Content Warning: Massive, huge spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of HBO’s Game of Throne (Season 8, Episode 3’s The Long Night) below. Don’t read this post if you haven’t watched the episode and actually care about being spoiled. This isn’t an actual blog post with any meaning beyond enjoying speculating about the HBO series. There is no deeper message, so feel free to not read this if you don’t care about the series or would like to avoid spoilers. This post is just me sharing some random thoughts because I don’t participate in the Twitter or any other Game of Thrones fan communities, but I still feel like weighing in on the internet debate about last night’s episode.
Let me say upfront that I am totally cool with the whole idea of Azor Ahai/The Prince(ss) Who Was Promised prophecy just being malarkey. I am not a super fan of fate and destiny myself, as it skirts into dangerous “people deserve the good/bad things that happen to them somehow” territory. Also, I’ve been through some rough stuff in my own backstory, but I’m still waiting for any special Mary Sue powers (or at least a slot on the Avengers) to be offered up in recompense. As long as they fail to show up, I will continue my longstanding practice of being annoyed with fantasy in general whenever “prophecies” are used as an easy way out and effectively spoil the plot of a book by being written so overtly that a clever reader can see the ending coming a mile away.
The thing I loved most about A Song of Ice and Fire when I first read it way back when was that it set up prophecies as murky, unreliable things that also become fantastic catalysts for characters to make stupid (and in the Game of Thrones HBO adaptation with Shireen also full-scale evil) choices because a magic power vaguely hinted it was ok. I am actually ok with a gaggle of original (Daenerys), extra crispy (Jon, after both being resurrected by the Lord of Light and dodging icy fire with no official confirmation he inherited Targaryen fire-proofiness in the series last night from Viserion) and a few remaining potentially “secret sauce” (Tyrion, anyone, or maybe Varys, because why the heck not?) Targaryens revealing that good (in)breeding does not make for good tactics.
The D&D player in me also appreciates the destructive potential of a well-executed sneak attack roll and that – since nobody thought to roll arcana on those visions the Children showed Dany and Jon last season about the making of the Night King – it took that other D&D writing team in HBO’s post-show clarification to confirm the reason(s) Dany’s Dragonfire did diddly squat. a) The Night King wasn’t actually in the Godswood, where he had originally been made, at the time and b) It wasn’t dragon fire that made him in the first place, but a sacrifice by Valyrian steel and Dragonglass. It makes a sort of D&D (in both meanings) sense that it would take Valyrian steel in a Godswood to unmake him.
So, why was Arya not hidden in the Godswood the whole time, wearing the face of a generic Ironborn soldier for good effect, from the beginning? Because all the characters got so wrapped up in tropes and what they believed they were due to the point that they forgot about what was until it was almost too late. They didn’t leverage all their resources because that isn’t how epic fantasy works. I also like to envision that Melisandre’s near inability to light that fortification was the result of her rather teed off Lord of Light trying to beat it into her head to stop forcing the world to fit prophecy and shape prophecy to fit the world. Thus, when she later sees a trained assassin crying over another Lord of Light she finally pulls her own head out of her arse and thinks, “Oh, ok, that could work” and actually spins one of her own prophecies (reordering the list of eye colors and strategically emphasizing the blue) to retcon Arya into the hero she wanted once she finally saw her in action.
Thus, despite everything I am about to write, I actually appreciate the idea that, where prophecy failed, years of old-school training saved the day. I like the idea that Azor Ahai was an old-school GRRM Red Herring – or at least a D&D one – and that slavish adherence to it almost doomed everyone while a literal perfect assassin wasted her talents first on a wall and then in a library for 78 minutes.
But, I also enjoy puzzle games. Characters may not spend enough time algorithmically warping prophecies to fully exploit them, but it’s a kind of narrative puzzle game. I like puzzle games. And, since the Internet seems befuddled about how Arya could be Azor Ahai because she doesn’t fit some seemingly quite literal components of that prophecy, I feel the need to dramatically demonstrate how literally any prophecy can be made to fit literally any character in a series if desired. People get remarkably myopic about these things. And, I like messing around with the implications of words.
Thus – not because I actually want Arya to have been a prophesied anything, but just because I enjoy linguistic loopholes and the principle that prophecies, like data, can be tortured until they confess anything – here’s my take on how Arya really could have been foreshadowed as The Princess Who Was Promised all along. Simply because I have read multiple analyses of last night’s episode and so far everyone seems to agree that Arya can’t be Azor Ahai, and the prophecy can thus only either have been a Red Herring or in some way still include the Targaryens. I like playing Devil’s Advocate.
