I can’t believe I’m doing this. I never thought I would, but I am posting a fan-theory about George R.R. Martin’s most famous fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Specifically, I’m offering a theory about his fantasy world’s heroic, prophesied savior, who saved the world thousands of years ago and is returning, via reincarnation, to save it again. There are a number of names for this figure, including “the prince that was promised,” but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just call them Azor Ahai.
I have a theory about Azor Ahai’s true identity.
Needless to say: Spoiler Alert! 😉
First, a little disclaimer:
Whatever else can be said about this series, the saga it tells is very poetic, and volumes could be published taking apart every minute aspect of the meaning and symbolism and all that. Heck, there are already countless theories out there, all backed by encyclopedic knowledge and references to the literature. In short, long before its completion, the series which inspired the HBO Game of Thrones show is already a literary masterpiece.
I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the series (or much of anything else for that matter). Not only have I only read the first novel in the series, but I’ve never been one for such an academic pursuit as highlighting specific passages and weaving them together into some sort of coherent meaning which supports whatever theory and ignores everything else. So, if you want exact references for everything I’m going to talk about, I must leave you sadly disappointed. I will only be talking in generalities well known among the fans.
That said, once again: SPOILER ALERT!
I am, after all, talking about things that happen, so if you haven’t read the series and don’t want spoilers, turn back now! Else, abandon all hope, ye who enter herein! 😉
Now, to jump into the deep end:
I theorize that Azor Ahai, both in ancient times and modern times, refers not to one person, but a collection of people.
The idea actually came to me while I was watching this video, also about Azor Ahai’s identity. Having so much information, including the background of the original hero as well as the signs and prophecies of the second coming of this hero, all put together for me was very convenient for my non-encyclopedia brain to process. While I was watching and listening, something snapped into place.
There is a great deal of confusion about the prophecies of Azor Ahai’s return, but the same holds true for the original. We have a story so old that it predates written language, or, if there was written language at the time, it was all wiped out in the world-spanning catastrophe. Everything we know was originally passed down in oral tradition, and between time and translation across languages and everything else, things have become muddied and confusing, easy to misinterpret.
What all cultures agree on, however, is that, thousands of years ago, a terrible darkness tried to swallow the world. It came from the north, bringing both eternal winter and endless night. Cultures across the entire length of the world know this story, and know that many people, many kingdoms, perished in darkness and freezing cold. Even worse, this wintery power had servants, the Others (called White Walkers in the show), who stalked the snows, hunted and slaughtered the living, and gave rise to an army of the dead, so even those who learned how to survive in the cold were still dying. Who could stand against such a dark and heinous power as that?
Then came the Hero. The stories vary: the Hero fought the Others and somehow won, or Azor Ahai wielded a flaming sword to bring back summer and daylight, or the Hero sang a song to beg the gods to bring back the sun, or a woman with a monkey’s tail won the day, etc. That last one struck me as odd, but the point was always, “The Hero saves the day.” Quite literally, as he brings actual days back into a world of endless night. But the ancient evil was not destroyed, and would return, and so the Hero, Azor Ahai, would return as well, to defeat this evil once and for all, and there are signs by which the people may know them.
But, as I’ve said, time and mistranslations and such have made everything a confusing mess. So instead of talking specific, let’s look at generalities.
We have a world where there is at least one supernatural force which undeniably exists, one that creates winter and night and darkness, and wants to consume the entire world. It’s been beaten back once, but it means to try again. The people pray to their respective gods to bring back the hero and stop this, and they’ve been given a promise that this will happen. This would suggest a second power at work, in opposition to the first, and we’ve seen several strong indications that such certainly exists, and is guiding events and people towards this end. But who or what are these forces, really? I mean, there are so many gods out there, and some of them have more than one face or incarnation! Which god or gods are true?
At first glance, one would think that the fiery god of light would be a shoo-in as the primal force which opposes darkness and winter. The series is, after all, named A Song of Ice and Fire. These are two elemental forces which are in perfect opposition to each other. But why, then, would anyone invest in any other deities, let alone ones so confusing as to have several faces and incarnations, if the fire-god was the one real force standing against this nameless entity of the ice?
One possible answer clicked at the end of the video I mentioned earlier. The fellow presenting his Azor Ahai theory goes through lore and literary references to find seven signs and other indicators of who the new Azor Ahai is. He concludes that there are two very strong candidates, namely Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, and he believes both of them are Azor Ahai together. There may even be a third member, but even just with two heroes, Azor Ahai would be not one but two people. “He” would have two faces.
The Faith of the Seven believes in seven gods who are all parts of one entity, and the faceless men believe in the Many-Faced god, and the Dothraki collect gods and idols from across the world. That’s a recurring theme of putting many faces on divinity. Which creates an overarching third category of divine being: one for ice, one for fire, and one for many faces. Three deities, and three is a significant number, as in the case of case of “the dragon must have three heads,” and Daenerys has three dragons, and there are three overarching theaters for the series, including the frozen north, the hot lands in the east, and all the warring kingdoms in between, with many people, many faces, influencing the eventual outcome.
The ancient world passed on legends of a hero, yet those legends do not all match up, including even a woman with a monkey’s tail in the same breath as a clearly male warrior with a flaming sword, while yet another hero actually had his sword broken, and another was just singing. Many faces, no? As if the ancient hero was actually more than one person? Not a hero, but heroes?
