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Who Is the “Prince or Princess Who Was Promised” on ‘Game of Thrones’?

The question has a couple of obvious answers, but ‘Thrones’ has never been obvious, so let’s think outside the box

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

"The long night is coming," Melisandre said to Daenerys in Dragonstone’s throne room. "Only the prince who was promised can bring the dawn." It’s a prophecy of great import to the end of Game of Thrones, and after some debate on translating High Valyrian, we were told that the word "prince" wasn’t exactly gender-binding. So who is that prince or princess who will "bring the dawn?" You might think the answer is obvious, but didn’t I see you crying after the Red Wedding? Keeping in mind that Thrones has done the unexpected before, The Ringer staff took a stab at guessing who the subject of Melisandre’s prophecy is.

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen

Mallory Rubin: Let the record state that I’m firmly Team Jon. With each passing episode, I grow more invested in his man bun, his wolf, his destiny. And with each passing episode, I grow more concerned that Dany is becoming the Mad Queen. I want Jon to win, whatever winning means. No matter how our story actually ends, he’s already entrenched as the Last Hero of my heart.

And while I think that there’s a better-than-decent chance that things could actually shake out with our sulking sovereign on top, I still think it’s most likely that Jon and Dany both wind up as the story’s prophetic saviors. Missandei’s translation fact-check in "Stormborn" thrilled fans because it confirmed a long-running theory, sparked both by Maester Aemon’s gender-based speculation in A Feast for Crows and George R.R. Martin’s trademark tendency to subvert expectations, that characters and fans alike had long interpreted the prophecy too literally. If Cersei has taught us anything (other than how to hold a wine goblet, pace ourselves during long city strolls, and rock hairstyles that accentuate our cheekbones), it’s that harping on a prophecy’s every word is one of the surest ways to meet your doom while attempting to avoid your destiny.

As you’ll see in my colleagues’ blurbs below, it’s easy to convincingly apply the canonical descriptions of the prince that was promised and Azor Ahai to both Jon and Dany. But maybe it’s not a matter of which character’s case is stronger. Maybe it’s a matter of how their respective cases are more harmonious together than they could ever be apart, the song of ice (Jon) and fire (Dany) that has always been this tale’s true promise. Fellow Jon heads, I hear you: Our boy could himself be the song of ice (Lyanna) and fire (Rhaegar), but stick with me for a second.

Because speaking of Rhaegar, let’s not underestimate what an important bridge he could be. The Mad King’s heir was obsessed with prophecy and long believed that he was the fabled prince, before moving his prophetic eggs into his son Aegon’s basket. While Rhaegar’s specific belief was wrong in both of those cases, maybe he was generally right in thinking that a Targaryen in his bloodline fit the bill. Jon is also Rhaegar’s son; Dany is Rhaegar’s sister. They are the blood of the dragon.

And speaking of Rhaegar and dragons! In Dany’s trip to the House of the Undying in A Clash of Kings, one of her visions includes her silver-haired, harp-playing brother making the princely case for the babe in his arms. But what if the son meant to end the Long Night is Jon, not Aegon? And what if when Rhaegar looks up at Dany and says, "There must be one more. The dragon has three heads," he’s telling Dany and us alike that our gender-based translation isn’t the only thing that’s off: Our math might be as well.

What a Georgian thing it would be to twist our expectation and understanding in this fashion! We’ve evolved by acknowledging that the prophecy might apply to a woman instead of a man, but what if it’s about a woman and a man? What if, while we’re here, our numbers are off not only on how many people each prophecy applies to, but on how many prophecies there even are? What if the prince that was promised, Azor Ahai, the Last Hero, and the stallion who mounts the world are all part of the same lore, different cultural spins on a shared prayer to the ones who will bring the dawn?

It feels right. It feels like George. And that probably means it’s wrong. So chew on this on your sail to Dragonstone: What if we take the logic that one could be two a step further still? If the dragon has three heads, maybe this story has three saviors.

