‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theory of the Week: Azor Ahai Is A Red Herring

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV Fantasy
TV Fantasy Game of Thrones HBO

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS for Season 8 Episode 3 of Game of Thrones, titled ‘The Long Night‘. Proceed at your own risk.

Game of Thrones is nothing if not profoundly rich in lore, with exceptionally detailed histories, myths and legends stretching back in time centuries – millennia, even — before the events of the series, or books, begin. Such is its depth and scope, in fact, that a prequel series was already being planned long before the final season of the current season even began to air.

Game of Thrones is a show that often references past events. Indeed, the series is, in part, based around the onset of a second ‘Long Night’ — the first of which threatened to eradicate all of life forever — bringing with it an eternal winter and an army of the dead intent once more on wiping out existence.

A smirking Night King in a scene from the second Long Night.

One prophecy that has hung over the show throughout is the legend of the Prince Who Was Promised – a figure thought to be the second coming of the original saviour, Azor Ahai, who would save the world for a second time from an encroaching darkness.

For years, speculation has been rife, with fans, in turn, predicting who this prophesied saviour would be. Some have reckoned it will be Daenerys, some Jaime, some Jon. Others, a potential child of Dany and Jon. Few would have put their money on it being Arya. And yet in allowing the young Stark to slay the Night King in Episode 3 of Season 8, the show’s events have led many fans to assume this means Arya is that foretold hero.

Unreliable Prophecy

But Arya seemingly fulfils none of the prophecy’s criteria. So what does this mean? Did the show just debunk the prophecy it’s spent time and given oh-so-much attention building up to? There are plenty of Thrones fans that think so.

Firstly, let’s take into account that Game of Thrones has always set up the prophecy to be sketchy. The language around it is vague, and different characters seem to quote different aspects of what they believe it to be, or omit parts.

Melisandre quotes it thusly: “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt.”

And here’s how she talks of the prophecy in Season 2 Episode 1, her screen debut in the series:

Azor Ahai is a legendary figure who is purported to have saved the world from darkness during the Long Night, and in order to do so had to forge a flaming sword known as Lightbringer, tempered in the heart of the love of his life – his wife, Nissa Nissa. The prophecy apparently states that he will be reborn to save the world again.

In addition to the unreliable recountings of the prophecy, there are fans who that believe the Azor Ahai prophecy is separate from the Prince Who Was Promised prophecy and who are constantly frustrated that other fans seem to amalgamate the two. That’s presumably because many of the characters also mix them up — if they are, indeed, actually meant to be two individual prophecies.

“Azor Ahai is NOT The Prince Who Was Promised!” writes Litsa250884. “Melisandre makes the mistake and mixes them up (and all you follow her mistake) but they are two different prophesies. The Prince Who Was Promised is going to be Aerys ‘s and Rhaella’s direct descendant and has all those signs he has to fulfill (born under a bleeding star, smoke and salt, bring back dragons from the stone etc). Azor Ahai is the fabled hero who one day will return like King Arthur The Once and Future King to fight the darkness.”

Not only do these two issues around the prophecy serve to undermine it, but there’s also the problem of Red Priestess Melisandre time and again being shown to either be wrong in her interpretation of the prophecy or changing her mind about what it means – she even admits to the struggle of understanding the will of the Lord of Light – leading to the tragic slayings of both Renly Baratheon (with the infamous shadow baby) and young Shireen in the name of the R’hllor. All, in both these cases, in an effort to ensure the protection and success of Stannis, the man she believes – at one point in the story — to be the reincarnation of Azor Ahai.

Arya Isn’t the Prince(ss) Who Was Promised

With the show, nor books, not even offering concrete, reliable wording or interpretations of the prophecy, how can we as viewers be expected to a) understand it and b) place our faith in it coming to pass? While many fans are still attempting to decipher who the Chosen One might be – and following Episode 3 of Season 8, the door has opened to a ton more contenders — it seems to some that the show was setting the prophecy up only to debunk it all along. Meaning that Arya isn’t the Prince(ss) Who Was Promised.

Fandom Game of Thrones community member, AlmostAllice, is adamant Arya isn’t the Chosen One: “If you read the prophecy on Fandom then she most definitely is not. I can’t think of one thing that she fulfills.”

Whaddya mean Arya isn't the Princess Who Was Promised?

It’s an important point – it’s certainly a stretch, at best, to try to find evidence to make Arya alone fit any reading of the prophecy, though one Reddit user suggests there’s more to come from Arya yet that could fill in the gaps for viewers.

“I really don’t think it’s insane to think Arya is Azor Ahai,” says tdotclare. “Missandei clarified that it could mean prince OR princess. The Lord of Light clearly led Beric and Melisandre to her and has a purpose for her. Possibly not JUST to ice the NK. Beric throws away his flaming sword to protect her. Melisandre’s blood sacrifices didn’t work with Shireen but did with Gendry’s blood. Will Arya pierce Gendry’s heart with Beric’s sword to become Azor Ahai? Azor Ahai’s purpose could perhaps [be] to bring the worship of the one true god/Many-Faced God/Lord of Light to Westeros, which Arya would 100% be the perfect vessel for given her position and abilities?”

