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As much as Game of Thrones relishes in the Westeros-centric struggle for who will sit on the Iron Throne, there’s always been a much bigger fight brewing on the horizon. And now that winter has finally arrived and the great war for Westeros is about to begin, a prophecy thousands of years in the making may finally come to pass.
Theories, visions, and prophecies have long been essential to Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire book series. One recent Game of Thrones reveal—the satisfying confirmation that Lyanna Stark is Jon Snow’s mother—was 20 years in the making. With that question out of the way until Jon (and possibly the rest of Westeros) learns about his parents, the final two seasons have time to explore even bigger mysteries. Who ends up on the Iron Throne is a big question, but as the White Walkers demonstrated, that throne of swords means nothing if the world is consumed by winter and the monsters that lurk in the cold. What might make the difference is the emergence of a great hero who could save them all.
The idea of someone stepping up against the odds is a common one in the fantasy genre, but in Game of Thrones and ASOIAF it’s not just an idea, it’s the crux of one of the story’s biggest prophecies: the rebirth of a legendary figure named Azor Ahai.
In the next two seasons, we might finally see it come to pass. And chances are if the reincarnation of Azor Ahai is in the show, we’ve already met him or her.
Game of Thrones‘ seventh season has already offered more insight into Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised, including a crucial translation note that was initially only covered in the books.
Daenerys meets with Melisandre in the episode “Stormborn,” where they speak about the Long Night in High Valyrian. Daenerys initially translates “Meri kīvio dārilaros ōz maghagon kostas” as “Only the prince who was promised can bring the dawn” and notes that she’s not a prince, but Missandei gently interrupts to offer a vital note about Valyrian linguistics and translation.
“That noun has no gender in High Valyrian so the proper translation for that prophecy would be ‘The prince or princess who was promised will bring the dawn,’” Missandei explained.
Melisandre also believes that both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen have a role to play, which eventually leads Tyrion Lannister to summon Jon to Dragonstone.
But before we speculate further about who could fulfill the prophesy, let’s take a closer look at the lore itself.
The legend—and return—of Azor Ahai
Even in a world filled with White Walkers, wights, giants, children of the forest, and Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, an ancient hero wielding a sword on fire still stands out. But prophecies and visions have long had their place in Game of Thrones. Bran can visit the past, present, and future through weirwood tree visions. Daenerys’ trip to the House of the Undying gave her visions—and in the books they foretold multiple major events such as the Red Wedding. The prophecy Cersei Lannister heard from fortune teller Maggy the Frog has mostly already come true. (A book-only mention of the Valonqar—“little brother”—who will kill Cersei was omitted.)
So Azor Ahai, which is largely based on legend, is completely fair game. Plus, we knew that it would come up in season 7: The name is visible on a scroll Gilly is holding in a season 7 promotional photo, which contains a passage about Azor Ahai that’s nearly identical to a paragraph in The World of Ice and Fire except “the Lord of Light” is used instead of “R’hllor.”
It is also written that there are annals in Asshai of such a darkness, and of a hero who fought against it with a red sword. His deeds are said to have been performed before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age when Old Ghis was first forming its empire. This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R’hllor [the Lord of Light] claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return. In the Jade Compendium, Colloquo Votar recounts a curious legend from Yi Ti, which states that the sun hid its face from the earth for a lifetime, ashamed at something none could discover, and that disaster was averted only by the deeds of a woman with a monkey’s tail.
Fans first learn of this hero in the Game of Thrones season 2 episode “The North Remembers” and the book A Clash of Kings. Melisandre, the red priestess of R’hllor, rallies Stannis Baratheon’s subjects into burning effigies of the Seven, the majority religion in Westeros. She proclaims that Stannis is Azor Ahai reborn. He then draws a flaming sword.
“In the ancient books it’s written that a warrior will draw a burning sword from the fire,” Melisandre said. “And that sword shall be Lightbringer.”
