quoted earlier there are a number of clues that point towards the Gravedigger's true identity.
"a brother bigger than Brienne" - Brienne is famously known to be very tall and broad, and she observes that this novice is even bigger than she is. There's only been a few characters known to be bigger than her, and one of those is the Hound.
"it was plain to see that he was lame" - One of Sandor's particularly bad injuries was to his leg, which would likely still be healing or permanently damaged.
"When Dog went to sniff him he dropped his spade and scratched his ear." - It is well known that Sandor loves dogs and has an affinity with them. It could also be a nod to his former identity as The Hound.
- "“A novice,” explained Narbert." - Being a novice would make him new to the isle. Earlier in the chapter we're told that the novices all wear cowls covering their faces, which would have prevented Brienne from noticing his distinctive burns.
So what does all this suggest?
The Gravedigger doesn't seem to fulfil any other narrative function in the books, so pointing him out to begin with seems odd if it's just a throwaway comment.
Looking at the evidence it wouldn't be a stretch to claim that Sandor Clegane had survived and is now living as a novice monk on the Quiet Isle, especially since we never actually saw him die, which is very unusual on a show like Game of Thrones - well known for it's character deaths. Particularly for a character like The Hound, dying alone and outside of a battle; poetic irony it may be, but it doesn't sit very well with me.
Of course, given that this is a theory from the books there's no reason that the show's writers have to include it in the series, as there are many other possibilities for what could have happened to Sandor after Ayra left him. However if they do decide to bring him back this gives them a pretty neat way to do it.
Do you have a theory on The Hound's death? Share it with us in the comments.