As the forces of the living spent one final night drinking, loving, and reminiscing at Winterfell in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2, the lovable Podrick Payne sent us out with a song. Unlike “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” or “The Rains of Castamere,” it was one that we haven’t heard before in the show. And for book readers, it came as a pretty big surprise. Here’s why it mattered.
“Jenny’s Song” isn’t one of the most important songs in Westeros (to be fair, neither is “The Bear”), but it does come with a sad story attached, not to mention some interesting context from the books.
The song concerns Jenny of Oldstones, whose story isn’t so sad in and of itself. Long before the events of the series, a Targaryen prince broke off his betrothal with a daughter of House Baratheon to marry Jenny, a common girl, instead. Jenny’s Song is just one of the songs allegedly written about her, and it’s referenced several times throughout the books, particularly in book 3, A Storm of Swords.
It’s said Jenny was friends with a woods witch–like the one Cersei visited in her Season 5 flashback–who she brought to court with her. The witch allegedly prophesied that the Prince that was Promised, a hero of legend, would be born from the line of Prince Aerys Targaryen and Princess Rhaella Targaryen, who were brother and sister. After hearing the prophecy, their father, King Jaehaerys II Targaryen, had his two children (Aerys, who would become the Mad King, and Rhaella) married to one another. From that union came the characters we know: Prince Rhaegar and his siblings Viserys and Daenerys. So the prophecy may yet be fulfilled.
Book readers learned about the song in book 3 while Arya was still hanging out with the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Brotherhood occasionally visit an unnamed woods witch known as the Ghost of High Heart, and she always requests that their minstrel, Tom of Sevenstreams, sings her Jenny’s Song in exchange for information. She weeps as she hears it, leading to speculation that the Ghost is the very same woods witch Jenny brought to court with her so many years earlier.
King Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn also discuss Jenny’s Song during an emotional scene in the same book, mere chapters before the Red Wedding takes place. As both characters hurtle unknowingly toward their violent murders, they linger at the ruins of Oldstones and discuss the nature of life and death. “There’s a song,” Robb remembers. “Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair.” Catelyn replies, “We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.”
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That line can easily be read as a succinct summary of the overarching theme for the entire series, especially when you consider the books’ overall title, A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s been speculated as well that after all is said and done, Samwell Tarly will go full Bilbo, retiring at the Citadel to write his own account of the series’ events, which he’ll call A Song of Ice and Fire.
As a side not, there were some lines in this episode that seem like foreshadowing in that direction, when Sam spoke during the war council where Bran explained that the Night King wants to “erase this world.” “That’s what death is, isn’t it? Forgetting–being forgotten,” Sam said. “If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore–just animals.”
In the after-episode featurette this week, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss said they wanted to feature a new song that hadn’t been heard outside the books before. As the books have only ever revealed snatches of the lyrics, they had to make a bunch of them up. Here’s the full song, though keep in mind, these lyrics aren’t canon to the books:
High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts.
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most.
The ones who’d been gone for so very long,
She couldn’t remember their names
They spun her around on the damp cold stone
Spun away all her sorrow and pain
And she never wanted to leave
They danced through the day and into the night
Through the snow that swept through the halls
From winter to summer then winter again
‘Til the walls did crumble and fall
And she never wanted to leave.
And here’s a weird “lyric video” featuring the credits version of the song, sung by the band Florence and the Machine:
It’s notable as well that fans have speculated that Rhaegar Targaryen himself wrote Jenny’s Song, although nobody in the books seems to know for sure. Rhaegar rather famously was a skilled composer and minstrel in addition to being a formidable warrior and apparently quite a hunk. Dany even notes as much–in this very episode, and in fact, right after Pod’s rendition of Jenny’s Song ends. That may be a coincidence, but who knows? It may not be.
As Game of Thrones barrels toward its ultimate conclusion, it was nice to take a quick break from all the build-up and foreshadowing to enjoy a reference to the books on which the series was once based. Whatever happens in the final four episodes, we’ll always have Jenny’s Song.
Photo: HBO/Helen Sloan