As the final episode creeps towards television, we unpack a prophecy that hints that Westeros’ saviour might be a Stark after all.
Game of Thrones fans, our watch has almost ended.
What began as a gory, saucy fantasy epic in 2011 has become one of the most talked-about television shows of all time. As each new season aired on television, Game of Thrones only got bigger and, in our opinion, better. Today, it boasts 17 million viewers episode-to-episode, dozens and dozens of Emmys and a budget soaring into $90 million (£68 million) region.
And now it’s almost over. With just three episodes of Game of Thrones left, fans will finally discover who will win the Iron Throne and die. Because the television series has now overtaken the original books by George RR Martin, everyone is at the mercy of the show’s creators David Benioff and DB Weiss. The pair have been given free reign by Martin over his characters to do as they wish – quite literally anything could happen.
But there are a few key plot details from the books that hint at how Game of Thrones could end. One of them is the prophecy of Azor Ahai, or the Prince who was Promised. Azor Ahai was a warrior figure from Westerosian history who ended the original Long Night.
According to the prophecy, a new Azor Ahai will rise, someone who will be reborn “amidst smoke and salt” brandishing a sword called Lightbringer to “awake dragons from stone” and defeat the evil White Walkers. In order to be reborn, Azor Ahai must sacrifice someone that they love and in that sacrifice forge Lightbringer. Azor Ahai will be descended from Aerys II and will bear Targaryen blood.
Melisandre, that wily old red witch, has thus far been the keeper of the aforementioned prophecy. And as Game of Thrones fans know, she hasn’t been the most reliable of witnesses. First, Melisandre was convinced that Stannis Baratheon was Azor Ahai, and threw all her witchy weight behind him. But Stannis was no Prince who was Promised, and after his death Melisandre switched her allegiance to Jon Snow. But, in light of the most recent episode, do we need to look at his sister-by-nurture Arya, instead?
Could Arya Stark be Azor Ahai?
Many fans believed that Azor Ahai would reveal themselves during the Battle of Winterfell. After all, this was the moment that the world of Westeros needed a saviour the most, the time when the realms of the living were in absolute dire straights.
We all watched the Battle of Winterfell, right? Things were not good for our Northern friends! Edd died, Theon Greyjoy died, Jorah and Lyanna Mormont died, almost the entire Dothraki army died, and both of Daenerys’ dragons were badly wounded. They won the battle, though, when Arya Stark leapt from the darkness behind the Night King to stab him with a Valyrian steel dagger right in the stomach, where he was first wounded by the Children of the Forest. This was a truly triumphant moment. The Night King crumbled into icy ash, and every single White Walker, wight and all the other zombie creatures he turned melted away with him.
Arya’s hero moment had many fans asking, could she be Azor Ahai? Previously, the youngest Stark daughter hadn’t been considered for the role because she doesn’t expressly adhere to the prophecy. And she doesn’t, so it’s not likely that she is.
Sorry to crush the truthers, but nothing about Arya fits the Azor Ahai bill. She wasn’t born amid salt and smoke under a bleeding star, she’s yet to wake dragons from stone and she isn’t the descendant of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen.
The two parts of the prophecy that do seem to fit Arya are the following: ‘draw from fire a sword called Lightbringer’ and ‘be forced to make a sacrifice’. Arguably, you could consider Arya’s Braavosian assassin training to be a huge sacrifice. It was there that she left behind her past life and became the Faceless (wo)Man that we know her as today. And as for Lightbringer? Well, what do you think Gendry was doing up in that Winterfell forge, sweating up a storm to make a weapon for her?
Regardless, fulfilling just those two points probably isn’t enough to make her Azor Ahai. It doesn’t take away from what she has achieved though – killing the Night King is no mean feat. And she didn’t even need a prophecy to tell her to do it, either.
Who are the other candidates on Game of Thrones that do fulfil the prophecy, though?
Could Jon Snow be Azor Ahai?
On paper, Jon Snow fits that bill almost suspiciously neatly. Jon has been reborn – by Melisandre herself, no less – and has suffered the loss of someone he loved, Ygritte. The Azor Ahai prophecy speaks of someone born of smoke and salt, which without getting too nerdy, could refer to the moment Jon was stabbed at Castle Black and his wounds emitted steam.
As we learnt at the end of season seven, Jon is a secret Targaryen, the son of Aerys II’s son Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark. He is of both ice and fire. It was Jon, too, who spearheaded the mining of dragonglass in season seven, thus ‘awakening’ dragon from stone. Jon also ‘awakened’ Daenerys, the mother of dragons, through his love for her. And don’t forget that Jon has proven himself on the battlefield time and time again. He is a warrior prince with the power to save us all.
