Those who know me know the seething rage I have at times with Game of Thrones. It’s not that I dislike the show (well Seasons 2 through 5 can go in the garbage), it’s that I know it could be so much better than mere “entertainment.” The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And I so love A Song of Ice and Fire. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t get so annoyed with its adaptation. I don’t accept the tired old adage of “You can’t include everything from the books.” Season 1 did a hell of a job accomplishing that. I don’t accept many of the show creators’ excuses that they have to cut for pacing or they have to “make it work,” when they inundate us with “virgin-is-great-at-sex scene #6” and “Jon trekking through the ice with Ygritte” nonsense.
Don’t get me started on how much they rushed the show. It’s not like HBO wouldn’t be happy to give them a blank check or anything. But perhaps what disappoints me most about the show is the treatment of the direwolves. Especially given how much they throw in “Rawr dragons!” and “naked people!” every ten minutes for those who can’t sit still through politics and intrigue. While the dragons represent the return of magic in the series, I’ve always felt the direwolves were the series’ literary magic. Those lovable pups are just as much characters as Ned, Brienne, or Stannis. While the dragons may be the series’ heart, the direwolves may be its soul. With that over, let’s talk about giant doggos!
Two peas in a pod
Summer and Shaggydog were born from the same litter as Grey Wind, Lady, Nymeria, and Ghost. Discovered first by Robb Stark and Jon Snow, and fated for early deaths by Ned’s harsh mercy, Bran’s gentle heart and Jon’s wisdom saved them (my how far those two have come). They are brought back to the castle of Winterfell and are divvied up among the Stark children: Grey Wind to Robb, Lady to Sansa, Nymeria to Arya, Summer to Bran, Shaggydog to Rickon, and Ghost to Jon. Soon after, Jon Arryn dies, the king offers Ned the most important job in King’s Landing, and the pups go their separate ways, except for Shaggydog because Rickon is too young to travel. Oh right, Summer stayed behind because Bran got pushed out a window.
Bran remained in a coma for an unclear amount of time, yet Summer remained ever faithful to his master; he would spend every moment he could howling beneath the boy’s window. It was even said that closing the window would weaken the boy’s heart and opening it would strengthen him, an early clue to the bond between the direwolves and the Stark children. When a man attempted to silence Bran forever, Summer sneaked in as he wrestled with Catelyn and gently ripped the cutthroat’s throat out, earning the wolf Catelyn’s gratitude and a permanent residence at the boy’s bedside.
He was silver and smoke, with eyes of yellow gold that saw all there was to see. Smaller than Grey Wind, and more wary. Bran thought he was the smartest of the litter.
AGOT 25: Bran IV
Shaggydog had come slavering out of the darkness like a green-eyed demon. The wolf was near as wild as Rickon.
AGOT 54: Bran VI
By this time, it became clear to readers that the direwolves shared more than just a bond with their masters, they shared their personalities and character arcs too. Lady was killed in her innocence, as Sansa’s innocence was taken from her. Nymeria was forced away from her siblings and Arya, as Arya was forced away from her family and her own identity. Grey Wind became fierce and battle hardened like Robb. Ghost was silent and observant like Jon Snow. Summer was thought by Bran to be the smartest of the litter, perhaps foreshadowing Bran’s future role with the Three-Eyed Crow (or Three-Eyed Raven in the show). When most of his family left him, Rickon would lash out and act wild, as would Shaggydog. Rickon even had a dream of his father dying, while he was hiding in the Winterfell crypts with his wolf.
Fast forward a bit, Theon took over Winterfell, two wolves and two children hid with two other children, a giant simpleton, and a wildling woman in the crypts of Winterfell. Theon then lost Winterfell to Ramsay Snow, Maester Luwin died, but gave a last bit of wisdom to split the kids up (except in the show because wisdom is in short supply there). Bran and Summer went with Hodor, Jojen and Meera to journey beyond the Wall to the Three-Eyed Crow (Raven). In the show, Osha, Rickon and Shaggydog tagged along for a bit but then split off to parts unknown. Fast forward further to Season 6 (or fifth book, A Dance with Dragons). Bran was learning under the Three-Eyed Raven (Crow!) and made the brilliant decision to warg without the TER(C!)’s knowledge and saw a vision of White Walkers and wights. The Night King said hello in the vision and gave him a magic BRANd and discovered the location of the group and how to safely enter the cave. The White Walkers and their armies swarmed the cave and the children of the forest (singular in the show), Summer, and Hodor valiantly held them off while Bran and Meera escaped. Many a tear was shed for Hodor, while Summer felt like an afterthought as he disappeared into a wall of bones and stabby objects.
