Shaggydog and Summer: Defending Dead Direwolves Part 3

Posted: September 2, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is the third post in a five-post series on the direwolves in HBO’s Game of Thrones (with corresponding plot details from the books of A Song of Ice and Fire.) You can get more details from my initial post – basically I’m discussing the Stark direwolves with a speculative eye on what might be happening in the remaining episodes and unpublished books. (And I might be defending some decisions that the showrunners have made.)

Them good doggos.

The last post was about Lady and Greywind, the two direwolves whose stories are faithfully recorded in the books and show. This post will be about Shaggydog and Summer, the wolves that belong to Catelyn Stark’s youngest sons Rickon and Bran.

Spoiler alert: those wolves are dead on the show, but as far as we know are still alive in the books, making those direwolves Schrodinger’s Wolves. They’re both alive and dead until The Winds of Winter and/or A Dream of Spring are published.

Can we be certain that the deaths of the direwolves on the show guarantee their deaths in the books? I wouldn’t go that far, to say guarantee, but I expect a high body count in the final season and final books of the series, and one of the lessons of Lady and Greywind is that the wolves are not immune to lethal consequences.

The Shaggy Dog’s Tale

Shaggydog’s story stands out from the rest of the Starks, since he does not prominently feature in the published narrative so far: Rickon is not a point of view character, and Shaggydog mostly shares time alongside Bran’s direwolf Summer. Rickon and Shaggydog exit the books after Bran and Rickon separate for safety immediately after the burning of Winterfell. On the show, Shaggydog and Rickon accompany Bran and the Reeds to the Nightfort before separating with Osha the wildling who is commanded by Bran to take Rickon to the Umbers.

In contrast, Osha’s intended destination in the books was unknown until A Dance With Dragons, when Lord Wyman Manderly reveals to Ser Davos Seaworth that Rickon has been taken to Skaggos, an island of cannibals. (And possibly unicorns.)

This is just fan speculation, but it has long been theorized that Rickon will feature as a pawn in a northern conspiracy against the Boltons, with the Manderlys as prominent conspirators who want to oppose the Lord of the Dreadfort and rally the faithful northmen around one of Ned Stark’s trueborn sons.

This didn’t play out on the show, and the decision to drop those elements must have been decided early on since the third season finale established Rickon as bound for the Umbers, and not an ill-rumored island.

With Rickon’s story minimized, it’s not surprising that the young nut-smashing kid and his guardian canine were permanently sidelined. I’m not necessarily trying to defend that. No one should defend the death of animals or children.

Olly: And yet, people do. It depends on the child, I guess.

But I am suggesting that it might not be that big a deal that Shaggydog (and I guess Rickon too) are dead.

I’d mentioned previously that the names given to the direwolves are important and are reflective of their story. Shaggydog is a great moniker if we consider that a young child did the naming. But “shaggy dog” is also a literary reference. A “shaggy dog” refers to a longform, meandering, and deliberately-anticlimactic tale.

This implies that even if Rickon might be a collateral asset in a kingmaker plot, it won’t matter. His story is a shaggy-dog tale, and we’ve been essentially Rick-Rolled. Rickon-rolled?

Honestly, I felt that people objected to Rickon’s death (and by extension, Shaggydog’s demise) not so much for the ending of their characters, but for the death of the hypothetical northern conspiracy. I could be wrong.

But that sentiment seemed to drive the show-watching fan-held conspiracy theory that Smalljon Umber had faked Shaggydog’s death with some other wolf head. Faked the animal’s death, yet handed over the actual Osha and Rickon to Ramsay. (Just imagine if the showrunners had recast Art Parkinson with another younger actor to be Rickon – think of the ensuing rock-solid belief that Umber had the real Rickon safe with the real Shaggydog.)

So, I don’t want to defend Shaggydog’s death, but his doom seems to me less from any malice or lack of understanding of the story by the showrunners, and entirely because Benioff and Weiss are less interested in adapting the secondary stories in A Song of Ice and Fire. I mean, we can complain about missing subplots, but we’ll have to consider what might be worse: a half-executed plot like Dorne.

One of the lessons from the Lady and Greywind post was that the direwolves should have a purpose, to justify them dying. Shaggydog came from the books with a questionable purpose – which doesn’t really reinforce the need to have adapted the northern conspiracy that wanted to make use of Rickon.

