Because everything can potentially mean something on “Game of Thrones,” readers of the book series behind the HBO hit were particularly excited to hear a little tune known as “Jenny’s Song” at the tail end of Sunday’s anxious installment.
Staring into a cozy fire surrounded by a handful of the series’ most iconic faces, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) responds to Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) call for some musical entertainment with pleasantly surprising vocals ― which are later covered in the credits by Florence and the Machine.
“High in the halls of the kings who are gone,” Pod sings, “Jenny would dance with her ghosts …”
That’s pretty much all we get of the lyrics in author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books, putting “Game of Thrones” screenwriter Bryan Cogman in a somewhat awkward spot. Cogman had been searching for a song from the books ― there are a good number to choose from ― that would tie all of the narrative threads together before an inevitably deadly battle with the Night King.
“Jenny of Oldstones,” as the song is also called, is known in Westerosi lore as “a plaintive, haunting, sad ballad, so it seemed like the appropriate one for that moment,” Cogman told HuffPost this week. Although he intended to fill in more lyrics to the song himself, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss beat him to it, returning the lyrics with their notes on his draft:
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, old stones
Spun away all her sorrow and pain
And she never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave
“It’s a song about sort of taking stock of your life,” Cogman explained, adding that “obviously theres a lot of mythology tied to it, as well, that book readers can appreciate.”
“Game of Thrones” composer Ramin Djawadi, who came up with the melody, told HuffPost he’s well aware of the mythology behind “Jenny’s Song,” but demurred when asked for his take on it.
“I’m not sure how much I can say, other than it’s from the books,” Djawadi said cryptically, nodding to “the whole fan theory with Duncan Targaryen and Jenny.”
A whole fan theory indeed.
Here’s what it’s all about: The books are full of rich background on characters and houses we only get a glimpse of in the TV show, and one of those is Duncan Targaryen. Duncan is meant to inherit the Iron Throne but he ends up pulling a King Edward ― that is, he falls in love with someone his family does not like. For Duncan, that person is Jenny of Oldstones, a common girl. Long story short, Duncan marries Jenny and gives up his rights to the throne, but is eventually killed in a huge fire at Summerhall, a Targaryen castle.
“Jenny’s Song,” then, paints a picture of Duncan’s widow dancing among the ruins, surrounded by the “ghosts” of those she loved who perished. Arya hears the tune performed for the Ghost of High Heart, a witch who doesn’t appear in the show.
Some fans believe Duncan’s predicament was not unlike the tight spot Jon Snow (Kit Harington) now finds himself in. Far from being a plain Northern bastard, Jon discovered in the Season 8 premiere that he is actually the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen ― older brother to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) ― and Lyanna Stark. As Rhaegar’s son, Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys, who is his aunt.
Daenerys’ entire identity is built around her claim to the throne, and she does not take the news of Jon’s parentage well.
But if Duncan gave up his rights to the throne for love, couldn’t Jon do the same? (It could also go the other way around, although that seems far less likely to us.)
And wait ― there’s more. With all its talk of ghosts appearing in damp, old places, “Jenny’s Song” could possibly allude to a dark theory about Winterfell’s crypts, supposedly the safest place in the castle. So many characters have commented on the crypts’ alleged safety at this point, it’s gotten suspicious. The question is this: If we know that the Night King raises the dead, and there are quite a few dead hanging out in the crypts, might they be reanimated during the battle?
For some, the theory was bolstered by one of the Season 8 trailers, which kicked off with a bloodied and frightened-looking Arya booking it to get away from someone or something that was pursuing her through a maze of dark, damp corridors. Arya prides herself on fearlessness, but would even she be a little freaked out to see her dead relatives up and about? Probably. Once again, the books contain more evidence to support this theory ― which you can read more about here.
That’s a lot of analysis for one little song, but it pays to look out for the details in “Game of Thrones.” We’ve already seen other hints at what’s to come hidden in the score. Season 7 gave us a special theme for Jon and Dany before the two of them officially became an item. Djawadi’s incredible “Light of the Seven,” which featured piano for the first time, signaled that something was not right minutes before the King’s Landing Sept burst into green flames.
We made sure to ask the composer whether there were other, more subtle details lurking in the final season’s score. While he couldn’t reveal a lot, he noted a callback to the pilot that appeared in the Season 8 premiere ― the return of “The King’s Arrival,” the tune heard when the Starks were last home at Winterfell and preparing to greet the royal family. (Now, of course, Winterfell is preparing for something much different.)
“I can say this much: Every season, I continue the existing themes and develop them further as the plot develops further, but there’s always room for new themes and new pieces — completely new pieces — and we definitely have that in this season, as well,” Djawadi explained. “So I think that’s still coming.”
Bill Bradley contributed reporting.