Warning: Spoilers through Game of Thrones season 6, episode 5 (as well as some book lore references) follow…
Imagine you're George R.R. Martin, weary of predictable twists and turns in fantasy and science fiction, through with cardboard cutout heroes that don't reflect the pain and richness of life. Determined to defy tropes, you write a piece a literature that flies in the face of expectations so profoundly that you declare it “unadaptable.” Little did you know, this was just what the world was waiting for.
Twenty years ago, when the first novel in a A Song of Ice and Fire was initially published, most readers likely assumed that the hero of the piece was the doggedly ethical Ned Stark…until he got his head chopped off by the most repellent boy king ever conceived.
That was long before the Starks became the most tragic, and apparently cursed family in the history of everything and an endless stream of Internet fan theories were unleashed upon the world.
These days, the vast majority of show watchers and book readers eye the bastard son of a dead man (who is now also technically dead), a young woman who was sold into an unwanted marriage by her brother as a child, and a frequently drunk dwarf as the heroes of this tale.
By now, you've likely heard the names Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister connected to the prophesy about Azor Ahai (the prince that was promised). If you aren't familiar, the video below breaks down the finer points nicely.
The elevator pitch version is that thousands of years before the Targaryens conquered Westeros there was a winter that lasted a generation known as the “Long Night” or the “War for the Dawn.” During this time the White Walkers descended upon the lands killing all in their path. Eventually, the Children of the Forest and the First Men joined forces to defeat the White Walkers and their undead army of Wights.
According to Melisandre, the Long Night is once again nigh, and with it the reincarnation of the hero who helped to defeat the Walkers during that first war — Azor Ahai.
There are several signs associated with the prophecy that point to Jon or Dany as the most likely candidates, not the least of which is that Dany certainly is a Targaryen and nearly every fan of this series is now convinced that Jon Snow is also, secretly, a Targaryen.
The R+L=J theory has spread far and wide. It is known. And being the “blood of the dragon” is a key element to this prophesy.
Within the lore, there also lives the notion that the “dragon has three heads,” which many have taken that to mean that three Targaryens will combine to create the promised hero that will save the world; perhaps each riding one of Dany's three dragons.
Which brings us to Tyrion. Many speculate that Tyrion is also a Targareyn, and in fact the Mad King Aerys' son. There's some evidence to support the claim. Including, but not limited to, the fact that the King lusted after Tyrion's mother and she could very well have been in close enough proximity to him for the conception to take place.
Additionally, there is Tywin Lannister's violent hatred of his son. Sure. that could be down to the fact that Tyrion is a dwarf and that his mother, Joanna, died in childbirth. However, Tywin's treatment of Tyrion goes beyond disappointed and into vicious and cruel. He is ultimately willing to sacrifice his legacy by disowning Tyrion, which isn't in-line with his character or priorities. Tywin would do anything to maintain what he'd build for the Lannisters. Anything other than serve it on a plate to the bastard son of another man.
Additionally, as we've seen on the show, Tyrion has a great affinity for dragons. He loved them as a boy and was able to free Dany's dragons without being burnt to a crisp.
The Tyrion of the books also has several physical traits in common with the Targaryens: silver-blond streaks in his hair, eyes of two color, and…he is is rumored to have been born with a tail. As was Dany's stillborn son. Some believe Tyrion''s tail was removed.
Also interesting if you want to fine-tooth comb these things (we do) is that the original hero who saved the world was described in a multitude of forms, one of which was as a woman with a monkey's tail. Now, Tyrion would have had a dragon's tail, but the story of the monkey-tailed woman tail could be a matter of cultural interpretation. There may have been more monkeys in the area than dragons.
Or, perhaps we're reading far too much into this buisness of the tail.
There are layers to the legend, and many names for the savior.
The Dothraki promised that Dany's son would be the Khal of Khal's, “the stallion who mounts the world” which is very likely another way of saying the prince who was promised. He died before he could live, of course, but her dragons rage on. Might they be the “prince” in animal form, with Bran inside them warging away?
Certainly, the combination fulfills several aspects of the prophecy, not the least of which that theirs (Bran and the Dragon's) would indeed be a song of ice and fire. We'll have a separate post on Bran's possible role in all this soon.