Just Jon Snow

Kate Knibbs: Daenerys is the most obvious front-runner to be the prince(ss) that was promised, and as of last week’s episode, she even thinks of herself as the prophecy’s fulfillment. Which is exactly why there’s no way it’s her. I’m not 100 percent convinced David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have the stones to turn Dany into the story’s true villain, but I love the Mad Queen fan theory and I want it to be true. And if Dany’s out, Jon is the logical runner-up. As countless internet comment threads will argue, Jon’s candidacy for TPTWP status is obvious: as the likely son of Rhaegar Targaryen, he also has the blood of the dragon. He was "reborn" in fire after Melisandre resurrected him from the dead, and his "ice" status is right there in his last name. In the flashback showing his birth, his mother Lyanna Stark is bleeding profusely, and Ned Stark lays the sword of Arthur Dayne on the bed. The sword, called Dawn, is said to be forged from a fallen star. That matters because part of the prophecy requires a "bleeding star." Honestly, I could go on, but just Google "Jon Snow prince who was promised" and there are a ton of different arguments for why he fits the bill. The main thing I want to argue here is that Dany does not, because she’s a warlord who will try to burn the world instead of rebuild it.

Jaime Lannister

Ben Lindbergh: We may never know whether George R.R. Martin is literature’s most brilliant layer of breadcrumbs, or whether Reddit’s collective hyper-perceptiveness has uncovered "clues" he never intended to leave. One way or another, the internet has managed to make completely convincing (and confusingly coexisting) cases for several candidates, which in turn has made me change my mind repeatedly as new details dribble out of each episode and post.

As we go to press, I’m partial to the theory that Jaime Lannister is the answer to every important prophecy: He’s the valonqar destined to kill Cersei, the prince that was promised, and Azor Ahai reborn, all wrapped up in one convenient, Kingslayer-sized package. Reddit user Byrd82 laid out the details this spring; if you don’t have time to study 3,000 words, you can read Shane Ryan’s summary/interview, which boils it down to a mere 2,500. It takes that much text to do justice to the theory’s meticulous scholarship, which rests on a mistranslation of the Valyrian words for "lord" and "light" (which look almost identical to the words for "gold" and "hand"), Jaime’s transformative journey, and the notion that the forging of the hero’s sword is more of a metaphor than a physical process. I’m not only swayed by the evidence, but I’m eager for it to be true, both because I want to see Jaime slaying White Walkers with his flaming hand and because it might mean more prominent roles for Bronn and Brienne. The concept may sound crazy, but it won’t once you click. At least until the next theory you read.

Just Daenerys Targaryen

Alison Herman: Look, the rationale Melisandre provided (with a linguistic assist from Missandei) seems reasonable enough. There’s the added bonus that fire figures heavily in the myth of Azor Ahai, and "fire-breathing dragons save world from fire-vulnerable creatures" has a sound logic to it. Mostly, though, I just want the hand-wringing and debate to be over with. Mel’s already had to deal with being disastrously wrong about this prophecy once, and I don’t need to watch her go through that particular crisis of faith again. Nor do I need a seven-season show entering its final hours to get bogged down in the details of a relatively obscure — to pure viewers instead of book readers, anyway — prophecy. We’ve got a perfectly viable candidate for the princess that was promised on our hands; let’s call it a day and get down to the thing she’s actually promised to do, i.e., nuke the White Walkers. And hook up with Jon Snow. (That’s not in the prophecy; we just all wanna see it happen.)

Samwell Tarly

Alyssa Bereznak: Obviously both Dany and Jon Snow were taken by the time I got to this roundup. But I am happy to argue for Sam as Westeros’s one true savior because he is the only person in this goddamn realm who appears to be doing active historical research on the topic. Sure, our dear, beloved bookworm is missing many of the standard TPTWP attributes. It’s very improbable that he is a secret Targaryen, and at no point in time does he appear to be "reborn among salt and smoke," unless that’s Westerosi slang for losing your virginity in a dingy Night’s Watch chamber.

