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Making Sense of the Prince That Was Promised

Plus: Is there a traitor in Dany’s camp?

(HBO/Ringer illustration)
(HBO/Ringer illustration)

In six full seasons and two episodes, Game of Thrones has given us numerous scenes of breathtaking savagery. But nothing, in my mind, quite compares to this brutal MJ-level shrug that Yara shoots Theon as she’s about to hook up with Ellaria.




"Stormborn" was such a dense episode in terms of lore and story development. Here are some answers to your questions from the episode.

Angela asks, "Dany and Jon seem too on the nose to be picks for the prince that was promised. What do you make of the theory that Jaime is the PTWP?"

Great question! First let’s go back to the basics of this prophecy.

The prince that was promised refers to a messianic figure whose coming will be heralded by a "bleeding star" and who will go on to lead the forces of light against an apocalyptic darkness.

The prince that was promised is often used interchangeably with Azor Ahai. The two stories share many characteristics — a chosen champion, whose birth is heralded by elemental signs and who saves the world from ultimate evil — with some notable differences. The most interesting being that the prince myth speaks of a hero to come while the Azor Ahai prophecy is about a champion reborn amidst "smoke and salt." The latter prophecy first emerged in the mysterious city of Asshai in far-eastern Essos.

The story says that during the Long Night, Azor Ahai was chosen to fight the darkness. To that end, he crafted a special sword, working the metal for many days and nights. But each time he tried to cool the steel, the blade shattered.

Finally, after forging the metal for 100 days and nights, he tempered the red-hot steel by plunging the blade into the willing heart of his wife, Nissa Nissa. In death, her spirit was bound to the steel, creating the flaming blade Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. With this magic sword, Azor and some unnamed companions defeated the darkness of the Long Night. As he will again. Or so the prophecy holds.

Then there’s the Last Hero. This Northern legend, a favorite of Old Nan’s, tells the story of the titular champion who, in the midst of the Long Night, travels North with his dog (!!!) and a few trusted companions to locate the children of the forest. Over the course of the journey, all the hero’s allies die, even his dog. (Mallory Rubin and I hope, should this legend come full circle, that this refers to the Hound, who can be seen with Jon beyond the Wall in scenes from the second Season 7 trailer, and not Ghost.) But he does find the children, who agree to help humanity beat back the White Walkers.

Whether these are all part of one unified tale is hard to say. I think it’s likely that these various legends are talking about the same person, just filtered through the particular folk traditions of the places the stories took root. The Last Hero is slightly less common, but clearly, the prince that was promised/Azor Ahai legend is influential and important to our story. Many of the story’s characters have pondered the details of these myths.

For a time, Maester Aemon thought that Crown Prince Rhaegar was the PTWP. The key, he believed, was the tragedy at Summerhall, when King Aegon V (Egg from the Dunk and Egg novellas) and numerous other notable figures perished in a mysterious fire resulting from a failed attempt to hatch dragon eggs. Aemon believed the salt could be the tears of those who lost loved ones, and the smoke an obvious reference to the calamity itself. As a youth, Rhaegar bought into this. He made the conscious decision to become a skilled fighter because the prince/Azor prophecies demanded it, even though he never had a passion for swordplay. Eventually, though, Rhaegar came to believe his son Aegon was the one after a meteor appeared over King’s Landing around the time of his birth. Obviously, this was wrong — little Prince Aegon was killed by Gregor Clegane during the Sack of King’s Landing.

Over time, Aemon came to believe his error was one of translation. As Missandei says, the noun prince has no gender in High Valyrian, meaning it could mean a prince or a princess.

With that in mind, the argument for Dany as the PTWP/Azor Ahai is straightforward. Just before she hatched her dragon eggs, a red comet appeared in the sky. The smoke could be from Drogo’s funeral pyre; the salt the tears of Mirri Maz Duur.

The theory for Jon is more muddied. Perhaps the smoke is Melisandre and the salt is Davos. The burning star, then, would be TBD.

As for the Jaime wrinkle, in my opinion it’s a reach. That reading relies too much on Jaime himself being a metaphor for a sword. But you never know!

Brad asks, "Where do the dragons stay in Dragonstone?"

There’s an active volcano on the island named the Dragonmont, and its slopes are honeycombed with caves. The perfect home for free-ranging dragons! Back in the early years of Targaryen rule, the Dragonmont was home to several wild dragons.