Here's the point: prophesy is a very precarious business. If we learned anything from last week's episode it's that we're dealing with some very untrustworthy narrators. Not because anyone is lying, per se, but because memory and the transfer of information is imperfect.
Arya watched as a play wildly maligned her father, making him into little more than a power-hungry buffoon. The performance got it so wrong, and yet in some respects so right. Ned made every wrong move one could make in the circumstances and his rigidity put his family in mortal danger. History belongs to the victors and is a matter of perspective.
Meanwhile, lore obsessives had their minds blown with a magic grenade when it was revealed that the Children of the Forest had created the White Walkers from the Fist Men to fight the Fist Men! Only to later align with the First Men to defeat the White Walkers. Precious little found in the lore indicated that this was their origin.
What's fascinating is that even as Bran stood in observation of the past his lens could not be trusted as objective, because he altered it with his very presence. [Yes, I know, causal loop, he changed what had already been changed…time is a flat circle…timey wimey]. The point is, there is no definitive, stagnant version of the truth.
When Bran called out to his father at the Tower of Joy (the origin place of the R+L=J theory) Ned seemed to hear him. Did that cause him to be thinking of himself as a father when he (we believe) met his nephew, the baby Jon Snow minutes later? Presumably we'll find out.
As we've seen with Melisandre, Kinvara and the other religious figures on the show, it's easy enough to misinterpret not just human history, but also the Gods. How annoyed must the Lord of Light have been when he kept showing Melisandre snow and she failed to get the message that it was Snow, Jon Snow, the young man just over there that he was showing her. Or so we believe.
The message of “The Door” seemed to be: prophesy, history, and memory are mutable. The observed and the observer impact one another creating another fragmented piece of the puzzle we call the truth. Also, if we believe in something we often take steps to make it so.
There was an additional meta element of the episode that seemed to say: “Hey fanboys and girls, don't believe everything you think you know. You'll likely hit on aspects of the whole story, but this is a complex unfolding.”
As far as Azor Ahai is concerned, Martin himself has said that these prophesies are not to be taken literally.
For example, the hero of the Long Night is described in a multitude of ways, which could mean that there was never really just one person responsible for the saving of all humanity, which makes a lot of sense. Or, that there was one who was then re-imagined depending on the cultural lens.
As in life, we often see what we want or expect to see.
So, is it possible that Tyrion isn't just one of the heads of the dragon, but actually is the prince that was promised? Absolutely. Frankly, anything is possible at this point! If he is, it won't be a simple A+B=savior affair, though.
We've seen Tyrion rise to the occasion almost in spite of himself, demonstrate great political savvy as the Hand of the King (and in the game of survival), be a skilled military strategist in “Blackwater,” and act as a diplomat making the difficult compromises on Dany's behalf. He is deeply flawed, lacked ambition for much of his life, traded seven years of slavery for many for peace and some ships for one queen, and is easy to dismiss and underestimate.
In other words: Tyrion is the perfect hero for Martin.
Particularly when one examines what the author set out to do when he began writing this story and how it has unfolded to date.
Tyrion will not simply ride in on a dragon to save the day (though ideally there will be some of that). He will plot, maneuver, make missteps, and compromise horribly to gain purchase. Perhaps most importantly, Tyrion as the ultimate hero of this tale makes a great deal of story sense largely in that it wouldn't bring him much happiness to be one.
There may be some part of him that would relish spitting in the face of his father's dismissal. A father who would have seen him dead and gone. Perhaps there is a piece of Tyrion that understands the he's far more capable, and worthy, of rule than most who've sat upon the Iron Throne. Yet, the cost of true leadership is a piece of your soul and he understands that as well. One who saves the world must first see it nearly razed beyond repair. And if mythology is our teacher, will probably die for their efforts.
“If you think this story has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention.”
Having said all of that, I'll likely be writing separate posts making cases for Jon and, probably, Bran. Hey, we said there may not be just one.
In the meantime, Roth Cornet and Donna Dickens discuss Tyrion as the hero of this story in the video at the top and bottom of this page. Take a look and chat with us here or on Twitter.