Later, as Jon marshaled troops to take Winterfell, Smalljon Umber proposed an alliance with Ramsay Bolton. (Let’s tangent on Smalljon for a second, because in show canon he’s a douchebag who didn’t die at the Red Wedding defending Robb. Seriously, he flipped a table to protect Robb and died after bashing a Frey’s face in with a leg of mutton. End tangent.) So anyway, to seal the deal Smalljon (douchebag) Umber presented the head of Shaggydog. I’m sure many book readers know of the Grand Northern Conspiracy, so I assumed it was a fake wolf, but nope, he also presented Rickon and Osha. Again, the wolf is an afterthought.
“Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard’s daughter. To thwart him White Harbor must have Ned’s son… and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him. That is my price, Lord Davos. Smuggle me back my liege lord, and I will take Stannis Baratheon as my king.”
ADWD 30: Davos IV
In the novels, Summer and Shaggydog are very much alive. Summer leads a pack of wolves in the north, much as his sister Nymeria is rumored to have done in the Riverlands. He still guards Bran and Bran still wargs him when he wants to leave the cave. While we haven’t seen Rickon or Shaggydog, we’ve heard of them from other characters. In a vision while he was warging Ghost, Jon sees Shaggydog slaying a unicorn (oh yeah, the other Stark kids can warg too, but “pacing”). Wyman Manderly discovers from Theon’s squire, Wex Pyke, that Rickon, Shaggydog, and Osha are on Skagos, an island in the north that has unicorns and cannibalism (y’all show folks missed out on unicorns!). Manderly charges Ser Davos to find his liege lord. In return he will pledge fealty to Stannis Baratheon. What is to become of our faithful companions?
There is a story in the north of the Last Hero. The Last Hero set out with twelve companions, a horse, and a dog to find the children of the forest. One by one his companions, his horse and his dog finally fell, leaving him all alone to fend off the white walkers. One theory posits that Bran has met exactly twelve companions on his way to the Three-Eyed Crow and that all of them will die. Summer represents the dog and will die along with them. George R. R. Martin has a habit of aligning myth and history with current events but I’m not so sure this will be the fate of Bran and his direwolf. I believe that Summer starting a pack will have some relevance in the story. If Bran is learning to warg and control animals perhaps this pack can become a small fighting force for him to use, with Summer at its head. Summer could die while fighting the white walkers, but I think in an open battle rather than a cave, and hopefully while fighting alongside his remaining siblings. He is Summer after all. I feel like he could be a rallying force to fight against the cold in the last novel.
Shaggydog may have a more interesting fate. A “shaggydog tale” is a long-winded, very detailed story that ends anticlimactically. Some think that Shaggydog’s name hints at this being his fate and Rickon’s, but I’m not so certain of this. George R. R. Martin upends a lot of tropes in his novels. If you look at Shaggydog’s and Rickon’s story arc, they’re not long-winded at all. They’ve been footnotes this whole time, while everyone else gets the attention. Kind of like how Rickon felt when everyone abandoned him; it’s why he lashes out and why Shaggydog adopts his savagery. What if they come back from Skagos as unicorn slaying, wildling-trained, cannibalistic badasses, like the Kings in the North of old (minus the cannibalism)? If Martin started Shaggydog’s character arc in a non-shaggydog way, why end it as such?
Summer’s howls were long and sad, full of grief and longing. Shaggydog’s were more savage. Their voices echoed through the yards and halls until the castle rang and it seemed as though some great pack of direwolves haunted Winterfell, instead of only two… two where there had once been six. Do they miss their brothers and sisters too? Bran wondered. Are they calling to Grey Wind and Ghost, to Nymeria and Lady’s Shade? Do they want them to come home and be a pack together?
ACOK 5: Bran I
As a book reader I loathe how the direwolves are treated on the show. They show up when they’re plot points and disappear when they’re not. These are the faithful companions of the Stark children! Hell, even Ghost is invisible, even in instances where he’d make a difference to Jon Snow’s story. At this point, it seems like Ghost is more Sam’s direwolf than Jon’s. Add to that the apparent culling that happened this season and last, I feel like the show writers really didn’t know what to do with the direwolves, much less many of the characters who needlessly died in Seasons 5 and 6 (maybe they just suck at killing characters). Of course, the dragons get all the attention because dragons are flashy and shoot fire but the direwolves felt not just like props or set pieces to the world but characters themselves. Perhaps Nymeria and Ghost will get justice in the final season on the show, but here’s to hoping for a more interesting conclusion to Summer and Shaggydog within the pages of the final two books.