Conan Stevens, the original Mountain, talks beheading horses and getting recast


Blink and you might miss it, but over the course of six seasons, Gregor Clegane, aka the Mountain, has changed faces as often as Arya Stark. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson has shouldered the bulk of the character’s screen time, but in Season 1, he was played by Australian actor and stuntman Conan Stevens.

Stevens, who stands at an impressive 6’7″, recently sat down with Australia’s The Daily Telegraph to chat about his new role in Encantadia, an upcoming fantasy drama. While he was at it, he discussed his time on Game of Thrones and cleared up some lingering questions.

Stevens’ Gregor Clegane—Clegane 1.0, if you will—gained infamy for the scene where he beheaded a horse in season 1’s “The Wolf and the Lion.” Stevens delved into the logistics of one of the most gruesome scenes of the first season.

"In that joust there were three horses in total used, there was a specially trained horse that would fall on demand and was not supposed to be scared of big men in armor waving swords at him — that was the training anyway. Turns out he was OK to fall when properly coerced by the trainer but the whole big man with a sword was a problem."

It’s hard to imagine any man or beast who wouldn’t quake at the sight of the Mountain bearing down on them with a sword, so let’s give the horse the benefit of the doubt. “In short, after many attempts, we could not get the shot with a plastic sword (for safety) so we went to a CGI sword that consisted of a handle with the hilt and two LED lights attached.”  So a lightsabre, then. “By this stage, the horse was still very skittish, even with just the handle.”

"So in the end we stood around for a bit until the horse wasn’t expecting it, then I just swung like I was going to cut his head off, this then cuts into an animatronic horse’s head that has moving parts, which basically I then hit with a metal sword so it’d split at the impact point and the sword would go down with blood pumping out everywhere."

So there you have it, folks. No horses were harmed in the making of this scene, although at least one may have been traumatized.

"This was a one-take deal though. We got it and Daniel Weiss came over laughing his head off: “It goes from awesome to Monty Pythonesque in about .2 seconds due to the amount of blood pumping out.” This is the closest we’ve gotten to Cleganebowl in six years."

Stevens didn’t return for Season 2. His role was taken over by Welsh actor Ian Whyte, with Björnsson taking the reigns in Season 4. If you’re in the market for some juicy gossip surrounding the departure, you’ll be disappointed. Instead of tears, tantrums or arguments over trailer size, it seems as if simple logistics were behind the recast.

“Being an actor this is something I am not really privy to,” says Stevens. “There was obviously a production team meeting and the decision was made. My initial contract was only for the first season, unlike some of the other actors, and I did wonder about there not at least being an option for future seasons.”

"I was on The Hobbit at the time in New Zealand still as the practical Bolg character, my best guess would be as a cost-cutting measure as the character only featured for about three seconds in the second season, so fly me first or business from NZ with all associated costs or Ian Whyte was already on set. I know what I would choose if my job was to save money."

Well, there you have it. If the Mountain won’t come to the film set, the film set will…find a new Mountain. It all seems very civil, although Stevens did express one big regret regarding his exit from the show.

"Well of course I would have liked to continue the character, I had already read the entire book series and had planned out how to play the Red Viper scene but as a contractor we are hired whether the character ends up in the final cut or not, so it would be rather childish to be upset over a clause written into the contract coming about on that particular film or not to have another contract offered the next year as was the case here."

Interesting, Stevens to be one of the few actors who actually read the novels, although in a reverse of what we often hear, he hasn’t seen the show. “No, I never watched it,” he says when asked. “I read all the books, I usually prefer to read.” A man after my own heart.

Although he didn’t play Gregor for long, things are going well for the bookish muscle man. Following his stint on Thrones he landed a role as Bolg in The Hobbit, although his character was ultimately replaced by a CGI version. He reappeared as the Keeper of the Dungeons in The Battle of the Five Armies, though.

Stevens is currently in the Philippines filming Encantadia—this guy likes his fantasy—and a martial arts action movie Blood Hunters. He may have left Westeros, but it looks as if he’ll be returning to our screens very soon. Watch this space.