A hero of many names

The Prince That Was Promised.

The dragon must have three heads.

Azor Ahai Reborn.

The Last Hero.

The Stallion Who Mounts The World.

There are lots of prophecies floating around in ASOIAF about the person who will lead the armies of Westeros against the Others in the new Battle for the Dawn. Or at least, that’s what we readers think the prophecies are about. In universe, the characters think these prophecies are about a number of other things – for instance, Dany believes that the prophecies about Targaryen dragons and the Dothraki Stallion Who Mounts The World speak to her success in regaining the Iron Throne.

What prophecies of dominant leaders are likely to be about one figure? And if there is a clear idea of there being one figure, who is most likely to fulfil that role?

Targaryen prophecies

House Targaryen has a long history of its members having prophetic visions, and acting in a way to achieve or avoid that prophecy from occurring.

We see this in The Hedge Knight and The Mystery Knight, where Targaryen (or Blackfyre) figures foresee a dragon dying or being born, that in hindsight is about a particular figure (Baelor in THK, Egg in TMK)

House Targaryen set up its base on Dragonstone and moved away from Valyria before the Doom because of prophetic visions warning them of the coming cataclysm.

In the current story, there are two key people who have visions: Rhaegar and his younger sister Daenerys.

We know from ASOIAF, and elaborated more in TWOIAF, that during the reign of Aegon the Unlikely (the grown up Egg) a young woman, Jenny of Oldstones, met Prince Duncan the Small and they fell in love. They married, against the wishes of Aegon, who had planned for his eldest son and heir to be married to a daughter of Lyonel Baratheon, the Laughing Storm. Duncan ignored his father, and because of Jenny’s non-noble origins, gave up his claim to the Iron Throne, becoming known as the “Prince of Dragonflies.”

A woods witch came with Jenny to the royal court. She is described in the songs and stories about Prince Duncan and Lady Jenny as a dwarf, but her description and her gift for prophecy suggest that she may be a Child of the Forest (or some COTF/First Man hybrid from the Isle of Faces.) She survived the Tragedy of Summerhall and Arya meets her with the Brotherhood Without Banners in ASOS (the Ghost of High Heart.)

This woods witch said that The Prince That Was Promised would come from the line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen, children of Aegon’s second son and new heir, Jaehaerys. Despite Aegon’s opposition to Targaryen incest, Jaehaerys acted upon this prophecy, and forced his children to wed. Their first child, Rhaegar, was born under a tree as the palace of Summerhall burned down as a result of whatever ritual Aegon attempted to hatch dragons. Once again, sadly for Egg, a dragon was born in the metaphorical sense of a new prince for House Targaryen, and not the literal flying reptile version.

For many years, Rhaegar believed that he was the Prince That Was Promised, and there are a number of textual descriptions about his melancholia and preoccupation with prophecy.

It’s unclear where this prophecy of a Promised Prince originally came from, as it seems to be tied to House Targaryen (in so far as the only people who mention it apart from Melisandre refer to Rhaegar and the woods witch’s prophecy.) However, Melisandre, the Red Priestess of R’hllor from Asshai frequently ties together this myth of the Prince That Was Promised with the R’hllor legend of Azor Ahai (more below.)

Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre’s chosen candidate for Azor Ahai Reborn, cannot be the Prince That Was Promised referred to by the Ghost of High Heart as he is not from the line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen. The current Baratheons trace their links to House Targaryen back to Rhaelle Targaryen, youngest daughter of Aegon the Unlikely (grandmother of Robert, Stannis and Renly.)

But there are current characters who could be the Targaryen Prince That Was Promised: Daenerys and Jon Snow.

What do we know about the Prince That Was Promised? 

  • he/she must be a warrior – Rhaegar obsessively studied prophetic scrolls and texts, and showed no interest in undertaking martial training until one day he went to the Master of Arms in the Red Keep and asked to be trained as “it seems I must be a warrior.”
  • “he is the Prince That Was Promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” Dany sees a vision of Rhaegar and Elia Martell with baby Aegon, and Rhaegar makes this remark. So whatever THE Song of Ice & Fire is, it is connected to TPTWP myth.
  • the Prince may be male or female – before his death, Maester Aemon moans to Sam Tarly that they (the Targaryens) had it all wrong. In Valyrian, “prince” is a gender neutral noun, meaning that (as far as Maester Aemon was concerned) Daenerys is the Prince(ss) That Was Promised.