Aaron asks, "Was that actually not Nymeria?"

That was her. Direwolves are rare creatures. Before Ned Stark and his kin found the direwolf puppies in the first episode of Season 1, the massive beasts hadn’t been seen south of the Wall for centuries. With wights likely killing most of what lives beyond the Wall, it’s possible that Nymeria and Ghost are the only two direwolves left in Westeros.

Arya’s parting words to Nymeria ("That’s not you.") are a callback to her comments to her father in Season 1 after he tells her that one day she’ll wear dresses, wed a lord, and bear children. Arya responded, "That’s not me." Her farewell to Nymeria indicates that she understands that her former wolf has a life and mission of her own. This makes sense considering the bond between the Starks and their wolves.

A talent for warging runs in the Stark family. Warging is a commingling of mind and spirit; no surprise, then, that the Stark wolves took on the personalities of their human companions. Robb Stark’s Grey Wind dominated the battlefield, playing a crucial role in many of the late King in the North’s victories. Rickon’s Shaggydog was high-strung and unpredictable and presumably could only run in straight lines. Sansa’s Lady was docile and trusting. Bran’s Summer was the most magical. And Jon’s Ghost is constantly locked in a closet, alone and sad.

Lani asks, "I’m worried about Winterfell’s maester. He was brought in by the Boltons. Could he be a spy?"

Great question with lots of interesting wrinkles!

Maester Wolkan was indeed brought to Winterfell by Roose Bolton. That seems menacing. But, at least on paper, the fact of Wolkan’s previous employer isn’t necessarily a problem for King Jon and Sansa Stark. A maester is supposed to serve the castle to which they have been assigned, regardless of who the lord is or how that lord attained his position. Recall how Maester Luwin served Theon, even after the former ward of the Starks sacked Winterfell and killed various people including (as far as anyone knew) Bran and Rickon. Though, in practice, Luwin did help Bran and Rickon escape.

From the time they arrive at the Citadel to forge their chains, future maesters are immersed in a culture which values truth above all else. To a maester, the scholarly, scientific methods and traditions of their order are integral to their quest for truth. That ranges from how the seasons work, how diseases spread, what the particular organs of the body do, and so on. As the maesters see it, the pursuit of true knowledge can only be achieved by resisting political and religious pressures. The Citadel takes this mission very seriously. To further insulate the order from meddling, the Citadel alone decides which maesters go to which locations.

(Aside: The absolute worst assignment for a maester has to be the houses of the Iron Islands. Maesters arrived in the Iron Islands only recently at the invitation of Lord Reaper Quellon Greyjoy, Theon’s grandfather, who passed away less than 20 years before the events of the show. Many on the islands are openly antagonistic to the servants of the Citadel. Not least because they wear chains, which the Ironborn consider a symbol of thralldom and weakness. When Balon ascended to Lord Reaper, one of his first moves was to execute Pyke’s maester.)

When the Boltons put in for a new Winterfell maester, they would (ostensibly) have had no say in who the Citadel sent north. Once they forge their chains, maesters are stripped of their surnames. The Citadel does its best to safeguard that information. Meaning Lord Bolton could not have requested a maester who was born to an allied house or one who was once a Mormont to use as a hostage and a healer in one. Again, this works much better in theory than it does in practice. The bonds of kinship do not simply disappear because some old men in gnarly robes take away a maester’s last name.

Maester Aemon, recall, readily admitted to being anguished when he heard of the deaths of Rhaegar and his family. He was heartbroken at the thought of Dany, alone in the world and beset by enemies. Even the secrecy of the maester’s former allegiances aren’t ironclad; in the books, Lord Wyman Manderly of White Harbor distrusts his maester because he was born a Lannister of Lannisport.

In fiction as in life, those with enough influence and wealth can always find ways to game the system. Even one as seemingly independent as the Citadel. In Dance of Dragons, Lady Dustin of Barrowton lays part of the blame for Robert’s Rebellion at the feet of Lord Rickard Stark’s maester, Walys, born Walys Flowers of Oldtown. Walys’s father was an archmaester and his mother was a Hightower, the dominant family in Oldtown. The Hightowers, as one would expect, wield tremendous power in Oldtown. And, of course, the Citadel is also located there.