Per the legend, Azor Ahai lived thousands of years ago and was picked to fight the darkness that had taken hold of the world. He obtained his famous sword through sacrifice: He stabbed his wife Nissa Nissa with a sword he forged after the first two swords he forged shattered. That sword became Lightbringer, a blade that could make a monster burst into flames when stabbed.
Azor Ahai has some similarities to the last hero, a Northern legendary figure who helped bring an end to the Long Night—a Westeros winter that lasted a generation. The hero defeated the White Walkers with aid from the children of the forest. It’s unclear if the last hero and Azor Ahai are the same person.
But that’s ancient history and ancient legend. How does Azor Ahai tie in now?
According to an Asshai prophecy that’s more than 5,000 years old, Azor Ahai will return again. That person, appointed by the Lord of Light, will be revealed after a long summer has passed and darkness has fallen on the world.
And if that person fails? Well, let’s hope they don’t.
Thoros of Myr, the red priest who has resurrected Beric Dondarrion on multiple occasions, also touches on the Azor Ahai prophecy in a season 3 DVD extra about the Lord of Light. (Fast forward to the 2:24 mark.)
Is The Prince That Was Promised the same person as Azor Ahai?
Yes and no. As The World of Ice and Fire, an official encyclopedia of George R.R. Martin’s world, points out, the legend of Azor Ahai isn’t limited to followers of R’hllor; several other cultures have their own version of the Azor Ahai legend.
The Prince That Was Promised appears to be in that vein. The Prince isn’t a legendary hero being reborn and doesn’t have a flaming sword, but some of the Prince’s key traits—salt, smoke, and a bleeding star—appear to match up with the Azor Ahai prophecy. The Prince is more of a straight-up human savior than a religious Messiah returning after thousands of years.
The name is often used interchangeably, even by Melisandre herself, who called Jon Snow “The Prince That Was Promised” after she successfully resurrected him in season 6. Many have presumed that Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised are generally referring to the same prophecy, and for clarity’s sake we’ll do the same here unless otherwise noted.
The Prince That Was Promised is also—at least in the books—more of a Targaryen-centric prophecy than Azor Ahai, which comes from Asshai, a city in far east Essos. In A Dance With Dragons, Ser Barristan Selmy revealed to Daenerys that a woods witch told her grandfather, King Jaehaerys II Targaryen (who was cut from Daenerys’ family tree in Game of Thrones to simplify things a bit), that the prince in the prophecy would be born from his children Aerys and Rhaella’s line. This led Jaehaerys to make them marry each other. (It was not a happy marriage.)
And most importantly, according to Maester Aemon, the High Valyrian word used for “prince” in the name may be gender-neutral, so it’s entirely possible the prophecy could refer to a man or woman.
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So who could it be?
Throughout Game of Thrones and ASOIAF, many characters have emerged as potential candidates for Azor Ahai. One of them ceremoniously abandoned his own religion to accept the role. Another is an unlikely tinfoil-hat theory that could turn everything on its head. Two are complete non-entities in the show. Two candidates are serious contenders, depending on the day and episode that just aired. Some might work if Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised are two different prophecies. And many contenders are dead.
The qualifications for each prophecy vary a bit. They both require that the person be born—or less literally “reborn”—“amidst smoke and salt,” and a “bleeding star” must appear at their birth. After that, the two prophecies divulge a bit.
Azor Ahai will appear after a long summer when darkness descends on the world, they’ll “wake dragons out of stone,” and draw a burning sword from fire. The Prince That Was Promised will come from the family line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen (making them at least part Targaryen), and that savior will be “the song of ice and fire.”
Is it possible that we could see one Azor Ahai in the show and another in the books? Of course! Considering Martin has yet to publish the final two novels, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, it might not play out in text exactly how we’ll watch it on our screens. But the Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have asked Martin how ASOIAF ends, so if the eventual identity of Azor Ahai is a major part of the story’s endgame, chances are the show will follow suit.
A deeper look at the characters who could fulfill the legends
Is Jon Snow Azor Ahai?
