Everything you don't know about The Mountain

When Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane crushed Oberyn Martell's skull like a watermelon in one of the most gruesome Game of Thrones deaths to date, the character went down in pop culture history. From that shocking moment, fans of HBO's hit fantasy series have been dying to know more about Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the 6-foot-9-inch, 400-pound Icelandic strongman who has been portraying The Mountain since season 4 of the show. It probably won't surprise you to learn that his workout routine would leave most mortal men needing weeks of recovery time, but there's much more to Björnsson — or Thor to his friends and family — than just squats and dead lifts. Here's everything you probably didn't know about The Mountain That Rides.

He used to be a pro basketball player

As a teen, Björnsson was actually a pretty slender guy, at least by his current standards. He was nowhere near as stacked as he is today, but his height made him an ideal candidate for a career in basketball. "I was always taller than everybody else," he told GQ, and this natural advantage didn't go unnoticed by Iceland's national team. He was selected for the under-17 and under-18 sides in the mid-2000s and went pro in the 07-08 season, playing as a center for Division 1 team FSU. He was made eligible for the NBA in 2010, but he wasn't drafted and his career ended with a bad injury.

"I was always getting injured," he said. "I injured my ankles quite badly. I had to have surgery. So the second time I had an operation I decided to take a break from basketball to heal my foot." It was during this time away from the game that his love affair with weightlifting started, and his phenomenal transformation into the man we now know as The Mountain began. "I could train more then, and I just fell in love with the weights, fell in love with training hard, started to put weight on quite fast, started to get strong really fast," he explained. "I saw results."

He comes from a family of giants

They aren't anywhere near as thick, but Björnsson's father and grandfather are just as tall as he is, if not a little taller. Let's take nothing away from the strongman and actor; he achieved his colossal frame through hard work and perseverance, but even he admits that genetics have given him a huge advantage over most other bodybuilders. "The genes are genius," he said in an Instagram post that showed just how gigantic his family is, with three generations of men getting fitted for ridiculously large suits — the towering trio make the couch behind them look like it was made for kids.

Björnsson described his granddaddy (who looks remarkably young despite working hard labor on a farm for over 30 years) as a "great man [and a] great friend" on Facebook, where he has shown himself to be quite the family man. In a separate post, he posed with his parents on the rainy streets of Manchester, England, and it looks as though there's plenty of height on his mother's side, too. Even by Icelandic standards (where the average woman stands at 5-foot-6-inches tall and the average man is 5-foot-11-inches [compared to the U.S. average heights of 5-foot-3-inches and 5-foot-9-inches respectively]), these guys are truly giants.

Being so big makes day-to-day life a challenge

When Björnsson was offered the part of The Mountain in Game of Thrones back in 2013, he assumed that someone was messing with him. "I thought that it was some kind of joke," he told Men's Health about his casting. "I had no acting experience. I was just a big dude competing in Strongman." If he wasn't such a huge specimen, he never would have been given the chance to be part of one of the most successful TV series in history. However, being so big makes some of the simple stuff in life a real challenge for him.

In the same interview, Björnsson told the fitness mag that fitting into regular-sized seats is never easy, recounting a time that he got stuck in between two old ladies on a nightmare long haul flight to Malaysia. "I asked the one on the end to change because I go the bathroom a lot, but she wouldn't do it," he said. "It was the worst flight ever. I felt like I was in old lady jail." Being so heavy also impacts his breathing and makes basic things like walking an effort. "I don't feel very well at this weight," he admitted. "I feel tired, because I have to move more weight."

He's not the world's strongest man

It's hard to imagine that a stronger man than Björnsson exists, but, despite his repeated attempts to be crowned The World's Strongest Man, the Icelander has never been able to secure the title. He's finished in the top three every year since 2012, coming in second in 2017 after an incredibly close contest with British winner Eddie Hall. The margin of victory was so narrow that it came down to a single Viking press — both Hall and Björnsson managed 15 reps, but the Game of Thrones star was penalized for double-dipping on his last one, and that deduction ultimately cost him the title. Furious at the decision, he took to social media to vent his frustration.

"This weekend I was robbed," he said in an Instagram post (via The Reykjavík Grapevine) that he deleted sometime later. "The integrity of my beloved sport is in question." The disgruntled runner-up later told Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið that he asked for the footage of his performance to be reviewed, but the judges refused to budge. "They rejected my motion for an appeal and did not look at the videos of the rep that cost me the title," he said. "It is incredibly frustrating when something you've worked this hard for is taken away from you."

