Is Shaggydog Dead? Symbolic Direwolf Names and Ironic Reversals


[Like all fan theories, this article may have spoilers.]

Many Game of Thrones fans harbor theories about the direwolves.  Summer’s death – if he did die – made it clear that the name “Summer” wasn’t foreshadowing an outcome of salvation but rather the death of Bran’s dreams of his own halcyon “summer” days.  (He might not be quite so indulgent with the greensight after his losses last Sunday night.)

The direwolf names appear to symbolize the fate and arc of the wolf’s human owner. Some fans on Reddit have similar thoughts here and here. There were a lot of really smart comments on those threads, so I’ve tried to weave in a few.

Nymeria & Arya


Nymeria (c) HBO.

Nymeria was the first direwolf to be separated from her owner. Like Arya, Nymeria is loyal, brave, a little wild, and originally had a good protective heart.  Arya names Nymeria after the female warrior queen, whom she admires.

The trouble begins in Season 1 (A Game of Thrones). When Joffrey tried to strike Arya with a sword, Nymeria chomps on the cowardly prince’s arm. Cersei demands vengeance for her humiliated son. Arya forces Nymeria to leave her “pack of one” or family (Arya), foreshadowing Arya’s fate.

Like many real-world children of war, Arya is displaced and separated from her family, alone and adrift. Revenge consumes Arya so much that she is willing to give up her identity to pursue it – or perhaps just to have another family again.

Although Nymeria’s whereabouts is unknown, she is not completely lost to Arya. Arya has wolf dreams about her. Arya also wargs into Nymeria and drags Catelyn’s body out of the river where the Freys dumped it after the Red Wedding.

Nymeria remains at large, leading a pack of wolves (or warriors), perhaps, foreshadowing Arya’s destiny to be a leader of warriors or vigilantes one day.

Meanwhile, separated from her direwolf, Arya is losing herself.

To become a great soldier – in an army for example — Arya must self-mortify herself to the larger whole. (This is why the House of Black and White keep beating her down and trying to destroy her identity.)

This may be pushing it, but maybe the name Nymeria is a blend of Arya’s name and “no more me” = Ni (like No, Nie, or Nyet) + Me + Aria. (Or, even “no more of my song” (my aria or voice/identity).

But, do warrior queens and leaders need to lose their identity?

Next week it looks like Arya might just break with the House of Black and White. If this happens, she’ll need protection. Will Nymeria come back to protect her and save her?

Sansa & Lady

Sansa may be the princess deconstructed, the truth behind the fairy tale. Pre-teen Sansa is a romantic daydreamer. She dreams of love, handsome princesses, and being a queen one day.

Sansa’s parents give her the choice about marrying Joffrey – well, she begs them to agree to it. But, like us, she buys into the myths of chivalry and knows little about the harsh realities for medieval princesses who enter into arranged marriages.


Sansa as she walks to meet Joffrey. This is the day her dreams of being a great lady or princess began to die. (c) HBO.

When war breaks out between her family and the Lannisters, Sansa goes from princess-in-waiting to diplomatic hostage — and a target for a sociopathic princeling to torment. So much for the fairy tale.

But, the fairy tale begins to unravel before Sansa even leaves Winterfell. She sees the darker side of the bargain struck between Ned and Robert when Cersei demands the death of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady.

There are layers of meaning here…

First, Lady’s death foreshadows how Cersei kills off part of Sansa’s soul when she pushes Sansa into betraying her family and nearly forces her into a diabolical child marriage – and a violent initiation into womanhood – after Sansa gets her period.

Sansa’s circumstances force her to self-mortify the princess or lady within, which she must do I suspect to fulfill her destiny. By Season Six, Sansa is possibly a starry-eyed girl. She’s become a shrewd survivalist who is less concerned about constructions of feminine behavior (passivity). Sansa has begun to put herself out there as the heir of the North and somebody who will help raise men (through alliances with other houses).

Yet at the same time, as the heir to the North, Sansa is relying on her noble title (Lady).

Throughout all of the storylines we have seen so far, Sansa’s marriage is always a bargaining chip – in this way she is like real-life princess Elizabeth of York and queen Anne Neville. Ultimately, Sansa’s fate may be that she will become a great lady, despite killing off that side of herself. Sansa may bring peace to Westeros through a dynastic marriage to a king (like Elizabeth of York did when she married Henry VII).