Ramsay: There’s no need to meander your way to the Stark lines, my lad. Just run straight there. If you think you can.
Rickon: I can run the straightest straight run!
Ramsay: I promise I’ll give you one of my arrows if you can run the straightest straight line.
Rickon: OKAY!

I don’t think I can deflect the blame of this situation onto George RR Martin and his not finishing The Winds of Winter in accordance with the show’s schedule. George should take the time he needs to bring in the book that matches his expectation.

But even if The Winds of Winter had been published before Season 5, Rickon’s storyline – already adjusted in the third season and without any of the northern elements that might have bearing on his story in the books – probably wouldn’t have merited the time and resources. His fate on the show was sealed early.

A shaggy dog tale that was not quite as longform or meandering as might be expected, but just as anticlimactic.

Summer’s End

To be honest here, I never imagined that Summer the direwolf might die.

The window was open and it was cold in the room, but the warmth that came off the wolf enfolded him like a hot bath. His pup, Bran realized … or was it? He was so big now. He reached out to pet him, his hand trembling like a leaf.

When his brother Robb burst into the room, breathless from his dash up the tower steps, the direwolf was licking Bran’s face. Bran looked up calmly. “His name is Summer,” he said.
A Game of Thrones, Bran III

Bran names his direwolf immediately after coming out of the coma induced by his fall from the Old Tower. During his time abed and unconscious, Bran experienced vivid dreams that included a crow with three eyes who kept Bran company as the boy dreamed of falling and falling. And dreamed of a terrible winter-associated threat in the north.

Bran naming his wolf Summer seemed to be the perfect symbolism. Summer, the season of warmth and life, was going to help Bran defeat the agents of the opposing season of cold and death. Summer would be the end of Winter. (Spring actually does that, but let me have this for the moment.)

We know (or at least strongly suspect) that the direwolf names are important, and that those names have a bearing on the story. So it seemed clear that Summer would have a triumphant purpose. Summer is the Anti-Winter!

But when a horde of wights killed Summer on the show, while the faithful direwolf was trying to buy time so Bran could escape, I began to wonder if we had misjudged the meaning of Summer’s name. Maybe Summer was not the season that would succeed the current Winter. Maybe the Summer we were invested in was the season that Winter puts in the ground.

If we take my simplistic notion expressed above that Summer ends Winter, we also have to recognize that Winter ends Summer in the big cycle of the seasons. (Again, Fall really does that, but I did say this would be a simplified notion.) So I don’t think it’s all that egregious that the icy Others killed Summer on the show.

And I feel that it is something that could also happen in the books.

Sorry, Summer fans. Hopefully I’m wrong.

I’ve had people tell me that Summer would not opt to lay down his life against hopeless odds, but instead would travel with Bran to safety. But that kind of assumes that Team Bran could have escaped if Summer had not put up a fight.

To be fair, I blame director Jack Bender for having Summer die nearly immediately during the skirmish. It’s hard to argue that Summer really slowed them down at all. Maybe Hodor needed that extra millisecond to brace himself at the door, though.

I’m having a snarl! I will protecc! And attacc!

If Bender had had a higher budget for the episode (an episode that was already stressing the financials with wights, magical explosions, white walkers, and the Three Eyed Raven dissolving into dark nothingness) maybe we’d have seen Summer rip a few wights to shreds. But the end result would be the same. The end of Summer at the hands of Winter.

Summer dying is sadly in keeping with nearly the rest of Bran’s companions dying. And Bran’s own figurative death.

Meera: Bran…
Bran: I’m not really. Not anymore.

I’ve written before how Bran Stark – in show terms – has for all intents and purposes been taken over by something we identify as the Three Eyed Raven. Summer devoted his life to Bran, shared his body with Bran’s guiding consciousness, supported him on the journey north to the weirwood cave of the Children of the Forest. Maybe it’s best that Summer didn’t see Bran “die”.

And since it’s been stressed (at least by me, something I’ll do again in the next post) that there’s a strong connection between the direwolves and the respective identity of their Stark child, Summer – a part of Bran’s identity – dying is a foreshadowing of Bran’s spiritual sacrifice of identity in becoming less Bran, and more ancient powerful entity.