He smashed a 1,000-year-old Viking record

The fact that a Viking press cost Björnsson the World's Strongest Man crown in 2017 is a little ironic, considering that he made headlines in his home nation when he smashed an ancient Viking record just a few years earlier. In 2015, the actor and athlete bested the incredible feat of legendary Icelander Orm Storulfsson, who (according to the Icelandic Saga book) hoisted the mast of his ship (a 1,433-pound, 10-meter-long log) on his shoulders and carried it alone. He managed to walk three steps with the thing before collapsing under its immense weight.

"[He] held the record from 1,000 years ago," Björnsson said of his compatriot after Entertainment Weekly asked him about the heaviest thing he'd ever lifted. "It took, like, seven mortal men to help him lift it onto his shoulders. He took those three steps and then his back actually broke from the enormous pressure. He was never the same. He died not long after that."

He has a Pomeranian

His mountainous appearance might make him look like he's a hard man, but Björnsson also has a soft side — as the number of selfies with his Pomeranian on his social media pages prove beyond doubt. Named Asterix, after the famously cunning Viking from the French comic books, the tiny dog often appears in pics with his famous daddy, and the contrast between the two is somewhere between shocking and super cute. Asterix even has his own Instagram account, which Björnsson runs personally.

"My name is Asterix, born 25.1.16," the Pom's profile reads. "I love to play, cuddle & take naps!" The adorable pup has even become one of The Mountain's latest workout partners, with the unlikely pair going out for runs together. "The most cardio I've done in years," Björnsson captioned a video of he and Asterix doing sprints, with the dog doing a great job at keeping up despite his much shorter legs. "#TimeForPizza."

He's been accused of domestic violence

His relationship with his dog is undeniably heartwarming, but not everybody thinks that Björnsson is a gentle giant. Two of his former partners (one of whom is the mother of his young daughter) have publicly accused him of domestic abuse. In a June 2017 interview with Fréttablaðið (via The Reykjavík Grapevine), Thelma Björk Steimann said the Game of Thrones star had a jealous streak. "Hafþór deleted all my male friends from my phonebook and from MSN messenger, so I couldn't contact them anymore."

Her accusations became a lot more serious in nature as the harrowing interview continued, with Steimann revealing that she feared for her life during a vacation with The Mountain. "Our room was on the twentieth floor, and he threatened to throw me off the balcony," she said. "He pushed me, shoved me and slapped me. The day after, I was so afraid that everyone had heard what had happened, but he apologised and said it 'would never happen again.'" According to Steimann, that promise wasn't kept.

She told the Icelandic newspaper that Björnsson pushed her down some stairs in a city center nightclub, cutting her legs. "When I sat at the emergency room that Sunday morning, I was determined to leave him," she revealed. "I felt so ashamed to be caught up in this, but while being treated it was discovered that I was pregnant. I thought that meant we needed to make it work and stay together." Björnsson has denied all allegations.

He has his own brand of vodka

Björnsson's Game of Thrones notoriety has made him a man in high demand with advertisers. He was the face of SodaStream's controversial "f*** plastic bottles" campaign, which shamed consumers for drinking mineral water from harmful plastic bottles in part by dressing up as Santa Claus and confronting unsuspecting shoppers. The company was taken to court after they aired an advert in Australia parodying Cersei Lannister's iconic walk of shame, with the International Bottled Water Association claiming that they are being unfairly targeted over other soft drinks.

So far, Björnsson's own branded drink hasn't landed him in any legal trouble, even though it might as well be called Game of Thrones vodka. He is part owner of (and spokesperson for) The Icelandic Mountain Vodka, which is made in "the land of fire and ice," according to the official website. The people behind the product also make an Eagle Gin and have two further drinks based on Icelandic folklore currently in the process of being refined. "The Giant, The Eagle, The Dragon and The Taurus — Legends say that these mythological creatures are the guardians that protect Iceland from its enemies," the distillery's mission statement reads. "We are making a line of bottles, and each bottle will represent our vision of the guardians."

He eats an insane amount of food

Gaining mass is as much about eating as it is working out, and when you workout as hard as Björnsson does, you need to eat a lot. When the strongman competitor got tired of people asking him just how much he eats to get so big, he decided to post his diet plan for The World's Strongest Man 2016 on Instagram, and it was insane. In preparation for the contest (which he ultimately lost to American Brian Shaw), he was consuming an estimated 10 pounds of food a day, which was providing him with a whopping 10,000 calories.