And that’s it. All the other clues relate to the legend/prophecy of Azor Ahai Reborn (which I will deal with below)

Jon is more of a warrior that Dany, but that might change if/when she gains control of her dragons and learns to use them in battle like her ancestors Visenya or Rhaenys.

The gender-neutral factor of Valyrian is important, as it opens up Dany as a candidate – she is directly “of the line” of Aerys and Rhaella, as they are her parents. Jon is the grandson of Aerys and Rhaella, through Rhaegar. Just how far down “the line” did the Ghost of High Heart mean to go?

The song of ICE and fire: Dany is all fire. This is repeated throughout her story – she hatches dragons in fire, she kills khals in fire (at least in the show!), she decides that she will take what is hers (the Iron Throne) with Fire & Blood. Jon, on the other hand, has a hell of a temper (think about how he blacks out with rage and beats another trainee in the Night’s Watch) but has the icy roots of House Stark. Is this why Rhaegar pursued Lyanna Stark? Because he realised that the Prince That Was Promised needed to have both the dragon blood and the blood of the icy First Men?

The dragon must have three heads

This is something that Rhaegar says to Elia Martell in the vision that Dany has in the House of the Undying. “There must be another – the dragon must have three heads.”

This suggests that Rhaegar believed that the Prince That Was Promised was to be supported by two siblings, in much the same way as Aegon the Conqueror was (note that he named his eldest daughter Rhaenys, and his son Aegon. Was his third child to be Visenya?) However Elia could not have another child, not without risking her life. Regardless of whether Rhaegar and Elia were seriously in love or merely a political match, Rhaegar was fond enough of Elia to not risk her health and wellbeing with a third pregnancy, despite his prophetic need for a third child. Is this why he ran off with Lyanna Stark? Quite likely.

Many fans have taken this line to mean that there must be three dragon riders for Dany’s three dragons, Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal. Given what limited information we have about how to tame a dragon, it seems that having dragon blood (i.e. Targaryen ancestry) is the key factor, which leads to all the varieties of “hidden Targ” theories where people try to link Targaryens to their favourite characters to explain a way that their favourite will ride a dragon.

Personally, I think it’s a bit simpler.

We have a family of people who can warg or skin change – the Starks, who have all shown skin changing abilities (except for Sansa, whose abilities might have been unexplored because Lady was killed so early on in the piece.)

We also have Victarion, on a mission from Euron, with a horn that purports to be able to bind a dragon to the owner’s will.

We also have Tyrion, a book worm who tries to keep his mind sharp and focused on his trip to Essos by recalling what he learned in his youth about dragons from the few books that exist on the topic.

There will be three dragon riders, but those dragon riders might not be Targaryens. We know one of the riders at least is Dany: she has already ridden Drogon, albeit with mixed success.

That leaves two other riders. They might well be Jon or Bran, as wargs who gain control of what you would think would be the ideal weapon to defeat the Others in open combat, or Tyrion, who applies the theory in real life, or one of the Greyjoy bros, who steal a dragon from Dany while she is off in the Dothraki sea with Drogon.

Rhaegar thought that the dragon having three heads was connected to TPTWP, and Maester Aemon shared that belief, based on his delirious rantings on board the ship to Braavos. But that doesn’t mean that they are correct.

Azor Ahai

I’ll deal with AAR next, because much of TPTWP theories overlap with AAR. As I said, Melisandre uses the terms interchangeably, as do other Red Priests shown in ADWD, so there is a consistency across R’hllor legends at least that TPTWP = AAR.