It makes sense, right? Jon is the Prince who was Promised. The other possibility, of course, is Daenerys herself. She ticks the boxes of Targaryen heritage, links to Aerys II, of awakening dragons (duh) and was reborn on Drogo’s funeral pyre, which satisfied the smoke, salt and sacrifice clauses. Both Jon and Dany would be obvious choices. Maybe a little too obvious.
Could Samwell Tarly be Azor Ahai?
There’s a fan theory doing the round of the internet that suggests that someone else might be Azor Ahai. Someone like Samwell Tarly.
Hear us out for a second. Samwell Tarly fits some of the Azor Ahai requirements, too. This idea is predicated on the notion that Samwell is a secret Targaryen, the son of Rheagar and Elia Martell who was saved from assassination by The Mountain and sent to live with the Tarlys. It would explain with Sam’s family are so awful to him and why he was sent to join the Night’s Watch alongside Jon. He is not a true Tarly and therefore they don’t want anything to do with him.
If Sam is a Targaryen, then has has smoke and fire in his blood. He’s an unlikely through proven fighter, given that he was the first to fell a White Walker on screen in Game of Thrones, plus it is his smarts that led to the one of the biggest discoveries in the series: that dragonglass can kill White Walkers. (He coaxed dragon from stone!) And, as you will recall from season six, Sam now has a Valyrian steel sword of his own after nicking Heartsbane from his odious father.
Here’s where we start cooking with gas: who will Sam sacrifice in order to turn Heartsbane into Lightbringer? A reddit fan theory posits that Sam will sacrifice Gilly to save baby Sam, especially if she turned into White Walker. If he stabbed her with Heartsbane, this could be the moment that the sword transforms into Lightbringer.
When it comes to Game of Thrones, there’s nothing this show loves more than an underdog. Martin’s favourite character is Tyrion, the Lannister sibling constantly underestimated and put down by his brother and sister. Sam, like Arya, Dany or even Jon, is a classic underdog.
Think of it as the ‘Neville Longbottom’ rule: Sam is the least likely person to be Azor Ahai, which is in itself a pretty good argument for him to be Azor Ahai. Wouldn’t it be just like Game of Thrones, a show that takes pride in shocking its fans by killing off favourites and breaking from traditional story structures, to contend that the warrior hero who is going to save the day is a put-upon, oft-bullied maester?
We know from a recent and very in-depth Entertainment Weekly story that Sam plays a key role in the Battle of Winterfell, which will be one of the most important episodes of the final season. (Expect all your faves to die, basically.) We know that Sam has a Valyrian steel sword. We’re pretty certain that he’s a fiery Targaryen. He could be Azor Ahai.
What’s more, actor John Bradley West who plays Sam, has been dropping hints about the importance of his character to the overall story of Game of Thrones.
Speaking to news.com.au, West said: “I think that Sam is actually really important to the whole landscape of the show… The only thing I wanted, the only thing actors want as a rule is for their characters to be important. You want to be relevant and have an impact on things.”
It was a throwaway comment that seemed to hint at Sam’s position in the narrative as either Azor Ahai or, as fans have speculated, as the person who, decades later, will document the story of the battle for the Iron Throne for generation to come. Think of Sam as fulfilling the same function as Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, then, an eyewitness and author telling the story that we come to know and hear about.
This was hinted at in season seven, when Maester Ebrose, played by Jim Broadbent, tells Sam that it’s the maesters who control and document history. Speaking to news.com.au, Joe Dempsie, who plays Gendry on the television show, seemed to confirm that Samwell plays an important role.
Talking about what it felt like when the series ended, Dempsie told news.com.au: “There have been numerous points during the filming process of season eight that have an air of finality about them. Even at the [final table] read-through, it was a really subdued atmosphere when it got to the end, and with the John Bradley thing, it’s really weird because it feels like the end of school.”
The John Bradley thing! Is Dempsie referring to Sam as Azor Ahai, or Sam as the omniscient narrator or… Sam as both? Could he be Azor Ahai and the Prince who was Promised and then devote the rest of his life to writing down the tale of his exploits?
There’s also the possibility that there is no Azor Ahai at all, and that the prophecy is nothing more than a Melisandre fever dream.
We wouldn’t put it past Game of Thrones to keep one last trick up its sleeve. But wouldn’t it be great if the Prince who was Promised wasn’t a proven warrior, but someone entirely more surprising?
Game of Thrones returns to HBO in the US on 14 April and Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK on 15 April.