Game of Thrones casts Alberta wolf as Jon Snow's canine companion

Raised south of Red Deer, Alta., Quigly the wolf is reaching international audiences playing Jon Snow's companion Ghost.

From the wilds of Alberta to Westeros: How a Canadian wolf joined the Game of Thrones pack

Eight-year-old Arctic wolf Quigly will have a big scene coming up in the May 24 episode of Games of Thrones, says his trainer Andrew Simpson. (Kate Fair)

A four-legged star of Game of Thrones is being trained just south of Red Deer, Alta. 

Quigly, who plays the wolf Ghost in the HBO series, is just one of a pack of wolves being trained by Andrew Simpson, the owner and operator of Instinct Animals for Film.

Simpson and his animals have worked all over the world, appearing in movies like BraveheartBorat, Eight Below, Elf and shows like Heartland and Supernatural.

But their most recent adventure to Westeros, the fantasy world where Game of Thrones is set, involved only a trip to Calgary.

While most of the show is shot in Ireland, Croatia, Iceland and Morocco, a small unit was sent to Calgary to film Quigly's scenes. 

"Quigly is a big old Arctic wolf," Simpson said of the now-famous eight-year-old canine. "He's a very sweet wolf, but you'll see in one of the upcoming episodes that he has a darker side to him."

Quigly has appeared as Ghost — the "dire wolf" companion of Jon Snow, one of the show's principal characters — before and will make a return appearance on Sunday's episode. 

Like his character, there is more to Quigly than meets the eyes.

"Every single wolf, just like children, has a different personality," Simpson said of his animals.

"They are really easy to work with — to a certain extent. I mean, they're incredibly intelligent. They're much smarter than a dog, but because they're so intelligent it also makes them harder to work with."

You can't trick a wolf

For instance, you can't trick a wolf into doing something it doesn't want to, he said.

Also unlike dogs, wolves are naturally suspicious and cautious of their surroundings and are easily spooked, which can make training them for work on set tricky.

"You can teach them to do something and they learn it very quickly at their home base, but when you take it to production — you're sometimes dealing with 100 to 200 people in a very strange environment with lots of cameras and wind machines and special effects.

"It takes a special animal to actually go through the whole process from start to finish."

And not all trained wolves, or animals for that matter, are equal, Simpson said.

"So sometimes a production will call you and say 'OK, we want a white wolf to do this.' And you have a white wolf like Quigly, he may be good at some things, but he may not be good at everything else. So usually we will have two or three that will play the same character."

Although his animals are now sought for film and TV productions around the world, Simpson said he never planned to become one of Hollywood's go-to wolf trainers.

"It wasn't something I set out to do, to be honest," he said. "I started out with other animals first, you know, dogs, cats, all the little stuff, but then my fascination was always with wolves."

When the opportunity arose to work with wolves a few years ago, Simpson jumped at the chance.

It's a full-time job. Simpson currently trains 30 wolves, each of which came to his company when they were just days old, just before their eyes opened for the first time. After the animals arrive, Simpson and his colleagues then spend months bonding with the animals 24 hours a day.

Asked the best way to train wolves, Simpson is quick to answer with a joke.

"Most people would say very carefully."

Simpson is hopeful that care will pay off, and that more of his animals will get cast in the show.

"They just started shooting season six now and we have been talking about it — so, the next couple of seasons, I'm hoping."

Quigly's big moment will air on the May 24 episode of Game of Thrones.


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