More than a decade ago, Kurt Sutter's full throttle crime drama Sons of Anarchy introduced prime time viewers to a wicked world of high speed chases, loud shootouts and family drama all neatly wrapped under the guise of a biker gang. With the fictional town of Charming came some seriously conflicted characters, but few left as indelible of an impression as Clay Morrow, portrayed by Ron Perlman. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, Clay was already on a downward spiral by the series' start. Plagued by crippling osteoarthritis, which threatened to take away his control over the club, he slowly became one of the most hated villains in recent memory. Lying, cheating and back-stabbing his way to the top, he manipulated those closest to him, all for his own self-interests.
At the forefront of Clay's broken moral compass was the looming presence of his stepson Jax, a breath of fresh air who hoped to course correct the club towards a more legitimate source of income. Caught up in jealousy, the bitter rivalry was bound to end in a mess between the two, but few could have foreseen just how dramatic the feud would become before its inevitable conclusion. The epitome of greed and hatred, Clay was the perfect example of the villain everyone loved to hate, but not everything about him always added up. So come along for the ride as we take a look back at 20 Things That Make No Sense About Clay Morrow.
As an opportunist whose self-interests supersede the well-being of SAMCRO, Clay's "take first, ask questions later" mentality was an integral part of his rise to the top. Seeing an opportunity to dethrone John Teller on top of the club, he began relations with his wife Gemma, fortifying his rise to prominence and giving him an ally to take down the club's leader in an elaborate cover-up.
Prior to JT's ill-fated demise, the tension between him and Clay had become apparent. When JT later passed over an accident on his motorcycle, there were red flags regarding how he could be so careless, yet no one questioned whether his bike had been tampered with. Perhaps Clay had built enough trustworthiness to build a reputation with the Sons, but it's highly unlikely no one would have been suspicious.
In many ways, Clay is the most honest character in SoA. Despite his wildly unpredictable choices which endanger the club, he can always be counted on to make a bold move. That's why it's so puzzling that the Sons continued to sit idly by as Clay took the club by the reins and proceeded to run it into the ground.
Although many of Clay's business decisions were responsible for keeping the club profitable, he also acted out against many members. Responsible for the passing of Opie's wife and father as well as an attempted attack against Tara, he got away with a lot before finally being taken out, but he should have never gotten as far as he did. The writing was always on the wall, the club just chose to ignore it until it was too late.
As the voice of the Sons, Clay's reign at the top didn't have many votes to make decisions and he often went against the better advice of other members. Before meeting Mr. Mayhem, he was finally voted out of the MC, severing all ties with the Sons, but if the club's earlier members had paid more attention to their decisions, they could've avoided their fate far more easily.
After the staged motorcycle accident of John Teller, Clay quickly stepped up as the new leader, taking the place of Piney, whose ailing health kept him from the chair. Serving by his side was Gemma, who quickly jumped from one leader to the next. The transition to a life of crime was just as fast and the future of the club appeared clear, making it hard to believe that Clay took over with so little protest.
From the pilot episode, Clay's motivations for staying in control were clear. After two decades of smuggling weapons into Charming, he is left financially crippled, having no money to show for all his years of criminal activities. Of course, he still has a share of income from the Teller-Morrow automotive repair shop, but that's far from enough to provide the lucrative lifestyle to which he'd grown accustomed.
Unless Clay was living well beyond his means, there's little explanation why he or another Sons member should be strapped for money. With hands in a variety of illegal activites, there's been ample opportunities for the Sons members to build up nest eggs on which to retire. Unfortunately, Clay somehow managed to come up short of his retirement goals.
Clay's embittered rivalry with Jax over leadership of the club is established early in season one when he's first depicted wringing his aching hands from pain caused by osteoarthritis, threatening to end his reign due to the club's "no riding, no membership" rule. As the rule states, members who cannot ride or who lose their motorcycles are limited during team meetings, removing their ability to vote in club decisions.
Obviously, Clay's quickly deteriorating hands are need for concern regarding his tenure as top man of SAMCRO, but regardless of his disability, he should still hold his fair share of sway among members. Still, he's shown throughout the series attempting to hide his ailment by injecting cortisone shots into his hands so that he may maintain control of the club and go out with enough retirement money to walk away clean.
For seven seasons, Jax gradually veered the Sons down a spiraling road of chaos paved with good intentions. Determined to see the club transition to a less violent life, he attempted to find a more legitimate source of income which could keep its members financially afloat and protect them from the criminal world.
Comparatively speaking, Clay was the antithesis to Jax. Although Jax would ultimately be the last nail in the coffin, leaving the Sons in a worse position than they started, all of his actions began as a way to undo all of his stepfather's mistakes. It was Clay who initially pushed for the club to get into weapons, establishing the connection with the Irish Kings. One man single-handedly initiated all of the club's problems and the Sons did nothing to prevent it.
