‘Game of Thrones’: Arya, Nymeria, and Why the Direwolves Still Matter

     July 24, 2017

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Last season, I wrote an impassioned plea (or perhaps just a rant) about how Game of Thrones has done a disservice to the direwolves. Without magic, Game of Thrones is just The Wars of the Roses set in a strange new land, and at that time (in Season 6), the series was forgetting a lot about the mythology that makes this story special. That was rectified further into that season, but the direwolves remained an overlooked part of the lore. Shaggydog and Summer, who belonged to Rickon Stark and Bran Stark respectively, were both brought back just to be killed off. And Ghost, Jon Snow’s trusty direwolf companion, is almost never seen. Instead of being an integral part to the Battle of the Bastards (as Grey Wind was alongside Robb Stark during his battles — and a major reason why he won many of them), he was sidelined, and treated like a common pet.

There is nothing common about the direwolves. In the first season of Game of Thrones, it’s revealed that they (along with other magical beings like dragons) were thought to have died out centuries ago. When Robb Stark finds six puppies alive and their mother killed, each of the Stark children adopts one. This means something. Not only are direwolves massive and can be ferocious, they also form a bond with their owners that is so strong, the owner can (if they cultivate it) actually enter into the animal’s mind and control it, even traveling as the animal.

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Image via HBO

In the books, the only Stark who does this successfully is Bran with Summer, and it’s understandable that given the budgetary constraints and narrative challenges of “warging” that those elements might be played down (in fact, the showrunners and some episodic directors have spoken to this directly, choosing dragons or, say, more Wun Wun over direwolves). But at their core, the direwolves are also special because of how they are so closely tied to the fates of their owners (and how they are connected to each other, including being able to know — and sometimes see — where there kin are). Lady, Sansa’s direwolf, is executed unjustly by the Lannisters, just as Sansa is terrorized and abused by them. Shaggydog was described as a wild and feral beast, much like his young master, Rickon; both died at the hands of the Boltons. Summer was killed by White Walkers, while Bran is haunted and hunted by them, even now potentially being psychically linked to the Night King. Grey Wind fought with Robb and died with him, and his head was sewn onto Robb’s corpse as a symbol of their connection (and their defeat). Ghost, like Jon, is a survivor, but is also (as mention above) largely forgotten and rarely shown on screen — a colossal waste.

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