Holy crap! Could Bloodraven be Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living??? (Probably not.)

Bran’s giant companion Hodor also died in the far north, holding back the army of the dead so Meera could drag Bran away from danger. George RR Martin has confirmed that Hodor’s fate (including the reveal of the reason for Hodor’s name) will be similar in the books. So I assume, despite our wishes that Summer will survive, that we will see things play out reasonably the same for him as well. (It’s a question no one is asking, because no one wants that answer.)

Will Bran in the upcoming books flee from an army of wights, leaving a dead Summer and Hodor in his wake? Maybe. But I don’t think it’ll necessarily be happening at that cave. There are other important doors Hodor might have to hold for that heartbreaking scene.

But it seems reasonable to me that Summer in the unpublished books would take his job seriously if Bran was threatened by wights. And since action scenes on paper are much more cost effective than on television, even on prestige dramas on HBO, I doubt that Summer will be treated like a speed bump. But he probably won’t make it out alive.

RIP Puppers

I’ll revisit again the lessons from the story of Lady and Greywind, that a direwolf’s death might have meaning (like Lady’s) or their life might have meaning (like Greywind) – what do we have with Shaggydog and Summer, to justify their end on the show?

I’ve already declared a hollow victory on Shaggydog, since his name is such an indicator of low expectation – I don’t think I have to make much of a case for him not really expected to have a meaningful life or death. But Summer certainly fulfilled a major purpose in getting Bran Stark to the weirwood cave, while also being Bran’s warging partner.

Rickon: DUDE! YOU JUST WARGED HODOR!!! Can I have a turn?

I’ve mentioned before that the direwolves are an expense for the show, but despite the production cost Summer was with Bran all the way from Winterfell to the weirwood cave. (Summerfell? Can I call the cave that? No? I regret calling it that.) If the showrunners were so cavalier with their plotlines as some may have suggested, I’d have suspected that they would have killed Summer off earlier – like at Craster’s Keep when the mutineers briefly menaced Team Bran. But it seems clear that Benioff and Weiss felt that Summer was worth the expense to have the direwolf accompany Bran all the way through the north. Until he no longer needed to be in the picture.

Four Down, Two To Go

Okay, it’s not a big deal if I haven’t convinced anyone that Shaggydog and Summer were probably more-or-less dealt with in the canonical spirits of the unpublished books. I’ll just be pleased if anyone read this far.

Next post will be about the final two direwolves, Nymeria and Ghost. Two hardy survivors who are not only alive in the books (and occasionally kicking ass) but also alive on the show. Allegedly. Ghost gets mentioned every-so-often at least.

(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.) Mumm-Ra is from the Thundercats cartoon. Mumm-Ra!!! The Ever-Living!!!

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 2018 Some Rights Reserved

  1. jennnanigans says:

    As much as I hate that more direwolves are dead, I agree with your summations, specifically the one about Shaggydog. Even though I hate how his death was handled, the fact that I hate it is probably proof enough it’s canon for GRRM, or that Shaggydog plays such a small role that it didn’t matter what the showrunners did with him. Still. Boo.

    Summer’s death (and way to go on the ‘Summer’s End’ observation!) felt more earned and landed with much, much more emotional weight. Summer was a doggy we had watched defend Bran and manifest noble dog behaviors, as opposed to Shaggydog who seemed more a narrative wild card since only Rickon could control him (barely). Summer’s death happened fast but also felt like a return to the narrative choices of the first season, where some things happen so fast you don’t even register them until later, when the shock has worn off. So I’m guessing that Summer played his part in keeping Bran alive, and then as you say, died along with the part of Bran’s identity that was still a Stark. Which implies some VERY interesting symbolism for the continued existence of Ghost and Nymeria!

    Lovely article, as always, and I totally lol’d at “I promise I’ll give you one of my arrows if you can run the straightest straight line.” I hate Ramsey so much. If anybody deserves to be raised from the dead and killed all over again, it’s him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. chattykerry says:

    I loved this series so far and it brought back some happy/sad memories. My strongest feeling about the direwolves entrance was that Jon had his own one making him legitimate.

    Liked by 1 person

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