Filled with multiple jaw-dropping moments, Sons of Anarchy has never shied away from controversial scenes for the sake of shock value. In the season four episode "Family Recipe," Clay showcases his lack of remorse when he confronts his long-time friend and fellow "First 9" member Piney at his cabin. Concerned about JT's letters implicating him in the JT's accident, he takes out Piney before he can inform the rest of the club.
A founding member of the club, Piney knew Clay since the beginning, making Clay's crime against him that more devastating, but it wasn't the first time Clay hurt another member. He continually acted out against Jax and was responsible for the demise of Opie's wife,Donna. For someone who supposedly cared for the Sons MC, he rarely showed love to many of its members.
Of all the abhorrent actions on SoA, few have topped Clay's act depicted in the season four episode "Hands." After Tara threatens to reveal Clay's involvement in JT's accident to the club, he commits to ending her life. Confronting Clay about his actions, Gemma threatens to take him down with knowledge of the attempt. When Clay becomes aggressive, she futilely tries to take him out, only to be backed into a corner.
Apart from the obvious horrors of Clay's attack, the moment reveals his true nature as he betrays the love of his life. Clay and Gemma's relationship is certainly one of the most strained on the show, but with all his proclaimed affection for her, it still doesn't make sense how he could hurt her with so little thought.
As a leader, there must be an open line of communication as well as a clear vision for the future. As the egocentric leader of SAMCRO, Clay rarely consults the other members during critical decisions, often leaving them in the dark. Primarily, his decisions are made for his own self preservation.
In season one, an ordered attack on Opie Winston's life was concealed after Clay believed he was talking to the ATF. The decision was made to protect Clay from potential backlash from harming another member. Similarly, he never informed the club of the deal with the Galindo Cartel over worries they'd reject the idea. Over and over again, Clay's self interests preceded the better interests of the club, prompting viewers to question why the club kept their loyalty for so long.
After Gemma endangers the lives of Jax's two sons in a car crash, she's faced with the difficult decision of returning to Clay to repair her relationship with her family. At Jax's request, she begins showing Clay affection despite his recent attack against her. With Clay involved in a string of home invasions targeted at the Sons, Jax needs the dirt on him to finally take him down.
Although Gemma's motivation for returning to her former partner is evident, Clay's decision isn't so clear cut. Fully aware of Jax's suspicions, Clay surely understood that the club had leverage over Gemma, making her a potential weapon to use against him, yet he takes her in despite knowing she could be helping the club. It's a glaring weakness against his character and a questionable decision that cost him dearly.
Originally of Irish descent, Clay's first involvement with SAMCRO came after he returned to California after serving in the Air Force in Vietnam. A heavy advocate of entering the weapon trade, Clay's connection to the club's criminal enterprise began sometime in the late '80s when he traveled to Ireland.
Sometime during his stay, Clay began associating with the True IRA as well as their senior council The Irish Kings. His working relationship became so trusted that Gaalen O'Shay, a leading member of the council, would later refuse to talk with the Sons unless Clay was reinstated as leader of SAMCRO. Although it's understandable why the Irish Kings would trust Clay after years of working together, what's never explained is how he built up so much respect when the Kings showed so little interest in working with the rest of the Sons.
Despite being an all male club, the Sons aren't lacking strong female figures. As the old lady of two former leaders, Gemma's word is treated as law, making her a prominent leader and puppeteer behind the scenes. Chief among her abilities was her ways of manipulating Jax and Clay. Through deceit and carefully thought out lies, she managed to push the club into catering to her every whim.
Although Gemma was always one of Clay's weak spots, they had strikingly similar mindsets, particularly when it came to seeking control over the club. Clay continually lied and hid secrets during their relationship, making decisions without Gemma's knowledge but ultimately Gemma's ability to manipulate Clay made her the more prominent antagonist of the series while Clay's willingness to allow it made him more vulnerable.
Often referred to as Hamlet on wheels, Clay Morrow's character has been compared to King Claudius, the vengeful monarch of the Shakespearean play who ends his brother's life for the throne of Denmark, later becoming the stepfather to Prince Hamlet. Since the beginning, the parallels between Clay and Jax's relationship and that of Shakespeare's characters were apparent, but little is known about how the tainted relationship began.
As second in command of the club, Jax's presence as the future leader of SAMCRO immediately put pressure on Clay's shoulders, but the feud was contained momentarily out of respect for the two's mutual love for Gemma. Sometime before Jax grew in power, however, there had to be tension between the two. While it isn't known how the two treated each other before the show, we'd assume their relationship wasn't always civil.
