Arya’s first introduction to Sandor Clegane was most likely at her home when the royal party came to Winterfell. But it was his killing of her friend Mycah that lodged him in her brain as Enemy Number One. While she doesn’t witness the act, or the return of the body, she hears the tale from others– Jeyne Poole tells her: the Hound “cut him up in so many pieces that they’d given him back to the butcher in a bag”, while Jory tells her something closer to the truth: “[he] cut him near in half” and her father names it murder: “That murder lies at the Hound’s door, him and the cruel woman he serves.”
In ASoS Sandor himself attempts to justify the act when he is put on trial for murder by the BwB: “I was Joffrey’s sworn shield. The butcher’s boy attacked a prince of the blood.” Since we’ll see that Sandor, while he is a brutal killer, is honest and possessed of a certain honor (“Don’t lie … I hate liars. I hate gutless frauds even worse”), perhaps we can assume that perhaps his version close to the truth as he perceives it. When questioned about Mycah’s crime by Lord Beric, Sandor replies “I heard it from the royal lips. It’s not my place to question princes.”
Regardless of Sandor’s defense, the killing of Mycah has earned him a prominent place in Arya’s “prayers”, side by side with the people responsible for killing her father. By the time she encounters him in ASoS, when they are captives of the BwB, she has prayed for his death “hundreds of times.” The night before Sandor is brought in by the Huntsman she thinks about the people on her list: “Maybe some of them are dead … Maybe they’re in iron cages someplace, and the crows are picking out their eyes.” The next morning she wakes to the Hound about to be imprisoned in a cage outside her window. Have the gods heard her prayers?
When Sandor is brought before Lord Beric, he mocks the BwB for calling themselves knights. Then the BwB begin to accuse him of all the crimes of Lannister soldiers, holding him personally responsible for acts committed by others. His reaction is one of bitter anger: “Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.” He makes it quite clear what his opinion of knights is, saying:
“A knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors, they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses. I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So, kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don’t stink.”
Sandor is given a trial by combat against Lord Beric. When Beric’s sword breaks and he falls to the Hound, it seems the gods have spoken:
Arya could only think of Mycah and all the stupid prayers she’d prayed for the Hound to die. If there were gods, why didn’t Lord Beric win? She knew the Hound was guilty.
What happens next is perhaps the first moment that Arya sees Sandor as a human being rather than a beast:
“Please,” Sandor Clegane rasped, cradling his arm. “I’m burned. Help me. Someone. Help me.” He was crying. “Please.” Arya looked at him in astonishment. He’s crying like a little baby, she thought.
Arya grabs a knife and tries to attack the Hound as he is helped to his feet. When she sees his wounds, we get the faintest glimmer of compassion in Arya’s PoV:
His arm, Arya thought, and his face. But he was the Hound. He deserved to burn in a fiery hell.
With righteous anger, Arya accuses him again. Thinking his confession might make them kill him once and for all:
“You killed Mycah,” she said once more, daring him to deny it. “Tell them. You did. You did.”
His confession, dramatic and graphic as it is, seems designed for maximum impact, causing us to wonder if he had the same hope in mind:
“I did.” His whole face twisted. “I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father’s head off.”
Arya’s despair and rage know no bounds when she screams at him:
“You go to hell, Hound… You just go to hell!”
It is Lord Beric who sees clearly the hell that the Hound exists in:
“He has,” said a voice scarce stronger than a whisper.
To Arya’s disgust, the BwB allow the Hound to go free. But he returns not long after, looking to retrieve the gold they took from him. She is still filled with rage and threatens to kill not only Sandor, but his brother as well:
“Next time I will kill you. I’ll kill your brother too!”
Sandor assures her that she won’t and asks if she knows what dogs do to wolves, a question that remains in her mind for some time.
When he seizes her away from the BwB and carries her off through the Riverlands she continually tries to kill him. He finally warns her that if she escapes she’ll only get caught by someone worse, like his brother. When Arya reveals that she already knows Ser Gregor, and his men too, having been their captive, Sandor is highly amused:
“Caught you? My brother caught you? Gregor never knew what he had, did he? He couldn’t have, or he would have dragged you back kicking and screaming to King’s Landing and dumped you in Cersei’s lap. Oh, that’s bloody sweet. I’ll be sure and tell him that, before I cut his heart out.”
Though it’s not the first time she’s heard this, Arya seems somewhat shocked. Sandor taunts her with her own sister, whom he guesses she had a less than warm relationship with. He also mocks her hatred of him, and her desire to kill him:
Because I hacked your little friend in two? I’ve killed a lot more than him, I promise you. You think that makes me some monster. Well, maybe it does, but I saved your sister’s life too. The day the mob pulled her off her horse, I cut through them and brought her back to the castle, else she would have gotten what Lollys Stokeworth got. And she sang for me. You didn’t know that, did you? Your sister sang me a sweet little song.
