Where Are My Lions?!? (In Game of Thrones)

Posted: April 11, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, TV
Tags: , , ,

Ugh, Game of Thrones Season Seven still hasn’t aired. Time to write another post about the show. I’m sorry.


Before we get started in, I’d like to take a moment to talk about something that inspired this article…

I’ve been listening to a brand new Game of Thrones podcast A Scene of Ice and Fire, where the two hosts are endeavoring to analyse each scene in HBO’s show, roughly two or three scenes at a time, per episode. To give you a representative sample, Andrew and Manu (the hosts) dedicated one twenty minute episode talking just about the show’s animated opening credits.

I love this level of detail. You should check it out.

In an early episode, the guys discussed the Stark post-beheading party that stumbled across a dead stag.  This lead to the fortuitous discovery of the adorable direwolf pups for the Stark children.

Andrew keyed in on Theon’s speculation that the stag might have been killed by a mountain lion. This is before they find the dead direwolf, so Theon’s forensic suggestion isn’t necessarily a bad one based on the immediate evidence.

A tine from the gutted stag’s antler is found in the throat of the direwolf, establishing that the wolf and the stag had been at it. The ominous symbolism of future conflict between House Stark and House Baratheon was constructed from this antler. Andrew further suggested that maybe a mountain lion had also been involved, since that would bring House Lannister into the metaphorical mix. Since, you know,  the mountain lion is the sigil of House Lannister.

There are two problems with Andrew’s line of reasoning.

  • The corresponding scene from the book, A Game of Thrones, does not have any speculation of a mountain lion attack. In fact, the stag’s body isn’t found at all, just the stag’s antler in the enormous direwolf’s corpse. So lion participation in the foreshadowing isn’t there in the source text. (And the term “mountain lion” does not exist in A Song of Ice and Fire at all.)
  • The sigil of House Lannister is not a mountain lion. It’s a lion. They’re two different animals.

Crimson Lion: Hey there, lion.
Gold Lion: Wassup, lion?

Now, I’m not just trying to bust on Andrew’s observation, but the existence of lions in the world of Planetos and their absence in Westeros interests me, and it was a reasonable anecdote to start this post. (And you should listen to their podcast.)

The lion as depicted by the Lannister sigil is probably a close cousin of the lions we know on Earth (but not Earth’s mountain lions.) The males of this species of big cats are distinctive from the females by their manes, a feature missing in mountain lions. In the books, Tywin’s armor makes this explicit.

No ordinary clasp would suffice for such a weight, so the greatcloak was held in place by a matched pair of miniature lionesses crouching on his shoulders, as if poised to spring. Their mate, a male with a magnificent mane, reclined atop Lord Tywin’s greathelm, one paw raking the air as he roared.

There are great cats mentioned as native to and still inhabiting Westeros, usually called shadowcats, which brings to mind some kind of panther. But the heraldric lions seem to be extinct within the Seven Kingdoms and north of the Wall.

Lions do exist in Essos. The day Dany was nearly poisoned in Vaes Dothrak, Drogo was off hunting a white lion.

In the books, Tyrion narrowly escapes being eaten by lions for sport in the great pits. (Dany, hearing that some dwarves were going to be set upon by lions, vetoed that from the activities schedule.)

I assume that at one time this species of great cat were native to Westeros, but that after the Arm of Dorne land-bridge connecting Westeros and Essos vanished beneath the waves, the lions in Westeros were probably hunted to extinction much like the aptly-named European lions were in Europe.

 I find it interesting that three of the four major families featured in the dynastic struggle of Game of Thrones (Starks, Targaryens, and Lannisters) have quasi-mythical animals as their sigils. The Baratheon stag seems boring and mundane by comparison, but those majestic animals have outlived the Baratheons, unless Gendry Waters gets legitimized and can revitalize the once-mighty House.

Some might argue that lions aren’t mythical, but to be fair dragons really aren’t mythical so much anymore either. The Targaryens had a batch of dragons in Westeros just a few hundred years before the start of the series; and the monstrous critters are making a resurgence.

Direwolves are even more common than lions, since they reputedly still live on the continent, north of the Wall.

Lions in A Song of Ice and Fire do have some myths about them. Tales from the age of heroes imply that the original inhabitants of Casterly Rock were blessed by the gods for sparing a group of lion cubs who had made the Rock their home. And in Essos, stories of the Long Night include devastation from the Lion of Night who brought terror and destruction.

Of those three families with “mythical” animal sigils, only the Starks and Daenerys Targaryen have literal representations. It makes me feel like the Lannisters, despite their riches and position of power, are missing out in the paranormal pet category.

