WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR GAME OF THRONES SEASON 8’S SECOND EPISODE.
This week on Game of Thrones, tableaus for forgiveness and strife were set against a backdrop of inevitable war. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” spent its hour in a slow burn of bittersweet memories as most of the players in this game looked death in the face. By the end of the next episode, it is highly likely many of these characters fans know and love will be gone. So what better soundtrack to cling desperately to life to than the ballad of Jenny of Oldstones. For any who know her story, it does not bode well for the best hope of humanity huddled within Winterfell’s walls.
Even this far off the map from George R.R. Martin’s published novels, Game of Thrones continues to weave his source material into their adaptation. Jenny of Oldstones is the name of the wife of Prince Duncan Targaryen, who gave up his throne for the woman he loved.
As the story goes, Prince Duncan was betrothed to the daughter of Lord Lyonel Baratheon to further bind the two great houses together. But on a trip through the Riverlands, Prince Duncan met a peasant woman known only as Jenny of Oldstones. In The World of Ice & Fire, Jenny is described as “strange, lovely, and mysterious.” Claiming descent from the First Kings of old, Jenny’s connection to High Hart in the Riverlands gives credence to the idea that she also shares ancestors with the Children of the Forest. Prince Duncan was instantly smitten with Jenny and married her without his father’s permission and breaking his betrothal. When given the choice between his crown or his wife, Prince Duncan would shock the realm by passing his birthright to his younger brother.
But perhaps Duncan, henceforth known as the “Prince of Dragonflies” knew the future of humanity’s survival depended on his abdication. Jenny of Oldstones lived near High Hart, a fascinating place of ancient magical power. Once, long ago, the Children of the Forest held the hill sacred for its ring of thirty-one carved weirwood trees. At some point, every single weirwood in the circle was cut down though conflicting histories leave the why and the when forever shrouded in mystery. But it was definitely the Andals behind it. To this day, the remains of the sacred grove are guarded by the Ghost of High Hart. The implication is she is the last remaining descendant of the Children of the Forest, alone in her vigil save her only friend, Jenny of Oldstones.
When Jenny came to court with her newly minted husband, she brought the Ghost of High Hart with her. In A Storm of Swords, the Ghost is described as no more than 3 feet tall. She has snow white hair that nearly touches the ground, milky skin, and red eyes. In The World of Ice & Fire it is revealed that greenseers can be born with green or red eyes. When the Ghost comes to King’s Landing, she prophecies the “prince that was promised” will come from Jaehaerys’ line, giving yet another reason for Duncan to vacate the Iron Throne.
The story of the “Prince of the Dragonflies” and his Lady Jenny became the love ballad of their era, approximately 70 years prior to the start of Game of Thrones. However, the song that is most well known, the one Podrick Payne sang in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” — and then performed by Florence + the Machine over the closing credits — was written in the aftermath of the Tragedy at Summerhall. On the day that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was born, an attempt by the King to restore dragons to the world burned the palace of Summerhall to the ground. Lost in the blaze was Prince Duncan. While Jenny of Oldstones and the Ghost of High Hart were present at the fire, their deaths were never confirmed. Then the rumors started.
By the time Arya Stark reaches High Hart in A Storm of Swords, it is clear the ghost that haunts the sacred hill is the same one who knew Jenny. In exchange for information, the ghost requests the singer play “Jenny’s Song” from which The World of Ice & Fire pulls a line:
“High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts”
On the latest Game of Thrones “Inside the Episode,” Executive Producers/Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss noted that they wanted to put a piece of music in this episode to help reflect the myriad of emotions felt by the characters. Working from Martin’s partial verse in the books, Benioff and Weiss fleshed out the lyrics, while GoT composer Ramin Djawadi wrote the music to accompany it.
Now that fans have the rest of the song though, thanks to the TV show, it shines new light on both Jenny’s role in history and what happened to her in the aftermath of the Summerhall fire .
“The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most
The ones who had been gone for so very long
She couldn’t remember their names
They spun her around on the damp old stone
Spun away all her sorrow and pain
And she never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave”
Jenny of Oldstones, the mysterious and lovely peasant girl, was most likely a greenseer. Like Bran Stark, she seems to have had a link to the weirwoods, accessing memories. Perhaps the ghost was a relative or ancestor. Regardless, the song tells a heart-breaking story of a woman who used her power of foresight to bring forth a prophecy and paid the price for it. Visions rarely show the entire picture. By making the way for the “prince that was promised,” she helped set in motion the chain of events that would lead to the death of her beloved. Grief-stricken, the song indicates Jenny simply went into the past using magic, preferring to live in hazy, happy days until she died.
As the warriors of Winterfell prepare to head into battle, Jenny’s song hauntingly reminds them this is the last moments many of them will have with each other. To make them last, to make the kind of memories that one would exchange anything for just to relive again. And again. And again.