"The grey rats are not as chaste as they would have us believe," Lady Dustin says of the maesters. She alleges that the Hightowers, using their connections in the Citadel, placed Walys at Winterfell in order to influence and inform upon Lord Rickard. She even goes so far as to imply the Hightowers engineered the Brandon Stark–Catelyn Tully betrothal ("The Tully marriage was [Walys’s] notion, never doubt it …") which eventually led to the Riverlands declaring for Robert Baratheon.

To your point — though we know very little of Wolkan, what we do know is heartening. He looked truly pained when Ramsay suggested feeding Myranda’s corpse to the hounds. He was visibly terrified when Ramsay stabbed Roose. And when Ramsay demanded that Lady Walda, who had just given birth to a son, be brought to him, Wolkan said she was "resting" as a way to forestall her death. It didn’t work. I think Wolkan is probably a good guy.

Moshe asks, "If we are assuming that there is a mole in Dany’s camp (because Euron knew exactly where to find them), who is the most likely to be the mole?"

This is something we touched on ever so briefly on [EXTREMELY SHEA SERRANO–SHAMELESS-PLUG VOICE] Talk the Thrones. Did Euron discover the location of Yara’s fleet AND capital ship all on his own? Or did he have help from the inside? Tough to say.

Euron very well may be the most able and well-traveled captain in the known world. As he said last week, he’s traveled 14 of the known seas. He’s sailed to Qarth and to Asshai and even, perhaps, through the cursed and disease-ridden waters of Valyria. He was last seen at King’s Landing, just a short sail from Dragonstone. With that raging gale covering his movements, he might have been able to slip past Dany’s ships out into the narrow sea to lay his ambush. Could be.

That said, there’s some circumstantial evidence, which combined with suspect plot choices, could lead one to suspect a leak in Khaleesi’s camp. Or maybe that’s just what the show wants us to think. Who would theoretical prime suspects be?

Olenna and the Reach have warred against Dorne countless times over the centuries. Their alliance is one of pure convenience. Maybe Olenna wants all the glory? Or, at least wants to have some dragons running air support instead of Dornish spearmen in the coming siege of the capital.

Daenerys’s aggressive questioning of Varys, in particular, seemed weirdly timed, though certainly not an unfair line of inquiry. The most charitable way of framing Lord Varys’s career trajectory is he clearly has a knack for landing on his feet when all around him are, literally, losing their heads because his vast worldwide network of informants is simply too useful to muzzle. And also, he cares about the realm. Or something.

The least charitable way is to note that Varys’s definition of "the realm" is nakedly self-serving and the only person he’s ever really been loyal to is his Pentoshi partner-in-crime Illyrio Mopatis. He had already made his reputation in Essos when the Mad King brought him to the capital to suss out the plots he saw everywhere around him. After the Mad King’s downfall, he went to work for Robert Baratheon, the usurper; King Joffrey; King Tommen; and now Queen Daenerys Targaryen, the Stormborn, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, titles, titles, titles.

For years, Varys, Illyrio, and others conspired to put the cowardly and unhinged Viserys Targaryen on the Iron Throne. That plan involved selling Dany to Khal Drogo, who, luckily enough, turned out to be an OK dude. After Dany became pregnant with Drogo’s child, Varys considered Daenerys expendable enough to help facilitate an attempt on her life. True — King Robert ordered the hit. But, man, Varys really did try very hard to get it done. Had Jorah Mormont [finger point at Mal] not caught feelings, the scheme, using poisoned wine, would likely have worked.

That said, it’s hard to say what Varys’s endgame would be here. Cersei would never have him back and Dany has promised to burn him alive if he crosses her.

Then there’s the queen’s hand, Tyrion Lannister. If anyone had a clear-cut motive for selling out the Sand Snakes, it’s him. Tyrion’s niece Myrcella was murdered by their hands. Well, lips. But you get the idea.

There’s also a prophecy from the books that predicts Dany suffering three betrayals; in her journey into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragons, she learns that she will know "three treasons … once for blood and once for gold and once for love." If we extrapolate that to the show, blood is Mirri Maz Duur, gold appears to refer to Jorah (his reward for betraying Dany was actually a royal pardon, but roll with me here), and love is … well it doesn’t quite fit anyone in a position to sell out the queen. At least not yet.

See you next week!

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.