Despite this being the most secretive Game of Thrones season yet, actor Ian McShane has no problem dropping a small, but significant spoiler about his character in the show. A few weeks ago, during an appearance on a BBC talk show, McShane gave away some important clues regarding a presumed dead character.
So based on what McShane has said, what we know of the books, and where the show is going, who's not staying dead? Let's look at his quote:
1.) “My character really is like an ex-warrior who’s become a peacenik.”
This description points quite clearly to Septon Meribald, the nomadic priest Brienne and Podrick encounter during their search for Sansa in book four, A Feast for Crows. Septon Meribald follows the Faith of the Seven, but is compassionate and sincere, posing a contrast to the militant Sparrows on the rise in King’s Landing.
He has one of the best monologues in the series when he describes to Brienne and Pod how the wars the high lords drag the kingdom into turn the common folk into “broken men.” Meribald tells his own story of going off to war and losing his sense of self, until he truly came to the faith and sought penance.
2.) "So I have this group of peaceful… sort of like a cult, peaceful tribe…”
This “peaceful tribe” is most likely the Brothers of the Quiet Isle—monks of sorts who live in isolation and seek to atone for their sins. In A Feast for Crows, Septon Meribald leads Brienne and Pod to the Quiet Isle, where they meet the community’s leader, the Elder Brother.
McShane’s character will almost certainly be a combination of Septon Meribald and the Elder Brother, as the two can easily be merged without disrupting the plot.
3.) "I bring back a much-loved character who everybody thinks is dead.”
AGAIN, MAJOR BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD!
The two biggest candidates for resurrection are Jon Snow, as everyone has speculated since he was stabbed at the end of both the last book and season, and Catelyn Stark, who returns as barely-human, vengeance-bent Lady Stoneheart at the end of book three, A Storm of Swords. Jon Snow will undoubtably return. My bet is his soul will be preserved warging his consciousness into Ghost, while the resurrection of his body will be courtesy of Melisandre and the Lord of Light.
At first glance, a cult-member who brings back a much-loved character from the dead sounds like the Brotherhood Without Banners and Lady Stoneheart, who are about two seasons overdue. However, the Brotherhood already have their own priest, Thoros of Myr, who serves the Lord of Light, and there’s no sign of actor Paul Kaye returning this season. Also, if we see the Brotherhood again, they likely will not be classified as “peaceful,” as, in the books, they take a far more violent path in the time since parting with Arya. Sadly, it feels less and less likely that Lady Stoneheart will make an appearance, especially with more than one prominent character returning from the presumed grave this season. So who is McShane bringing back?
Rather, it seems very likely that McShane has confirmed a major theory that the Hound still lives. In A Feast for Crows, the Elder Brother reports that he encountered a pitiful and wounded Sandor Clegane, begging for the mercy of death. He confirms that the Hound is dead, but many readers interpret this to mean that the violent, vengeful, apathetic persona of the Hound has died, leaving Sandor Clegane to find redemption as one of the brothers on the Quiet Isle. The Elder Brother displays a surprising knowledge of Clegane’s past and his psychological condition for someone who apparently only shared his last moments with him.
More than this, Brienne sees an enormous figure in the distance, a novice of the monastery, digging graves. He is cloaked and covered, so Brienne does not see his face, but he moves consistent with the wounds Clegane had suffered in the books. The Hound is among one of the few characters in the series taller than Brienne and this gravedigger is also noted to be bigger than her. His horse, Stranger, is also at the monastery. The famously difficult horse had, in the past, only cooperated for his master, furthering the theory that Clegane is alive on the Quiet Isle.
The face-off between Brienne and the Hound that left him on the edge of death at the end of season four never occurred in the books. This adds a whole new and interesting layer to the possibility of Brienne crossing paths with him again. Whether or not the show will have them share a scene, or even choose to reveal him to her, remains to be seen. As the show diverges from the books increasingly, it becomes harder to predict how things will go on-screen. Especially with all the Butterfly Effect-type small changes that ripple through the seasons until they're rather large differences.
As to what may lie ahead for him, many fans have been clamoring for what they've dubbed "Clegane-Bowl," a climactic showdown between brothers Sandor and Gregor at Cersei's trial by combat. As was hinted at the end of Cersei's Walk of Shame last season, Gregor's reanimated corpse "Robert Strong" will serve as her champion in her trial. Fans hope that Sandor will step in as the champion of the Faith and engage with The Man Formerly Known as the Mountain in a cathartic fight to the death.
The Elder Brother mentions that the Hound's primary motivation in life was vengeance on his brother, something that was robbed from him when the Mountain was mortally wounded by Oberyn Martell. So, what might Sandor's reaction be to learning his brother still (sort-of) lived? Would he abandon his peace and progress to once again seek vengeance against the brother who destroyed him? The show typically favors flashy fights and dramatic encounters over sustained character development (see: Jaime Lannister) so it's possible that regardless of what George R.R. Martin has planned, Clegane-Bowl could occur on-screen.
One thing is clear— Ian McShane does not care that he may have revealed a major mystery at all. In reference to the ensuing talk about spoilers, he said to The Telegraph, “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape […] I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think, get a f***ing life. It’s only t**s and dragons.”