A number of bromances highlighted the brotherhood of SAMCRO over the course of the series' seven year run, but Clay's sinister nature has often left him the odd man out, painting him as the most hardened and emotionally distant member of the club.
Despite his manipulative ways, Clay wasn't without friends. As Sergeant-at-Arms, Tig served as Clay's right-hand, carrying out orders with little questions. However, despite his loyalty, Tig's friendship appears more as a working relationship which serves Clay's benefit more than Tig's. Likewise, Clay's relationship with Gemma was often over the power of maintaining the club with both rarely displaying affection towards each other. By series' end, Clay is depicted as a primarily self-motivated villain who manipulated those closest to him, rather than someone who built lasting relationships, making him the most unlikable member of the Sons.
In season four, the Sons enter business with the Galindo Cartel, supplying the club with illegal substances which Clay agrees to mule into the country. Operating under members Romeo Parada and Luis Torres, it's later revealed that the two are undercover operatives working for the CIA. In season five, Romeo and Luis return to visit Clay after he's usurped as leader of SAMCRO. Working to maintain their relationship, they offer to push Jax aside and return Clay to the top. Refusing to have his stepson permanently removed, he declines the deal, leaving the Sons with an opportunity to cut ties.
Although Clay shows mercy to Jax, his decision doesn't fit his character. The deal would have restored his power and solved his problems. With so much to gain, his refusal to accept the cartel's offer was an odd decision that remains questionable.
Riddled with symbolism and lingering questions left unanswered, fans have taken to message boards since SoA's series finale to address popular fan theories. One such theory suggests that JT may not have been Jax's father, making Clay the only logical choice. Sometime during his reign as leader, JT lost touch with Gemma, giving Clay the opportunity to become close. Despite suspicions that they were seeing each other, JT could've easily ignored signs that Jax wasn't his, especially if he wanted a son of his own.
Another strong indicator of Clay's relation to Jax is the birth certificate for Thomas, Jax's younger brother. For a split second, Thomas' birth certificate is shown, confirming he's related to JT, but Jax's certificate is never mentioned, bringing up further suspicions that Gemma may have been hiding the identity of his real father.
As a morally corrupt leader, Clay's demise was always an inevitability, but an unforeseen outcome which viewers never saw coming was his transition from the dastardly villain to the down-and-out, sympathetic character. After being usurped by Jax, Clay was stripped of his kutte, had his club-related tattoos blacked out and was ultimately framed for the demise of Damon Pope, leading to his incarceration. With his end looming near, he confided in Gemma, who reluctantly agreed to stay close to him for the sake of the club.
By the end, Clay went out in an ugly way, all of it a result of his terrible decisions. Still, his lonely state and sad exit rewarded him with some undeserved sympathy and left viewers with some seriously confusing emotions.
In 1993, following the crash of John Teller, Clay took over the reins as leader of SAMCRO, making him the second longest leader of the club's history. Despite his backstabbing ways, Clay managed to keep the Sons afloat for more than two decades before arthritis threatened his position. Compared to Jax, who began the series in strict protest of SAMCRO's criminal activities, Clay was the begrudging villain who didn't want to relinquish his power over the club, but in due time, Jax's inability to separate business and family became his downfall.
Although some could argue Clay's relentless nature and unpredictability made him a worse leader, it was Jax's actions which nearly destroyed the Sons forever. Next to each other, Clay is easier to identify as the bad guy, but as his results show, he was a more effective leader.
In season four, Clay's actions finally catch up to him when he's confronted by Opie over the passing of Piney, leading to a scuffle. Unable to leave his hospital bed, Jax pays him a visit, promising to end his life over the failed attempt on Tara. Ultimately, Clay is left alive as the Sons need him to finalize a deal between the IRA and the Galindo Cartel, but it's the first moment where he appears truly vulnerable.
Clay's big exit would come in season six after the Sons intercepted a prison transport vehicle, staging his demise to look like the result of a shootout with the Irish King member Gaalen O'Shay. Clay knew his time was limited, but with all his despicable actions, it still came as a surprise he wasn't taken out sooner.
When asked about writing Clay's end in the seasons six episode "Aon Rud Persanta," Kurt Sutter referred to the experience as "just another day." For many characters of SoA, Sutter's response perfectly sums up their early exits. From the beginning, Clay's fate was sealed. As Jax gradually took over the reins of the club, the former leader slipped into the background, finally capping off his story with a long-awaited goodbye.
As the biggest antagonist of the series since the pilot, Clay's final scene had many viewers hoping for a grandiose finale with the character going out in a blaze of glory, but, by the end, the down-and-out villain took his punishment lying down. Accepting his demise, he allows Jax to take him out in front of Gemma and the rest of the Sons members.
Which aspect of Clay's character made the least amount of sense to you? Let us know in the comments!