What if everything we knew about the Prince That Was Promised was wrong?
In the first episode of Game of Thrones‘ second season, the red priestess Melisandre declared before the followers of her chosen knight, Stannis Baratheon, the prophecy of Azor Ahai. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Azor Ahai was a legendary warrior who ended the Long Night, a period of darkness when mankind fought against the undead. According to Melisandre’s prophecy – believed by the followers of R’hllor, the Lord of Light – Azor Ahai will be reborn to once again save man from the threat of the White Walkers.
In this moment, Melisandre believes that Stannis is Azor Ahai reborn, and that he’ll lead the people of Westeros to certain victory. She lays out the basics of the prophecy to the crowd:
“After the long summer, darkness will fall heavy on the world. Stars will bleed. The cold breath of winter will freeze the seas, and the dead shall rise in the North. […] In the ancient books it’s written that a warrior will draw a burning sword from the fire. And that sword shall be Lightbringer.”
But Stannis is not Azor Ahai, nor is he the Prince That Was Promised, another name for the prophetic savior of mankind. After Stannis’s death, Melisandre sets her sights on Jon Snow, whose death and resurrection by the Lord of Light – coupled with his secret Targaryen lineage – make him the ideal candidate.
For seasons now, fans have debated if it’s Jon or perhaps Daenerys who fulfill the Prince That Was Promised prophecy. But what if it was neither? In the third episode of the show’s eight season, “The Long Night,” everything we thought we knew about the threat of the Night King was called into question. So, too, was the identity of Azor Ahai reborn. It’s neither Jon nor Dany who kill the Night King, but Arya Stark. Could she be the Prince That Was Promised? Does the prophecy refer to an event that has yet to unfold? Does it even matter at all?
Let’s break down what we know about the prophecy, to whom it may refer, and how “The Long Night” challenges what we know about Games of Thrones as a whole.
What we know about the “Prince That Was Promised” from the books and show.
In Martin’s books, the Prince That Was Promised is a prophecy of unclear origins that is said to date back 5,000 years or more. In A Storm of Swords, Melisandre says that, “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt.” Azor Ahai and the Prince prophecies are referenced interchangeably by Melisandre, which means they refer to the same person. We also learn that the Prince will “wake dragons out of stone” and “draw from the fire a burning sword, Lightbringer,” which will help defeat the undead.
Rhaegar Targaryen, brother of Daenerys and father of Jon Snow, believed that the Prince would descend from his bloodline. In A Clash of Kings, when Dany visits the House of the Undying, she sees a vision of Rhaegar holding his firstborn son. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire,” Rhaegar says of the boy. However, something eventually changed Rhaegar’s mind, and he ran off with Lyanna Stark and had Jon. Some fans have discerned that Rhaegar likely did this when he realized his first son wasn’t the Prince, and that he needed another heir to fulfill the “promise.”
Who could the prophecy apply to?
The two most likely candidates have always been Jon and Daenerys. The “red star” referred to in the prophecy is likely the comet that blazed through the sky in season two, around the time Dany was reborn in the salt pyre with her dragons and Jon was reborn at the icy wall as a brother of the Night’s Watch. There are other interpretations of the prophecy that could apply to either character, but in both the books and the show, Dany seems to be the most fitting. It was she who woke dragons from stone, and in the show, Melisandre tells her that she fulfills the prophecy. “I’m afraid I’m not a prince,” Dany replies, but Missandei corrects her: “Your grace, forgive me, but your translation is not quite accurate. 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.”
Why would the show go out of its way to stress that translation if it wasn’t important? It probably wouldn’t – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to Dany. In “The Long Night,” Arya ends the war against the undead by stabbing the Night King with a Valyrian dagger, which kills the entire White Walker and wight army.
Is Arya the Prince That Was Promised?
Let’s look at what we know of the prophecy from the show only, since many of the details – like the awakening of the dragons and the Targaryen lineage – are only from the book. In that context, Arya has had a few “rebirths,” as Arry back in season two and as a Girl With No Name when she trains at the House of Black and White. The “black and white” could refer to the smoke and the sweat, blood, and tears that go into her sessions could be the salt. Her “Lightbringer” could be Littlefinger’s Valyrian catspaw dagger, which isn’t necessarily drawn from fire, unless you loosely interpret the dragon flame burning Winterfell as the source. Melisandre disappearing last season and returning seemingly armed with new powers from R’hllor and new knowledge about how to defeat the Night King – knowledge she directly imparts on Arya, which motivates her kill – also seems to indicate she has a finer grasp on the prophecy, and knows at long last to whom it directly applies.
It could also still refer to Jon or Dany. They may not have killed the Night King themselves, but their mutual rebirths facilitated all that came after. Arya would never know the Night King was coming without Jon’s resurrection or Dany’s dragons to set the events in motion.
Or maybe the prophecy was bogus all along. “Prophecies are dangerous things,” Melisandre warned last season. Which leads us to our biggest question going forward…
What does this mean for the show’s other big prophecy?
There are still ways the Prince That Was Promised could be interpreted, beyond the events of the latest episode. But the likeliest answer at this point is that – like the White Walkers – the prophecy was a red herring all along. If that’s true, then what does it say for the final big mystery of the show: Who will kill Cersei Lannister?
In the books, a fortune teller tells a young Cersei about her future, hinting that she will be bested by a “younger, more beautiful” queen and that her three children will all die before she does. She also warns that the “valonqar” will “wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” The word “valonqar” translates to “little brother” in High Valyrian. Considering the rest of the witch’s words came true, it seems pretty likely that book Cersei will be murdered by either Jaime or Tyrion, both younger than her. (Jaime is her twin, but Cersei was born first.)
The show deliberately left out the “valonqar” portion of the prophecy, so it’s possible – even likely – that the events will play out differently. “The Long Night” made the emphasis on prophecy seem a little foolish, so we’d advise against ascribing too much from what’s been hinted so far. In Martin’s final two books, prophecy may have more of a role. But on Game of Thrones, rules in general don’t seem to apply. We’re in the final stretch now, and anything can happen. Anything at all.