Pros: He was resurrected by Melisandre in the show, he is descended from Aerys and Rhaella’s line, he has Melisandre’s approval, and he was born under a bleeding star.
Cons: Too predictable, Melisandre has been unreliable, and he’s the most likely red herring.
Jon is already something of a special character, even for Game of Thrones. He’s more or less functioned as one of the show’s main heroes since Ned Stark died in season 1, especially after the Red Wedding. He wields a Valyrian steel sword, which can kill White Walkers. He’s a natural leader, even if his instincts aren’t always right. And in a world where names mean everything, the idea that a bastard with a common name might save the Seven Kingdoms would be quite a surprise to many of the people who live there.
Plus, there’s that whole thing where Jon died and then came back.
The union of his parents’ houses could make for an embodiment of ice (Stark) and fire (Targaryen). And although Jon’s birth didn’t appear to have a comet (if we’re to take the sunny day depicted in Game of Thrones as canon), it did have a bleeding star of sorts.
As Ned burst into the Tower of Joy to find his sister Lyanna he carried Dawn, the Valyrian steel sword wielded by Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne, who stood watch there. The sword was covered in blood after Ned used it to kill Arthur Dayne, and if you look closely at the hilt you can see a star on it. It’s unclear if this scene plays out the same way in the books, although some of the imagery around it seems to suggest a red comet.
Jon’s book death in A Dance With Dragons, which plays out similarly to how it does in the show without the finality the show gives it, also includes descriptions of salt—the tears of Bowen Marsh—and a smoking wound, leaving many to see his eventual resurrection as imminent.
In Game of Thrones, Melisandre became convinced that Jon was Azor Ahai after she resurrected him, but there’s a double-edged sword. If you take her ability to resurrect Jon—which she believes the Lord of Light gave to her—as proof that he needs Jon to serve a greater purpose, he fits the bill. On the other hand, Melisandre once said that about Stannis—and she was wrong.
There would be nothing wrong with Jon being Azor Ahai, of course, but the amount of evidence on his side brings up a valid question of predictability in a show that boldly killed its main character only nine episodes in. Is it simply too obvious, or have fans been so good at spotting clues that it just feels all but inevitable?
Is Daenerys Targaryen Azor Ahai?
Pros: Full Targaryen as the daughter of Aerys and Rhaella, she was reborn in Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, she hatched three dragons from stone in those flames, ailing Maester Aemon (a Targaryen) endorsed her, as did the red priestess Kinvara.
Cons: Possibility of Targaryen madness, she could be more consumed with the Westerosi battle than the great war, she could be another red herring.
Daenerys’ claim to prophetic fame is that she’s The Prince That Was Promised more so than Azor Ahai, but her qualifications could easily make her either one. Like Jon she fits the bill more than most, but her rebirth at the end of Game of Thrones’ first season offers one of the strongest pieces of evidence of anyone.
At night, Daenerys placed her three dragon eggs onto Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre and stepped into the flames. By morning, not only had she survived the flames unscathed, she emerged with three newly hatched dragons. It was unlike anything anyone had ever witnessed.
A red comet appeared around the time of her rebirth: It’s visible before the pyre is lit in A Game of Thrones—and taken as a sign to light the pyre. She was born on an island surrounded by salt water, while her rebirth occurred in a smoking pyre.
Her rebirth even touched on the part of the prophecy that says “to wake dragons from stone.” She received three dragons eggs at her wedding from her guardian Illyrio Mopatis, who said of the eggs, “The ages have turned them to stone.” Although Targaryens tend to refer to themselves as dragons, this is very literal.
Nearing his death in A Feast for Crows, Maester Aemon became convinced that Daenerys is the Prince That Was Promised. Although he once believed Rhaegar Targaryen was the prince, news of Daenerys and her dragons sealed his change of heart. It was based on Aemon’s belief that Archmaester Marwyn, who will be played by Jim Broadbent in season 7, pledged to personally seek out Daenerys in the books.
