As the sigil of House Stark, the direwolf is considered throughout Westeros as a legendary sign of the North. In fact, before Ned Stark and his children – Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, and Jon Snow – adopted a brood of direwolves, it had been almost 200 years since the beasts were sighted south of the Wall.
In the Game of Thrones pilot, “Winter is Coming”, each of the Stark children received a direwolf as a pet after the Ned Stark and his sons happened upon six orphaned pups still nursing from the corpse of their departed mother.
Jon even noted that it was a prophecy – “There are five pups, one for each of the Stark children… They were meant to have them.” – Before a sixth, albino direwolf pup was found and became Jon’s. Throughout Game of Thrones, most of the Stark direwolves shared the adventures and similar fates of their owners, some of them awful.
Just as the Stark children were separated from each other in season one and some never saw each other again, the same thing happened to the direwolves. In Game of Thrones season 1, Northern Inuit (Utonagan) Dogs from Mahlek Kennels were used to depict the juvenile direwolves. After season 2, real wolves were utilized and made larger by CGI and other camera tricks in post-production.
When season 1 wrapped production, the dogs were offered to the actors playing the Starks; Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, adopted her dog (named Lady in the series). Isaac Hemstead-Wright, who plays Bran, wanted to adopt the dog who plays Summer but his family already owned two dogs.
It’s secure to say that the real-life dogs fared better than the characters they represented on Game of Thrones since out of the six Stark direwolves, only two are still alive going into Game of Thrones season 8:
The Starks’ Dead Direwolves
Lady: Sansa’s direwolf, was the first to be killed in Game of Thrones season 1, episode 2, “The King’s Road”. Lady was ordered to be killed by King Robert Baratheon in place of Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, who bit Prince Joffrey to defend her owner. Ned Stark executed Lady himself in place of Ser Illyn Payne because, being from the North, “she deserves better than a butcher.”
Grey Wind: Robb’s direwolf, died with him during The Red Wedding in “The Rains of Castamere”. As Robb, Catelyn, and the Starks were betrayed and murdered by Walder Frey, Grey Wind was killed in his cage by crossbows. Grey Wind was then decapitated and his head sewn onto Robb’s headless corpse, and they were sarcastically paraded around The Twins in “Mhysa”.
Summer: Bran’s direwolf, saved his life from the ruthless in season 1. He later escorted his owner, Hodor, and Jojen and Meera Reed north of the Wall to the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven. When the Night King and his army of the dead attacked the cave in “The Children”, Summer fought the Wights to buy time for Bran and Meera to run away. Unluckily, Summer was killed.
Shaggydog: Rickon’s black direwolf, accompanied his owner and Osha to House Umber, who betrayed them to Ramsay Bolton. Shaggydog was killed and beheaded by the Umbers; Ramsay later wrote Jon Snow a letter that he was using Shaggydog’s fur as a rug. In “The Battle of the Bastards”, Smalljon Umber threw Shaggydog’s head to Sansa and Jon as evidence that they had Rickon.
The Starks’ Direwolves Still Alive
Nymeria was chased into the forest by her owner, Arya, to save her from being killed by the Lannisters in “The King’s Road”. Years later, in “Stormborn”, Arya happens upon a fully-grown Nymeria in the woods en route to Winterfell.
The direwolf, who now leads her own pack, declined Arya’s invitation to come with her. Arya realized why, remarking “That isn’t you.” As said by the series creators, Arya’s line was a callback to season 1 about one day becoming the Lady of Winterfell.
Ghost has survived the most ordeals fighting alongside – and excluding – his owner Jon Snow. Ghost accompanied Jon to the Night’s Watch and later joined him North of the Wall, where he separated, had his own adventures, and for a short time even reunited with Summer in season 4 before finding Jon again.
Ghost grieved Jon when he was killed by the Night’s Watch and was by his side after Melisandre resurrected him. Ghost wasn’t permitted by Jon to fight in the Battle of the Bastards and the direwolf didn’t escort Jon to Dragonstone in season 7. Ghost remains in Winterfell awaiting Jon’s return in Game of Thrones season 8.
Game of Thrones season 8 premieres Sunday, April 14 @ 9pm on HBO.