Where’s Ghost? Defending Dead Direwolves Part 4.5

Posted: September 19, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
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This post is part of a continuing series on the direwolves in Game of Thrones. I’ll also be discussing the books so if you’re not up on either versions, this is your spoiler warning.

I’ve been discussing the various fates of the direwolves, and had planned on writing a single post about pairs of direwolves (so, six direwolves would be covered in three posts) with an intro post and a wrap-up post making for five posts total. This worked well with the dead pair of direwolves (Lady and Greywind) and the dead-on-the-show direwolves (Shaggydog and Summer) but when I started writing about the still-living Nymeria and Ghost in the last post, I wrote so much about Nymeria I had to split my discussion of that pair into two posts.

So this is the second part of a fourth entry in a five-post series. And it will be all about Ghost. Or rather, mostly about Ghost. (I reserve the right to refer back to other wolves.)

But there will be no more math, I promise.

Where’s Ghost?

Some of the direwolves’ stories on the show faithfully follow their book counterparts, and some (as far as we can tell) have had a small amount tweaking. Ghost’s story has perhaps seen the most show-interference, and whose story was the earliest to have changes introduced.

In the books, except for a brief interval from when Jon Snow climbs the Wall with the wildlings until after Stannis foils Mance Rayder’s invasion plans, Ghost the direwolf is near Jon. If Ghost could have scaled the ice and followed Jon south, he probably would have. On the show, Ghost had a certain amount of his own adventuring.

Ghost in the books accompanies Jon on Qhorin Halfhand’s commando ranging, and despite being captured and at risk of execution, Jon manages to keep the wildlings from murdering his wolf. The boy and his dog take their leave at Greyguard, with Jon hoping that Ghost would travel east to Castle Black.

But on the show, soon into the second season ranging, Ghost takes his leave of the small group, with Qhorin giving a shrug and a “wolves gotta be wolves, yo” observation. Ghost therefore misses out on Jon’s meeting with Ygritte, being separated from his Night’s Watch brothers, being captured, meeting Mance, and being sent over the Wall.

Ghost: I had things going on, if you know what I mean.
Me: I don’t. Can you go into specifics?
Ghost: No.

Despite Qhorin’s dismissal of Ghost wandering off, the implication from the show is that the direwolf had something more important to do than hang out with Jon and his squad. Instead, Ghost backtracked to the Night’s Watch encampment at the Fist of the First Men which was attacked by the White Walkers’ army of walking wights. Ghost escorts the survivors away from the slaughter and teams with Jeor Mormont to save Sam Tarly from a ghoulish wight.

Ghost being drawn away from Jon towards the Fist and the shuffling nightmare army isn’t canon in the books, but it’s not an unsupported option for the show. Ghost does lead the Night’s Watch to the dormant wights at Jon and Sam’s oath taking ceremony, and senses the nocturnal movements of those wights when they creepily rouse in Castle Black.

Ghost’s focus on Gilly when the ranging expedition overnighted at Craster’s Keep has a new significance, since Gilly is incubating a potential White Walker. (Apologies to Gilly for calling her an incubator. She’s a lovely person and a tough-as-nails survivor. And possibly a secret agent for the Others. Feel free to hit me up about that in the comments.)

But it’s not all zombie-fightin’ for Ghost on the show, unfortunately. When the mutiny breaks out at Craster’s Keep, Ghost is held captive by the outlaws. (I don’t like to imagine what nefarious things they had planned for a half-starved direwolf) until he’s freed during Team Bran’s escape and Team Jon’s successful attack on the mutineers.

Jon Snow missed a reunion with his little kinsman Bran, but at least Ghost got to see his brother Summer before distracting Jon from discovering Bran.

Ghost: Hey, bro.
Summer: Bro.
*butts are sniffed*
Ghost: What’s up?
Summer: The Old Gods have me tracking alongside the kid. We’re going north. You?
Ghost: The Old Gods had me doing a little this and a little that. But I’ll be sticking close to my dummy for awhile.
Summer: Take care of yourself. Be sniffing you.
Ghost: I hope so. If the Old Gods are good.
Summer: Them good goddos.

We briefly see Ghost in action at the battle of Castle Black, where Jon asks Sam to unleash Ghost as part of the general defense. It’s only a moment of white fur leaping into the wildlings, but this split-second of violent screentime is infinitely more action than Ghost gets in the books at the battle at the Wall. (I said there would be no math, but I can support that statement mathematically if required.) Show Ghost is pulling overtime as a veteran of the Fist of the First Men and Castle Black.