Arya’s view of the Hound has become increasingly complex, from that moment of pity for his wounds, to the revelation of his hatred for his brother, his assertions of his own honesty, and now his claim to being her sister’s protector, a role the reader knows to be true. For whatever reason, when faced with the opportunity to betray him, she fails to do so:
“How do I know you’re good for it?” the bent-backed man asked, after a moment. He’s not, she wanted to shout. instead she bit her lip. “Knight’s honor,” the Hound said, unsmiling. He’s not even a knight. She did not say that either.
Of course we know exactly what the Hound thinks of knights, so it’s hard to judge his lie here. His utter disdain for the the institution extends even to those who blindly revere it:
“Knights have no bloody honor. Time you learned that, old man.”
Once across the Trident, the Hound finally reveals to Arya where he is taking her:
You think your outlaw friends are the only ones can smell a ransom? Dondarrion took my gold, so I took you. You’re worth twice what they stole from me, I’d say. Maybe even more if I sold you back to the Lannisters like you fear, but I won’t. Even a dog gets tired of being kicked. If this Young Wolf has the wits the gods gave a toad, he’ll make me a lordling and beg me to enter his service. He needs me, though he may not know it yet. Maybe I’ll even kill Gregor for him, he’d like that.
After their disastrous attempt to enter the Twins during the Red Wedding, both Arya and the Hound appear numb, unable to take action. Arya thinks of her mother constantly and berates the Hound for not letting her (or helping her!) try to save her. She wishes he had let her run into the castle, and he replies:
“You’d be dead if I had. You ought to thank me. You ought to sing me a pretty little song, the way your sister did.”
He’s now saved both of their lives, a situation that some might argue leaves both Stark girls in his debt. He has also slipped into the role of teacher, giving Arya instruction in things from how to loot a body, treat wounds and even how to give the gift of mercy:
“That’s where the heart is, girl. That’s how you kill a man.”
When Sandor takes a serious wound after the fight at the Inn where he kills Polliver and Arya kills the Tickler and the squire, Arya treats his wounds and then finds herself leaving him out of her prayers:
She had left his name out too, she realized. Why had she done that? She tried to think of Mycah, but it was hard to remember what he’d looked like. She hadn’t known him long. All he ever did was play at swords with me. “The Hound,” she whispered, and, “Valar morghulis.” Maybe he’d be dead by morning…
It seems like the implication is that as she has become familiar with Sandor, she has forgotten Mycah. The Hound is no longer in her prayers, perhaps because she sees the inevitability of his death (“Valar morghulis”) or perhaps because she no longer thinks him worthy of her brand of “mercy.” Remember that mercy for Arya implies death, while for others (notably her sister Sansa) it means pity and compassion. Perhaps a hint of compassion snuck in at the end.
At any rate, when the end finally seems at hand, Arya is unable to kill him, though she has promised him death dozens of times and has had a long internal debate over her reasons for killing him. Sandor begs her to do it:
“Don’t lie,” he growled. “I hate liars. I hate gutless frauds even worse. Go on, do it.” When Arya did not move, he said, “I killed your butcher’s boy. I cut him near in half, and laughed about it after.” He made a queer sound, and it took her a moment to realize he was sobbing. “And the little bird, your pretty sister, I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her. I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too. I should have. I should have fucked her bloody and ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf.” A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy… avenge your little Michael…”
Sandor’s words here, and even his tears, closely echo the scene with the BwB earlier, though his tone has changed from one of defiance to one of desperate regret. But his attempts to bait her into a killing rage fail, and she tells him:
“You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.”
As she leaves him, in her thoughts she comes back to the interplay of dogs and wolves:
Maybe some real wolves will find you… Maybe they’ll smell you when the sun goes down. Then he would learn what wolves did to dogs.
Arya’s feelings about the Hound seem to have become increasingly complex. By the end we really can’t be sure if he doesn’t deserve mercy because she no longer wants to kill him, or if she merely wants to prolong his suffering. Nor can we say the options are mutually exclusive. What she has learned from close contact with Sandor seems to be at odds with what she thought she knew previously. It would be small wonder if she were experiencing some amount of cognitive dissonance. As she enters Braavos and beholds the Titan at close range, her thoughts return to the Riverlands, and perhaps a tinge of regret:
The Hound had been dying when she left him on the banks of the Trident, burning up with fever from his wound. I should have given him the gift of mercy and put a knife into his heart.
The multi faceted concept of mercy as a gift can be directly related to the “Gift” Arya will learn about at the HoBaW in Braavos. At times the Gift of the Faceless Men is a punishment, while at other times it is a release:
“Death is not the worst thing,” the kindly man replied. “It is His gift to us, an end to want and pain.”
Yet the kindly man also cautions:
“It is not for you to say who shall live and who shall die. That gift belongs to Him of Many Faces.”
While this lesson contrasts with the northern justice she was raised with, Arya may have shown in the case of Sandor Clegane an unwitting foreshadowing of the creed of the Faceless Men that she will struggle with in her time in Braavos.
As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 11 – A Knight’s Honour
See more Sandor analysis in The Will to Change: Rereading Sandor
Art by chaoyuanxu