Per the internet’s round-up, the criteria for rebirth as Azor Ahai are as follows:
- Being Born After a Long Summer: This Arya fulfills directly. She – like all the Stark children including one who named his Direwolf Summer – was born in the last very long summer.
- Drawing Fire from a Burning Sword: Beric Dondarrion and his flaming sword perished saving Arya, and she noticeably grieved for him. Arya seemed lost for a moment after she was forced to literally run from her foes and be saved by someone else. Then, another fire priestess (aka Mel) gave her a pep talk about shutting blue eyes forever. Between the two of them, the Servants of Light effectively put the fire, er spark, back into Arya’s eyes that she could win. Thus, in her “dread hour,” she drew inner fire from a burning sword and the deeds of a couple of flaming
idiotsservants of light.
- Coming from Rhaella/Aerys’s Bloodline: Rhaella was the name of the Mad King’s wife. But, another Rhaella was also a granddaughter of Aegon the Conqueror in Fire and Blood, the Targaryen history and ASoIF prequel. That Rhaella was the twin sister of Aerea, who was the spunkiest of spunky princesses almost three hundred years before badass Arya was even born. Aerea even tried to claim Balerion the Black Dread and visited the East. Aerea’s story didn’t end happily, but her personality in childhood shared some similarities with Arya’s. Her name is also similar to Arya’s phonetically. And, it was rumored that Aerea and Rhaella were, at one point, switched at birth to keep them safe. Thus, the “Aerea” of famed headstrongness might actually have been Rhaella. Maybe this one was meant to be more of a similarity in metaphorical qualities than in literal bloodline.
- Born (or Reborn) in Salt and Smoke: Arya’s path to training was literally forged by paying passage across the salty sea to Essos to train at the House of Black and White with a coin and a phrase in High Valyrian. Her path was metaphorically forged by witnessing the Red Wedding, where Catelyn asked the bread and salt of guest rights and was still murdered alongside Rob Stark and his wife and unborn child. In the books, Catelyn is thrown into the Trident instead of cremated on it in a grotesque mockery of her native Tully funeral customs. Arya also retains – or maybe re-learns – some of her capacity to turn from pure revenge and remain human from the Hound, who himself was born into who he is by fire, and Arya herself was certainly around plenty of fire and smoke as Winterfell itself fell.
- Born under a Bleeding Star: The single most transformative event of all of Game of Thrones was Ned’s beheading and display on the walls of the Red Keep. He was the expected, traditional fantasy “star” – the noble, honorable king who sacrificed himself for the realm. He was also GRRM’s epitome of why the just ruler will never survive to rule a harsh land like Westeros. Arya watched him die, and she hardened her heart and created her list to avenge the shining star of a man who had fathered her and taught her honor – and who, in a just world, would have ultimately become the King (and star of the series).
- Draws Lightbringer from the Heart of the One they Loved Most: As one obvious solution, Arya got the catspaw dagger from Bran. It had a ruby hilt. But, more metaphorically, Arya sacrificed avenging Winterfell and her own self to train as a Faceless Man. But, ultimately, she drew Needle from under a stone bridge and reclaimed the family she loved. Needle wasn’t what she used to kill the Night King, but the act of drawing Needle and returning to Westeros marked the conclusion of her “sacrifice” of herself and her taking up her weapons as an adult hero.
- Wakes Dragons from Stone: Jon gave Needle to Arya. And, Arya drew Needle from under the stones of a bridge by the canals to reclaim herself. Jon encouraged her sword training, and Jon actually believed in the books that Arya was the one married to Ramsay at Winterfell. Jon has always influenced Arya’s decisions – and Arya Jon’s decisions. It is possible that, at least in the books, “Arya” will literally be the cause of its version of the Battle of the Bastards and Jon’s eventual awakening as a Dragon later. In the HBO series, Arya is still one of the few who matters to Jon as much as Dany at this point. Arya reminds Jon in the Godswood that he is still a Stark. Yes, we now know that he is also a Dragon. But, he’s a Stark because of Lyanna just as much as he is a Dragon because of Rhaegar. And, it is notable that Jon told Dany the truth about his parentage while kneeling in reverence before the stone statue of Lyanna Stark in Winterfell’s crypt. So, maybe Arya will wake the Stark in him alongside the Dragon in the last three episodes when his conflicting loyalties much be tested…