Ghost: You’re welcome, Seven Kingdoms.

(Before I get any “well, actually” comments about my Ghost dialog – I am aware that Ghost is famously mute in the books. But my blog has given him a voice! Let’s not argue.)

Is there a purpose to the showrunners adapting Ghost’s narrative in the books to have him spend overall less time with Jon, while having his own own alternative adventure track?

Expense considerations might be blamed since the absence of Ghost in season two means less money spent on digitally inserting the unnaturally large wolf into frames with the actors. Alternatively, the showrunners could have had Ghost leave Jon and Qhorin’s men in Season Two and then just be AWOL until after he can canonically reunite with Jon in Season 4, post-Stannis. That would have been economical. That would also have been very unsatisfying.

I think the investment in having Ghost undertaking his own adventure arc in the north works as a complement to Jon Snow and his experiences. Jon isn’t involved in the battle of the Fist of the First Men but Ghost is. Ghost hangs out at the Wall, keeping Sam and Gilly safe while Jon non-canonically goes to Hardhome and faces the Night King.

Besides being complements, they have some common experiences, like the battle at the Wall against Mance’s wildlings. And maybe before Jon found love with Ygritte, while Ghost was traveling from the Frostfangs to the Fist, he happened upon an auburn-furred she-wolf … okay, what happens north of the Wall stays north of the Wall.

Night King: That is an objectively false statement. Did you even see the season seven finale? Things don’t stay north of the Wall.
Me: My blog might be giving Ghost a voice, but not you, man.
Night King: Hmmmph.

Adapting Ghost’s story from the books too closely might not have been all that satisfying either. The adaptation of Jon’s story north of the Wall, particularly his introduction to Ygritte, had already been re-engineered for pacing and cinematic considerations. Having Ghost traveling alongside Jon in this alternative take, losing track of his group and being led into a trap by Ygritte, would be a somewhat complicated story to sell. As in – realistically the wildlings would have probably killed Ghost. Or inexplicably let Ghost live despite the obvious threat he represented.

To Ghost, the Lord of Bones is essentially a buffet sampler of chew toys.

It’s hard to take Rattleshirt’s blustering threats to Jon all that seriously when Jon has this enormous furry weapon at hand. It’s probably best in hindsight that Ghost had other things to attend to.

Seriously, Where’s Ghost?

If Ghost’s whereabouts can mostly be accounted for in the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, his absence does become noticeable for most of the sixth season and all of the seventh season (except for a mention by Sansa.)

I mean, I guess it was noticeable. I’ll have to admit that my memory can play tricks on me, and in my mind’s eye I’m always imagining that Ghost is hanging out in the corner of whatever hall Jon is in, or tracking along just out of frame. Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but it just feels reasonable. Like when there’s a married couple on a sitcom who recently had a baby. But we hardly see that kid. I just assume that they have baby-sitting. Because it would be insane for them to leave the baby unattended while visiting someone else’s apartment for sitcom adventures.

Ghost also seems to be present enough in the minds of Jon’s northerners. When Robett Glover declared Jon Snow the new King in the North, he gives Jon a nickname.

He doesn’t call him the Bastard King, or the Other Young Wolf, or the King with the Sexy Hair. He calls Jon the White Wolf. And that’s clearly a reference to Ghost.

Robett Glover: Now hold on, I might be some kind of Aryan Nationalist.
Me: I’m cutting you off, Glover. You can see yourself out.
Robett Glover: BUILD THAT WALL!

But despite my alleged persistent awareness of Ghost, he does seem to have been benched during some important things during those two seasons. Especially in Season Six, when Jon goes off to war.

There’s Ghost! Oh, never mind. That’s just a banner.

Jon assembles an army and heads to Winterfell to fight Ramsay Bolton, and he brings along wildlings, northmen, a smuggler from Flea Bottom, and a giant. But he doesn’t seem to bring along his direwolf.

Robb Stark would have brought Greywind to that battle.

Robb: Just so we’re clear on this, I would have handled that Rickon situation differently. I’d have sent lightning-fast Greywind to Rickon, and he would have forced our little brother to run a zig-zag pattern. Obviously.
Jon: Aren’t you dead?
Robb: And I’m pretty sure Greywind could probably snatch Ramsay’s arrows out of the air.
Jon: Just stop it.

