Next week, Game of Thrones will change forever. The Battle of Winterfell is coming, and more likely than not, that means that thousands will die next Sunday, including many of the show’s heroes.
But before all that can happen, there is the calm before the storm. Episode 2 of Season 8 was a fantastic slow burn that featured great conversations in elegant rooms, as Tyrion would say. It had long-anticipated reunions, some key first-time interactions, jokes, a happy Brienne, a Gendrya ship, and Tyrion delivering good dialogue for the first time in years. Hallelujah!
The episode also delivered some hints as to what a post–White Walker Westeros may look like. Sansa and Daenerys discussed what would happen to the North should Dany claim the Iron Throne (though they came to no conclusions). Jorah reminded Lyanna that she is the future of House Mormont. Nearly every character lamented their seemingly impending death. And down in the Winterfell crypts, Jon shared the knowledge of his parentage with Daenerys, revealing that he is the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. As Daenerys says herself, “If it were true, it would make you the last male heir of House Targaryen. You’d have a claim to the Iron Throne.”
Before Jon and Dany can sort through all the implications of Jon’s potential claim, a horn blows to call them to battle. But even though viewers seemed to be left hanging, this episode included some extremely relevant foreshadowing about the pair’s long-term future. Just before Jon and Dany have their moment together in front of Lyanna’s tomb, Podrick Payne sings a song at Tyrion’s request. It’s a tune known as “Jenny’s Song,” and it was previously mentioned in A Storm of Swords, the third novel of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the books, only the very first line of “Jenny’s Song” has been revealed. This episode gave us the rest of the lyrics:
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 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
Never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave
These lyrics feel almost too on the nose for this episode. The hall “of the kings” filled with “ghosts” and “damp, cold stones” sounds an awful lot like the crypts of Winterfell. Thousands of Stark lords have been buried there through the generations, so Jon can’t “remember their names,” either. And the “never wanted to leave” line, which Pod repeats five times, seems like a callback to Season 4’s ninth episode when Ygritte, as she’s dying, tells Jon that the two should have “stayed in that cave.” Dany expressed a similar sentiment in Episode 1 of this season when she told Jon that they “could stay a thousand years” at the waterfall they flew to together. Given all these parallels, this was the perfect lead-in to Jon and Daenerys’s conversation.
But the choice to feature this song may also provide some deeper foreshadowing. First, some history about this track: The titular Jenny is Jenny of Oldstones, who eventually married Duncan Targaryen. About half a century before the events of the show, Duncan was the heir to the Iron Throne. He was the eldest son of Aegon V, known as Aegon the Unlikely because he was crowned king only after a Great Council passed up several other candidates during an unclear succession period. During Aegon V’s reign, the fourth Blackfyre rebellion broke out, and while the crown eventually put an end to the civil war, it was a time of unrest in the realm, as the high lords of Westeros became less willing to capitulate to the dragon-less Targaryens.
In an attempt to solidify his family’s control of the Seven Kingdoms, Aegon V went against the Targaryen tradition of incestual marriage and promised many of his children to other houses: Prince Jaehaerys was betrothed to a Tully; Prince Daeron to a Redwyne; Princess Shaera to a Tyrell. And Duncan, the crown prince, was promised to a daughter of Lord Lyonel Baratheon. But there was one problem: Duncan fell in love with and wed Jenny, a commoner. Jenny could never be an acceptable match for a king, and Aegon V and his small council made Duncan choose: the throne or Jenny. He chose his wife.
This proved calamitous. After Duncan reneged on his vows, Lyonel Baratheon rebelled. That rebellion was put down quickly, but Duncan’s choice also led to his younger brother, Jaehaerys II, becoming heir to the Iron Throne. Jaehaerys II was a sickly man, and he reigned for just three short years before he died and his son, Aerys II, the infamous Mad King, took over. We know how that turned out.
Using “Jenny’s Song” in this context, then, previews an endgame in which Daenerys or Jon may have to make a choice not unlike the one Duncan made half a century before. Will one of the two have to abandon their claim to the Iron Throne? If so, should it be the one who has pursued the throne for her entire adult life, or the one who is the rightful heir down the male line of succession? Could they ditch the throne like Duncan and Jenny did? Or could they turn Duncan’s choice on its head, and instead of deciding between a crown and a spouse, have both? Davos hinted at a marriage between Jon and Dany in Episode 1 of this season. The two may realize that the best way to govern Westeros would be to do it together. (Dumping gasoline on the fire of this theory: Duncan is one of the few Targaryens who, like Jon, has dark hair instead of the distinctive platinum blond.)
Daenerys may love Jon Snow, as she said in this week’s episode, but to keep him by her side, she may need to accept him as some kind of co-ruler. Jon could always renounce his claim, but it would still cause waves across the Seven Kingdoms to have Rhaegar’s son married to the queen. Daenerys and Jon can have their love for each other and a throne as well; but will the throne be big enough for the both of them? Sam’s words in this season’s premiere—“You gave up your crown to save your people, would she do the same?”—still echo in Episode 2.
The importance of Jenny’s story does not stop with Duncan’s role. In the books, one of Jenny’s closest companions was a woods witch who claimed to have visions of the future. Jenny brought the witch to Aegon V’s court, saying she was one of the Children of the Forest, and the witch claimed that the Prince That Was Promised would be a Targaryen born from the line of Aerys and Rhaella, two of Jaehaerys’s children (this witch is still alive in the books, by the way, and she relayed visions of the Red and Purple Weddings to the Brotherhood Without Banners). In response to that prophesy, Jaehaerys II had the two married. That couple, of course, became Daenerys’s parents and Jon’s grandparents. Without Jenny, there may not be a Jon Snow or a Daenerys Targaryen. And if the woods witch is right, one of Dany or Jon—or both of them—could be the Prince That Was Promised.
Duncan and Jenny (and Aegon V) died in the tragedy of Summerhall some four decades before the events of the show. Summerhall was a kind of summer home (hence the name) for Targaryens until it was lit ablaze in a mysterious great fire. That explains why “Jenny’s Song” is so sad—her and Duncan’s story ends in abrupt, unfortunate death.
But on the same day as this tragedy, there also came new life: Rhaegar Targaryen was born at Summerhall while the castle burned. (He also notedly loved to visit the ruins, and as a musician who was known for his singing and the playing of his silver harp, there are hints that he may have been the author behind “Jenny’s Song.”) Like Duncan, Rhaegar once chose love over the crown, as he abandoned his first wife, Elia Martell, and married Lyanna Stark in secret. That was also a disastrous choice for the Seven Kingdoms: After Rhaegar ran off with Lyanna, Robert rebelled, thousands died, and the Targaryen dynasty was nearly snuffed out. Monarchs in Westeros can often have love or peace—it’s been rare for them to capture both.
Daenerys and Jon have a chance to do what Duncan and Rhaegar could not: They can pick love and the Iron Throne. But first, they’ll have to make it out of the Battle of Winterfell—and whatever other obstacles this season throws their way—before they get the chance to make that decision.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.