'Game Of Thrones' Fans May Be Thinking About Azor Ahai All Wrong

Helen Sloan/HBO

There is admittedly a lot to keep track of on Game of Thrones: dozens of characters, sprawling locations, shifting allegiances. You'll be totally forgiven if you need a refresher on some of the series' deeper mythology, like who is Azor Ahai on Game of Thrones, and why is he so darn important? Book readers have had almost two decades to be puzzled by this question, ever since Melisandre introduced the prophecy in 1998's A Clash of Kings.

But more are people watching the show than ever before — Season 7 broke viewership records four times in seven episodes — which may also mean not everyone is intimately familiar with George R.R. Martin's source material. So, if you still get your Brans and your Bronns confused, and you don't even know what an Asha is, here's your primer course on the prophecy that has all of Thrones fandom in a tizzy.

Azor Ahai is a figure of great importance to the followers of R'hllor, the Lord of Light. His legend originates in Asshai — the same mysterious city in the far east of Essos from which Melisandre hails — and tells of a hero who lived thousands of years ago and saved the world from the darkness spread by the Great Other (the god of death that's the religion's counterpoint to R'hllor).

It's said that Azor Ahai forged a mighty sword called Lightbringer. The first time, he worked on the metal for 30 days and nights, but when he went to temper it in water, the steel shattered. He worked again for 50 days and nights, and tried to temper it by plunging it into the heart of a lion — but it still shattered. Finally, he worked for 100 days and nights, and when the time came to temper the blade, he called his wife, Nissa Nissa, and, weeping, stabbed her in the heart. According to the myth, Nissa Nissa's soul fused with the molten steel and the sword burst into flame. Azor Ahai carried Lightbringer into battle against the White Walkers, saving the world from their icy invasion.

The Red Priests and Priestesses believe that Azor Ahai will be (or has been) reborn, and will once again save the world from the White Walkers. According to the prophecy, this second coming of Azor Ahai will be born amid salt and smoke, he (or she) will wake dragons from stone, and he (or she) will pull a flaming sword from the fire and drive the darkness back once more. (I say "he or she" because of the recent revelation that a mistranslation disguised the fact that the prophecy was originally meant to be gender-neutral.)

Now, things get interesting. The question of Azor Ahai is complicated by the presence of a couple of other prophecies — most crucially, the foretelling of the Prince That Was Promised. Although "Azor Ahai" and "The Prince That Was Promised" are often used interchangeably (including by Melisandre herself), there's no textual evidence proving the prophecies are referring to the same person. The prophecy of the Prince seems to hail from Old Valyria rather than Asshai, telling of a leader who will be born under a bleeding star. The witch known as the Ghost of High Heart prophesied that the Prince will be born of the line of Aerys (the Mad King) and Rhaella Targaryen. And in her vision in the House of the Undying, Rhaegar tells Daenerys of the Prince that "his is the song of ice and fire."

Finally, there's the Westerosi legend of the Last Hero. According to a story Old Nan tells Bran when he's recovering from his fall, there was a time during the Long Night thousands of years ago when a man set out into the "dead lands" in search of the Children of the Forest, in hopes that the magical beings could help defeat the White Walkers. One by one, his companions all died, and the Walkers were hot on his trail, but Old Nan's story is interrupted by Maester Luwin before she can finish.

Given that Azor Ahai and the Prince That Was Promised are both supposed to save the world from darkness, it's easy to understand why some characters — and most fans — assume they're the same. The Last Hero is generally kept more separate from the other two, although there are some readers who believe that legend is just a different version of the same story. And so for years, fans have engaged in heated debates over the identity of the Prince That Was Promised, the second coming of Azor Ahai, the Last Hero who will rise up to save Westeros from the Night King. Most theories center around either Jon or Dany, although some fans go so far as to predict more minor characters like Jaime Lannister, Sandor Clegane, or Gendry.

But what if the savior who will defeat the Night King isn't one person, but rather three? What if the legends of Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised, and the Last Hero are actually all referencing different people? This could clear up a lot of the confusion around the identity of the savior, leading to a thrilling conclusion for the series.

Bran Stark could be the icy Last Hero — the one who ventured beyond the Wall to seek out the Children and the mystical Three-Eyed Raven, and whose companions almost all perished along the way. (R.I.P. Jojen, Summer, Raven, Leaf, Hodor, Benjen; live long and prosper, Meera.) Daenerys Targaryen could be the fiery Azor Ahai — the one born amidst the salt and smoke of Khal Drogo's funeral pyre, who woke three dragons from stone eggs, and whose dragons will be a flaming sword wielded against the White Walkers. And Jon could be the dual-natured Prince That Was Promised — the one born under a bleeding star, descended from Aerys and Rhaella, and who literally embodies the idea of both ice (his mother, Lyanna Stark) and fire (his father, Rhaegar Targaryen).

This take on the three prophecies would also jibe with the increasingly popular theory that Dany, Jon, and Bran will be the three dragonriders: Dany on Drogon, Jon on Rhaegal, and Bran warging into the undead Viserion, breaking the Night King's control over the wight-dragon. It would be the most Thrones-ian twist ever if, after years of arguing over the one true hero of the story, the answer turned out to be that there isn't just one. Taking down the Night King will likely be a team effort. Neither ice nor fire could accomplish it on its own, but together, their combined forces could end the Long Night and bring peace back to Westeros.