Robb & Grey Wind


Robb uses Grey Wind to intimidate Jaime Lannister. Throughout history, dogs have often been used as weapons of war. (c) HBO.

Robb Stark’s direwolf, Grey Wind, may well represent his fate: to die young, blow hard, or perhaps to be an indecisive force. Robb named his direwolf Grey Wind because the smoke grey wolf ran so quickly.

But, the other aspect of wind isn’t so much its speed or force, but its variability and inconstancy.

Grey Wind echoes Robb’s growth as a warrior and leader.

When Grey Wind bites off two of Greatjon Umber’s fingers when the lord threatens Robb, it helps Robb win Umber’s respect. Grey Wind’s menacing presence gives young Robb the gravitas he needs to earn respect and negotiate peace (Cleos Frey). Grey Wind makes men fear Robb – especially when he follows Robb into battle or kills men (Whispering Wood). (Bloozchicken quips on the subreddit that “Grey wind was Robb’s right hand and fought with him in battle, so much so that people thought Robb was a wolf. They fought together, they died together, they were sewn together.” Bloozchicken has a point – no pun intended.)

But, the name Grey Wind also evokes the 1977 Kansas song, “Dust in the Wind.” Inspired by a Native American poem, the song describes the fleeting ephemeral nature of life and dreams.

“I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind”

Robb’s dreams and ideals – of love with Talisa (or his self-concept of honor by marrying Jeyne Westerling in the books) – lead to his fate. In both cases, Robb loses sight of the bigger vision: winning the war with the Lannisters. (The other contributing factor is Robb’s impetuousness. It’s worth mentioning that Grey Wind is a little impulsive, not unlike Robb’s marriage to Talisa and some of his other fateful choices.)

Ultimately Robb’s relationship with Grey Wind echoes Robb’s loss of faith in his own instincts. Robb repeatedly fails to follow his inner compass; he gets distracted from his path. (I’m sure I could think of a few other bad clichés, but you get the idea.)

Robb loses faith in direwolves because of a lie. When he hears that Theon killed Bran and Rickon, he no longer believes the direwolves are guardians.

Rather than trusting in Grey Wind’s intuition, Robb ignores it – and, symbolically, this is almost like Robb ignoring himself. When Grey Wind growls at the ultimately treacherous Rolph Spicer – who, in the books sold Robb out with the Red Wedding – Robb sends Grey Wind away. (He comes back.)


Robb permanently united with his direwolf after the Red Wedding. (c) HBO.

Perhaps, Grey Wind could have saved Robb at the Red Wedding – or intimidated the Freys and their allies so much they never attacked. By that point, however, Robb had ignored his own instincts so much that he could no longer hear their call. When Grey Wind growls at Lothar Frey and Walder Rivers at the Red Wedding, Robb lets him be tied up in the stables – despite Catelyn’s pleas to heed his wolf’s instincts.

If Robb personifies a young warrior prince, an emblem of chivalry and honor, his fate affirms what happened to all the medieval nobles’ dreams of military glory. These blood sacrifices for immortality became dust on the wind. As an emblem of war, Robb really is the same old song:

“Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind”

Ghost & Jon


Jon looks at Ghost in amazement. The pup’s white fur echoes Jon’s surname. (c) HBO.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Season 6 is not a good season for direwolves. Because of Ghost’s name, until the beginning of this season, I fretted that Jon might have warged into Ghost when he died.

But, even though Melisandre has revived him, does Jon technically exist? Did he truly come back from the dead as a living human being in the way we think of it? When one of the red priests or priestesses brings somebody back from the dead, do we know whether they restore a human life or they make they make a ghost walk around in a meat suit?

This theory might sound crazy, but given all the symbolism and foreshadowing in his books, why did George RR Martin name Jon’s wolf Ghost?

Perhaps, Jon is a form of a ghost. Maybe Jon will vanish and leave this plane once his duty to protect the realms of men is over.

Rickon & Shaggydog

In the show, Ned Stark’s youngest son Rickon is a bit of a mystery. In the books, Rickon is wild and having trouble adjusting to the violent upheavals in his family.

