Just Who is "The Prince That Was Promised,” Anyway?

The red priestess Melisandre believes the Lord of Light has ordained a legendary hero who will rise up to wield a flaming sword and save the world from the darkness. Um, what?

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team


Since the emergence of red priestess Melisandre in Season 2 of Game of Thrones, the religion of the red god R’hllor, aka the Lord of Light, has played a significant role in the events of Westeros. Central to R’hllorism is the belief that there is a coming war between light and darkness, and that the Lord of Light will choose a champion to defeat the forces of evil.

In the show’s last two seasons, Melisandre has referred to this figure as “The Prince who was Promised.” She’s traveled from one end of the world to the other, and back again, in search of this mythical hero, whom she believes will be mankind’s only chance to stop the White Walkers and the eternal darkness they’ll eventually unleash.

Say, Mel? No offense, girl, but you say lots of crazy things. But to put all this in perspective, let’s get a little background on where this legend comes from. For that, we go all the way back to prehistoric times, to the last war for the dawn...


The Long Night

In Westerosi legend, the Long Night was a winter that lasted a whole generation, plunging the entire land into darkness. Children were born, grew into adulthood, and died without ever seeing the spring, or even the light of day. According to Bran’s caretaker, Old Nan, the Long Night came about when the White Walkers arrived from the Land of Always Winter, bringing cold and darkness with them. They rode pale ice spiders, big as hounds, and resurrected dead horses to ride, just as they resurrected the dead to fight in their army. Sound familiar?

Nobody really knows what really ended the Long Night. In the North, they believe it was an ancient Stark ancestor who defeated the Walkers and raised the Wall, fortifying it with ancient spells that would keep the undead at bay.


Azor Ahai

Far across the world, at the easternmost edge of Essos, a different story is told. In the mysterious, shadow-covered land of Asshai, they believe that an ancient hero named Azor Ahai led the fight against the darkness. He wielded the flaming red sword Lightbringer, the forging of which involved plunging the blade first into water, then into a lion, then into his beloved wife’s heart (and you thought Valyrian steel was complicated!) Azor Ahai used Lightbringer to defeat the forces of evil, which some interpret to mean that he defeated the White Walkers during the Long Night.

Azor Ahai supposedly performed his deeds before the rise of the Valyrian empire in the Dawn Age when cities like Meereen, Astapor, and Yunkai were founded. The legend spread west from Asshai, and followers of R’hllor now prophesy his return. The one who comes to claim the mantle of Azor Ahai reborn is the Prince who was Promised.

Now let’s fast-forward to present day Westeros and take a look at a few candidates whom Mel thought just might be this prophesied savior.


Candidate #1: Stannis Baratheon

Asshai happens to be Melisandre’s hometown, so there’s no doubt she had heard the legend before dedicating her life to serving the Red God. At some point in her life, she had a vision of the Prince who was Promised surfacing at Dragonstone, which, at the beginning of our story, was Stannis Baratheon’s seat. Melisandre ingratiated herself with Stannis and made a spectacle of his conversion to her faith, ceremoniously burning idols of the Seven. From the fires, Stannis drew a burning sword, which she proclaimed to be the fabled Lightbringer.

Of course, it turned out to have been all for nothing. In season 5, Stannis made his mortal exit thanks to Brienne of Tarth’s sword after losing to the Boltons at Winterfell. But Melisandre had abandoned him by then anyway. Her visions—or at least, her initial interpretation of them—were wrong (sorry, Shireen!), and her faith was visibly shaken.


Candidate #2: Jon Snow

After Stannis’ humiliating defeat, Melisandre fled to Castle Black, where she stumbled upon a new opportunity in Jon Snow. She’d always had an inkling that Jon was more than just some Northern bastard, and when she miraculously resurrected him from the dead, it confirmed her suspicions. When she stared into the flames, was it actually Jon Snow she saw walking the battlements at Winterfell and leading the fight against the White Walkers?

Mel sure thought so, declaring Jon the new Prince that was Promised. Faith renewed! Surely, the Lord of Light had brought Jon back from death to be his champion. But after Ser Davos discovered that she had burned Shireen Baratheon at the stake for her last prince, Jon banished Melisandre from the North under penalty of death.


Candidate #3: Daenerys Targaryen

But wait, does the “prince” actually need to be a man? In Season 7, Melisandre made her return to Dragonstone, seeking an audience with its new occupant, Daenerys Targaryen. There she added a new wrinkle to the prophecy. In High Valyrian, the word for “prince,” conveniently pointed out by adviser Missandai, is gender-neutral, so it could actually be the Prince or Princess that was Promised. Okay, so that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. But has the Red Priestess finally found the one she’s been looking for this whole time, or is Dany just the latest false prophet in Mel’s journey to finding her savior?


So just who might it be?

Prophecy is a sword without a hilt—there’s no safe way to use it. Many fans have their own theories on who will fill Azor Ahai’s shoes. It could be Jon, it could be Daenerys, or it could be someone Melisandre never considered. What about Bran, with his ever-expanding metaphysical powers? Or king slayer Jamie Lannister, who seems on the verge of fulfilling part of the prophesy and killing sister Cersai? Or maybe The Hound, who’s now apparently on his own spirit quest with the Brothers Without Banners?

As Melisandre alluded to in Season 2, the prophecy tells of a hero born “amidst salt and smoke, under a bleeding star.” To quote the late Renly Baratheon, “Salt and smoke. Is he a ham?” Applying that to Jon Snow stretches credulity, but we did learn a key piece of information in the Season 6 finale: Jon is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming years of fan speculation (and, of course, making Jon Dany’s nephew). Rhaegar was also prophecy-obsessed, and believed at various points that either he or his son was the Prince that was Promised. So maybe he was on to something…

Curiously, the prophecy may actually fit Dany better: she was born once in salt (that’s how she got the nickname “Stormborn”), and again in smoke (from Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre), after which a red comet appeared in the sky. And Lightbringer may symbolize her dragons, sure to be a valuable weapon against the Night King’s army.

The most likely scenario is that Azor Ahai was never just one person, and the Prince that was Promised won’t be, either. It’ll take a group effort to defeat the White Walkers, and with Jon trying to team up with Dany, it looks like at least two of the prime candidates will lead the war against the darkness. But hey, it could turn out to be Hot Pie, for all we know.

Will we ever get an answer to the riddle? No promises. To find out, stay tuned to Game of Thrones, exclusively on HBO.


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