Take an ancient civilization suffering on the brink of destruction as otherworldly powers threaten to swallow the entire world, absolutely unstoppable. Now give them a hero who stops that destruction, and lets you see the sun for the first time after a lifetime in darkness. How difficult would it be for you to start revering that hero the same way you would a god? Especially if this “savior of the world” is going to be reborn one day to fight the same evil again? This generally does not happen with mortals, ya know? Now if there’s more than one hero, perhaps even fighting the same fight thousands of miles apart, then each culture has their own, yet they all do the same thing. So your new “god” now has many faces.
Considering the academic precedent for suspecting other ancient heroes, such as Bran the Build, may actually be composites of several men, or even several generations of a family, it’s not so crazy to assume these ancient cultures did the same with the ancient Hero, which just makes it easier to elevate said Hero to godhood.
So now we have a hero, Azor Ahai, who is actually a composite of several heroes. If “he” is returning, wouldn’t that mean the entire collection, the complete Azor Ahai Assemblage, if you will, is returning?
There clearly exists a power of darkness and a power of light. While we know the dark power wants to create an endless winter, there are also references to the light power wanting to create an endless summer. Either of those, however, would mean the death of the world. If there were no winter, no night at all, then everything would just get so hot that it would burn. If, however, one of these powers would like to restrain itself, and only pushes itself forward towards an endless summer because nothing else will hold the darkness at bay, then it would certainly seek to influence things so that a lasting balance can be found.
Indeed, the point of the series seems to be about finding a balance between eternal, opposing forces, that they might coexist and complete one another instead of wiping one another out. No one, no matter how great, can find such a balance alone. We are simply not complete, not whole, without our fellow man. So it makes a great deal of sense to me for Azor Ahai to refer not to one person, but several.
And if the theory which inspired mine holds up, the two strongest candidates for Azor Ahai represent both ice and fire, and together, united as equals, male and female (also opposing yet incomplete without one another), can make the world whole again.
Yet, can even two people, however a potent, unlikely couple, accomplish such a thing alone?
My theory is: no, they cannot.
There is a balance to be found between two forces, yet there are three heads to the dragon, and there’s another significant number: seven. The Faith of the Seven has seven deities, there are seven signs, varying in debatable validity, involved in showing who Azor Ahai is… what if there are seven companions meant to lead humanity through this crisis?
No king rules alone, do they? They have a council to advise them. While the central leading figures would indeed be important, so are their advisers. These, too, must be safeguarded by providence, then. The hero may fight, but without some chief supporters who can bring the rest of humanity with them, they’re basically fighting alone.
Now, if this is true, then we can make more theories about who the members of this Azor Ahai Assemblage are. If the gods are the heroes of old, then the religions of the world are all just misinterpretations of the ancient legends and prophecies, and there’s plenty of misinterpretation still going on. Melisandre the Red Priestess, for instance, keeps saying and believing that Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai, despite a profound lack of evidence. But what if she simply misunderstood her god’s command to her, to support Stannis, and built up that belief on her own? Melisandre definitely has a well-established track record of misinterpreting prophecy, so why not the purpose behind her god’s commands? What if Stannis is meant only to serve as one of the chief supporters of the real Azor Ahai. Dany and Jon, perhaps?
Who else could these chief supporters be? Well, if seven is such an important number, perhaps the Faith of the Seven can offer clues as to the roles of these councilors, and learning how each one fits into a certain role would explain why and how all of these other characters are so important, as they are, or become, agents of one side or another, either for or against Azor Ahai and their companions. Bran, who watches lives unfold, could be the Crone, and Arya, the faceless assassin, could be the Stranger. There are all sorts of possibilities here, and I can scarcely guess which role Tyrion might fill.
One final tidbit I find most interesting: if both Dany and Jon are Azor Ahai together, and they... we shall say, unite in the way that males and females do… this would produce a child, no? Could this be a third member of Azor Ahai, finally made whole and complete, much like the world, after thousands of years? And what does the Song of the Seven gods say they all do? Serve and protect the children. It’s all about the children, the future, and what is more naturally expected of a ruling council than to protect the heirs who will inherit the world from their royal parents?
Which, also, would make one of the chief, overarching, background antagonist’s plans more logical. This one believes that if Dany marries a specific person, it will bring on the Long Night again. How would that make any sense at all if she alone were Azor Ahai? Or any person alone were? If, however, Azor Ahai refers to her union with someone else, and the family they can build together, what makes more sense than for the enemy to usurp that hope by replacing her fated husband with a servant of darkness, who can corrupt her and her future children?
To sum-up, I think it’s a very good possibility that the ancient Azor Ahai legends refer to several people, who became venerated as gods. Legends and prophecies have been long misunderstood, but when the world is about to slide into either winter or summer forever, new heroes are promised to arise, perhaps as reincarnations, or perhaps as kindred spirits. Who knows? Together, they make up the collective entity, under the authority of a united pair of leaders, which will fight to save humanity and bring balance to the world. These are all Azor Ahai.
And, to take this one more step:
While most people think they have to suffer until a hero comes and then leave everything to that hero… well, this fight belongs to all of humanity. It makes sense for all of humanity to fight the enemy together. Thus, humanity can save itself as “the many-faced hero.”