A Song of Ice and Fire‘s Sandor Clegane, the Hound, is a vile man, a murderous mercenary who knows no scruples. But his impassioned rants against the hypocrisy of the knights of the Seven Kingdoms–besides providing him with some wonderful lines–give him a little redemptive touch.
In A Storm of Swords, before his battle with Beric Dondarrion, as he is accused by the Brotherhood without Banners (AKA the Knights of the Hollow Hill or The Forgotten Fellowship) of atrocities committed by the Lannisters, the Hound fights back:
“You server the Lannisters of Casterly Rock,” said Thoros.
“Once. Me and thousands more. Is each of us guilty of the crimes of others?” Clegane spat. “Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.”
Lem and Jack-Be-Lucky began to shout at him, but Dondarrion raised a hand for silence. “Say what you mean, Clegane.”
“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 around the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just the same. 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 your shit don’t stink. You hear me?“
After he has cheated a ferryman of his fare by falsely promising to pay him on his ‘knight’s honor’ and is accused of breaking his vow, the Hound says:
Knights have no bloody honor.
Later too, the Hound lets an innkeeper know he does not want to be thought of, or addressed as if he were, a knight:
“I don’t want no trouble, ser,” the innkeep said.
“Then don’t call me ser.”
The Hound is right, of course: there is little distinction, often, in the behavior of sellswords and knights (as Sansa Stark painfully finds out); the vows of knighthood are all too easily broken.
In leveling these charges against the exalted figure of the knight, Clegane forces a confrontation with the uncomfortable truth that renders the distinction between mercenary and professional soldier a tenuous one: both are in the business of killing. The mercenary’s acts are all too quickly prejudged as driven by little more than selfish considerations but the soldier may often be granted the privilege of elaborate ideological cover for his actions.
This fragility of the distinction between ‘the man who fights for cause and country’ and ‘the man who fights for purse alone’ suggests a greater moral responsibility on the former. But as the Hound sagely–if crudely–points out, all too often soldiers (and their leaders) are content to merely dress up their actions with puffery and bombast and pompous proclamations of codes of conduct. It is the easiness with which those may be discarded that is the target of the Hound’s ire. And it should be ours too.