In the Game of Thrones universe, few of the creatures (either pre-historic or mythical) are as popular as the direwolves of the Stark children. Since their adoption in season one, viewers have witnessed heroic moments of triumph from these canines, as well as tear welling moments of sorrow. As their lives are paralleled, we have come to root for the direwolves in Game of Thrones just as much as we root for our favorite human characters. *If Ghost dies, we riot*
Given their popularity, in preparation for the final season of Game of Thrones, we thought it would be best to compile a list of some of the most interesting facts about direwolves; some of which you may know, while others will surely take you by surprise.
10. They Are Real
Not many casual show-watchers and book-readers know that the direwolves of Game of Thrones are actually based upon a real species that walked the lands of earth long ago. Scientifically known as Canis dirus, the real-life direwolf's name is actually split into two words, "dire wolf." Whereas in Game of Thrones, it is combined into one. Other than that, there is not much difference between fiction and non, as their existence was likely pulled directly from history books when George RR Martin was creating his universe for A Song of Ice and Fire.
9. They Were Extremely Large
According to fossil records collected over the years, the real-life dire wolves rank as the largest species of the genus Canis to ever exist. They averaged about five-feet in length, and between 150 to 200 pounds in weight. When in a natural position on all four legs, an adult dire wolf would have come up to the chest of a six-feet-tall human being, making them about as large as a small horse today.
8. Not Simply 'Big Wolves'
Given the name and genus, it is easy to picture the pre-historic dire wolf as just a larger version of a common gray wolf of today's age, but this is not the case. Dire wolves may have looked similar in that they are four-legged canines covered in fur, but they were very different indeed. Dire wolves had much larger heads, smaller brains, larger teeth, shorter legs, and smaller feet than the current species of Canis. This genetic makeup likely meant that although these wolves possessed bone-crushing bites, they were likely very slow, which could have been part of the reason behind their ultimate demise.
7. Sigil Of House Stark
As most know, the fictional direwolves are the official sigil of House Stark in Game of Thrones. Starks are much like the "mascot" of their sigil; fierce, warriors, cold dwellers, pack hunters, and slow.
"Ah, the Starks. Quick tempers, slow minds." - Petyr Baelish
The direwolves' connection to the Starks is well documented, as at least three of the Stark children can warg into their direwolves' minds. It is also believed that the death of a Stark direwolf is an omen to whoever was the owner of that wolf (see: Rickon and Robb). Two Stark kids still live while their direwolves are dead (Sansa and Bran), so we will see if this life connection theory proves true this season.
6. Extremely Loyal
Going off of their apparent connection to the Starks is the incredible loyalty of the direwolves. Of the six that we see become "pets" of the Stark children in season one, we have witnessed countless instances of these wolves putting their lives on the line for their Stark companions, and are probably the only reason that Bran and Jon are still alive.
No matter the cost, direwolves are ever the watchful protectors.
5. Existed For Over One Million Years
The real-life dire wolves reigned the lands of North America for approximately 1.79 million years. An existence this long stems back to the radiation of "dogs" that began five million years ago; an evolutionary succession that has led to the wolves and dogs that we have today. The latest that the dire wolves were thought to have lived was about 10,000 years ago.
For the latter half-million years of their existence, dire wolves lived alongside gray wolf ancestors.
4. Rival Of Saber-Toothed Tigers
Since both species existed at the same time, it is widely speculated that dire wolves and saber-toothed tigers were carnivorous rivals thousands of years ago. Both species of animal were hyper-carnivores, very large, and would have required similar diet and caloric intake necessary to keep them going.
If the two foes ever clashed over interest in the same meal, the dire wolf would have likely gotten the better of a saber-tooth, since the dire wolves were probably hunting in a pack, while a saber-tooth would more commonly hunt alone. Strength in numbers!
3. Extinct After Last Ice Age
Like many of the mammal inhabitants of their age, dire wolves saw their numbers dwindle and ultimately erased after the last glacial period, or "ice age." Given that this ice age lasted from about 125,000 years ago until 14,000 years ago, and dire wolf remains have been dated as recently as 10,000 years ago. Some of these canines existed a few thousand years after the glacial period, but not near enough.
There is no definitive cause for the dire wolf's extinction, but popular theories relate it to the ice age, as well as the possibility that smaller predators were outperforming the large, cumbersome beasts.
2. Thought To Be Extinct South Of The Wall (GOT)
In Game of Thrones, the parts of Westeros south of The Wall are thought to be scant of direwolves for 200 years, which results in them being regarded as more mythical than real when we are introduced to this universe on screen. That is, until the Starks find six orphaned direwolf pups in season one, a revelation that even Eddard himself seems to have a hard time believing.
1. They Are Being Resurrected
The National American Alsatian Breeders Association (NAABA) founded the Dire Wolf Project in 1988, which aims to "bring back the look of the large prehistoric dire wolf in a domesticated dog breed."
Over the past 30 years, the NAABA have been slowly and methodically breeding domesticated dog breeds to have a similar look to the pre-historic dire wolves, resulting in a pet dog that looks like one fit for a Stark child, without the dangers of an actual wolf. Their first generation was a mix between a purebred Alaskan Malamute and a purebred German Shepherd. After a few years of breeding along these lines, they then bred that hybrid offspring with English Mastiffs, to produce rounded heads and bone structures similar to that of dire wolves.
Following decades of this crossbreeding, the NAABA now recognize their creations as purebred in their own right, which they call American Alsatians. They will continue to tinker with the genetics by staggering different breeds into the mix to further pursue a breed of dog that is as close to a dire wolf in appearance as possible, while also keeping them docile and trusted companions.
Not exactly a Jurassic Park level of recreation, but interesting and exciting all the same.