In two days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?
Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies, and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.
The Loose End
The Prince Who Was Promised, Azor Ahai, and the Stallion Who Mounts the World are the three primary messianic legends of the world of Game of Thrones. The Prince and Azor Ahai myths share numerous similarities and are often used interchangeably. Both tales involve elemental portents and speak of heroes destined to save the world from darkness and ultimate evil.
The books seem to suggest (though this is never spelled out) that Azor Ahai is the original version of the legendary warrior savior and that the Prince That Was Promised—described as being reborn “amidst salt and smoke” under “a bleeding star”—is the reincarnation. In the show, Melisandre worms her way into Stannis’s trust by convincing him that he is the prophesied prince, leading to King Renly’s iconic rejoinder “Born amidst salt and smoke? Is he a ham?”
In the books, Daenerys has a vision in the House of the Undying in which she discovers that Crown Prince Rhaegar, her brother, was fixated on the legend. Rhaegar believed that his newborn son with Princess Ellaria Martell, Aegon Targaryen, was the Prince That Was Promised, for a comet was visible above King’s Landing when the prince was born. It’s fair to assume that Rhaegar, after his marriage to Lyanna Stark, may have believed their future child to have a good chance at fulfilling the prophecy.
The Stallion Who Mounts the World is different in terms of reach. The Stallion will, it is said, be the greatest of all khals, uniting the fractious Dothraki tribes under one bloodstained banner. But there is no great darkness or existential threat in this prophecy, as the Stallion is supposed to be more of a conqueror than a hero. Daenerys and Khal Drogo believed that their child would be the Stallion and that he would sit the Iron Throne; but of course, things didn’t work out that way. Dany herself, after torching the khals at Vaes Dothrak and co-opting their hordes, seems a great fit for the Stallion Who Mounts the World.
There is one other theory that roughly fits with these others, though it is notable for not being linked to a prophecy. The Last Hero is a possibly apocryphal story of a Northern warrior who, during the depths of the Long Night, searches for and finds the Children of the Forest, forging an alliance that defeats the White Walkers. The Last Hero myth shares many parallels with the current Thrones setting, but it is about the past, not the future.
These last two myths don’t have much influence outside of their native cultures. The Stallion is particular to the Dothraki. The Last Hero, to the North. But the prince/Azor Ahai prophecy has spread between Essos and Westeros alike. This all raises the question: As death marches on Westeros, is one of our heroes also one of these messianic figures?
Why It Matters
Whether or not these prophecies are accurate forecasts, many people in this world believe them to be. Many see parallels between current events and the legends. And, of course, this world is one in which magic exists, though its impact has waxed and waned over time. As a young man, Maester Aemon, after the fiery tragedy at Summerhall that took the lives of King Aegon V and many others, believed Crown Prince Rhaegar to be the Prince That Was Promised. In Aemon’s reading, the smoke was from the deadly conflagration that destroyed the Targaryen summer palace, and the salt was from the tears of those who lost loved ones.
Later in the books, however, Aemon would come to believe that Dany was the prince. The Mother of Dragons hatched her brood in the midst of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre (smoke) as Mirri Maz Durr burned to death, tears (salt) running down her face. And dragons, the symbol of House Targaryen, have no gender. Therefore, Daenerys could be referred to as “prince” without altering the meaning of the prophecy. Book Aemon never mentions what the bleeding star might be in reference to.
In the show, a similar, if not more compelling, case could be made for Jon. When Ned enters the Tower of Joy after defeating the Sword of the Morning, he lays House Dayne’s famous weapon Dawn against Lyanna’s bloody bed. Dawn—which was forged from a meteor that fell to Westeros—has a sun inlaid on the pommel. We could interpret this as fulfilling the “born under a bleeding star” portion of the prince prophecy.
Furthermore, when Jon is resurrected, the smoke and salt could be interpreted as referring, respectively, to Melisandre—a priestess of the fire god R’hllor—and Davos—a famed sea captain.
The Last Hero myth appears to fit Jon, too. Here’s Old Nan to Bran in A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series:
“He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it.”
And in Feast for Crows, Sam and Jon talk about Sam’s recent research into the Long Night:
“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.”
“Dragonsteel?” Jon frowned. “Valyrian steel?”
“That was my first thought as well.”
The more dangerous type of believer uses prophecy as a kind of instruction manual. Stannis is the most obvious example of this. In addition to burning the statues of the Seven on Dragonstone, he sacrificed numerous people, including his own daughter, to the flames of R’hllor; marched on King’s Landing, Castle Black, and Winterfell at the cost of many thousands of lives, including his own; and wielded a feigned copy of Azor’s legendary sword, Lightbringer, to sell the illusion.
According to the tales, Azor Ahai used Lightbringer, a sword that burned red and radiated heat, to vanquish the Great Other, the ultimate manifestation of darkness and evil that is, according to the Lord of Light’s follower’s, the Manichean counterbalance to R’hllor. Two arduous attempts to forge the blade failed at the final stage. Finally, on his third attempt, Azor plunged the hot steel into his wife Nissa Nissa’s chest, successfully tempering the metal and magically bonding her soul with the steel. Luckily for Melisandre and Selyse, Stannis never took the ruse that far.
How Season 8 Could Address it
With only six episodes left in the hopper, I doubt that the show will dive into any of these prophecies with any real depth. This, despite the fact that the prince prophecy was featured prominently in “Stormborn,” the second episode of Season 7. When Melisandre arrives on Dragonstone, she tells Dany, in Valyrian, that the Long Night is coming and “only the Prince Who Was Promised can bring the dawn.” When Dany replies that she isn’t a prince, Missandei points out that the word for prince and princess is the same in Valyrian. Could this be a red herring?
We should also note that red priestess Kinvara came in molten hot in Season 6, freaking out Varys by appearing to know the circumstances around his castration and seeming like a character with a part to play in our tale. She hasn’t been seen since! I think it probable that the show will elide any further prince/Azor explanations. More likely, I think (and if I’m wrong, I’ve set this article to autodelete) that, similar to the bleeding-star theory from the Tower of Joy and smoke and salt referencing Melisandre and Davos respectively, the portents will be obviously fulfilled only in retrospect.
Whatever the case, if Thrones has shown us anything in regards to prophecies and messianic figures, it’s that those who chase an outcome—Cersei with Maggy the Frog’s predictions, Stannis and Melisandre, Rhaegar all those years ago—bring only tragedy down upon themselves.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.