In the wake of Game of Thrones’ polarizing 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.
If this is a scene that can exist don’t tell me it would’ve been too hard to have Kit Harrington to interact with a CG direwolf..... pic.twitter.com/ssc7ci2CSR— Brandon James (@ValarMorghuli3) May 7, 2019
Okay, coolcoolcool Mr Nutter. But how about a gif of Robb Stark dunking on that explanation: pic.twitter.com/992Qe7v4df— Abbey (@Just_Abbey) May 8, 2019
WE HAD LIKE TEN MINUTES OF CGI DRAGON BULLSHIT ALREADY THIS SEASON, YOU COULD’VE CUT THAT DOWN FOR A PROPER FAREWELL FOR GHOST, THE BEST BOY https://t.co/kxiXxQdqnr— Kay Taylor Rea (@kaytaylorrea) May 7, 2019
Such a terrible excuse. You spend 15 MILLION PLUS on each episode.— jbrinkmeyer (@jbrinkmeyer) May 7, 2019
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.
You get a hunk of faux fur. You cut a scene of close up hand in a black glove petting it. You cut back to jon looking down and smiling and saying "good ghost." and then you cut to the dog making a shit for brains dog face. Done. This is so easy. And I didn't even use CGI.— Dia Lacina (@dialacina) May 7, 2019
I see your argument, and raise you one cut to a hand running through real fur: https://t.co/I5Z4d2CARO— Jonny Vaughan (@sunsofsagan) May 8, 2019
Either way I'll take a 5 second bit of shitty CGI over Jon being a sociopath. What kind of monster doesn't say goodbye to such a good boi? He couldn't even manage a nod.
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.
When Jon struggles with recurring nightmares of Winterfell, the only way he can find comfort is by pressing his face into Ghost's fur. His direwolf is, of course, by his side, sensing his need. pic.twitter.com/cnZZPBztuC— Mallory Rubin (@MalloryRubin) May 7, 2019
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.
A giant picked up Lyanna Mormont, Jon Snow rode a dragon for half an episode, even pet the dragon in the previous episode but can’t give his own direwolf, who has been with him since season 1, a proper goodbye due to CGI cuts? Do they even care about this show anymore? https://t.co/BX6cNith0W— M (@marisab_ribeiro) May 8, 2019
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.
I’ve been complaining about this for 3 days now, this is the hill I’m willing to die on in 2019— Dhobie (@dhobie8) May 7, 2019
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.