In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the innocent. Arise, readers of The Ringer, for many of our friends will surely die next week! On to the questions!
Clayton asks: “Please give us a deep dive on ‘Jenny’s Song.’ When do we hear it in the books? Who is Jenny? What’s the significance of Summerhall?”
Jenny refers to Jenny of Oldstones, whose romance with Crown Prince Duncan Targaryen over 60 years before the events of the show captured the imagination of the smallfolk and inspired “Jenny’s Song.” Jenny was a mysterious figure, about whom little is known. Clearly, Jenny was uniquely strange.
Though she claimed to be descended from the kings of the First Men, the first human inhabitants of Westeros, Jenny lived a peasant’s life in the Riverlands, alone in the forest among ancient ruins. Her tall tales led to a certain level of notoriety and the smallfolk to gossip that she was mad, or possibly even a witch. Whatever the case, in 239 A.C., Prince Duncan Targaryen, son of King Aegon V, met Jenny while traveling through the Riverlands. They fell in love. Duncan—uncommonly independent, some might even say reckless—abdicated his claim to the throne and called off his upcoming wedding to the daughter of Lyonel Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End, so that he could marry Jenny. As you would imagine, this was a great scandal.
As crown prince, Duncan’s nuptials were a matter of great political importance. In a world where power is vested in a few very wealthy families, to whom a great many people owe their allegiances, weddings play a crucial role in statecraft. Dorne was finally brought into the Seven Kingdoms, nearly two centuries after Aegon’s Conquest, with a wedding. The alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells was sealed with the weddings of kings Joffrey and Tommen (after his older brother died by poison) to Margaery Tyrell. Robb Stark secured passage across the Trident River—leading to his shattering victory over an unsuspecting Lannister army at Whispering Wood—by agreeing to marry a daughter of Walder Frey, the Lord of the Crossing. And the Red Wedding was a direct result of Robb’s spurning said marriage pact.
As you would expect, Duncan’s spurning of the Baratheons was not well received by the Stormlanders. Aegon V, known as “the Unlikely,” was the fourth son of King Maekar Targaryen. His ascension to the Iron Throne had been complicated. Lyonel Baratheon had been a crucial supporter of Aegon’s claim. His grandchildren would have sat on the Iron Throne. Lord Baratheon felt the insult deeply. Moved to defend the honor of his house, Lyonel rebelled and took up the ancient title, once held by House Durrandon, of Storm King. The insurrection was eventually put down when Prince Duncan’s namesake, Ser Duncan the Tall of the Kingsguard, defeated Lyonel in single combat and King Aegon sent his daughter Rhaelle to Storm’s End to wed Lyonel’s heir.
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Prince Duncan, meanwhile, got his wish. He and Jenny, much to the delight of the common folk and singers throughout the Seven Kingdoms, were wed. Thereafter Duncan was known as the “Prince of Dragonflies.” Meanwhile, Jenny’s strange ways continued. Lady Jenny, as she was now known, arrived at court in the company of a short albino woman who Jenny claimed was one of the Children of the Forest.
The story would have a tragic ending. Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters Visenya and Rhaenys united the Seven Kingdoms because they had dragons and no one else did. The last dragon died in 153 A.C. (roughly a century before Duncan and Jenny were wed) and since then House Targaryen’s grip on the throne had grown progressively weaker. Aegon V was obsessed with returning dragons to the world. This would be his doom.
In 259 A.C., the king and his favorites gathered at Summerhall, the Targaryen vacation estate. The occasion was the impending birth of his great-grandson Rhaegar to his grandchildren Aerys, the future Mad King, and Rhaella. What happened that night is unknown. But the existing evidence suggests that the king, perhaps acting on prophecies made by Jenny’s woods witch companion, took the opportunity to attempt to hatch dragon eggs, this time using wildfire. The ensuing conflagration destroyed Summerhall and took the lives of the king, Ser Duncan the Tall, Prince Duncan, and his love Jenny.
Jenny’s woods witch friend, though present at the tragedy, survived. In the books, she lives at High Heart, a hill covered with a crown of weirdwoods. Arya and the Brotherhood Without Banners visit her there. In exchange for telling them a prophecy that foretells the deaths of Renly Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and Cat Stark, she requests “Jenny’s Song” from the group’s musician, Tom Sevenstrings. Listening to the tune, she mouths the words and weeps.
As for the song’s significance, there are various inferences we could make. It’s a tune about obsession with power and its consequences; about long-dead kings and the dimming of memory. Perhaps the germane reading, however, is the most obvious one. The song ends with this refrain:
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
This harkens back to Ygritte and Jon in their love cave from Season 2, when, after they had shared their first intimate moments together, Ygritte said, “I don’t ever want to leave this cave. Not ever.” It calls to mind, too, Dany and Jon at the waterfall in this season’s first episode, when Dany said that no one would find them “for a thousand years.” There’s a meta commentary there as well. Nothing good can last. Everything ends. With only four episodes left, in that moment, as Pod sung that haunting refrain, Game of Thrones was speaking to us as well.
Andy asks: “When Bloodraven told Bran ‘You will never walk, but you will fly,’ is it possible that he meant actually riding a dragon and not warging into one, as has been mentioned previously? If so this could give some credence to the Bran-as–Night King theory. Or perhaps Tyrion could alter his horse saddle draft plans for a contraption to ride a dragon?”
It’s possible! After Bran’s speech to the Winterfell war council, it’s clear that the Great War is, in essence, a game of chess with existential stakes. The Night King wants to bring about eternal darkness by killing the Three-Eyed Raven. Humanity wants to lure the Night King into the open in order to kill him and unmake every wight and White Walker. Bran is humanity’s most important piece. Surely, he must survive to the end. Assuming that the army of the dead breach Winterfell, Bran will need to escape, or it’s game over for Game of Thrones. That means it’s certainly possible that he’ll ride a dragon out of dodge.
