Scenes where nice folks abandon faithful dogs “for their own good” are among the easiest possible emotional buttons to nail. On Game of Thrones, Arya and Nymeria have gotten this right twice. And yet, Sunday night’s episode, “The Last of the Starks,” passed up what could have been Jon Snow’s Wendy and Lucy moment in favor of a scene where Jon unceremoniously pawns Ghost off on Tormund before traveling south, explaining that King’s Landing is no place for a direwolf. This may thematically echo Sansa’s earlier statement that Stark men do not fare well in the south, but it’s also disappointing to see Jon not so much as give his Good Boy a hug goodbye or even a pat, especially after fans were so excited to see Ghost reappear after his absence throughout all of season seven.
This is a shame, because Ghost is one of the last surviving members of the pilot’s puppy pile, and the one who managed to stay by his master’s side longer than any of the rest. So in honor of what looks to be our final glimpse of one of this series’s most memorable beasts, here are the incredible journeys of the Stark siblings’ direwolves, away from the north and (for one, anyway) back again.
Jon’s direwolf Ghost is now one of two living members of the original pack. This is all the more impressive because in the show’s first episode, Ghost was the runty albino of the litter that almost got left behind. Ghost accompanied Jon to Castle Black and journeyed alongside him beyond the Wall, and before this year was last seen resting by his master’s dead-then-not-dead body in season six (like Summer did for Bran … who we’ll get to). In season eight, Ghost fought at the Battle of Winterfell and stood alongside the surviving soldiers at the funeral pyre. Despite the recurring motif of direwolves and their owners facing unfortunate fates when they’re separated, Ghost seems to have done all right for himself away from Jon for the whole of season seven, and hopefully will continue to thrive as he ghosts the rest of the series. Maybe Jon’s explanation that the south is no place for a direwolf suggests something about how Jon now feels more Targaryen than Stark as he leaves Winterfell for King’s Landing under Dany’s banner … or maybe direwolves are just too expensive to animate when there are dragons to attend to.
While season seven was conspicuously lacking in Ghost appearances, it wasn’t entirely devoid of direwolves. In the season’s second episode, “Stormborn,” audiences finally learned what happened to Nymeria after Arya forced her to escape into the woods to save her from Cersei “Kill Shelter” Lannister way back in season one. The pup has since grown into a fearsome, wild creature, and has become the alpha of a pack of very aggro wolves, which by Westerosi standards is absolutely a feminist win. When she encounters Nymeria on her way back to Winterfell, Arya recognizes the direwolf and asks it to come with her back to their shared birthplace. But much like how Arya is no longer the girl she once was, tragedy has similarly set Nymeria on a different life path. So Nymeria turns away from her former companion … but not before calling off the wolf pack that wants to rip Arya to shreds, which, again, by Westerosi standards is women supporting women!
Summer was a very good boy to the last, accompanying his master as companion and protector from the bedside where Bran lay in a coma at the beginning of the series to the Three-Eyed Raven’s home beyond the Wall. He also was Bran, sort of, as Bran honed his abilities by warging into Summer. Alas, the Very Good Boy indeed sacrificed himself to protect Meera and hold off the wights attacking the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven in season six’s “The Door.” Fingers crossed that this isn’t foreshadowing for what happens to Ghost in the upcoming Battle of Winterfell. It would be Hedwig and Harry all over again.
Real talk: It makes more sense that Shaggydog is called “Shaggydog” in the books, where Rickon is something like 2 or 3 years old and more or less preverbal. It’s a cute name, but coming from a grade-school-aged character in the series, it raised concerns about Rickon’s acuity and chances for survival in the game of thrones.
But we are not here to shade a dead dog, and poor Shaggy had a rough lot accompanying the late baby Stark in his escape from Winterfell, fighting alongside Summer to protect Bran and Rickon from Wildlings along the way. Soon after, Bran sent Shaggydog, along with Rickon and their companion Osha, to the Last Hearth for safekeeping under the protection of House Umber. But after Roose Bolton declared himself warden, the Umbers demonstrated their true colors with a certain mafioso flair, presenting Ramsay Bolton with Shaggydog’s severed head in order to prove the identity of their ward turned captive.
How many decapitated direwolf heads are too many decapitated direwolf heads? Because the head count is “two” and this list isn’t over yet. Grey Wind followed Robb and his bannermen through battles from Harrenhal to Riverrun before the two became casualties of the Red Wedding. In a final act of mockery, opposing soldiers sewed the direwolf’s head to Robb’s body and propped it on a horse, a horrible sight for Arya to see when she made it to the Twins.
The fate of poor, sweet Lady was a harbinger of things to come, as it was one of the first cruel and senseless deaths that would become this show’s signature. Lady was sentenced to death by Cersei for something she — the best behaved pup — didn’t even do, serving as a cold lesson for Sansa that nice manners won’t get you too far in King’s Landing. Still, despite Lady being the first direwolf to die, Sansa is a Stark who survived, with her direwolf’s memory remaining a symbol of what she’s lost and learned. And sure, Cersei’s been responsible for hundreds of deaths and had Jaime push Bran in the series’s first episode, but killing Lady is truly her original sin.