'Game of Thrones': How Florence and the Machine's Song Teases the Iron Throne Endgame

The painful tune from Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) — "Jenny of Oldstones" — forecasts a lonely road toward the series finale.
Helen Sloan/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode two of HBO's Game of Thrones, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."]

Author George R.R. Martin still has two books left in A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic saga that serves as the backbone for HBO's Game of Thrones. Readers of Martin's material are as in the dark as anyone else when it comes to the final notes of the series, their early season advantages over the show-only crowd all but expired at this point — though some advantages still have life past their expiration date.

Take the final season's second episode, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," for example, which may have laid track for the eventual winner of the Iron Throne in the form of a song. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are already acutely aware of the stakes between them thanks to their shared Targaryen roots, leaving many questions about which one of them will wind up ruling Westeros, assuming they survive the wars to come. We may have shades of an answer, thanks to an unlikely source: Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), who sings a song called "Jenny of Oldstones" toward the end of the hour, leading into a credits-closing rendition by Florence and the Machine. 

Powerful enough on its own, "Jenny of Oldstones" holds special resonance for readers of Ice and Fire — and indeed, it may even provide a roadmap for how this is all going to end. Listen to the song to set the mood for the ride ahead:

First appearing in Martin's 2000 novel "A Storm of Swords," the song originally boasted a simpler name: "Jenny's Song." It's sung by Tom of Sevenstreams, a singer who travels with the Brotherhood Without Banners, and often performed for a woods witch known as the Ghost of High Heart. In his version of events thus far, Martin has only offered up the first lyric: "High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts." For the HBO adaptation, creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss took liberties and built out the full song, alongside series composer Ramin Djawadi

Here are the lyrics in full:

"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,
never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave.
They danced through the day and into the night,
Through the snow that swept through the hall.
From winter to summer then winter again,
'Til the walls did crumble and fall.
And she never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave,
Never wanted to leave.
And she never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave,
never wanted to leave.
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 ones who had loved her the most."

"We knew we wanted a song in this episode," Benioff says about crafting "Jenny of Oldstones" in HBO's Inside the Episode feature. "We've had a song in several of the seasons and we haven't had an original in a while, so this felt like the place for it, and Daniel [Portman] felt like the singer. The song I believe is in George's books — at least, the first verse is — and Ramin came up with the music for it."

The way Benioff casually mentions how "Jenny of Oldstones" owes its roots to Martin's material is a bit jarring, considering how important the song may be to the overall tale. At the least, it's critical in the minds of some fans, who believe Jenny's song will bleed into the endgame. For example, this theory makes the compelling case that Jenny's song isn't just an epic story, but an actual mythical prophecy about Jon Snow as the "prince who was promised," with the songwriter none other than Jon's secret father, Rhaegar Targaryen. According to this theory, Jenny's song and Martin's titular Song of Ice and Fire are one and the same. For their part, Benioff and Weiss have said that they will not identify what's different between the Game of Thrones ending and Martin's plans for closing the series; with that said, it's very possible, likely even, that the plot impact of Jenny's song in A Song of Ice and Fire will be of a higher magnitude, compared to its role in Thrones.

Even if it's not a critical piece of the story in Game of Thrones, "Jenny of Oldstones" still comes with some deeply rich mythological resonance, as it relates to where Benioff and Weiss' narrative is winding toward. Historically, the titular Jenny of Oldstones was a commoner who ended up becoming the wife of Duncan Targaryen, one of Jon Snow's ancestors. Duncan's marriage to Jenny was an unlikely one for many reasons, not the least of which was his betrothal to a daughter of House Baratheon. Various forces conspired to split Duncan and Jenny from one another, as he was in line to inherit the Iron Throne, and would not be permitted to rule with a common woman as his spouse. Duncan eventually chose love over the throne, picking Jenny and spurning his Baratheon fiancé. It was a controversial decision, one that led to a brief war between the Targaryens and the Baratheons — certainly not for the last time, as Jon's father, Rhaegar, learned all too well when he died against Robert Baratheon at the battle of the Trident, some decades before the start of Thrones.

