The last time we saw The Mountain on “Game of Thrones”, he was hurtling to his death in a giant fireball at the end of a fight with his brother, the Hound, in King’s Landing.
Since then, Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, the 6-foot-9, 200kg (441-pound) actor who played the Mountain, has moved on.
He’s in Florida, defending his World’s Strongest Man title, with the finals on Monday (AEST).
Bjornsson, a native of Iceland, first won the title last year in the Philippines, and he may have the upper hand, now that he can devote more time to competition since “GoT” wrapped.
The signs were very promising for the mythically-sized beast early, when he qualified for Monday’s final in the first two days of the event.
Bjornsson was able to relax a bit on Sunday for the third day of the Strong Man showdown after already doing enough to make it through to the final 10.
It came after he says he suffered a shock injury on the opening day of the event, which many predicted was the end of his title hopes.
Bjornsson tore his plantar fascia in his foot — but returned on day two to stun the competition with his deadlift and overhead press — moving him straight into the final.
He deadlifted a 375kg car seven times to win Group 1, while he came second in Group 1 in the overhead press of a 155kg log.
Also in the final is Britain’s 2017 champion Brian Shaw — who is trying to reverse the 2018 showdown in the Philippines where he finished third to Bjornsson and Poland’s Mateusz Kieliszkowski.
The Mountain told The New York Post at the start of the competition he is more ready than ever to go back-to-back as the strongest man on the planet because he is now longer weighed down by his Game of Thrones commitments.
“You have to be willing to work 365 days a year and be absolutely obsessed with what you want to achieve and if you’re willing to go that far then you’re able to be the World’s Strongest Man,” Bjornsson, 30, said.
“I’m happy I was part of the show. It opened up a lot of other opportunities for me and I’m just grateful for that. I’m doing more acting, but I’m also focusing on strongman. Obviously, my goal is to be back-to-back champion.”
While filming “Game of Thrones,” Bjornsson had to divide his time between the show and training for WSM — and that wasn’t always easy. It took seven hours to transform Bjornsson for the final battle between GoT’s Clegane brothers, where the Mountain’s helmet is taken off to reveal Qyburn’s back-from-the-almost-dead experiment, Coupling that with long shooting days — one lasting 18 hours — finding time to train was tough.
“The days could be very long and tiring. Training while your body needs rest can be even worse,” he says.
Finding the resources to train could also be difficult. “We need very specific equipment to train for World’s Strongest Man and it’s very hard to find this equipment in a normal gym. That’s why I have my own gym back in Iceland,” says Bjornsson.
Growing up in Iceland, Bjornsson knew all about World’s Strongest Man because his fellow countrymen Jon Pall Sigmarsson and Magnus Ver Magnusson are each four-time titleholders.
They opened the doors for us, because we’re a small nation and to have won it nine times already, that’s very impressive. I think it shows that something is in the genes or maybe it’s the water,” he says.
With 11 WSM titles, the US is the only country with more wins than Iceland. One of Bjornsson’s top competitors in this year’s finals is Brian Shaw, representing the United States. Shaw has four WSM titles, with his last coming in 2016.
“I can very much relate to being on the road and filming and trying to train. It’s a whole different ball game,” Shaw said.
Shaw has a show premiering on the History Channel on July 7 called “The Strongest Man in History,” The show attempts to replicate the feats of strength from strongmen throughout history.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword if you will, because it’s great to have the opportunities but it also at times can take away from the training and recovery that you need to be the best at strongman,” says Shaw, who says he’s never seen a single episode of “Game of Thrones.”
Bjornsson’s competitors in the 42nd annual WSM finals my have their sights set on knocking him off the strongman throne, but to quote “GoT’s” Sir Bronn of the Blackwater: “He’s freakish big and freakish strong. And quicker than you’d expect for a man of that size.”
When asked whether the quote really fits him, Bjornsson says it does: “I’m freakish strong and freakish fast for my size, and I’m freakish big, so yes.”