[SPOILERS ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 2.]
Tonight's episode of Game of Thrones included some surprisingly big moments for being only the second episode, giving us a strong impression of just how fast the pace is going to be this season. With only seven episodes instead of the usual ten, season 7 is moving along at a steady click, pushing major characters towards one another very quickly -- think Yara and Euron's fleets literally colliding or Daenerys and Jon Snow's planned meeting for next episode.
But there was one meeting of characters that happened in "Stormborn" that has fans both extremely happy and a little sad: Arya's bittersweet reunion with her direwolf, Nymeria. To say that audiences have a real soft spot for the Stark children and their wolves would be putting it lightly, and when either one or both of them are killed, the outpouring of grief from fans is undeniable. Last season was an especially rough one for the direwolves, too, with both Summer and Shaggydog giving their lives to protect their owners.
Summer was an especially hard loss when you consider how close Bran and his direwolf actually were. Being the future Three Eyed Raven, Bran was capable of warging into Summer, creating an especially tight bond between boy and wolf. The other Starks and their wolves are also quite close -- Grey Wind was almost always shown at Robb's side, and it was only when separated were they both killed -- but there has been what seems like an effort to downplay those bonds as of late. Ghost, for instance, has barely appeared on the show since Jon came back, which is surprising given how defined by his white wolf Jon remains -- the Northmen even proclaim Jon the White Wolf, just as Robb was the Young Wolf.
Which makes it all the more interesting that Game of Thrones chose to include the scene tonight of Arya running into Nymeria and her wolf pack. Sure, it's all fans have wanted since only the second episode when Arya threw rocks at Nymeria to make her run away, sparing her the death that would later be Lady's. But is it just a nice scene that provides a bit of closure or could it mean something more?
Wolf Dreams & Warging
To understand what potential this meeting between Arya and Nymeria might hold for the future, we first need to examine their relationship. On Game of Thrones, Arya and Nymeria are depicted as having just as close a bond as any of the Stark children and their wolves, but it's sadly cut short when she needs to get rid of her in order to save her. That's then about it for Nymeria on the television series, with Arya only ever occasionally recalling her long lost direwolf.
In the books, however, Arya and Nymeria's relationship continues -- though in an unusual manner. After Nymeria is sent away, rumors of a giant she-wolf roaming the Riverlands with her pack begin to spread, becoming a bit like local legend. Ayra in fact sees Nymeria (though she doesn't realize it) when she's traveling the Riverlands with Gendry and Hot Pie, spying a wolf pack off in the distance and howling to them, at which point the largest wolf among them howls back. Later that evening, Arya experiences her first wolf dream, seeing through Nymeria's eyes as she and her pack tear through some of the Brave Companions (a group of sellswords working for the Lannisters out of Harrenhal). She later comes across her mother, Catelyn's body in the river and, as Nymeria, drags it to shore only to flee when men approach (possibly the Brotherhood who later revive Catelyn as Lady Stoneheart).
When Arya travels to Braavos and begins studying with the Faceless Men, these wolf dreams continue and she often dreams of hunting with her pack, tasting the very meat Nymeria eats -- be it animal or man. Ayra even manages to at one point warg into a cat when she's blind, allowing her to get the advantage on The Waif while training. And up until this point, Bran is the only Stark who ever displays an ability to warg into something besides his wolf, but this seemingly implies that warging (or skinchanging, as its also called) is an ability shared by a few Starks.
Another is Jon, though he's only ever warged into Ghost and only while dreaming, which is more of a subconscious, untrained sort of warging. During one of his wolf dreams in A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book, Ghost is able to sense that Nymeria and Shaggydog are still alive, though he can't feel Summer's presence, likely because he (along with Bran) is hidden by the magic of the Three Eyed-Raven's cave. When Ghost focuses on Nymeria, he sees her and her pack singing to the moon, and he knows that she's in the South where it's warmer.
The connection between the Starks and their wolves is repeatedly used in the novels as symbols, be it how the Stark family is like a pack -- a sentiment Arya echoed in the season 7 premiere -- or how the individual Stark is like their wolf, say in Jon's case where Ghost's albino appearance is a symbol of Jon's bastard status. For Arya, Nymeria's wild nature is clearly indicative of Arya's own wildness, and her wolf dreams while at The House of Black and White signify that Arya will always be a Stark and is incapable of shedding that to become "no one."
Will Arya And Nymeria Meet Again?
The tie between a Stark and their direwolf is definitely an important element in the books, thematically and at times for the story. But on the television series these bonds haven't necessarily held the same significance -- so why did they reunite Arya and Nymeria now? In this particular episode, having Arya again meet Nymeria might simply be a sign that she's again on the right path -- heading back to Winterfell, to rejoin with her pack, her family. Seeing that Nymeria has survived, but that she hasn't done so alone, should resonate with Arya, reminding her that "the lone wolf dies, while the pack survives."
The scene ends with Nymeria leaving and Arya quietly realizing that she isn't that young pup of hers anymore, but a wild wolf who cannot be so easily tamed. And it may be that this is how Game of Thrones will leave their relationship; a strong possibility seeing as the series didn't put nearly as much effort into developing Arya and Nymeria's deep connection as the books did. But again, why now? Why bother doing it all if not for some larger purpose?
Arya has already chosen to turn back for home when she comes across Nymeria, which means that their meeting might signify Arya truly accepting her place as a Stark. It may also mean that Game of Thrones is returning to the idea that the Starks and their wolves share a deeper bond, one that is slightly supernatural and magical. This meeting might be what triggers Arya's wolf dreams on show, leading her to unlock her warg abilities. Perhaps over the next few episodes we begin hearing accounts of wolves attacking Lannister men in the Riverlands as Nymeria and her pack begin subconsciously carrying out Arya's desires.
Only by seeing the rest of season will we know for sure what Game of Thrones intends for this reunion to mean, but the very fact they've decided to include it all seems to suggest they may looking to further develop what the books only ever hint at -- that Arya, along with her siblings, are deeply connected to their direwolves and have the potential to become wargs. Bran has clearly already developed these abilities, and Sansa, sadly, lost her wolf long before any wolf dreams could manifest. But there's still a chance for both Arya and Jon to have their warg abilities kick in, perhaps even being taught to control it by Bran if they're ever all together again.
Just because Nymeria gave Arya the cold shoulder in tonight's episode, don't assume it'll be last we see or hear of her or her pack. Arya still needs to make it to Winterfell, and just like last time, war is about to break out as she travels north. Could be that if Arya finds herself in a tricky spot, Nymeria will still come to her aide, never being able to completely sever their bond.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘The Queen’s Justice’ @ 9pm on HBO.