Things being what they were, I think I would have had a hard time believing that Ghost could survive the events of the Battle of the Bastards. He’d be taken out either in the initial clash or the terrifying press of bodies when the Boltons deployed their spear-wall. It’s hard enough to believe that Jon survived all that. (And Tormund. And Davos.) Maybe it is best that Ghost was (just spitballing here) snuggled up to Melisandre in her tent or something.

Ghost: I’m no dummy.

Or given orders by Jon to stay back and run to Sansa if Ramsay won the day. For reasons.

Is the occasional reference to Ghost, or the general sense that he might be around a good use of Jon’s direwolf? As previously discussed, the direwolves should have a purpose in the story. And Ghost being around but not really having any weight on the story kind of implies that he no longer has a purpose. Or isn’t all that important.

I do believe that Ghost is important. But I also believe that he’s already nailed his purpose. Which leads me to some complicated conclusions.

Ghost in the Shell. Errr, I meant to say “Ghost in the Direwolf”

The following is speculation taken from the A Song of Ice and Fire community at large. I’d like to say that I thought of it without any input, but my dad came up with it before I did.

We assume that Jon Snow dies from his wounds in the last chapter of A Dance With Dragons. (Anyone holding out hope that Jon’s wounds are non-life ending and he’ll be saved by First Aid? Anyone? Anyone?)

The speculation is that Jon’s soul or consciousness or whatever wargs transmit to their animals will go into Ghost. That probably won’t be enough to bring Jon back to life thought.

The prologue chapter in A Dance With Dragons centers heavily on the unpleasant skinchanger Varamyr, who has to face the fact that he’ll need to skinchange out of his wounded body before he dies, to find a host for his second life. A host body that will be his home until he dies again, for good.

Jon retreating to Ghost makes sense. Ghost is the last thing he thinks of as the knives get him, and Jon is a warg, even if he’s not as accomplished as Bran Stark is. But if he ends up in Ghost, he’s stuck there, right?

Except that we also expect that Melisandre will do some R’hllorian voodoo and make Jon’s body possible for reanimation, as if Jon had simply warged into Ghost the way Bran would warg into Summer (and Hodor) and return at will.

(I’m also a fan of the idea that the entire process is aided by this happening at the Wall. The Wall is one of those hinges of the world, to quote Melisandre, and it’s rich in power.)

Again, this isn’t a new idea in the fandom, and it’s reinforced by the nature of the direwolves and the virtue of their names. Jon’s direwolf is named Ghost. It’s an apt name, because he’s all white and spookily silent. But if he’s the repository of Jon’s spirit, that’s thematic for the name as well.

This also hits on the theme of identity that we’ve seen with the other direwolves. Assuming Melisandre can work something like Thoros of Myr does with Beric Dondarrion, Ghost safeguarding Jon’s identity is important for the successful reanimation. Dondarrion always comes back a bit wrong. His identity is not complete and it’s been eroding away. So the resurrection that’s based on the power of the Lord of Light is kind of wonky, and needs to be supplemented by some of that Old Gods warging maybe.

The show validates a little of this. Melisandre is certainly involved in trying to bring Jon back to life. She improvises a ritual. She repairs his body physically, she prays. She prays really hard. And she gives up and leaves.

Then Jon wakes up.

But how was Ghost even involved on the show? Hear me out now.

Ghost is mostly absent in Season Six and Season Seven. The notable exception is the time after Jon’s death and his resurrection. Edd Tollard makes a point to get Ghost when he’s grabbing other Jon loyalists (including Ser Davos) who are opposed to the new regime headed by the chief assassin Ser Alliser Thorne. I don’t blame Edd for making that call. Ghost isn’t involved in any fighting (since Thorn’s administration is almost immediately crushed by the wildlings and literally by the giant Wun Wun) but if fighting did break out over Jon’s body, I’d want Ghost there too.

Edd’s reasoning isn’t in question. It’s the showrunners’ intentions I would like to examine. They commit to having Ghost as a CGI element in scenes when they don’t have to. If we don’t see Ghost during this time, we’d assume (and grouse about) that the poor direwolf is locked up in the kennels. There’s even a deleted scene for Season Six with unfinished effects having Edd fetch a surly, snarling Ghost to bring him to Jon’s body. That shows a fair amount of planning and resource management in getting a direwolf into those scenes, when otherwise the writing team would just have a character economically mention the direwolf’s unavailability.

