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Game of Thrones’ director tried to explain what happened with Ghost. It didn’t help.

Fans aren’t buying that CGI issues caused Jon Snow to act the way he did.

Fans aren’t happy about the fate of Ghost on Game of Thrones’ eighth season.
Helen Sloan/HBO
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

In the wake of Game of Thronespolarizing fourth episode of its eighth and final season, one of the things fans have remained most outraged and confused by is Jon Snow’s treatment of his faithful direwolf, Ghost.

Partway through “The Last of the Starks,” in a moment that felt both abrupt and uncharacteristic, Jon gave Ghost to his pal Tormund, who was headed back to the “true” North to try to re-form the Night’s Watch. Jon asked Tormund to take Ghost with him, saying the animal “doesn’t belong in the South”; then he simply walked away from his loyal companion without saying goodbye.

Given how well Ghost has served Jon in the past and how loyal Jon tends to be, this felt like an unusually harsh turn for his character — and a very unfitting farewell to Ghost, who was left looking sad and abandoned in a heartbreaking shot.

Fans inevitably expressed outrage on social media and tried to parse what the scene meant for Jon as a character, with some speculating that Game of Thrones’ showrunners might not have wanted to spend any more of their CGI budget on keeping Ghost in the story, as direwolves are created using a combination of CGI and footage of real wolves.

Ultimately, it turned out that speculation was at least partially right. After the fandom’s outcry over Ghost, the episode’s director, David Nutter, gave an interview to the Huffington Post, in which he essentially confirmed that how the goodbye scene played out was indeed driven by CGI considerations.

“Since the direwolves are kind of CG creations, we felt it best to keep it as simple as possible,” said Nutter. “And I think that it played out much more powerfully that way.”

“Keeping Ghost off to the side, I thought that played out better,” he added.

Nutter clearly felt that Game of Thrones creative team made a good choice, and stood by it. But the revelation that the motive for Jon’s abrupt farewell to Ghost was linked to a production issue did nothing to assuage fans. Instead, it made everything worse.

Nutter’s explanation made everything worse

Many fans who reacted to the interview were already furious, and Nutter’s explanation made many of them more so. On Twitter, thousands of people responded by pointing out that Jon’s behavior made no sense given his characterization, that Game of Thrones had other options for showing the goodbye beyond relying on CGI, that we’ve seen the Starks pet their direwolves on screen in the past, and that the show has seemingly had no trouble making Jon pet dragons as often as needed.

Up to a point, Nutter’s logic makes sense. CGI fur is apparently so difficult to animate that scientists are researching how to do it better.

But many people were quick to point out that because Game of Thrones still had real wolves at its disposal, it didn’t need to rely on CGI when savvy camera tricks could have sufficed.

Meanwhile, fans who’ve insisted that the moment was a betrayal of Jon’s character have George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels on their side. After HuffPo published Nutter’s comments, an editor for the Ringer, Mallory Rubin, devoted an entire Twitter thread to noting passages from Martin’s books in which Jon had turned to Ghost in times of need.

The passages paint a picture of a bond between human and pet that was much stronger than was indicated by their final moment together on the show. And fans’ anger that the show’s creative team seemingly chose to ignore that bond for the sake of convenience points to larger concerns about the final season as a whole.

Anger over Ghost’s fate reflects fans’ mounting anger over Game of Thrones’ eighth season overall

Like the instantly memorable coffee cup that mistakenly appeared in a scene during this same episode, Jon’s treatment of Ghost, and Nutter’s response to criticism of that treatment, seem to have become stand-ins for some fans’ growing dissatisfaction with Game of Thrones’ last season as a whole.

While it was never going to be possible to satisfy every viewer, many Game of Thrones fans clearly feel that the show’s creative team has been prioritizing the wrong things — high-budget spectacle over thoughtful characterization — and cutting corners in a way that leads to sloppiness and inexplicable character choices like this one.

In short, some Game of Thrones fans are very mad. And with just two episodes remaining in the show’s final season, it has very few chances left to win back their good will.

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