Forget the dragons – why has Game of Thrones exorcised Ghost?

Jon Snow’s trusty direwolf has been MIA since 2016 – but will we ever see him back in GOT?

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I think it’s about time we filed a missing persons report.

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I’m not sure who handles that sort of thing in Westeros – the Goldcloaks of King’s Landing seem quite focussed on municipal crime; maybe the Brotherhood without Banners would have a look for us – but a crucial figure from Game of Thrones abruptly vanished three years ago, with no explanation, and with little to no care shown by his immediate friends and family.

Something suspicious is going on – because Ghost, Jon’s trusty direwolf companion of many years, is nowhere to be found.

The last time we saw Ghost was in the second episode of Game of Thrones season six, way back in 2016 when he was on guard over Jon’s dead body. (In fact, Ghost waking up was a key visual cue that Jon was about to come back from the dead) But since then? Nada. Did Ghost travel from Castle Black with Jon and Sansa, skulk around in the background of the Battle of the Bastards, pine for his master when he went off to meet Daenerys? We don’t know, because we never saw him.

And considering how important the Stark children’s direwolves once were to the series, it’s especially notable how little Game of Thrones seems to care about Ghost now. Supposedly the first scene George RR Martin ever wrote of the Game of Thrones books was the sequence in which Eddard Stark and his sons discovered a litter of direwolf pups, and the six became important parts of the novels – and the TV adaptation – after.

The culling of Sansa Stark’s pup Lady was the first overt sign of the souring between Houses Stark and Lannister, while Arya setting free Nymeria gave a hint to her own need for freedom and escape.

Meanwhile, Robb’s huge, powerful Grey Wind seemed as noble and indestructible as the King in the North himself – until just like his master he was cut down at the Red Wedding, whimpering as he died in one of the TV series’ more heartrending moments, before his severed head was paraded around on Robb’s body by their killers.

Further north, Summer and Shaggydog (the wolves of Bran and Rickon Stark) helped teach the future Three-Eyed Raven how to warg, voyaged through weird and wonderful terrain and generally acted as the protectors of the young Stark boys.

And then there’s Ghost. Ever since Jon went to the Wall he’s been an important part of Jon’s adventures, finding the very first wight brought into Westeros in thousands of years, battling alongside Jon against the wildling forces and protecting Sam and Gilly from harm when the Night’s Watch turned against them.

In his very last appearance, Ghost watches over Jon post-mortem – but somehow, Jon’s return to life seems to have winked Ghost out of existence, and it’s especially glaring to die-hard fans of the series who have been complaining about his absence for years. Even before he vanished entirely they noted his relative absence compared to the books (where Ghost features a lot), and the current state of affairs is causing some consternation.

So why has the TV version of Game of Thrones left Ghost out of action for so long? Well, the answer is actually fairly simple – creating direwolves onscreen is apparently pretty expensive as they need to use actual wolves before superimposing them into a scene, and in a choice between Ghost and Daenerys’s more plot-centric dragons (which can be done entirely using CGI, as we don’t have real-life dragons to compare them to in our heads), they chose the dragons.

“We did some testing, and at a certain point they look unreal,” showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss told Entertainment Weekly.

“We reached a nice balance with them. And frankly, no matter how much money you spend on CG wolves — and we’ve seen the best that’s out there, state of the art, and some of it looks great — it still doesn’t look, move, and feel like a real animal. With dragons, you get some leeway. You can’t say, ‘Well, that doesn’t look like a real dragon.’”

“The direwolves are tough, because you don’t want to get them wrong,” added visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer.

“So we end up always shooting real wolves and doing a scaling trick with them. But the real wolves only behave in certain ways. I think that has something to do with why the direwolves are in the show, but they’re not maybe as integral as they are in the books.”

Jon Snow and Ghost in Game of Thrones season one (HBO)
Jon Snow and Ghost in Game of Thrones season one (HBO)

When it came to season six’s Battle of the Bastards, meanwhile, director Miguael Sapochnick faced another tough choice…

“[Ghost] was in there in spades originally, but it’s also an incredibly time consuming and expensive character to bring to life,” Sapochnik told Business Insider.

“Ultimately we had to choose between [the giant] Wun-Wun and the direwolf, so the dog bit the dust.”

Later, writer Bryan Cogman revealed that he’d tried to bring back the white direwolf in season seven, but after the scene was cut the series saw no Ghost for the entire run.

“FYI…We shot a Jon/Ghost scene.,” he tweeted after season seven’s second episode aired.

“Didn’t make it in. I tried!”

Instead, the only reference to Ghost in the entirety of season seven was a throwaway line from Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark, wondering if Jon expected her to “sit and wait for him like Ghost.” Clearly, he’s had to wait a fair old time by this stage.

When the final series of Game of Thrones began Ghost’s absence was also notable, especially given that the series opener focused so strongly on reunions(!) and involved a scene where Jon got better acquainted with one of Daenerys’s dragons. Dammit Jon, Ghost thought you and he had a SPECIAL House sigil-themed friendship! And how can you throw him over for someone wearing one of his cousins as a coat?

Still, perhaps all hope isn’t lost. Ahead of the series’ return, VFX maestro Bauer suggested that Ghost will finally make a comeback in the last few episodes of Thrones, and will actually play a fairly large part in the fight against the Army of the Dead.

“Oh, you’ll see him again. He has a fair amount of screen time in Season eight,” Bauer said.

“He does show up… He’s very present and does some pretty cool things.”

But then again, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. The last few times we’ve seen direwolves, it’s only been for the showrunners to callously kill them off (Summer and Shaggydog both die, the latter offscreen, in season six) or to send them out of the series another way (Nymeria pops up in season seven but declines to return north with Arya).

This year, Game of Thrones is set to have its biggest battle episode yet on Sunday 28th/Monday 29th April as the White Walkers attack Winterfell – and do we really want to bring Ghost back just to seem him get torn to bits like Summer? Would it be better to imagine him roaming the valleys of the north offscreen, rather than unequivocally  wiped from the Game of Thrones story onscreen? It’s a question for the ages.

However Ghost’s comeback goes down (it’s possible he’ll just be cut out again), one thing’s for sure – just as the direwolves are supposed to represent the souls of the Starks (as many fans have suggested), keeping them out of the show saps a certain something from the story of Thrones as a whole.

In short: stop ghosting Jon’s direwolf. With only a few episodes left, we need SOMETHING to cheer us up.

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Game of Thrones airs on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 2am and 9pm