"This is a lot and I don't recommend you to try this," he warned followers before revealing his massive daily menu. By noon time he had already put away eight eggs, 400 grams of beef, 400 grams of chicken, 800 grams of potato as well as servings of blueberries, strawberries, avocado and spinach. His last meal of the day was at 10:30 in the evening, when he would whip up 6 eggs, 30 grams of almonds, 50 grams of peanut butter and some protein powder into a nice supper shake. That's without mentioning the second helping of beef, full salmon dish, and several bananas he was having in between. With a schedule as packed as this it's amazing that he actually found time to train.

His current girlfriend is just 5'2''

As a man who stands 6-foot-9-inches, you would think that Björnsson would go for taller ladies, just to stand a slightly better chance of being able to look them in the eye on occasion. This isn't the case, however, as The Mountain's most recent relationship highlights in hilarious fashion. The hulking actor is currently dating petite Canadian Kelsey Henson, who, at just 5-feet-2-inches, is absolutely tiny in comparison to him. The pair met at restaurant chain Earls, in Fort McMurray, in September 2017, with Henson initiating contact by asking for a picture with the Game of Thrones star. By the new year they were a genuine item, with Henson flying out to Iceland to ring in 2018 with her new man.

Like the rest of us, news website Unilad was wondering how such a seemingly impractical relationship could possibly work. They found the answer on Instagram, where the petite Canadian was asked for the logistics by a follower. "How do you kiss?" the person commented. "Do you jump in his arms every time and wrap your legs around his waist? Please post a picture of this impressive action." She stopped short of posting photographic evidence, but Henson did offer up an explanation: "He bends, I tip toe," she replied. "Or just say screw it, pick me up."

He almost "crushed" Conor McGregor

Recognizing that his Game of Thrones fame had made him the new benchmark for aspiring bodybuilders, Björnsson released his own line of t-shirts with the phrase "Training to fight The Mountain" emblazoned across the chest, though not many people who wear one actually mean it. Conor McGregor isn't many people, however. The UFC champion happened across the Icelander in the gym while training for his fight with Jose Aldo and asked for a photo. One thing led to another and before long the two were engaged in a bare knuckle sparring session. The way the Irishman tells it, he got the better of the spontaneous bout.

"That's a big man … and I still folded him up," McGregor said at a UFC 194 promo event (via MMAJunkie). "He tried to grab me and tried to pull my head off and I defended, freed the head. I was like, this motherf***er is so big, I have to start smacking him to the body. But I sunk him good. Not even a Mountain can take these shots from me."

Many who watched the widely circulated video commented that Björnsson was taking it easy on McGregor, which the MMA star denied. According to The Mountain himself, however, this was most certainly the case. "I had to hold myself back, because I have too much power for a man of his size," the massive actor told RT. "If I would push all my power into him, I would crush him."

He was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy

Björnsson would fancy his chances in a fight with most men (and the majority of the animal kingdom, at that), but even mountains aren't immune to the simple virus, it would seem. In 2017, the strongman and actor revealed that he had been diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, a condition in which the muscles on the face become weak or even paralyzed. According to WebMD, it's caused by trauma to the seventh cranial nerve (also known as the facial nerve) and will leave the sufferer with drooping muscles on one side of the face.

"Last Sunday I got very sick," The Mountain said in an Instagram post announcing the diagnosis. "On Tuesday morning I woke up and the right side of my face felt kind of numb. It got worse over the course of the day and then it got completely paralysed." He explained that his friends sent him to the ER after fearing that he was having a stroke, but it turned out to be Bell's Palsy. The athlete wrapped up the detailed post by telling his fans not to be offended if he didn't seem happy to meet them at an upcoming strongman event. "Please keep that in mind if you come to Europe's Strongest Man tomorrow and get pictures with me that I'm not in a bad mood I just can't really smile for pictures," he said.

He's as excited for Cleganebowl as the rest of us

For years now, Game of Thrones fans have been discussing the theory that a final fight to the death between The Mountain and his brother Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) will take place. Cleganebowl, as the theory has been dubbed, was first put forward by a 4Chan user back in 2013, according to KnowYourMeme. The anonymous user predicted that the Clegane brothers would do battle in Cersei Lannister's eventual trial-by-combat, with The Hound fighting on behalf of the faith.

The way the show is going suggests that The Hound will ultimately take up the sword against his resurrected big brother in the final season, and The Mountain is just as excited by the prospect of that battle as everybody else is. Björnsson told Entertainment Weekly that he will "100 percent" win the much-anticipated showdown, and he predicted that it would end in typically brutal fashion. "I haven't seen it yet in my head how I would kill him, but somehow I would smash his head or kill him like that," he said. "I think the fight would be quick rather than something long. I think people would be expecting a big fight but I would finish him really fast. It would be a surprise to people." It sure would!