Are the Direwolves In ‘Game of Thrones’ Real?

It may seem strange to go back to the beginning of Game of Thrones when most everyone is collectively losing their minds over the ending of Game of Thrones. That said, it can sometimes be refreshing to go back to the beginning to see just how far we’ve come.

In the beginning, as fans can recollect, the Stark children adopted direwolves: one for each child. Not all of them have made it alive, but the loyal canines are fan-favorites on the show.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look at just what direwolves are, how you can get a real “direwolf,” and perhaps most importantly, whether one should get one.

What are direwolves?

Direwolves in Season 1 episode 1 of ‘Game of Thrones | HBO

In Game of Thrones lore, direwolves are wolf-like pets that are about the size of ponies. In the opening scenes of Season 1’s “Winter is Coming,” the five Stark children – Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and Rickon – plus Jon Snow, each adopt a direwolf puppy after they find the orphaned litter beside their dead mother. Two of them in particular, Thor and Odin, became famous playing Summer and Grey Wind.

But direwolves are not just a figment of George RR Martin’s or HBO’s imaginations. Direwolves were, once upon a time, an actual animal.

The direwolf (from the Latin canis dirus for “fearsome dog”) is an extinct species of the genus Canis from 125,000 to 9,440 years ago. The species was named in 1858, four years after the first remains were discovered. It was about the size of the modern grey wolf. The largest collection of fossils has been found in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. The animals became extinct due to climate change and due to the fact their main prey became extinct. One of those circle of life kind of things.

What kind of animal is the direwolf on ‘Game of Thrones’?

The animals on Game of Thrones are played by Northern Inuit dogs — a crossbreed of huskies and German shepherds that were bred to resemble wolves. Game of Thrones certainly couldn’t use real animals around children, so the animal actors are shot separately against green screens, doubled in size, then composited into the live action scenes.

Thor and Odin, the dogs that play the direwolves, became so famous that the dogs are not only insured, but they have their own Instagram accounts to boot. There’s even a tour devoted specifically to direwolves where guests can meet Thor and Odin, and that’s part of a larger experience devoted to actual Game of Thrones locations in Ireland.

But if you really want your very own direwolf — really, a husky — and not just a fleeting photo op, it can be done. However, many animal experts caution against it.

Why getting a direwolf is harder than it seems

Huskies are very high-maintenance dogs are not easy animals to handle, even for experienced trainers. They are loyal and affectionate, but that comes with a cost.

“Folks who get one because of how pretty they are don’t realize what they’re getting into,” said Barbara Swanda, vice president of the Delaware Valley Siberian Husky Rescue, a nonprofit rescue organization “It’s a recipe for disaster … “The consequence is that they are being given up and dumped in the rescues.”

Back in 2009, NorSled, a Northern California-based rescue organization, could keep up with the number of huskies in local shelters. But since Game of Thrones began airing in 2011, the number of Huskies coming into NorSled’s care has doubled.

“We can’t even begin to keep up with the demand,” said the group’s president, Angelique Miller. “The situation is way out of control.”

That’s not to say that adopting a husky is out of the question. But experts advise fans should do their research, know what they’re getting into and not just treat the animal “as seen on TV.”