However, Daenerys is not yet aware of the threats that loom in the far north. She’s heading toward Westeros to take a kingdom she believes is rightfully hers in the show, while she only just left Meereen in the books. Her mind is fully set on the Iron Throne, and in season 7 she may have to fight Cersei for it.
Will she step up to the plate? Although it appears that she and Jon might create an alliance with one another, it’s unclear if she’ll be as motivated to direct her dragons toward a more daunting goal. Considering her importance and near-invincibility for much of the series, she might’ve been set up as a red herring the entire time, while someone else takes up the eventual mantle. On the other hand, it would be nice if the most important character of Game of Thrones turned out to be a women. And although Daenerys doesn’t appear to have inherited the madness that’s been part of her family thanks to centuries of Targaryen incest, she’s not completely out of the clear yet.
Is Stannis Baratheon Azor Ahai?
Pros: Melisandre had confidence in Stannis, he pulled a flaming sword out of the fire after burning effigies of the Seven, he sacrificed someone he loved for the cause.
Cons: He doesn’t come from the right Targaryen line, he was never a true believer, Melisandre was wrong, his sacrifice was in vain, and now he’s dead.
Our proper introduction to Stannis in Game of Thrones sets up the idea that Stannis is the true Azor Ahai, and despite all the hints otherwise, we assume that it’s Stannis for much of it. He had Melisandre’s blessing, he wielded a flaming sword, and Melisandre’s visions in the flames showed him victorious for much of the series.
However, it’s his belief in Melisandre and his stubborn conviction that leads to his downfall. Melisandre told him if that he sacrificed his daughter Shireen—royal blood—to the flames, he would be victorious against the Bolton army at Winterfell. He does it, something that drew an avalanche of disdain from fans. Benioff and Weiss later revealed that Shireen’s death was one of the things Martin told them would happen in the books.
But it was all for naught. The first Battle of Winterfell was an utter massacre, and Stannis met his end at the hands of Brienne of Tarth, who finally fulfilled her oath to avenge her king, Renly Baratheon, who was killed by his brother Stannis via Melisandre’s dark powers.
While Stannis has distant blood ties to the Targaryens—which his older brother Robert used to legitimize his claim to the Iron Throne—it’s not the right relative needed for him to become the Prince That Was Promised. Stannis’ grandmother is Rhaelle Targaryen, one of the daughters of Aegon V Targaryen, whereas it was her older brother Jaehaerys whose bloodline was foretold would eventually produce the Prince.
Is Ser Davos Seaworth Azor Ahai?
Pros: His reappearance after Blackwater is described as a rebirth; he was found amidst salt and smoke after the battle; he’d turn Westeros on its head by saving the world as a common man instead of a ruling family.
Cons: Not a Targaryen, he doesn’t handle “Lightbringer” in the books, he lacks a substantial amount of supportive evidence.
Davos Seaworth’s Azor Ahai theories are more recent than most, though one has reemerged as a plausible theory. The crux of it has two parts: Davos picking up “Lightbringer” after Stannis in season 2 (an event that doesn’t happen in A Clash of Kings), and his unlikely survival of the Battle of Blackwater. It also relies on hints dropped by Davos’ portrayer, Liam Cunningham, to Conan O’Brien in a 2016 interview.
Making Davos, a lowborn character, the ultimate savior would be one of the more surprising things Game of Thrones has done in some time, and it’d be a welcome change of pace. But his heritage—sorry, not everyone is a secret Targaryen—as well as the much more substantial support for characters like Jon and Daenerys, make this one rather unlikely. He might be a trusted advisor to Azor Ahai, but probably won’t end up as Azor himself.
Is Rhaegar Targaryen and his son, Aegon, Azor Ahai?
Pros: Rhaegar was born amidst salt and smoke, and he once had Maester Aemon’s confidence. Rhaegar believed Aegon was the prince, and referred to the child as “the song of ice and fire.” They’re both Targaryens descended from Aerys and Rhaella’s line.
Cons: Rhaegar became convinced it wasn’t himself. Aegon’s alleged book reappearance has never happened in the show. They’re both dead.
