Last Night's Game of Thrones Song Might Be More Important Than You Think

High in the halls of the kings who are gone.
High in the halls of the kings who are gone.
Photo: HBO

The second episode of Game of Thrones final season brought with it a sense of calm before the storm—unless you so happen to be A Song of Ice and Fire theorist, because the episode’s use of a particular element from the books might have got your head spinning a little bit.

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Illustration for article titled Last Nights iGame of Thrones /iSong Might Be More Important Than You Think

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” saw the gathered allies of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen at Winterfell take stock of the fact that quite a few of them are proooooobably going to bite it facing off against the Night King and his White Walker army. It was an episode filled with great character vignettes and the heart the season premiere lacked, but it also included a quiet little moment that could have some huge ramifications for the series’ endgame—and it’s all thanks to Podrick Payne.

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Well, specifically, the song Podrick sings on the eve of battle, set over shots of our heroes reckoning with what could very well be the final night of their lives. Aside from being hauntingly beautiful (hell of a set of pipes on Daniel Portman!), and before the end credits gave us a spectacular cover by none other than Florence + The Machine—check out the official lyric video HBO released for that below!—Podrick’s song actually has some really interesting ties to the books.

The mournful “Jenny of Oldstones,” also known in the books as “Jenny’s Song,” has only a single line when it’s first sung by Brotherhood without Banners member Tom of Sevenstreams in A Storm of Swords, a gift to the old woman known as the Ghost of High Heart, so the Brotherhood can be given insight into her visions:

High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts...

The show has now given us a full version, crafted by David Benioff, Dan Weiss, and series composer Ramin Djawadi, but what makes “Jenny’s Song” so interesting is its historical context in Westeros—because the titular Jenny was actually the wife of Duncan Targaryen.

In the show’s version of the Targaryen family tree, Duncan is Daenerys’ uncle—the brother of the mad king Aerys II Targaryen. In the books, Duncan is actually Aerys II’s uncle. But in both versions of the story, Duncan’s role is the same. He gave up his place in the line of succession so that he could defy his family’s desires for a political marriage with House Baratheon, and instead marry Jenny of Oldstones.

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Duncan and his father both perished in a great fire at the Targaryen castle of Summerhall in the books—the ruins of which are implied to be where Jenny is dancing with her ghosts—but it’s his decision to marry Jenny out of love and give up the chance to rule Westeros himself that matters here. In fact, it matters even more in the show. Given his more direct relationship to Daenerys in the TV series (in the books, the line of succession fell from Duncan to his brother Jaehaerys II, and then to his son, Aerys II), it means without Duncan giving up the throne and marrying Jenny, Aerys II might never have come to sit on the Iron Throne. The tangled mess that are the events of Game of Thrones might never have played out the way they did without that fateful choice.

But there are also now major parallels between the story of Duncan and Jenny, and Daenerys and Jon, now that Jon has revealed his Targaryen heritage to Daenerys—and with it, a potentially stronger claim to the Iron Throne, as she was very quick to note. Will Jon give up his claim to the Iron Throne just as his... (*flips through way too many family tree pictures*) great uncle did, out of his love for Dany? Could she do the same for him? Probably not, given her curt reaction of “oh the incest is fine, let’s talk about your claim” last night.

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Duncan Targaryen is not the only reason that “Jenny of Oldstones” being performed on the show is interesting, though. The song, and why the Brotherhood sing it to the Ghost of High Heart in the first place, has long been the focus of fan theories that suggest the Ghost is actually the same Woods Witch who Jenny brought to court with her after the Targaryens accepted her marriage to Duncan. Therefore, she’s the same witch who first delivered the prophecy about the Prince That Was Promised to the Targaryen family, telling of a legendary hero born to their line that would save the world from darkness.

That theory is a whole other barrel of speculatory worms that Game of Thrones has only barely touched upon. When it’s done so, it’s in connection to the legendary Azhor Ahai, who many believe is the same savior figure as the prophecized prince—and has the potential to be anyone from Dany, to Jon, to, depending on the theory, three people at once. Including maybe Tyrion? Look, these theories have been around for a while.