More importantly, in addition to learning the Night King’s motivation, Sunday night we finally discovered what it is the Three-Eyed Raven does. Bran, and those who came before him, are the world’s memory. If the Night King can strike down Bran, he can bring on, in Bran’s words, “an endless night.” Whether or not the Bran-is-the–Night King theory, or any of its variants, is true, it’s clear that Bran, his predecessors, and the Night King do have a kind of relationship.
Unfortunately, the only other Three-Eyed Raven we know of is Bloodraven, also known as Brynden Rivers. Rivers was one of the so-called Great Bastards, the bastard-born children of Aegon IV Targaryen who that singularly terrible king legitimized on his deathbed. That act set in motion events that led to a series of civil wars known as the Blackfyre Rebellions, which pitted the supporters of House Blackfyre, founded by Daemon Blackfyre, another Great Bastard, against House Targaryen.
Bloodraven and his troops of archers, the Raven’s Teeth, were crucial during the battle at Redgrass Field, killing Daemon and his twin sons, Aegon and Aemon. Lord Brynden already had an ominous reputation and was rumored to dabble in sorcery. After the battle, some called Rivers a kinslayer for slaying his half-brother and his sons. Others said his troop’s white weirwood arrows were guided by black magic.
In 209 A.C., almost a century before the events of the show, Bloodraven was named King Aerys I Targaryen’s hand. Soon after, an illness called the Great Spring Sickness descended on Westeros and carried away thousands of victims, including King Daeron II, also known as Daeron the Good, and two princes. On the heels of this calamity was a drought that would last more than a year. Many blamed Bloodraven’s sorcery as the cause of these disasters.
In 233 A.C., Aemon Targaryen shipped up to the Wall to become the maester for the brothers of Castle Black. Some 200 prisoners, destined to take the black, went with him. Bloodraven, carrying the Valyrian sword Dark Sister, and many of his Raven’s Teeth were among them. Bloodraven would rise to become Lord Commander six years later. Thirteen years after that, he disappeared on a ranging beyond the Wall. Was he, like Bran, called by the Three-Eyed Raven who preceded him? Who was the previous Three-Eyed Raven? Were the rumors of sorcery and dark magic that followed him merely a misunderstanding of the warging/greenseeing ability that Bran has? We may never know.
Eryck asks: “What would the surname for bastards born at Ringer HQ be? Do you personally think Dorne still has a role to play in the South? I know historically they can tend to disengage from Northern conflicts, but the army was ready to get picked up. Should Cersei have some eyes on them?”
The bastard name for Ringer HQ would be Gulch, for the place where many of us misbegotten souls find sustenance.
As for Dorne, you’re right that the continent’s southernmost region has largely stayed out of continental politics. Much like the North, the Dornish are an insular and independent people, with a particular culture all their own. It took the Targaryens nearly 200 years to bring Dorne into the realm. Since that time, Dorne has rarely taken part in Westeros’s squabbles. Robert’s Rebellion is a notable exception. Princess Elia Martell of Dorne was Crown Prince Rhaegar’s wife. Because of this, Prince Doran agreed to send 10,000 troops to help put down the insurrection. Then, during the sack of King’s Landing, Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain, on the orders of Tywin Lannister, raped and murdered Elia, and killed her children. The Dornish were rightly furious.
Tywin is dead. But House Lannister still rules in King’s Landing via Queen Cersei Lannister. When Euron Greyjoy smashed the Targaryen ships en route to pick up the Dornish Army, he also managed to capture Ellaria and Tyene Sand. He delivered them to Cersei, who administered a poison called the Long Goodbye to Tyene, forcing Ellaria to watch as her daughter slowly died. Ellaria’s whereabouts are unknown. Would Dorne march out of its mountain passes on King’s Landing for Ellaria? I bet it would. And it will probably need to, as whatever escapes the Night King at the Battle of Winterfell is unlikely to resemble an army.
Christina asks: “Dany claims to be in love with Jon, but her first reaction to him telling her who he really is is anger. That doesn’t seem like a response from someone in love, especially since they could just get married and rule together. It’s what Targaryens do. Dany’s mad-queen vibes have reached new highs since arriving in the North. Do you think Dany will find her way back to some version of a moral compass and breaking the wheel if she makes it to the end of the season?”
I think Dany has lost her grip a bit and I certainly think her responses to some of the obstacles she faced in winning over people’s allegiances—like executing Randyll and Dickon Tarly—have been troubling. That said, I have a lot of empathy for what she’s going through.
Dany has always been at her best when she’s followed her gut and done the thing that people told her was impossible. In Season 1, she walked into Drogo’s funeral pyre despite Jorah’s entreaties and birthed dragons back into the world. In Season 2, she alone bested Pyat Pree in the House of the Undying, freeing her baby dragons. In Season 3, she pretended, even to her closest advisers, that she was going to sell Drogon to Kraznys mo Nakloz for his 8,000 Unsullied. Then she unleashed Drogon’s flames and set the slave soldiers free, winning herself an army. But all those things happened in the East. Whatever her ancestry, she truly is a foreigner in Westeros.
Now, in a strange land, her advisers (except for Jorah in this last episode) are either doing nothing (like Varys) or floundering (like Tyrion, whose plans have cost her the lives of her soldiers, her fleet, and her dragon Viserion). Add to this the realization that her boyfriend, Jon, might just be her nephew and apparently has a better claim to the throne; her soldiers—the Unsullied and the Dothraki—have no ties to Westeros and are here only because she asked them to be; and Grey Worm is already thinking of quitting. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback Dany’s moves. But I doubt anyone in the show would do much better with the hand she was dealt.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.