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Respect Ghost: How ‘Game of Thrones’ Botched Jon’s Relationship With His Direwolf

After surviving the Battle of Winterfell, the runt of the litter is heading north with Tormund and seemingly being written off the show. We have one question: Why?

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Through seven exhausting seasons of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow has manned the Wall at Castle Black, ventured beyond the Wall while encountering thousands of wildlings, had cave sex, stared death right in the face, been murdered by his own men, come back to life, fought Ramsay Bolton for the future of House Stark, been proclaimed King in the North, and unknowingly boned his Targaryen aunt. And you know who’s been by Jon’s side through virtually all of his exploits? (Well, except for the sex stuff.) His loyal direwolf, Ghost.

On a series replete with ice zombies, giant CGI dragons, and exorbitant set pieces, the direwolves on Thrones have rarely gotten a fair shake, despite being present from the very beginning. In the pilot, Ned Stark presented each of his children with a pup from the litter of a slain direwolf mother—plus a white runt of the pack for his then-presumed bastard, Jon. Like Targaryens and their dragons, direwolves and Starks have a spiritual bond, one which is telegraphed more explicitly in George R.R. Martin’s novels, but mostly has been relegated to Bran’s erstwhile warging into his doggo Summer in the series. Even without many explicit scenes of near-telepathic Stark-direwolf bonding, the relationship between the Starks and their wolves has been made clear enough. The direwolves are more than just man’s best friend, and happen to be just as adorable.

But Thrones being Thrones, the direwolves have also been subjected to several heartbreaking deaths. Sansa lost her pup Lady on the Kingsroad in Season 1, Robb’s Grey Wind was slain at the Red Wedding, Summer died protecting Bran from wights in Season 6, and Rickon’s Shaggydog was beheaded to confirm his owner’s Stark lineage that same season. (Meanwhile, Arya’s Nymeria has gone a little feral and made a makeshift wolfpack of her own in the woods of the North.) The fates of Lady and Grey Wind are merely the tragic product of Martin’s text, but still, it’s been a real bummer. And it’s left Ghost as our lone direwolf representative for large chunks of the series. It’s also created a paradox: As much as we want Ghost to be given screen time—an increasingly rare commodity as Thrones has reached its endgame—it feels like every appearance could portend a final, devastating direwolf death.

Well, the good news is the antepenultimate episode of the final season, “The Last of the Starks,” has probably ensured Ghost’s safety for the remainder of the series. The bad news: It appears Jon is permanently cutting ties with his direwolf—and doesn’t even seem that torn up about it.

Keeping his promise to Dany—who has grown disconcertingly suspicious of her nephew-lover ever since she discovered he has a stronger claim to the throne—Jon marches his depleted army to King’s Landing to take care of Cersei Lannister and put the “Last War” to bed. But he wants Ghost to remain in the North; it’s where he belongs. (As does Jon, if we’re being honest!) Ghost wouldn’t fare well in the temperate climes of King’s Landing, to say nothing of the prospect of another deadly battle, this time against an army of 20,000 sellswords. So while Jon heads south, it’s Tormund Giantsbane—with plans to head back beyond the Wall, where it’s once again safe for wildlings to roam—who will be taking ownership of Ghost for the time being. If Jon casually brushing aside Ghost for the final two episodes isn’t devastating enough, he doesn’t even give his pup a final pet. He gives Sam Tarly and Tormund giant bro-hugs; all he has for Ghost is a curt nod. Ghost is crushed—somebody please give him a biscuit and a snuggle.

Ghost has been with Jon through thick and thin—from warning Jon that a reanimated member of the Night’s Watch was trying to murder Lord Commander Mormont in the first season, all the way to fighting against the army of the dead last week. (A fight, it seems, which tore the poor fella’s right ear off.) I can understand why Jon would want to leave Ghost in the North, and I appreciate that it should ensure his canine companion’s safety moving forward. But the bizarre indifference to leaving Ghost—for possibly the last time, depending on what happens in the South—was an inexcusable narrative choice. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have messed up the import of the Jon-Ghost dynamic (among many other things).

Perhaps Thrones meant to demonstrate that Jon’s dismissal of Ghost was indicative of the character further embracing his Targaryen lineage. After all, he’s now a dragon rider and has a similarly powerful bond with Rhaegal. But the opportunity to extend Rhaegal and Jon’s relationship was abruptly cut short thanks to Euron Greyjoy’s 360 no-scope spear game. Jon went from having a direwolf and a dragon in his corner to having … Ser Davos, who may be great in a pinch when the troops are calling for a tasty cauldron of cream of onion, but, by his own admission, isn’t much of a fighter.

Even by late-season Thrones’ haphazard standards for Westerosi teleportation, there’s probably no way Ghost can make it to King’s Landing in time to help Jon in the Last War. While Jon isn’t technically a Stark, he is the spitting image of Ned Stark—and Stark men don’t fare well in the capital. But maybe it’s for the best to keep Stark—er, Targaryen—and direwolf separated. When given the opportunity to thank his direwolf for everything he’s done throughout the series, Jon couldn’t even muster the nonverbal version of “That’ll do, pig.” If there’s any consolation, Tormund is definitely going to be a kickass dog owner.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.