Azor Ahai is the figure described in Valyrian and Asshai legend as being the one who stopped the Long Night. He had a magical sword, Lightbringer, that took much labour to create. First he worked for 30 days and nights, but when he tempered the sword in water, it broke. His second attempt was to work 50 days and nights, but when he tried to temper his sword by thrusting it into a lion’s heart, it shattered.

Finally Azor Ahai laboured for a hundred days and nights, and tempered Lightbringer by thrusting it into the heart of his willing wife, Nissa Nissa.

It’s all very poetic, but unlikely to be literally true (although Melisandre certainly seems to think all of this is literal truth.) What is more likely is that the three attempts at making Lightbringer are an analogy lost in time for the attempts made to beat the Others during the first Long Night.

Across the former lands of the Valyrian Empire, where the worship of R’hllor is strong, a legend persists that Azor Ahai will be reborn. Much of the clues from these legends have been tied to TPTWP prophecy by fans, given that the terms appear to be interchangeable.

According to the faith of R’hllor, Azor Ahai will be reborn when:

  • a long summer breaks and the great winter comes – “a cold breath of darkness upon the world”
  • a red comet shall herald his arrival
  • he shall be born in salt and smoke
  • “In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword” – whether the former Lightbringer will be discovered or a new sword will become the new burning sword, AAR will have his Red Sword
  • If AAR fails, then all the world will fail too – i.e. game over. They all dead.

There are a number of theories about who AAR could be amongst the current characters. Melisandre openly claims that Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai Reborn, the Prince that was promised, but as I outlined above, he cannot be TPTWP because he is not of the line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen. Also, his attempt at making a flaming sword was a little underwhelming. As Maester Aemon tells Sam while delirious, even though he is blind, he saw through Melisandre’s false sword: (Sam IV AFFC)

The sword is wrong, she has to know that . . . light without heat . . . an empty glamor . . . the sword is wrong, and the false light can only lead us deeper into darkness, Sam.

In the link above, there is a good albeit short summary of the main contenders amongst fans for AAR. I’m only going to deal with the two that I think are likely: once again, Dany and Jon.

When we combine the AAR and TPTWP clues, this is what we get:

  • born amidst salt and smoke – Dany fits this clue best, born while a terrible storm raged on the tiny island of Dragonstone, surrounded by salt ocean water. Dany is reborn in smoke in the Dothraki sea, when she emerges as Mother of Dragons at the end of AGOT.
  • a red comet shall herald his arrival – all the characters see and remark upon the red comet, so this isn’t a huge amount of help.
  • he/she shall be a warrior – Jon fits this better, currently, and frankly even if Dany gets control of her dragons, Jon will still be the better warrior. He has been trained in arms since he was a boy, and he is currently the (possibly dead and soon to be resurrected) Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and King Beyond The Wall. (Even if he isn’t aware of the last one)
  • from the line of Aerys & Rhaella Targaryen – Rhaegar and his sons Aegon & Jon, his sister Daenerys all fit this criteria. Although if TPTWP was Rhaegar or Aegon, we are all fukt.
  • have Lightbringer – now this is where things get interesting. Dany’s potential “burning sword” is pretty obvious: three fire breathing dragons, hatched on the funeral pyre of her beloved husband Khal Drogo. A literal burning weapon. But Jon has the Night’s Watch, and what is a line in the Night’s Watch oath: “I am … the light that brings the dawn.” If the Azor Ahai myth is meant to be more metaphysical than literal, then the current trials and tribulations of the Night’s Watch may well be Jon’s 30 days, 50 days and 100 days of labour. What is Jon’s Nissa Nissa in this context? His status as a man of the Night’s Watch?
  • three heads of the dragon – ???

So on balance, it’s 50/50 as to whether Jon or Dany is the Prince That Was Promised, perhaps with more textual evidence supporting Dany, but Jon being the one who is in the right location, with the right concerns (Dany doesn’t know or care about the war against the Others, and it’s unclear how she’s going to find out.)