Another consequence of Duncan's decision? By shirking the Iron Throne in favor of his love of Jenny, Duncan surrendered his claim to the crown to his brother, Aerys Targaryen, better known far and wide as the Mad King — Daenerys' father and Jon Snow's grandfather, for those keeping score.

On its own, the mournful quality of the song and its lyrics are enough to suggest a grim future for the heroes at the heart of Game of Thrones. The music video for "Jenny of Oldstones" crawls across all the various characters throughout the series, from Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) privately water-dancing in season four, to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) on trial around that same time and beyond to scenes from "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms." The song in the music video and the song in the episode both land on the same spot: Jon revealing his Targaryen secret to Daenerys, with the bones of his mother Lyanna Stark bearing witness. The landing point only strengthens the song's sense of dread — but combined with the song's historical ties to Jon and Dany, an even greater meaning comes to light. If "Jenny of Oldstones" tells the tale of a Targaryen who put his claim for the throne aside in the name of love, could we see a similar outcome as it relates to Jon and Daenerys? The Warden of the North, formerly King of the North, has no true desire to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Why wouldn't he set aside his crown for Daenerys, the love of his life, knowing how much she covets it? 

An even closer look in the pages of history even suggest how Jon might surrender his claim: through death. Duncan Targaryen was one of many in his family who died under mysterious circumstances in a fire at Summerhall, the summer home of the Targaryens once upon a time. (Yes, once upon a time, people in Westeros took vacations. May it be high on the docket whenever a new just ruler sits on the Iron Throne.) Summerhall is the site of one of Martin's most closely guarded secrets; among those who died at this fabled tragedy are the two main characters at the heart of Martin's "Dunk and Egg" novellas, which, like Ice and Fire, have no immediate end in sight. It's unclear if Jenny of Oldstones died in the tragedy in the books, but the show's creative liberties with the song suggests a woman who has outlived her loved ones, haunted by their memories forevermore. 

If we take the song as prophecy, perhaps it's referring to Daenerys' eventual rise to the Iron Throne, albeit not without ghosts at her side: Jon Snow for one, as well as many others she loves and values. We have seen her lose people in her life already: Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), Barristan the Bold (Ian McElhinney), even Viserion the dragon. Right now, she stands ready to lose plenty of others, depending on how the battle of Winterfell shakes out. With their increased screen presence this week, it's very easy to see the scenarios in which Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) lose their lives at the expense of the White Walkers. We may even want to add the Iron Throne itself to the list of beloved casualties, based on a choice lyric from the full version of the song, which went unaired: "They danced through the day and into the night, through the snow that swept through the hall." In season two's House of the Undying sequence, Daenerys walks through the Great Hall of the Red Keep, which has a huge hole blown through the roof, wide enough to allow snow to fall upon the Iron Throne. Was Dany hallucinating winter's presence in King's Landing, or was she seeing her own haunted future?

Daenerys entered the final season as the chalk pick for the Iron Throne, though the past two episodes have done her few favors in terms of her reputation within the greater Game of Thrones universe; she's striking out left and right with reasonable people like Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). Hers is an over-the-top negative edit, if you'll forgive the pandering to my Survivor base; mind the kneecaps. But perhaps we aren't building up toward an ultimate Mad Queen reveal. Maybe all the controversy surrounding Dany isn't meant to set up her eventual loss on the quest for the Iron Throne. Perhaps it's designed to make sense in the context of her winning the thing she covets the most, albeit without the people she loves the most at her side — unless we count them as ghosts who continue to sing in her ear, offering wisdom from beyond the grave, or otherwise causing her doubt. Maybe, at some point in the future, "Jenny of Oldstones" will pave the way for a similar song built around the Mother of Dragons. If Benioff, Weiss and Djawadi are taking title suggestions, might we offer up Dany's song; it has a certain ring to it.

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