Bryan Cogman Talks Last Night’s Big Character Return


Does it feel like every week we write the same headline about “a character’s big return?” The return of Rory McCann as the foul-mouthed ex-guard of Joffrey Baratheon was a curious experience—a story in unto itself, untouched by the events of the outside world—until they were, when the Brotherhood Without Banners violently killed off all of the members of the peaceful commune where the Hound had resided since being brought back from the brink of death by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray.

Entertainment Weekly sat down with writer and producer Bryan Cogman (who penned this episode) to discuss the Hound’s return. The fact that all of the scenes seemed like they were occurring in a separate world was a deliberate choice on Cogman’s part, it turns out.

"It was my favorite week on Game of Thrones because it’s a beautiful little three-act play. Very much on purpose it tonally doesn’t really feel like Game of Thrones until the end when everyone gets slaughtered. Ian McShane is a New Age ex-warrior with a painful history of violence, and he’s found his own flock trying to rebuild their lives. He sees Sandor as a candidate. He recognizes in Sandor a bit of himself. The Hound, apart from being grateful, starts to open up to him. He’s the first and only friend he’s ever had in his life."

Although Cogman likes that this is how they brought Clegane back, he admits it wasn’t their only choice, and that the producers discussed several methods of bringing the character back into the fold. The reason they went with the one they did was partly due to McCann’s strengths as an actor, as well as the audience’s emotional connection with him.

"Would a character we already know encounter him? It’s a little hard to talk about because the subplot is a riff on something that’s in the books, but it’s not totally in the books. In the books, Brienne meets these septon characters, not The Hound. We took that idea of the remote sept and weaved The Hound’s [story into it]. Rory is such an amazing actor and the audience has such an investment in him. We realized he could anchor his own return storyline. We could cut to him and have his own mini-episode and he’d be able to hold it."

As for book-readers wondering why McShane’s character was changed from Septon Meribald to the far more innocuous and forgettable name of “Brother Ray” (isn’t that a wrestler on the WWE?), Cogman says that’s because he was such an amalgamation of different characters, it was like when they changed Robb’s wife Jeyne Westerling to Talisa—they had to give him a name all his own.

One of those characters gives a speech in the fourth book referred to as “The Broken Man” speech by A Song of Ice and Fire fans. The speech itself didn’t make it into the episode, but it inspired the character and some of his dialogue. So the title of the episode is a nod to that speech – kind of like when we called episode 205 “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” even though that term wasn’t spoken out loud in the show…. Ray has this wonderful philosophy that [we] wish more characters had – “I don’t know if my god is the real god but I just know we need to believe in something greater than ourselves.” There’s wonderful philosophical discussions that happen.

In my recap, I compared the Hound’s scenes to the “play within a play” Arya watched over the past couple of episodes, an Ray to Lady Crane, two characters who show that a different way of life is possible. According to Cogman, the parallels are deliberate. “[T]hey sort of mirror each other. Both are exposed to a different world and then each come to their own conclusions.”