Of course, there are only three episodes left in the entire saga – it’s difficult to imagine how they’ll work this in with a big Cersei-sized problem still to deal with.

Deliberate Misdirection

Reddit User Oculument is certain that there was never going to be a prophesied ‘saviour’: “As Melisandre found out the hard way, prophecy can be dangerous. There never was Azor Ahai. Years of theorizing by fans just out the f–ing window just like that.”

Melisandre says it herself: “Prophecies are dangerous things.” While this is a hint that prophecies may not be what they seem, and is indicative of the upset and devastation that putting faith in prophecies has caused over the years, it also serves as evidence to support the notion that the show exists to debunk all its prophecies and the idea of fate.

Melisandre is arguably the biggest culprit for casting doubt on the prophecy.

It’s interesting to note that in the books, Tyrion says to Jorah Mormont: “Prophecy is like a half-trained mule. It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head.”

And, as  Redditor carly_kins points out, there’s this nugget from the books, too: “Prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is… and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams… Prophecy will bite your prick off every time,” spoken by Archamaester Marwyn to Samwell Tarly, quoting Gorghan, in A Feast for Crows.

All surely point to the idea that George RR Martin always intended to dispel not only this prophecy but all prophecies within the saga. But why would he do this?

Art Mirroring Life

Well, if art mirrors life, it seems fitting that Martin might want to draw attention to — or has been inspired by — what’s going on in the real world. We live in an era where some interpret the words of their sacred texts and teachings or commit to their political and/or monarchical structures in such a way that they are compelled to wage war and terror. And this isn’t a new thing — this has been going on pretty much since we started recording history. We continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, much like the characters within Game of Thrones.

Has George RR Martin always been telling us not to pay heed to the prophecies? Has he always had his agenda set out? Has the saga’s philosophy always been laid bare, with the story existing not only to highlight the serious flaws of patriarchal rule, having always prepared to conclude with an upending of the patriarchy, but also to pour scorn on organised religion, and in turn absolute monarchies and dictatorships? Ultimately, with the plot set to overturn it all in order to wipe the slate clean and start again, democratically and agnostically.

If so, then there will be no Prince Who Was Promised, as carly_kins points out. Or is it all far more simple than this, with the showrunners just deciding to drop the whole notion?

“… the fact that Arya killing the NK was a show decision made to shock the audience makes me think that they just didn’t care about the Azor Ahai prophecy and decided to throw it out to have a cool moment in the show,” says Chrom4Smash5.

Yes, Yes. But Is There Still a Prince Who Was Promised?

Interestingly, lily-mae thinks the legend of Azor Ahai was something made up by the Three-Eyed Raven in order to dupe the Night King.

“I don’t think Arya is the Azor Ahai…,” the Reddit user says. “I am thinking now that the entire prophecy was created by 3ER all that time ago, just to make sure the NK saw Jon or Dany as THE ‘saviour’ (which is likely why Viserion was sent to dispatch Jon in particular, rather than doing anything more generally devastating) all the while keeping Arya hidden away as ‘no-one’.”

We could just about buy into this, but if you’re still convinced we’ll get confirmation of the true identity of the Prince Who Was Promised before the show bids us all adieu, here’s a selection of possibilities, nominated by GoT fans themselves:

LissaMasterOfCoin references an old theory, suggesting that several people played their part in the prophecy: “Rhaegar was Azor Ahai, Lyanna was Nissa Nissa, Jon is Lightbringer. I think that totally fits, as it made sure that the Princess that was promised was there to kill the Night King.”

The Reddit user lists everything Jon did to ensure Arya was perfectly placed to slay the Night King.

JoruusSkywalker says: “I’m going with Beric. He saved Arya with his flaming sword thus ending the long night.”

Fandom GoT community member Yuvraj Pratap Singh says: “And now I am very sure that Jon will be Azor Ahai because no one else can take the spotlight…”

This Redditor, on the other hand, thinks the Azor Ahai second coming was fulfilled back in Season 2: “The Faceless Men work for money, so Azor Ahai might still be a thing. Maybe Xaro Xhoan Daxos was Azor Ahai and the reason his vault was so empty was because that was the price he paid to hire the Faceless. He sacrificed his one true love (money) to forge Lightbringer (the Faceless) to save the world.”

While urmuffcabagem8 thinks it was another contender: “I thought Theon ended up being the prince that was promised, if it wasn’t for him taking down an entire army of wights single-handedly, and willingly giving his life to delay the night king, Bran would’ve died before Arya had any chance of finishing off the night king.”

Let’s hope the show’s remaining mysteries are resolved before the series ends. With three more episodes to go, that’s quite a tall order — but we’re praying to R’hllor for answers.

Catch Game of Thrones in the US on Sundays and UK on Mondays.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.