5:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones': An Overview of Westeros' Most Legendary Figure
When Game of Thrones returns, winter will be here, and not for the first time. Westeros is prone to seemingly endless amounts of snowfall, lasting years upon years before any signs of summer. We're at the start of such a period right now on Thrones, as season seven promises a snowstorm so severe that even Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) would require a few extra robes to withstand the weather, were he still alive.
The Night King and his White Walker army's relentless approach on the Wall form the backbone of the frostiest forecast yet, which is saying something, considering it would have to top an ancient period in Westeros lore known as The Long Night, "when a season of winter came that lasted a generation — a generation in which children were born, grew into adulthood, and in many cases died without ever seeing the spring," according to Maester Yandel, the fictional narrator of The World of Ice and Fire, the sprawling in-universe encyclopedia co-authored by George R.R. Martin as well as Westeros.org's Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson.
"Indeed," Yandel continues, "some of the old wives' tales say that they never even beheld the light of day, so complete was the winter that fell on the world."
Legends of the Long Night persist throughout A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin's novel series on which Thrones is based. The stories are told far and wide, with variations stemming from different cultures, from the Seven Kingdoms to as far away as the Shadow Lands of Asshai. Many of the different versions of the tale culminate in the arrival of "a hero who fought against [the darkness] with a red sword," according to Maester Yandel: Azor Ahai, a fabled warrior who "arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer," a weapon forged in the sacrificial blood of his greatest love. Despite the great personal cost, Azor Ahai was able to beat back the wicked winds of winter, "and light and love returned once more to the world."
Martin name-checks Azor Ahai on numerous occasions through Ice and Fire, often through the words of the red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Disciples of the Lord of Light are particularly invested in the Azor Ahai myth, promising that the great warrior will return to fight the darkness once more under the following circumstances: "When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone." In both the books and HBO's adaptation, Melisandre holds to the belief that Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is the man destined to fulfill the Azor Ahai prophecy. Well, so much for that. Instead, there are two other widely agreed upon characters who best align with the conditions of Azor Ahai: Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke), the two surviving Targaryens still in play.
In the case of Jon, the language Martin uses to describe Lord Snow's death in A Dance With Dragons almost perfectly mirrors Melisandre's prophecy, from salty tears to smoking wounds and beyond. The whole bit about waking "dragons out of stone" could refer to Jon's death paving the way for the reveal that he's actually the secret son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, not Ned Stark and an unknown mother as previously thought. As for the Lightbringer sacrifice, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) fits the part; even Jon himself has been looked on in fan circles as a Lightbringer analogue, born in the wake of his mother's death.
Those who believe Daenerys is the second coming of Azor Ahai often point to the character's single-most iconic scene: the conclusion of "Fire and Blood," in which she rises from the ashes of Khal Drogo's (Jason Momoa) funeral pyre with three brand- new baby dragons born from ancient eggs. Certainly takes care of the "dragons out of stone" piece of the equation, with Drogo's death doubling as the sacrifice needed to bring these literal lightbringers to life.
While Jon and Dany aren't the only candidates to fulfill the prophecy, they're the most compelling players on the board. So, how do you choose? Well, you might not have to, thanks to another recurring prophecy: "The dragon has three heads," suggesting that three separate characters will ultimately fulfill the conditions of Azor Ahai. There's little consensus on the third character's identity, however. Two of the most popular candidates are Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) due to his abilities to warg (which will hopefully evolve from direwolves to dragons in the episodes ahead), and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) due to his central role in the narrative (not to mention an out-there theory that Tyrion is yet another secret Targaryen), but really, it's anyone's guess. It might even be Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer)...but probably not, given his relatively minor role in the grand scheme of things. Still, it's a great excuse to once again fawn over the Lightning Lord's legendary season-seven battle stance.
Whoever occupies the role — Jon, Dany, probably-not-Beric, whoever — here's one thing we do know: Azor Ahai is coming in some way, shape or form. We know this, at least in part, because of an official photo (pictured at the top of this article) that shows Gilly (Hannah Murray) reading from an ancient text, which just so happens to contain the ancient name. With the White Walkers on the warpath and a second Long Night looming, it's not a question of whether or not some Azor Ahai representative will emerge to win the war against winter — it's just a question of which character, or characters, will be holding the proverbial blazing sword.
Game of Thrones returns July 16. Keep checking THR.com/GameofThrones for theories, news, interviews and more all season long.