As Rhaegar grew up, he believed that he was the prince due to the circumstances behind his birth. He was born at Summerhall, a Dornish residence where a great fire took place that killed his great-grandfather King Aegon V Targaryen, Aegon’s eldest son Duncan, and a member of his Kingsguard, Ser Duncan the Tall. The people there mourned their loss with heavy tears. For a time, Maester Aemon also believed Rhaegar to be the prince.
Years later, Rhaegar believed that his infant son, Aegon, was the true prince after spotting a red comet in King’s Landing the night Aegon was conceived. Upon Aegon’s birth on Dragonstone—providing salt and smoke like it did for Daenerys—Rhaegar referred to him as “the song of ice and fire,” and told his wife Elia that “the dragon must have three heads.”
Both points are now moot. Rhaegar and Aegon are dead, famously killed in the revolt that put Robert Baratheon on the throne. A book subplot that introduces a young man who claims to be Rhaegar’s son Aegon was never introduced in the show.
Is Victarion Greyjoy Azor Ahai?
Pros: His hand was healed at sea and later there’s a scene where it smokes, he had the red priest Moqorro’s confidence, he would disprove the idea that Azor Ahai is inherently good, and he killed his own wife, echoing Nissa Nissa.
Cons: Not a Targaryen, he has yet to appear in the show and he probably never will.
Theon’s uncle Victarion, who doesn’t appear in the show at all, is not a good man. He’s cruel and has a list of dead men and women at his feet, but unlike his sadistic older brother Euron, he hasn’t committed the sin of kinslaying. And he has a rebirth of sorts at sea, thanks to some magic performed by Moqorro.
However, his exclusion from Game of Thrones season 6 makes his emergence as Azor Ahai highly unlikely, if it’s the same person in the books and the show. Also, the lack of Targaryen blood is a strike against him.
Is Ser Pounce Azor Ahai?
Pros: A “Prince” that was “Promised,” could’ve been born under the red comet near salty water and smoking torches, his theorized father could’ve been possessed by a Targaryen.
Cons: Not a physical Targaryen, is a cat, can’t hold a sword, and is 100 percent tinfoil.
For the most part, suggesting that Ser Pounce, King Tommen Baratheon’s pet cat who appears in exactly one episode of Game of Thrones, is complete nonsense. The cat made his debut to diffuse tension between Tommen and Margaery Tyrell (and was apparently a pain to work with) and hasn’t been seen since—even with the help of visual effects. The main thing Pounce has going for him is that his name works nicely as a pun to produce “The Pounce That Was Promised.”
To his credit, the YouTube channel Alt Shift X, which breaks down Game of Thrones and ASOIAF theories for fans, attempted to take the theory seriously in a 2015 explainer. Pounce’s theorized father in the books, a mean black cat believed to be Rhaenys Targaryen’s pet cat Balerion, is called “the real king of this castle” in A Game of Thrones, which would make Pounce a “prince.” And in A Feast for Crows, Cersei made him “promise” to forget about jousting in order to have a cat. So in that regard, Pounce could be The Prince That Was Promised.
But while many tinfoil theories can arguably be called plausible, having Ser Pounce become the savior of all humanity is not one of them. He would’ve gotten much more screentime otherwise.
So what happens next?
While each of these characters have legitimate cases, only two of them are really serious contenders: Jon, Daenerys, and if you believe Game of Thrones will throw a curveball, maybe Davos. With only 13 episodes left until the end, we will likely see the true reveal play out as Azor Ahai either saves Westeros or helps lead it to its doom.
Both Jon and Daenerys will likely factor into the show’s endgame in a major way, and they each have something to offer: Jon returned from the dead and has a sword capable of killing White Walkers, while Daenerys had her own kind of death and rebirth, and she wields dragons. But don’t count Cersei completely out of the picture as she strives to keep her Iron Throne at all costs. It won’t be so easy to defeat the darkness when the person on the Iron Throne will stop any threat to her rule—even one that could save all of humanity.
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Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.