Saturday, May 11, 2019

StorySpotting: A whisper at a funeral (Game of Thrones)

After some consideration, I decided to revive an old, old blog series of mine, called StorySpotting. In this weekly or kinda-weekly series of posts, I will write about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up (heh) in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics will be random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Where was the story spotted?

Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 4 (The Last of the Starks)

What happens?

The episode opens with a funeral scene, where all the fallen from the Battle of Winterfell are being burnt on funeral pyres. The task of lighting Ser Jorah's pyre falls on Queen Danaerys. Before setting it aflame, she leans down, and whispers something in Ser Jorah's ear. What does she say?
No one knows.
It has since been revealed that neither the audience nor the crew were supposed to know what she said. Emilia Clarke wrote her own lines for the scene, so the only people who know are she and her co-star, Iain Glen. Glen has been asked multiple times since the episode aired to reveal what Clarke said in the scene, but he is adamant about not telling.
(We'll see how long that lasts)

What's the story?

This scene, and the secrecy around it, reminded me of something: the death of Baldr in Norse mythology. Baldr, god of light, son of Odin, dies by being shot with an arrow made of holly, thanks to Loki's trickery. The entire world mourns for him (except, obviously, for Loki). He gets what people now call a "Viking funeral" - they place him on a pyre on his magnificent ship named Hringhorni, launch the ship onto the sea (it is so large that they can only do so with the help of a giantess), and set fire to it as he floats away. Baldr shares the pyre with his wife Nanna who died of grief, his horse, an unfortunate Dwarf that Thor punted into the fire (yup), and Odin's magic ring Draupnir.
However, before Baldr is placed on the pyre, Odin leans to his dead son's ear and whispers something to him. Something that no one knows. It is the great secret of Norse mythology. In one of the songs of the Poetic Edda, Vafþrúðnismál, Odin gets into a contest of widsom with a giant. They trade riddles and questions, and the giant finally loses the contest, and his life, when his opponent asks him what it was that Odin whispered in Baldr's ear at the funeral. The giant admits, "you alone know that."
Odin apparently really likes this riddle, because he also uses it in the Saga of Hervör and Heidrek, in a riddling contest against Heidrek. The fact that he knows the answer reveals his true identity as Odin.
The whisper remains Norse mythology's best kept secret.


Some people suggest that Odin whispered to Baldr that he will return after Ragnarök, as foretold. I doubt that's in the cards for Ser Jorah.


  1. No, I'm afraid Ser Jorah is gone. He was a good man.

  2. First time I've wished I knew what was going on in Game of Thrones. Now I have to go look up Ragnarök.