When Melisandre, losing heart in the endeavor, leaves dejectedly with Jon’s supporters, only Ghost is left behind. Ghost, like a good doggo, had been sleeping through the ceremony.

Then, when finally alone, Ghost stirs and looks at Jon. Who suddenly is no longer dead.

Is this conclusive that Ghost was the safety deposit box for Jon’s soul, and facilitated Jon’s reanimation? No, not really. But the show went out of its way to avoid throwing water on that speculation.

But the show didn’t really reinforce the theory either.

Melisandre: After they stabbed you, where did you go? What did you see?
Jon: Nothing. There was nothing at all.
Me: This is very annoying.
Ghost: Sorry. I had a sleep.

Assuming that Jon in the books does come back, and Ghost is the conduit, we might expect Jon to act a bit more … lupine or whatever. If that’s true, the show could have thrown us a bone in that direction. But Jon mostly was just … Jon.

So why would that be? Why would the show not capitalize on this cool supernatural bit of information, that is so in harmony with the other aspects of the direwolves?

I have some ideas about that, but I think I’d rather save that for my final wrap-up post, where I close up some loose ends and talk about why I wanted to chat about the direwolves and the show’s handling of their story from book to screen.

But, I’m afraid I’m not done talking about Ghost and Jon Snow. Time for a little bit of speculation.

Defending Dead Direwolves

The title of this series is Defending Dead Direwolves, and though only four of the direwolves are guaranteed dead (at least in regards to the show) I wanted to discuss the chances of Ghost making it alive to the end of Season Eight. I am not hopeful of that happening.

Wait. WHAT?

Jon Snow was killed then brought back to life by Melisandre. That somewhat raises the question of “why isn’t Melisandre trying to resurrect everyone?” That’s not a question I feel needs to be entertained. I’m not asking why Thoros is only resurrecting Lord Beric. But Melisandre has a track record with Jon. She brought him back to life (or believes that she did.) She might try again if given the chance.

I’ve suggested above that Ghost was required to make the resurrection happen. (Or at least, to get Jon fully back and not an incomplete fire wight like Lord Beric.) So, if Melisandre had reason to try and resurrect Jon a second time (and she’s said that she’d try, against Jon’s express wishes) I feel Ghost is necessary to make that happen.

Being able to reliably (more or less) bring Jon back to life lowers the stakes in the drama. We should always be worried about Jon dying.

And I think Jon will definitely die in Season Eight. Things don’t come free in the world of Ice and Fire, and I would describe Jon narratively as living on borrowed time. Eventually, that time will run out.

But if time runs out, and Melisandre can cut his hair and pray real hard, and Ghost provides Old Gods renewal services, then we’re less invested in Jon Snow’s fate.

Unless Ghost dies. And Jon’s soul has no safe haven. And what Melisandre can accomplish might not be as much as she thinks.

Melisandre: Well, this worked the last time.
Davos: Can you pick this up? None of us are getting any younger.
Melisandre: Speak for yourself, dude.

But… I don’t want to end on too gloomy a note. Ghost dying would be a bummer, but maybe that’s not in the cards after all. An alternative would be Ghost not dying, but Melisandre taking her final exit.

Melisandre: Now hold on.
Arya: I’m listening.

That way, Jon dies (or runs out of time as I’ve framed it) but he lives on warged into Ghost. I imagine him the faithful protector to his child/children with Daenerys Targaryen. (I’m sure Dany haters are now throwing whatever device they’re reading this on across the room. I take no responsibility for your impulses, friends.)

Jon gone but not quite fully gone would kind of hit the bittersweet note that everyone has been promising. And it would be nice that not even the show could separate Jon and Ghost again.

Okay! I’ve talked about all six direwolves. The next post in this series will be the wrap-up, where I have some meta-observations on this whole endeavor and also speculate wildly on the intentions of Benioff and Weiss. Even if you don’t agree, it might be worth a laugh. Particularly if you don’t agree.

No one of course is required to read my stuff, and I appreciate all of you who do. I’ve had some very kind feedback to this set of posts on the direwolves, and that’s very gratifying. Thank you very much.

(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.)

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

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