- Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Game of Thrones” season eight, episode one, “Winterfell.”
- Jon Snow rode a dragon for the first time, but the scene was stripped of any ceremonial importance and instead played for laughs.
- This was underwhelming for fans who thought his first dragon ride would follow the revelation of his Targaryen parentage.
- Also, where is Ghost?
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HBO’s final season of “Game of Thrones” kicked off with several major moments for Jon Snow. He was finally told the truth about his parents, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, but before that he had a lovely little trip north with Daenerys and rode a dragon for the first time.
Jon riding a dragon was no doubt a big moment, but it felt strangely underwhelming and unimportant thanks to its placement so early on the season.
To understand why this fell flat, we have to look back at all the theories and predictions fans have had for years.
Most people assumed Jon wouldn’t ride a dragon until he knew he was part-Targaryen
George R.R. Martin’s books have established that Targaryens have a special bond to dragons. In Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels and newly released Targaryen history “Fire and Blood,” he makes it clear that Targaryens are able to bond with (and then ride) dragons far more easily than any regular Westerosi Joe.
Paired with the audience’s understanding of Jon’s Targaryen parentage, we’ve long assumed Jon Snow would ride a dragon at some point on the series.
But nearly everyone thought it would happen after Jon learned the truth about his Targaryen blood – not before.
Coming into the final season, most people were expecting Jon to hear about his father, Rhaegar Targaryen, absorb the news, and then eventually realize this means he can hop onto a dragon’s back and help out with the pending battle against the Army of the Dead.
This would have a been a much more ritualistic dragon-riding scenario, with a meaningful bond established between Jon and Rhaegal. There would have been gravitas added to Jon approaching the great beast named after his birth father, Rhaegar, and taking that first flight knowing his own shared history with the Targaryens.
Instead, the scene we got made it seem as if anybody is welcome to try and take a dragon for a spin
Jon’s joyriding scene with Daenerys was instead played for some laughs, with Daenerys casually suggesting Jon hop on Rhaegal’s back and joking about how he might die.
The scene was beautifully shot, with sweeping shots through icy canyons and a fantastic new piece of score from Ramin Djawadi. Rhaegal’s whistling dragon noises combined with Jon’s anxious expressions and stomach-swooping dives made it one of the best dragon-based scenes we’ve had yet on “Game of Thrones” in terms of the sound design and visual effects.
But the narrative importance of Jon’s first ride on a dragon felt stripped down. Did anyone in Winterfell comment on it afterwards? What did Tyrion have to say about this development? It didn’t help that the scene ended with a deeply awkward kiss between Jon and Daenerys.
Also, where is Ghost?
Another thorn in our side when it comes to Jon Snow’s dragon ride was the distinct absence of Ghost. Jon’s direwolf hasn’t been seen on the show since season six, episode two, “Home,” when Jon was resurrected.
Ghost was faithfully by Jon’s side after his assassination, but the mystical beast hasn’t been seen for more than 15 episodes straight now. We know the budget has limited the amount of screen time the Stark direwolves get, since rendering a realistic giant wolf is a much more complicated task than bringing dragons to life with pure CGI.
The direwolf was left out of season six’s “Battle of the Bastards” to make room for the giant Wun Wun, according to director Miguel Sapochnik. And there was originally a scene featuring Ghost saying goodbye to Jon Snow on season seven, but writer and executive producer Bryan Cogman said the scene was cut.
The Stark’s direwolves are more than just loving companions; each wolf has a special psychic bond with its owner. Again, Martin’s books make this far more clear than “Game of Thrones” ever has, but Ghost was always an important part of Jon’s life at Castle Black and Beyond the Wall.
Now he’s relegated to throwaway sentences, and wasn’t even present for Jon’s big return to Winterfell.
Jon quipped to Daenerys that she had “ruined horses” for him by letting him hop on Rhaegal’s back – but what about his direwolf? Sure, Ghost wasn’t taking Jon on joyrides, but he was a protector and one of Jon’s strongest physical manifestations of his Northern blood. Ghost shares the same blood-red and bone-white coloring of the weirwoods of the Old Gods.
Imagine for a moment that the Northern lords proclaimed Jon Snow “King in the North!” and “The White Wolf!” while Ghost (the literal white wolf) sat by his side, nearly coming up to Jon’s shoulder and silently observing the raucous cheers.
Imagine Daenerys having to reach out her bare hand slowly towards the great wolf, taking an intimate step into Jon’s life by winning the trust of his faithful furry companion.
The Stark direwolves were more than just pets. They were the ancient Stark sigil come to life after centuries, beings of the North and protectors of Ned Stark’s children long after death.
If Jon and Daenerys were always the endgame union, then it’s understandable why fans think their respective familial animals, their guardians and source of power and magic, should both have a meaningful role in the story.
To this end, Jon Snow’s dragon ride was not nearly as ceremonial or profound as many had anticipated, and the scene’s impact was lost among the many other exciting parts of the “Game of Thrones” season eight premiere. We can hope for another Jon-Rhaegal moment in the coming battle against the Night King, but for now we’re setting our sights on a triumphant return of Ghost.
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