In A Game of Thrones, Rickon and Shaggydog attack two men in the crypts. After he feels abandoned by his parents in A Clash of Kings, Rickon becomes increasingly angry and afraid. Reflecting Rickon’s interior state, Shaggydog becomes uncontrollable and nearly feral.

This wolf’s head doesnt look nearly as big as Shaggydog’s. Will Shaggydog reappear to make Ramsay into a long-winded pointless story.

Shaggydog might not be dead. The wolf’s head that Smalljon Umber presented to Ramsay looks too small and doesn’t have quite the same markings. Some argue the Umbers aren’t loyal to Ramsay.

As IamSeth pointed out on the asoiaf subreddit, a shaggy dog story is a long-winded and pointless story. It’s a style of telling a joke or anecdote that plays on the audience’s preconceptions of storytelling. (And, ah, that has a lot of potential for a little of ye olde “meta meta.”)

Shaggydog could mean one of two things:

  • Rickon is about to die. That is, Ramsay’s expected brutality will mean make his life so short that he won’t be abler to accomplish anything. (His life is sadly pointless due to its brevity.)
  • Rickon won’t die because there will be an ironic reversal. And, what’s the ironic reversal we’re all waiting for? Shaggydog leaps out of nowhere and hunts Ramsay down, mauls him, and kills him. Shaggy dog stories sometimes end with puns. And, what better pun would there be than a dog killing Ramsay the way he has killed so many?


Theon & the Dead Wolf Mother

Perhaps most poignantly of all, the only Stark “child” not to receive a wolf was the one who longed to be part of their family, or any family: Theon.

In fact, when the Starks find the direwolves, Theon suggests killing the pups, but “is unsuccessful, which foreshadows his failed attack on Winterfell in A Clash of Kings” — or, so this article argues.

One Reddit user commented that perhaps the dead mother was Theon’s wolf. In a way, perhaps, this is true. The dead mother is useless, unable to protect or nourish her pups.

The tragedy about Theon is that he is a diplomatic hostage, effectively a prisoner of war. His father’s betrayal (of his king) led to Theon losing his family. When Theon tried to regain his place in his family (by seized Winterfell), his father abandoned him because he was “useless” without a penis.

Due to war’s terrible consequences, Theon never really had a family or any true “mothering.”

His mother is essentially Yara (Asha). Does this mean that Yara’s fate is to die?

Bran & Summer


Summer looks up at Bran right before his downfall from the tower. (c) HBO.

Arguably, Bran’s illicit visit to happy days at Winterfell – his summer days – led to the deaths of Hodor, Leaf, the three-eyed raven, and his beloved direwolf, Summer.

As Reddit member kjac15 commented, “Bran named Summer to initially symbolize hope. But with Summer dying in the last episode, Winter is officially here. Bran made a mistake when warging alone, and he will probably be the cause of the white walkers making it past the wall since he now has that imprint on him.”

In other words, Bran has become the doorway for the white walkers.

But, will Bran’s fate be to never move beyond his own summer (childhood, halcyon days)? What happens when the Stark children lose their direwolves? Do they remain frozen? Will Bran end up stuck as part of a tree – under the earth, growing with the summers — like the three-eyed raven?


Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

1 Comment

  • Reply May 27, 2016


    With GoT I have come to expect the worst (especially after the Shireen sacrifice last year – I kept hoping the foreboding was a red herring). I will take it that Shaggydog (show version at least) is dead and that Rickon is in a dire situation and then if there is a (happy) reversal of fortune it will be a nice surprise.

    I did get a feeling, especially from the books, that the Stark children’s dire wolves reflected their owners’ personalities. I don’t know what GRRM’s “bittersweet” ending will be though I suspect it will show the futility and evil of war but in the version in my head Nymeria (wolf not Sand Snake) has pups and such Stark children who have lost their dire wolves get a pup to replace the dead wolf.

    I read that (though don’t remember where) that the as yet unwritten seventh ASOIAF at one time had a working title of “A Time for Wolves” though it’s now “A Dream of Spring” which made me hope at least in part something would go reasonably well for the Starks. But then my “In my head” versions don’t often come to fruition.

    Thanks for the article, Jamie.

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