The fates of the Stark children’s direwolves on Game of Thrones would be enough to make Sarah McLachlan weep. Sansa’s Lady was sacrificed on the Kingsroad to keep the peace between the Starks and Lannisters (not that the peace lasted long). Grey Wind was murdered at the Red Wedding alongside his owner Robb; thanks to the Freys, the two were quite literally joined in death. Befitting his name, Rickon’s Shaggydog disappeared for a very long time, only to pop up dead in season six. And a few episodes later, Bran’s Summer gave his life against the forces of winter, buying precious seconds that let his human companions escape out that famous door.
That leaves just two direwolves left alive of the original brood of six: Jon Snow’s Ghost, who has been a boon companion to our hero whenever an episode’s effects budget can afford it, and Arya’s Nymeria, abandoned in the Riverlands all the way back in the show’s second episode. (Want to know how long ago that was? When the episode aired, “Rolling in the Deep” had not yet made its way to No. 1.) For six long years, viewers had heard not a peep of her.
All that changed Sunday night, when Arya and her beloved pet had an impromptu reunion near the Inn at the Crossroads. But, as often happens after so long apart, the two old friends were just in completely different parts of their lives right now. Arya wanted to return home to Winterfell to be with her siblings; Nymeria was more into raging around the countryside with her new friends, who she had way more in common with. (They’re all wolves.)
Though this was the first time Nymeria and her wolfpack have popped up in the show, they’ve been in the background of George R. R. Martin’s novels for a while. Just as in the show, Arya had to leave Nymeria near the Trident in the early parts of A Game of Thrones, but in A Clash of Kings, she learns about a wild pack of wolves that’s been roaming around the war-torn Riverlands. And who better to lead a gigantic wolf pack than a gigantic wolf?
Over the next few books, the wolves cause a fair amount of trouble for the armies in the region — killing scouts, disrupting supply lines, that sort of thing. Like something out of a horror movie, we rarely see them firsthand; everything we know about them comes secondhand, from rumors or survivors. Arya does run into them once, though just as in the show, there’s enough of a bond left between her and Nymeria that she doesn’t get eaten.
Speaking of that bond: Unlike in the show, in which Bran is pretty much the only Stark to have a psychic connection to his direwolf, a few of the Stark kids in the books have “wolf dreams,” and Arya often has visions in which she is Nymeria. The most pivotal one comes near the end of Storm of Swords, when Arya dreams of pulling a dead woman — almost certainly Catelyn Stark — out of a river, setting in motion the events that would lead to Catelyn becoming Lady Stoneheart. But of course, Lady Stoneheart doesn’t show up in the TV show, so you don’t really need to worry about that.
Still, it’s fair to say that — just like Daenerys and her dragons — Nymeria and the wolf pack represent Arya’s id: Nymeria takes revenge on Arya’s enemies and brings her mother back from the dead, in ways that Arya herself can’t. (Some fans believe her wolf pack will play a crucial part in the second Red Wedding that may be coming in the books.) It’s also fair to say that the direwolves represent the Stark children’s connection to their heritage: Sansa’s died early, foreshadowing her time isolated in King’s Landing, while Robb, the King in the North, kept his by his side until their early deaths. That leaves us with two dueling interpretations of Sunday’s scene: Does Nymeria turning away from Arya mean that Arya lost a part of herself in her travels, or that she’s ready to turn away from her life of violence and revenge for good?