How that devastating Game of Thrones finale death was an imperfect fulfillment of the shows biggest prophecy
The series finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” concluded with one last upsetting death, and it comes very close to matching with legends found in George R.R. Martin’s book series. The tales of a man called Azor Ahai were told by multiple characters in the books as prophecies saying this legendary hero would be reborn again.
Part of his tale included the sacrificial death of his great love, Nissa Nissa, as the means of forging his weapon. “Game of Thrones” just partially brought this tale to life, but it wasn’t a direct recreation of the prophecy.
This is your last warning before we dive into major spoilers for the series finale of “Game of Thrones.”
On Sunday’s series finale, Jon Snow killed Daenerys Targaryen after she had ascended to the Iron Throne, after killing thousands of innocents in the process.
Though fans had long-predicted we might see the Azor Ahai/Nissa Nissa legend recreated on the show, the circumstances around the death (and whether Jon or Daenerys would be the “Nissa Nissa” sacrificed) were always believed to involve the fight against the White Walkers — not the fight for the Iron Throne.
Instead of Daenerys’ death acting as sacrifice to prevent a second Long Night, “Game of Thrones” seems to have framed Jon’s choice to kill her as a way of preventing her “dark” reign in Westeros.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s take a closer look at the Azor Ahai legend, and how it’s connected to “ The Prince That Was Promised” prophecy we’ve heard many times throughout the show.
The prophesied hero Azor Ahai and The Prince That Was Promised, as explained in the books
In the world of “Game of Thrones” and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” there are multiple accounts told of a legendary hero. Each group has a different moniker for the hero — Azor Ahai, The Prince That Was Promised, and the Last Hero — but the similarities between the tales have led fans to believe that each hero is really the same person.
Melisandre speaks most frequently about Azor Ahai in the books. When we were first introduced to Melisandre and Stannis Baratheon, she proclaimed him to be Azor Ahai reborn. The legend of Azor Ahai comes from ancient texts in Asshai, and they say that a champion of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, will be reborn to fight a darkness.
“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world,” Melisandre said in Martin’s second book. “In this dread hour, a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”
The story of Lightbringer is then told to Ser Davos Seaworth by Salladhor Saan. Azor Ahai forged two swords, both of which shattered when he tried to temper the steel (including the second one, which was plunged into the heart of a lion).
Then came the third blade, which was created when Azor Ahai killed his love, Nissa Nissa. Here’s Saan’s account of its forging:
“Great was his woe and great was his sorrow then, for he knew what he must do. A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife.
‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’
She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.”
So Lightbringer is a powerful weapon that was created via the sacrifice of Azor Ahai’s greatest love. And for a time, Melisandre claimed Stannis was wielding a fiery sword called Lightbringer.
The Prince That Was Promised
Melisandre also uses the title “The Prince That Was Promised” (TPTWP) to refer to Azor Ahai, and we hear this title used by other characters as well.
In the books, Daenerys’ vision in the House of the Undying includes a scene of her brother Rhaegar and his wife, Elia Martell. She sees him holding a baby, presumably his second son Aegon, and telling Elia: “He is the Prince That Was Promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
There are additional clues within the books that indicated Rhaegar had a slight obsession with this idea of prophecy, and was trying to bring about the hero of the world through his bloodline. Aemon Targaryen (the former maester at Castle Black) also spoke of TPTWP prophecy with Sam Tarly and mentions a bleeding star and smoke and salt — just like Azor Ahai.
Also in the books, Barristan Selmy speaks about a “woods witch” (a book character known to be reliable when it comes to predicting events). The witch said TPTWP would be born from the bloodline of Rhaella and King Aerys Targaryen (the “Mad King” and father to both Daenerys and Rhaegar).
This means both Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow were prime candidates for the prophesied hero. To see all the evidence laid out for both Daenerys and Jon being Azor Ahai, read our deep dive explainer on the two prophecies here.
But the show never mentioned the name Azor Ahai
Many fans believed Azor Ahai and TPTWP to be overlapping figures, and used the two terms interchangeably. So when “Game of Thrones” pushed forward through eight seasons and never brought up the exact name of Azor Ahai, people assumed this was simply showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ way of simplifying the prophecy for show-only fans.
On the sixth season, Melisandre resurrected Jon Snow and told him he was the “The Prince That Was Promised,” reborn with the power of R’hllor for a reason. Then the High Priestess of R’hllor, Kinvara, was also introduced. She told Tyrion and Varys that Daenerys was the chosen hero meant to fight the coming darkness.
But neither of them ever used the term “Azor Ahai.”
This might have been our first warning that “Game of Thrones” would use the Nissa Nissa sacrifice in a surprising way by not having Daenerys Targaryen’s death connected to the fight against the White Walkers.
Benioff and Weiss also made sure to bring back Melisandre for the seventh season, and have her speak with Daenerys about how the interpretation of TPTWP prophecy was fickle.
“Prophecies are dangerous things,” Melisandre told the Dragon Queen. “I believe you have a role to play, as does another. The King in the North — Jon Snow.”
George R.R. Martin has also spoken about the wavering role of prophecy in his books.
“Prophecies are, you know, a double-edge sword,” he said in an interview with Adrias News in 2012. “You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy.”
How Daenerys Targaryen’s death matches with Nissa Nissa’s, even though some key details are different
So, as is already clear, Jon and Daenerys aren’t a perfect parallel of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa.
Daenerys was neither killed in order for Jon to forge a new weapon, nor was her death a willing sacrifice in the way Nissa Nissa’s was. Jon didn’t even stab her with Longclaw, his Valyrian steel sword which many fans thought could be a stand-in for Lightbringer. Instead he plunged a dagger into her heart, killing her almost instantly.
But it’s interesting how the show wound up fulfilling other parts of Azor Ahai’s destiny through Jon Snow.
Melisandre’s words about Azor Ahai in the books prescribed that “the cold breath of darkness” would fall “heavy on the world,” and that this day would happen after “a long summer when the stars bleed.” The final seasons of “Game of Thrones” take place during winter, a winter which came after a lengthy summer and the presence of a red comet in the sky (a “bleeding star”).
Fans always believed the “dread hour” and “cold breath of darkness” was Melisandre’s description of the coming threat from the White Walkers. And in the books, this might still be the case.
But with Daenerys’ terrible rise to power and the sack of King’s Landing, “Game of Thrones” seems to be saying her reign as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms was a coming darkness Jon Snow had to prevent.
Martin has yet to finish his book series, and lay out all the intricate ways in which these prophecies will (or won’t) play out with our main characters. As we saw with Arya Stark and death of the Night King, Benioff and Weiss had to rework pieces from earlier seasons in order to fit them into major turning points of the final episode’s story lines. Martin told them a general overview of his planned ending, but not the minor details involved.
So was Jon Snow really Azor Ahai all along, or was Arya Stark also a foretold hero who conquered the darkness? Was TPTWP prophecy always going to come to a messy realization, or is this convoluted ending just the result of Benioff and Weiss running out of book material?
These questions may go forever unanswered, but we at least feel certain that Daenerys will not survive all of Martin’s novels, and Jon Snow will likely have a role to play in her death.
For more “Game of Thrones” insights and analysis of all the best moments in the series, preorder the “The Unofficial Guide to ‘Game of Thrones'” now.