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Game of Thrones has long diverged from the path of A Song of Ice and Fire at this point—even if George R.R. Martin has gone on to say that, while the endings to both versions of this story will no doubt be a bit different, they may not be as different as we’d perhaps expect. So “Jenny of Oldstones” might not necessarily be as important to the grand scheme of Game of Thrones’ final hours as some fan theories suggest. It could just be a nice small reference to the books, and, given the mournful lyrics of regret and loves lost the show’s version of the song adds to the whole thing, maybe just another way of getting across to the viewer that the night seen in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” may really be the final happy moments for some of the gathered heroes. A night that none of them really want to end.

But either way, as the show slowly gets ever closer to its final moments, any potential connection to the grander saga at play is interesting to contemplate. At least, before the real war begins next week.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

matt975321
matt975321

Too much speculation about the song... Most likely just a nice reference.. Heck, last week everyone was up in arms about the night’s king performance art involving the Umbers, which turned out to simply be a bastardized version of the Children of the Forest’s symbology. So many times in this series when people get excited about various points, they often turn out to be nothing special. Remember that astrolobe in the Library that people thought was special, well so far it is not... Or how about Greyscale, well that was a let-down.

Rather much like this episode, it is simply a last chance to see these characters and the song Jenny seems fitting given Daenarys and Jon being there. I agree a few of these folks won’t be around for long.

Wonder who goes from this list:

Jon & Daenarys - Either of them dying resolves the who is in charge issue too easily, unless that plays into the upcoming battle (which my guess is it does not). So I suspect they live.

Sansa & Lyanna Mormont - They both represent the North. One survives to keep that tension between the North and Daenarys.

Arya - Three episodes to follow mean some folks need killing, so she has a job... Also the wolf-pack being together means that likely all remaining Starks make it through this. One other point about her, there should be more to the house of black and white that she is somehow connected with, so don’t think her story is over yet.

Brann - Well the Night King killing him now would only make sens if he is pulling a Dr. Strange... “This is the only way” or whatever the exact quote was.

Davos - Throw-away character at this point 

The Hound - Need to keep him for Clegane-bowl

Tyrion - While not sure he makes it to the end of the season alive, I think he somehow has another meeting with Cersei before he is over.

Jamie - Either he dies now doing something very heroic, or he has some further heroics left.

Missandei - Throw-away character at this point 

Theon - Throw-away character at this point 

Gendry - Throw-away character at this point 

Samwell - I am afraid he will go out heroically.. his giving away his sword at this point, I think is him ending his story arc.

Gilly - Throw-away character at this point 

Brienne - I really don’t know... Not sure what further role she plays in the story. She either dies the most heroic death of them all, or she stays alive to be a female warrior lead who does heroics. Just saying this based on the show going the route to break Westeros Gender-norms (e.g. with Jamie knighting her).

Varys - Throw-away character at this point... but, we have to know what the flames said to him first..

Tormund - Such a fun character... I suspect the writers rolled the dice on him and as such I have no prediction... Can easily go either way.

Grey Worm - Throw-away character at this point 

Jorah Mormont - I think getting Heartsbane means he will do something heroic with it and may yet live.

Baeric Dondarion - Not sure... The Lord of Light storyline disappeared a bit, but it remains yet. He has come back from death many times, Jon has, we still don’t know what the fires said to Varys... Not sure where they were all going with this, if it is anything (other than visions from Bran), but even if he dies, I think the Lord of Light Storyline has to still be resolved to make sense of things.

Ed - Throw-away character at this point 

Podrick Payne - Throw-away character at this point 

Lord Royce - Throw-away character at this point

Ghost - Do we see a wolfpack in the action killing White Walkers and Zombies?

Dragons - I don’t know... They seem pretty easy to use Javelins or Ballistas against.