But if we rely on the less coherent Old Nan version of this prophecy, Sam checks some boxes. "The Last Hero," as she once described it, is said to have spent a long time wandering through the frigid cold, seeking a solution to the pesky White Walker problem via ancient magic of some sort. And it just so happens that, when Sam goes beyond the Wall, he accidentally discovers a trove of magical dragonglass — the only weapon, aside from Valyrian steel, that can kill White Walkers. He then uses it to shatter a White Walker into pieces, distributes his supply to Bran and Co., and makes his way back to the Citadel to discover there’s even more where that came from. Maybe the prophecy’s requirement of "waking the stone dragons" refers to mining the only material that can possibly save the realm from an enormous army of ice zombies. Maybe it’s a metaphor for just dusting off some freaking books and brushing up on the increasingly useful history of the realm. Either way, Sam’s knowledge has thus far proved invaluable to the fate of all our favorite Game of Thrones protagonists. Stay in school, kids, and one day, you too might grow up to be the prince and/or princess that was promised … to spread helpful knowledge.

Tyrion Lannister

Megan Schuster: One of the great themes of Game of Thrones is that of reluctant rulers: that those who seek power should not hold it, and only those who do not want power make the best leaders. In this vein, I would love to see Tyrion Lannister revealed as the prince that was promised. Throughout the show, Tyrion has never gone looking for power. Sure, in the first few seasons he enjoys his noble-born position, using his money and connections to wiggle his way out of bad situations, but Tyrion has always preferred a subtler role.

He’s not a fearsome warrior in the traditional sense (though there are some pretty convincing theories online that draw a Tyrion-Lightbringer connection); his weapon is his mind, his diplomacy. He has all the knowledge necessary to get what seemingly everyone in Westeros wants — the Iron Throne — but he’ll only deploy it for the right people in the right situations. In his first meeting with Dany, he proved his worth as an adviser and showed the strength of his character. "You cannot build a better world on your own," he told her. Dany may end the series riding her dragons to victory and ruling the Seven Kingdoms, but if she does it will have been Tyrion’s wisdom, level-headedness, and advice that delivered Westeros from the darkness.

Bran Stark

Michael Baumann: I say Bran for two reasons. One, eventually someone up North is going to realize that Bran’s still alive and has a better claim to Winterfell (and by extension the title of King in the North, right?) than Jon or Sansa.

And two, I’ve been following this emo chucklehead through the Arctic for six years now, indulging mythology that’s even more complicated than the 14-way civil war going on down south. Bran has been off on his own journey of spiritual enlightenment while everyone who’s tried to protect him has died, except poor Meera Reed, who’s currently in Year 2 of dragging his Gordon Hayward ass through the woods on a sled while Ray Harryhausen’s fever dream is hot on their heels. Maybe I’d find all this remotely interesting if I were the kind of person who understood The Silmarillion, but I’m not, so I don’t. All I’m saying is if I had to spend this much time with Bran — who Hodor suffered and died for, it bears repeating — this story line had better pay off huge or I’m gonna throw him out another window myself.

Hot Pie

Ben Glicksman: This is simple. Those who think the prince (or princess) that was promised is Jon, Dany, Beric, Jaime, or the Hound are either reaching or woefully mistaken. The answer has been right in front of our faces the entire time, as there’s only one character who unmistakably fulfills the prophecy and is suited to lead Westeros out of the darkness.

It’s Hot Pie.

(HBO)
(HBO)

"Born again amidst smoke and salt"? Hot Pie was born in a freaking bakery. "A warrior [who] shall draw from the fire a burning sword"? Hot Pie once tried to take Needle away from Arya, and is clearly a warrior given that he claims to have KICKED A BOY IN THE BALLS UNTIL HE DIED. Destined to "wake dragons out of stone"? I, like Missandei, must point out a common error in translation. High Valyrian actually indicates that Azor Ahai will be the person who can bake dragons out of stone; Hot Pie knows how to work magic around a stone oven, and the guy has experience whipping up delicious wolves. The White Walkers are going to melt when they sample his Drogon babka, especially because he browns the butter before he makes his dough.

There’s no use denying it any longer. ALL MEN MUST PIE.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.