Direwolves, Dragons, and Dating

What the animals of Game Of Thrones teach us about finding a partner 

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*This article contains details from the first 7 seasons of the HBO TV series Game of Thrones as well as fan theories and production notes from interviews about Season 8. All images sourced from HBO.*

The 8th and final season of Game of Thrones premieres today! While we haven’t birthed dragons, faced undead polar bears, or attended what turned out to be a rather bloody wedding, there are similarities between our world and that of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. In particular, both Daenerys' powerful bond with her dragons and the deep, intimate relationship between the Starks and their direwolves are reminiscent of the emotional connection dog owners feel toward their fur babies. As with dogs, the dragons and direwolves of Game of Thrones can teach us quite a bit about relationships and love.

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Your Pet Trusting Your Date is a Big Deal

Last season, Daenerys met Jon Snow and sparks flew. In the episode “Eastwatch,” Jon pets one of Daenerys’ dragons, Drogon, who seems to appreciate the affection. This is a swoon-worthy moment for Dany, as Drogon is her most dangerous and aggressive fire breathing pet. Dany is quick to correct Jon, however, when he calls Drogon a beast, stating, “They are not beasts to me. No matter how big they get, how terrifying they are to everyone else. They are my children."

This is a recognizable moment for those who have introduced their misunderstood doggo to a potential love interest. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of having a pup who growls at everyone immediately lick your date’s face. If your potential partner is able to bond with your fur baby, they may be the one for you.

According to a Wag! survey, 80% of people polled revealed their dog’s reaction to their date influenced whether or not they continued the relationship. 86% of those surveyed also stated they would stop dating a person altogether if they were unable to get along with their furry friend.

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Getting Ghosted Hurts

Fans of the epic fantasy may have noticed Jon Snow’s albino direwolf, Ghost, was absent during the entirety of Season 7. In reality, the lack of this beloved character’s screen time was due to budgetary concerns over the direwolf effects. However, the show never gave an exact reason as to why Jon Snow kept leaving his supersized pup and protector behind. Regardless, the King of the North seemed incomplete without his loyal companion by his side.

Thankfully, members of the GoT fandom can expect a reunion between the two characters. In a Huffington Post interview, Game of Thrones’ VFX supervisor Joe Bauer revealed Ghost “has a fair amount of screen time in Season 8… and does some pretty cool things…”

While Ghost is probably okay with his master “ghosting” him, the same can't be said for those whose dates have done the same. Ghosting occurs when a prospective love interest ceases contact without a given reason. This is a common phenomenon, with a 2016 survey reporting 80% of millennials have experienced being ghosted.

People end relationships in this manner in order to avoid confrontation. While ghosting can be viewed as an easy way out, it is a hurtful and disrespectful way to break-up with someone. According to a recent New York Times piece, ghosting’s lack of closure, a form of silent treatment, is likened to “emotional cruelty” and is said to “sabotage... self-worth and self-esteem.”

In some cases, ghosts may try reinitiating a relationship. Now, unless they’re a giant wolf that can help you win the Iron Throne, you may want to assess the situation before allowing them back into your life.

"Ask yourself if you really want someone in your life who chooses to ghost rather than clearly communicate about what's going on with [them]. It won't get any better just because you're dating or in a relationship. If you've been ghosted, the person did you a favor by getting out of your life, so don't let [them] back in," advised licensed marriage and family therapist, Anita A. Chipala.

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When You’re in a Relationship, You’re a Part of a Pack

In A Game of Thrones, the first installment of the series, Arya makes her distaste for her sister Sansa clear, claiming she hates her. In response, Ned explains to his daughter the two sisters are a part of a pack, stating,

“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.”

This sentiment of sticking together and having each other’s backs rings true for all relationships, whether it be familial or romantic.

When you’re bickering with your partner, it can be easy to forget you’re part of a team and this can lead to relationship problems down the line. In fact, according to a University of California, Riverside study reported in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, couples who refer to themselves as the collective “we” have a happier and more positive relationship. The study shows “we” couples face problems together and delegate tasks accordingly, as you would do with a teammate. On the other hand, “me” couples often blame their partner for whatever negative transgression occurred, for example if their pup were to get stung by a bee.

“'We talk' is an indicator of interdependence and general positivity in romantic relationships. The primary takeaway is that interdependence may bring about supportive and relationship-centered behaviors and positive perceptions of the partner, especially important in times of stress and conflict," noted Alexander Karan, graduate student and first author of the paper.

In order for a relationship to work, it’s important to remember that you are a part of the same pack. Ned Stark is right; if you have to hate someone, hate someone who truly deserves it, like the guy at the dog park who never picks up after his pooch.

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You and Your Partner are More Powerful Together

In the first season of the show, Arya makes the heartbreaking decision to let her direwolf, Nymeria, free into the woods after she bites Joffrey and faces the penalty of death. Six seasons pass before Arya is reunited with her former companion and is surprised to see Nymeria has grown into a fierce leader.

Nymeria size and strength is seemingly due to her environment, accompanied by other wolves, wherein she can thrive. As with direwolves, when people are apart of a good relationship they develop into healthier, stronger individuals. A partner’s support and encouragement boosts self-confidence. This established sense of self-assuredness, makes it easier to seek out opportunities to better personal growth.

A Carnegie Mellon and UC Santa Barbara study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, showcased how positive relationships can help people flourish. The research found that being in a good relationship "enables the person to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life."

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Pay Attention to Body Language

We understand our dogs’ wants, needs, and barks better than anyone else, but sometimes we’re super jealous of the way the Starks have an added ability to fully see and sense the way their direwolves are feeling.

In an officially unofficial definition by GameofThrones.fandom.com, Wargs are, “people with the ability to enter the minds of animals and perceive the world through their senses and even control their actions,” and warging may continue to play a large role in the final season of Game of Thrones as the show possibly answers questions like can Bran warg into a dragon and can Jon warg into Ghost if he is about to die (again)?

Even without the added magical ability, paying close attention to what our dogs are trying to tell us through their body language is extraordinarily important for their health and happiness, and it’ll give you practice for your human relationships as well.

“Body language has been said to impact a relationship more than words and tone of voice combined,” Marissa Liliberte of Reader’s Digest said. Consider the ways to use body language for a better relationship, such as,

“to convey trustworthiness to your partner, approach him or her with ‘open’ body language, according to The Power of Body Language by Tonya Reiman. Point your feet toward your partner during conversation, smile often, and gesture with your palms showing.”

While those abilities may not help you win The Great War, you may have a leg up in the battle for his or her heart while starting a healthy new relationship.