Winter has come to Westeros, but that doesn't mean that there isn't time for a song.
Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran had a prominent cameo in the Game of Thrones season 7 opener, playing an unnamed soldier who was among those sent to keep peace after "trouble" came to House Frey. Singing a song that seemed to thaw even the icy heart of Arya Stark, Sheeran's tune helped to set the mood for the episode (and possibly the season to follow).
Not much detail is given about the song in the episode, despite Arya taking a moment to discuss it with him. Fans of the books likely recognized it, however, even though it was used in a much different context than when it appeared in print. Those who haven't read the books or didn't pick up on the song's origins might not know what it's about, though, and may be unsure as to its meaning in the show.
What exactly is Ed Sheeran's song about?
Origin of the Song
The song that Sheeran sings is called "Hands of Gold" and originated in A Storm of Swords, the third book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. In case you didn't quite hear them in the episode, here are the lyrics:
He rode through the streets of the city
Down from his hill on high
O'er the winds and the steps and the cobbles
He rode to a woman's sigh
For she was his secret treasure
She was his shame and bliss
And a chain and a keep are nothing
Compared to a woman's kiss
For hands of gold are always cold but a woman's hands are warm
In the books, the song was written and sung by a character named Symon Silver Tongue. Symon originally appeared in the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, and discovered that Tyrion Lannister was keeping Shae as a secret lover. He decided to use this knowledge to his advantage, attempting to blackmail Tyrion so that he will be entered into a tournament of singers scheduled for Joffrey and Margaery's wedding feast. "Hands of Gold" was written as part of his threat, with Shae being the "secret treasure" referred to in the song.
This plan didn't end well for Symon, however. Instead of ensuring that the minstrel was part of the tournament, Tyrion ordered Bronn to kill Symon instead.
Significance of the Song in the Books
The song originally described the trysts that Tyrion had with Shae, serving as a reminder that Symon knew what Tyrion was up to and that he could tell Cersei and Tywin at any time if Tyrion didn't go along with his demands. Symon's demise didn't put an end to the song's significance, however; instead, the song became the ultimate earworm and stuck with Tyrion as his path led him to trial.
Tyrion thought about "Hands of Gold" while he was in his cell waiting for his trial, unable to get it out of his head. It was on Tyrion's mind during his trial when Shae testified against him, and came to mind again when he later found her in his father's bed. The chain that he used to murder her was made up of golden linked hands in the book, giving the song an additional significance as the "hands of gold" strangled the woman that the song was written about. This further cemented the song's significance in Tyrion's mind, permanently linking it with memories of Shae. He thought of her quite a bit while on his way to Meereen, and the song came to mind as he did.
It seems that its primary purpose in the books was to both increase the pressure on Tyrion because it proved that someone knew his secret and to serve as a subtle foreshadowing of Shae's eventual fate at Tyrion's hands.
"Hands of Gold" in Game of Thrones
The song's significance has changed quite a bit in the leap from book to television. No longer is it a threat against Tyrion, or a constant reminder of what he had to do to his beloved Shae. In fact, at the time that Ed Sheeran sings the song it's highly unlikely that Tyrion has heard it at all. Instead, it seems to be just a simple song of love that was written by a singing soldier. Is that really all there is to it, however?
It's possible that the song is about a soldier's life in the world of Game of Thrones; we already know that members of the Night's Watch abandon their vows to visit prostitutes in towns south of the Wall, so it wouldn't be unheard of for other soldiers to sneak off for a bit of fun. Given the lyrics (and the complaints from some of the singer's brothers in arms about wishing they had women) it could be a tale of a soldier or guard abandoning his post or sneaking off in the night to visit a whore. It's even possible that the soldier in question was falling in love with his favorite prostitute. It's certainly not unheard of in the show (just look at Tyrion and Shae, or even Theon and Ros) but isn't something that a soldier would be proud of others knowing.
That's not the only possibility, however. In fact, given that it's a "new" song, it's entirely possible that the Game of Thrones version of "Hands of Gold" was still written about Tyrion and Shae. Instead of being a song written as part of a blackmail plot, though, the Game of Thrones version of the song might simply be telling the story of what happened between the two lovers. The "hands of gold" referenced in the song could refer to the golden hand that the Hand of the King wears as a mark of office, and the song could tell the story of Tyrion (and possibly even Tywin) sneaking out to visit the whore that he loved behind the backs of those in King's Landing. At least some version of the story would be pretty well known after the trial, after all, and a bit of creative license could certainly take the publicly known parts of the story and craft it into the song in question.
Is It Important?
There have been a few different songs included in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, though only a few have made it through to Game of Thrones. It's possible that Ed Sheeran is playing Symon Silver Tongue in the show, and that his song will have some larger significance to the plot as the season progresses. Most likely, though, the inclusion is just a way to add one more piece from the book while setting up Arya's new quest. It's unlikely that Tyrion will ever hear the song, so even if it is about him it will probably never become a larger piece of the plot.
Of course, that doesn't mean that it's not a fun listen... especially for those who know where it comes from.
Game of Thrones season 7 airs Sundays at 9 Eastern/8 Central on HBO.