Not that every Lannister probably deserves such an animal ally. Tommen Baratheon delighted in having kittens to play with, but Joffrey was not someone you’d want to employ as a cat sitter.

In my heart, I really want Tyrion Lannister to be protected by a faithful lion.


Mostly because it would irritate Tywin Lannister’s ghost that the gods themselves have declared Tyrion truly a Lannister. (Although to be fair to Tywin’s suspicions that Tyrion is not his son, Tywin’s wife Joanna was also a Lannister, one of Tywin’s cousins. So Tyrion absolutely has the blood of metaphorical lions regardless what Tywin thinks.)

 I doubt I’ll get my heart’s desire. Tyrion Lannister is currently on a boat sailing away from lion-haunted Essos, and it’s a bit late in the series to establish any kind of animal empathy between the Little Lion of Casterly Rock and any four-legged variety. (And I don’t think Jaime or Cersei will be connected mystically to any big cats any time soon.)

But if Gendry shows up (after being missing at sea forever) riding into battle on top of a giant, sentient stag, I’ll be even more disappointed that Tyrion missed out on a quality royal ride.


Every imp deserves a pimped-out ride!

I mean, Tyrion does have a skill in designing saddles to accommodate his stature and leg proportions. If anyone could gin up a harness for a lion, it would be him.

So, if we imagine Tyrion ended up with a devoted (possibly supernatural) lion companion, who would we nominate for that lion to rip to shreds? C’mon, there’s no reason to have a great cat unless it mouses someone.

It might be tempting to consider Tyrion sicc’ing a lion on Cersei. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time in the history of the Seven Kingdoms that someone fed a family member to a monstrous pet. But I can think of someone else that Tyrion might consider as a suitable snack for his personal Simba.

Someone named Petyr Baelish.

Tyrion doesn’t know the full details of Littlefinger’s machinations that have led House Lannister towards ruin:

  • Baelish convinced Lysa Arryn to murder her husband Jon, and blamed it on House Lannister
  • He conspired with Lady Olenna in poisoning Joffrey, and left Tyrion to take the blame
  • He absconded with Tyrion’s wife, Sansa, and married her off to Ramsay Bolton

Tyron’s been a bit too busy to noodle out those details, but Tyrion does know that Baelish lied to Catelyn Stark about a particular Valyrian steel dagger used in an assassination attempt on Bran Stark; a falsehood that almost got Tyrion chucked out the moon door. Luckily for Baelish, Tyrion had more on his mind in the second and third seasons, but he’d filed away the lie about the dagger for a more suitable time.

Having a lion perform the purely ceremonial interrogation would probably be satisfying, since the lion would not likely be swayed by Littlefinger’s lies or promises.


Tyrion: How did the talk with Baelish go?
Lion: He was delicious.
Tyrion: He was a scoundrel, but he certainly had good taste.

Of course, if Tyrion wants to get a piece of Littlefinger, he’ll need more than a lion. He’ll also have to stand in line. By the time Littlefinger meets his maker, I assume over half the major players will have solid reasons for wanting Baelish dead.

Alright, we’re well into April, and usually at this time Game of Thrones is back on the air; but this year the show is still three months away. But at least we’re a week closer than the last time I posted about Game of Thrones. And I’m committed to writing a post a week until the show returns.

Hopefully you found this wish-fulfillment post entertaining. And hopefully I’ll see you next week for the next post.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Those lion photos were found using Google. The artwork of the cherubs riding lions come from, I think, the Peter Paul Rubens painting “The Meeting of the King and Marie de Medici at Lyons, 9th November 1600” – butterfly-winged babies on lions is pretty trippy.

I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. forthejokes says:

    I always wondered about the lions, because they didn’t seem to fit the Westerosi climate (okay, they’d probably be fine in Dorne). Therefore enough people must have sailed to Essos in order for there to be an agreed upon and recognisable image of a lion. There is probably a lion head mounted on a wall at Casterley Rock.

