Through the early stages of Game of Thrones, magic is in short supply. The world of Westeros is harsh and gritty and contains no Merlins or Gandalfs to help main characters out when they’re in need. Supernatural elements only seem to exist north of the Wall among the Others and Wargs, and to the east with a few Red Priests and maegi who wield prophecy and blood magic.
But the return of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons seems to herald a sudden increase in magic across the world. The spells pyromancers use to create wildfire become more effective. The Red Priests of R’hllor have seen their powers increase, to the point where some have been able to cheat death. And prophecy looms ever darker over the heads of everyone as a showdown between the Others and the realms of men starts to seem imminent.
The main prophecy discussed in Game of Thrones is that of Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised. According to the servants of R’hllor, a battle has been waged since the beginning of time between the Lord of Light and the Great Other. The last time this battle went down, it was Azor Ahai who defeated the darkness with a magical sword called Lightbringer, forged in the blood of his beloved Nissa Nissa. Prophecy foretells that he will be reborn to defeat the Great Other again as The Prince That Was Promised.
With so much riding on Azor Ahai’s return, it’s no surprise that the big question readers and show watchers alike have is “Who is Azor Ahai reborn?” From the start of book two, we have the Red Priest Melisandre proclaiming Stannis as The Price That Was Promised. But what does she base this on? Let’s look at some of the prophecy’s signs.
Melisandre believes Azor Ahai will be “born amidst salt and smoke.” According to Thoros of Myr, “Our champion will be reborn to wake dragons from stone and reforge the great sword Lightbringer that defeated the darkness those thousands of years ago.”
The prophecy also states, “There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour, a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”
So, how does Stannis fit as the reincarnation of Azor Ahai? At this point, it seems clear that he does not. The flames bring Melisandre to Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon’s seat, and from there she tries to fit him to the legend instead of the other way around. She has him burn statues of the old gods under a flaming star, proclaiming it his rebirth and having him pull a burning sword from the ashes. Melisandre calls that sword Lightbringer, but others cast doubt on that declaration, noting the sword gives off no heat.
No big deal, as far as Melisandre is concerned. All will be proven once Stannis awakes dragons from stone (on Dragonstone) using the blood of a king. Unfortunately for her, Davos Seaworth foils that plan by helping Robert’s bastard escape sacrifice and leading Stannis north to confront the Wildlings at the Wall. By the end of season five, even Melisandre seems convinced that Stannis is not The Prince That Was Promised. So, if not Stannis, then who?
The next likely candidate would be Jon Snow, who fits many more of the conditions. Born amidst salt and smoke? A generally accepted theory is that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark (referred to as R+L=J), born during a battle at the Tower of Joy (smoke) and covered in the tears of his dying mother (salt). He also may already have Lightbringer — the legend states, “A warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword.” Remember Jon burning himself badly pulling Longclaw from fire to save Jeor Mormont from wights?
There’s also more to his parentage than just the R+L=J theory. In George R.R. Martin’s books, it’s explained that Rhaegar Targaryen was not originally a great warrior, but a musician and avid reader of history. One day, he read something in a book that caused him to put down his harp and declare he must learn to fight. It’s thought that he determined that he was Azor Ahai, and from that day forward, he dedicated himself to fulfilling the prophecy.
This set off Robert’s Rebellion, the war that ended Targaryen rule over Westeros. Rhaegar’s interpretation of the prophecy required he have three children just like the legendary Azor Ahai, but his wife Elia was deemed unable to birth after only two. It was under this pretense that he abducted (or took the willing) Lyanna Stark to the Tower of Joy, where she gave birth to his son.
You could say this fulfills the prophecy in a different way: Azor Ahai (Rhaegar) forges Lightbringer (Jon) with the death of his beloved Nissa Nissa (Lyanna).
But could it be another? Daenerys Targaryen has an even better claim than Jon Snow. She was born amidst salt and smoke on Dragonstone, she woke stone dragons (her petrified dragon eggs) and her rebirth from the flames of Khal Drogo’s pyre marked the arrival of the bleeding star. While there’s no sword drawn from the flames, the argument has been made that her dragons represent a weapon more potent in practice than any single sword could be, and they were drawn from the flame.
There is also the possibility that Daenerys has the same parental lineage as Jon Snow. Martin has talked about there being a ‘Luke Skywalker aspect’ to Jon Snow’s parentage, which has made many speculate that Lyanna gave birth to two children at the Tower of Joy, not just one. There have been many guesses as to who that second child is, from Meera Reed to Daenerys Targaryen.
At this point, the only signs that Dany may not be a child of the Mad King Aerys are passages from the book that describe Dany growing up in a house with a lemon tree in the backyard. She was told this was Braavos, but astute readers have noted that Braavos isn’t a climate that could grow lemon trees. Martin has cryptically confirmed the lemon tree was not a writing error. If she was lied to about Braavos, what else was she told that wasn’t true?
That leads us to the possibility that both Dany and Jon fulfill the role of Azor Ahai. Rhaegar Targaryen described Azor Ahai as “the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire,” which is where the name of the book series comes from. Could the song of ice and fire be the story of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen? Even without Dany being Jon’s twin sister, they are both undoubtedly Targaryens and fit the bill. Perhaps the true Prince That Was Promised involves both of them in the form a child they make together.
It’s difficult to determine anything with certainty, and that’s undoubtedly something Martin made sure of on purpose to keep his readers guessing. Prophecy is never as simple or straightforward as it could be; characters misread it, assign its portents to the wrong people, and generally make a mess of trying to fulfill it. How the Azor Ahai legend plays out will undoubtedly play a key role in the ending of Game of Thrones. How it all works out… we’ll have to wait and see. And hope the prophecy is enough to defeat the Others.