Another thing to consider is whether the “magical sword” is just a Valyrian steel sword. Remember the research that Sam uncovered in the Night’s Watch’s records when ordered by Jon as the new Lord Commander to figure out a way to beat the Others: (a conversation repeated from Sam’s perspective in Sam I AFFC and Jon’s perspective in Jon II ADWD)

“The armor of the Others is proof against most ordinary blades, if the tales can be believed,” said Sam, “and their own swords are so cold they shatter steel. Fire will dismay them, though, and they are vulnerable to obsidian.” He remembered the one he had faced in the haunted forest, and how it had seemed to melt away when he stabbed it with the dragonglass dagger Jon had made for him. “I found one account of the Long Night that spoke of the last hero slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel. Supposedly they could not stand against it.”

The Last Hero

I went over this myth the other night when talking about the origins of the Night’s Watch, so I won’t repeat myself.

But what is interesting is that of all the myths about the Long Night and how it was ended, the Northern legend of the Last Hero is the only story that tells us about the Others. Melisandre might be rabbiting on about the Great Other in her POV chapters in ADWD, but that’s the only hint that we have that R’hllor and his followers are aware of the threat in the Land of Always Winter. Which makes sense – the Azor Ahai myth comes from Asshai, which is at the opposite end of the known world to the Land of Always Winter.

So this is the question I keep coming back to: if the Last Hero was a Stark, and the Last Hero is the one who brought an end to the War for Dawn, then does the Last Hero = AAR/TPTWP?

Because if so, then Jon is the stronger character for that mythical role.

Alternatively, it could be another Stark who fulfils the role of the newest Last Hero in the 2nd War for the Dawn: Bran, currently beyond the Wall in a cave with the Children of the Forest and Bloodraven, the Three Eyed Crow who before Bran’s arrival into the Weirwood.Net was the Last Greenseer.

What if the War for Dawn wasn’t resolved through a military victory? 

The stories of the Last Hero don’t remember how he stopped the Others. The stories do tell us that the War had lasted for years, with huge numbers of casualties. The Wall was raised, all 700 foot of it, to keep the Others from moving south, but the crushing, freezing winter that preceded them (much like Sauron’s smokes from Mount Doom precede his troops in Return of the King) covered all the known world.

The Night’s Watch might be a military order to protect the realms of men from the Others, but what if the Last Hero negotiated a treaty with the Others? Or did some kind of magical guerrilla attack that sapped the Others of their power while they were engaged in battle somewhere else?

If so, then it’s possible that Bran will be the Last Hero. Will this put him in partnership or in opposition to AAR/TPTWP?

The Stallion Who Mounts The World

This is a Dothraki legend, that tells that one day a great khal will unite all the khalassars and together the Dothraki will conquer all the known world.

There’s no hint in the text that this legend or prophecy relates to the other prophecies or legendary figures like AAR, TPTWP or the Last Hero.

In AGOT, the dosh khaleen (wise women) of the Dothraki state that Daenerys is carrying the Stallion Who Mounts the World. But Rhaego ends up stillborn, and his father’s khal dissipates as the misogynistic dothraki refuse to follow Dany as khaleesi.

What if the dosh khaleen got the gender wrong too? What if Dany is the Stallion? (Or mare, I guess. Although mares don’t mount things…)

If she can get her dragons under control, and figure out a way of appointing leaders for the far off places she has conquered to govern in her absence while she retakes the Iron Throne, then it’s likely that Dany is going to be the figure that unites the khalassars. This is certainly the direction the show is taking (and I feel it will be the book’s trajectory too – Dany is banking on having the mass of Dothraki screamers to fight to regain her crown in Westeros.)

Staking my colours: who do I think fills these roles?

OK, we can come back to this in years to come and see if I’m right or not, but this is who I think fulfil these various prophecies:

  • The Prince That Was Promised – Jon Snow.
  • Azor Ahai Reborn – Daenerys, but she will fail (by not taking the threat of the Others seriously) and Jon, as TPTWP, will have to beat the Others without her – that’s why the prince was promised separate to the legend of Azor Ahai. Maybe…
  • The Last Hero – Bran Stark, maybe Jon Snow if TPTWP/AAR/LH are all the same person
  • Stallion Who Mounts the World – Daenerys




2 thoughts on “A hero of many names

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