    If we follow this thread, the lion/Lannister parallel works well, because both are hunters. During the colonial era, rich men sailed to Africa to hunt giant exotic animals to show them off back in England. They represented both wealth and power, which is very Lannister.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s true that the extinct European lion was not necessarily the same as the African lion, but I think they were fairly close. Essos and Westeros both span the same range of latitudes, so if it wasn’t for the magical weather scenario, they’d have similar ranges of climate. (Lions in Essos might range further south, we don’t know much about the northern parts of Essos, but the continent does seem warmer than Westeros. I need to eyeball a map.) But you’re right, there might not have been any lions native to Westeros, and the myth of the Casterlies sparing the lion cubs retrofitted on. The Andals, when they migrated over, could have brought the concept of lions with them, for heraldric purposes.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. jennnanigans says:

    Going back to your point about the lack of dead stag in the book – maybe that was intentional on the part of GRRM, and something the showrunners changed? The show symbolism is that the stag and dire wolf died fighting each other. But the book symbolism– if I am right– implies that a BRANCH of the stag’s antler is broken off, allowing the stag to live. Just like Gendry!
    And also I would not be averse to seeing Baelish fed to a large angry animal. Bonus points if that animal is actually a person whose name rhymes with Fandor Blegane. Not saying the Hound is into cannibalism, more than he’s into tasty tasty vengeance and also eating chickens.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PoojaG says:

    Haha your captions are always so hilarious! Can’t wait for GoT to air again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OK Patrick, you are kind of reaching for content here, but I’ve got to pat you on the back for getting the blog out regularly. That’s dedication (and discipline). Thanks for the shout out about the podcast, I’ve added it to the list & have some long drives coming up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES! You are exactly right about the content.

      This has been a random topic on my list of topics, for years, but I have always had what I felt were better things to write about. (I do think I have solid topics coming up, but I wanted to get this one out of the way.)

      To my surprise, I got some good feedback on Twitter with quotations about the Children of the Forest lamenting the extinction of the great lions of the western hills, and also the fact that Tytos Lannister was nearly killed by a lion, possibly the last one around. (His kennel master saved him, which resulted in the creation of house Clegane.)

      Hope you enjoy listening to A Scene of Ice and Fire on your upcoming trips. I discovered my favorite Game of Thrones podcast, A Cast of Kings, when I had to get something to listen to for a solo weekend driving trip. I’d be on the road for roughly eleven hours, iTunes featured them when I did a search on Game of Thrones. They had just wrapped covering season 2. They were so great, I try to promote them every chance I get.

      Next week’s post should have some more analysis, I appreciate the feedback as always!


  5. Great post and well written! Mind dropping a follow at http://www.tvandcity.com ? We’re a new site trying to gain traction.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Merlin says:

    The lions of Westeros are largely extinct now, but they were most certainly once a dominant creature, not unlike the giants and the children of the forest once were. But there may still be some of them left. I seem to recall House Clegane got its start when Tyrion’s father was attacked by a lioness and saved by his kennel-master, at the cost of three dogs, who became immortalized on Clegane’s banner.

    Another interesting detail: there is another house with a quasi-mythical sigil. I am thinking, of course, of House Greyjoy, represented by the kraken. Of course, it’s a fair bet that such is just a really, really, REALLY big squid. But we’ve seen or can easily believe in all the other animal sigils: direwolf, lion, stag, dragon, trout, falcon, and rose. So, will we see a kraken?

    Also interesting: most of the sigils are either animals or landmarks or some representation of what they do (like the Bolton’s flayed man). So, what does it mean for the Martells to have the sigil of a spear piercing the sun? Or for the Karstark sigil to be a white star against black? I can imagine the latter is some callback to the Long Night and the light which ended it, but for the desert kingdom to spear the sun itself? What does that indicate?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect that the lioness who attacked Tytos Lannister was a Reyne-supporter.

      You’re right about the Kraken of course, I was just focusing on the Big Four (since we see their sigils on the Game of Thrones title card) – but the Greyjoy kraken is certainly a cool animal. And quasi-mythical.

      My interpretation of the Sun and the Spear of the Martell family is a reference to the harsh climate in Dorne being a weapon that can be used against invaders, since the Dornish have adapted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Merlin says:

        Hmm. I’m just watching the Lore videos for the sixth season, and something occurs to me.

        Back when the First Men first collided with the Children of the Forest, they had a number of physical advantages, like the metal of their shields and swords, which would have made the conflict almost entirely one-sided if not for the Children’s magic. The Greenseers warged into beasts to fight their battles: direwolves, snow bears, cave lions, eagles, mammoths, serpents, etc. Suddenly, using beasts as sigils doesn’t seem just like using something handy, but a sign of men subjugating the very power of their enemies and making it their own.

        The Targaryens tamed dragons; the Starks are bonded to direwolf companions; the Martells conquered the desert sun and use it to defend themselves; the Boltons have the flayed corpse of an enemy as their standard; the list goes on and on, even Littlefinger’s bird, Davos’ onion, and Clegane’s hounds are all stories of the source of their power. Heck, the Tyrell rose may not be intimidating to us, but the Children’s magic was connected to plant life as much as anything else, and where did Bran find the three-eyed raven but entwined in the roots of a tree?

        Liked by 1 person

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