1:53 pm EST, April 22, 2019

‘Jenny of Oldstones’ explained: ‘Game of Thrones’s ode to the past and the future

Wonder who Jenny of Oldstones is after Game of Thrones 8×02? We’ve got your answers from the past, present, and future of Westeros.

Game of Thrones 8×02 returned to an old motif in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” weaving a song from Westeros’ long history into the fabric of the story. In one of several tear-jerking moments in the episode, Brienne’s once-timid squire Podrick Payne offers the sad tune “Jenny of Oldstones” to Brienne, Jaime, Tyrion, Davos, and Tormund as they await the Battle of Winterfell.

The scene would be meaningful enough even lacking greater context. The lyrics full of ghosts, actor Daniel Portman’s sweet, sad voice, and composer Ramin Djawadi’s haunting tune all combine to create an incredibly poignant moment in an episode already rich with emotion. But this is Game of Thrones, and there is more afoot with “Jenny of Oldstones” than a pretty song.

Knights and promises

To understand the full significance of the song and the identity of Jenny of Oldstones, we need to look back at the Game of Thrones 8×02 episode title, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

That phrase more than a few words with which Jaime dubs Brienne. It’s also a reference to a collection of stories by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin of the same title. Set in Westeros about 90 years before the events of Game of Thrones, the stories (called “The Tales of Dunk and Egg”) focus on the knight in question, Ser Duncan the Tall.

Ser Duncan was a lowborn hedge knight who, through a sequence of remarkable circumstances, took as his squire the future King Aegon V Targaryen. Duncan eventually becomes the Lord Commander of the Aegon’s Kingsguard — and by what is surely no coincidence, Martin has revealed that Dunk was an ancestor of Brienne’s, from whom she inherited her size and strength.

At the time of the stories, the future King Aegon is a young, precocious boy only distantly in line to the Iron Throne. Known as Egg, it is his down-to-earth education with Dunk that shapes him into a just and fair-minded king of Westeros.

Enter Jenny

But in the world of Game of Thrones, the story doesn’t end with a simple tale of successful pedagogy. Aegon’s oldest son, whom he names Duncan (and is dubbed “Ser Duncan the Small”) rebelled against his fathers wishes and broke a marriage pact to the daughter of a noble house. Duncan, the crown prince of Westeros, renounced his claim to the throne in order to marry a common girl with whom he had fallen in love.

That girl? Jenny of Oldstones.

Okay, cool story. So why does she have a hauntingly tragic song named after her?

Summerhall

Well, if you were like, “This is Game of Thrones, so Jenny of Oldstones probably had a hauntingly tragic death?” you would be absolutely right.

Jenny, her husband Duncan the Small, as well as Duncan the Tall, King Aegon, and most of the royal family all died in a mysterious event known only as “The Tragedy of Summerhall.” The details are notoriously few, but the prevailing fan theory opines that King Aegon, hoping to reassert Targaryen power by birthing now-extinct dragons, made a disastrous attempt to hatch several eggs at the palace. (Wildfyre is speculated to have been the mechanism involved.)

And this tragedy had significant ripples through recent history as well. None other than Rhaegar Targaryen — yes, the same Rhaegar who fell in love with Lyanna Stark and fathered Jon Snow — was born at Summerhall, immediately following the conflagration. The events of Summerhall were said to have obsessed Rhaegar throughout his life, preoccupying him with the ghosts of his past.

The real meaning of ‘Jenny of Oldstones’

So the song “Jenny of Oldstones” speaks of a loss that echoes through the past, present, and possible future of the central characters of Game of Thrones. The song not only references Brienne’s noble history (and indeed, her destiny as a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms) but the “kings who are gone” of Jon and Dany’s lineage as well.

And perhaps more importantly, Jenny’s dead kings and ruined hall have potent implications for coming events on Game of Thrones.

The imagery of a girl dancing in a broken castle full of snow brings to mind not only Summerhall, but Dany’s vision of the Red Keep in the House of the Undying. And on the eve of battle in Winterfell, the potential consequences for that castle resonate as well. It’s all too easy to imagine the Stark home shattered, given over to ghosts of Kings in the North and White Walkers, exposed until “the walls did crumble and fall.”

And of course, there is “Jenny of Oldstones”‘ haunting refrain, “She never wanted to leave,” which is repeated eight times in the song. On one level, the lyric speaks of Jenny herself, clinging to the memories of life before Summerhall.

But this line can also be read as a wider reference to every living character on Game of Thrones. For as much as Tyrion, Brienne, Sam, Jaime, Arya, Gendry, Grey Worm, and the rest of the characters of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” bracingly confront death, there is no question that they all have much to live for.

There is also no question the imminent Battle of Winterfell will deprive many of them of that chance. When the battle finally ends, many of these beloved, enduring dreamers will become ghosts themselves, dancing their final dance in the ancient, snowy castle. Jenny never wanted to leave, and neither will they; but the cold cataclysm has come, and with it, for many, the end.

Game of Thrones 8×03 airs Sunday, April 28 at 9:00 p.m. on HBO.

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