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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 saviour figure as the prophesied 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.
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.