The eighth and final season of HBO's Game of Thrones finally saw the long-awaited return of Jon Snow's direwolf, Ghost. Last seen early on in Season 6, Ghost was completely absent from Season 7 before finally showing up again in Season 8.
An explanation for the direwolf's long absence came from writer Bryan Cogman, who has penned 11 episodes of Game of Thrones. Cogman revealed in the Blu-ray commentary track for Season 7 that he had written a scene in the second episode of the season with Jon and Ghost at Winterfell, but that it was eventually cut for budgetary reasons.
"There was a bit here where Jon came out of the crypt, and Ghost came up to him and he petted him and said, 'Take care of [Sansa], watch over her for me,'" Cogman said of the scene. "But I guess those direwolves are expensive. I guess it got cut. Oh, well. Ghost is there somewhere roaming around."
Joe Bauer, the visual effects supervisor for Game of Thrones, confirmed that Ghost would be appearing again in Season 8 of the series in an interview with the Huffington Post last year.
"Ghost does show up, and he does some … he’s very present and does some pretty cool things in Season 8," Bauer said.
Bauer also expanded on the reasoning behind Ghost's absence in the show, and that it came down to it being tough to handle the direwolves.
"The direwolves are tough because you don’t want to get them wrong, so we end up always shooting real wolves and doing a scaling trick with them, but the real wolves only behave in certain ways," Bauer said. "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."
Thus far, through four episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones, Ghost has barely appeared, and hardly in any scene of relevance. The first glimpse of Ghost came in the second episode where he was standing alongside Jon, Samwell Tarly and Dolourous Edd on the ramparts of Winterfell. He appeared again in the third episode where he was among the Dothraki cavalry charge against the army of the dead, though he didn't appear to be one of the few who seemingly survived the charge. It was only in the preview for the fourth episode of the season that Ghost was confirmed to have survived the charge.
In the fourth episode, titled "The Last of the Starks," Tormund Giantsbane reveals that he and the remaining Free Folk will be returning back home North of The Wall, and Jon requests that he take Ghost with him, as King's Landing is no place for a direwolf. It's an understandable decision. Ghost is certainly more suited to the colder climate that the North offers.
That being said, nothing could have prepared audiences for the coldness that followed as Jon set off for King's Landing with merely a perfunctory nod to the direwolf that he raised from a pup and who's been by his side for the better part of five seasons.
No hug for the direwolf who loyally guarded his dead body after he was murdered by his brothers in the Night's Watch. No petting for the direwolf who helped him survive on more than one occasion North of The Wall. Just a nod.
The director of "The Last of the Starks," David Nutter, addressed the moment between Jon and Ghost in a recent interview.
"Since the direwolves are kind of CG creations, we felt it best to keep it as simple as possible," Nutter explained. "And I think that it played out much more powerfully that way. Keeping Ghost off to the side, I thought that played out better. Then he just walks off by himself, he turns to Ghost and has this moment with Ghost that I thought was very, very powerful."
Throughout five novels, author George R. R. Martin has built up the connection between the Starks and their direwolves. Arya, Bran and Jon are all capable of warging with their direwolves, though only Bran is able to do it willingly. Even though Game of Thrones hasn't delved into the warging abilities of Arya and Jon, the show has largely depicted the close bond between Jon and Ghost. That is, until the past few seasons. It's part of what made that moment in the fourth episode of Season 8 so infuriating for fans.
The explanation for the reduction of Ghost's role in the series certainly has merit, but the way it was handled has gone against much of what the series built up regarding Jon and the relationship he has with his direwolf. Ghost deserved better than that. Much, much better.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.