Is Arya Stark Azor Ahai

This article contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8.

For eight seasons, Game of Thrones built up the confrontation between the Night King and the champions of the living. Since the pilot episode, the undead have been a slow burn threat creeping closer to take out those who cannot put aside their petty differences and ally themselves against the Night King’s existential threat. Now, that threat is done thanks to Arya Stark.

Trained under a succession of the most deadly assassins in the world, the choice by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to have Arya strike the killing blow makes sense. She trained with the Faceless Men, assassins renown throughout the world for their discretion as well as never failing to get the job done. The group is rumored to even be responsible for the destruction of Old Valyria, as their organization began as a slave uprising against their dragonlord masters. Eight years of learning the art of becoming silent death paid off when Arya Stark slid that Valyrian steel knife into the Night King’s chest.

But not even such a satisfying narrative conclusion could please everyone. Almost immediately, sections of the fandom were up in arms. Some of it was garden-variety sexism. But some of it was blowback as the Night King was “supposed” to be taken down by Azor Ahai, also known as The Prince Who Was Promised. To me, that complaint is a fundamental misunderstanding of both the prophecy itself and author George R.R. Martin’s relationship with cryptic visions. It is entirely possible for Arya to be ¬†“The Prince That Was Promised.”

Firstly, what prophecy are we talking about? Back in Season 2, Melisandre arrived on Dragonstone convinced (incorrectly) that Stannis Baratheon was Azor Ahai, the promised savior sent to defeat the darkness. After a long summer, when a red star bleeds, Azor Ahai will be born again from smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone. This Champion had risen once before, during The Long Night, to beat back the forces of evil with their sword Lightbringer. Thoros of Myr later extrapolates what the followers of R’hllor believe:

According to prophecy, our champion [Azor Ahai] will be reborn to wake dragons from stone and reforge the great sword Lightbringer that defeated the darkness those thousands of years ago. If the old tales are true, a terrible weapon forged with a loving wife’s heart. Part of me thinks man was well rid of it, but great power requires great sacrifice. That much at least the Lord of Light is clear on.

As is usually the case, the books provide many more clues to the Chosen One who will save the world. The R’hllor High Priest Benerro says even Death itself will bend the knee. The prophecy blurs together with other visions of “the dragon has three heads” as well as legends from as far away from Yi-Ti where the tale is told but with a woman with a monkey’s tail as the savior of humanity. The overarching theme thoughout is that history is cyclical and this has happened before.

For years, fans have parsed what George R.R. Martin’s prophecy means. The details vary, but the basics seemed settled: Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and some third person (often Tyrion Lannister in most theories) with Targaryen blood would be the “three-headed dragon.” Either Jon or Dany or both would be Azor Ahai. But that’s the problem with prophecy. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it slips from your grasp. Assumptions inferred get people within the universe ofGame of Thrones killed. Just look at how Cersei’s life has been dominated by the fear that Maggy the Frog’s prophecies would come true. Falling into the trap of self-fulfilling prophecy happens all the time to the characters. Why should the audience be any different?

From a strictly tricksy angle, Arya Stark hits all the marks. We learned from Maester Aemon in A Feast for Crows that High Valyrian is gender-neutral when it comes to the word “Prince.” The prophecy itself is over 8,000 years old, but the oldest records from Asshai are only 5,000 years old. The prophecy was then translated into High Valyrian, a culture that did not have a monarchy and therefore no gendered words for royalty. In that light, Arya Stark is a Princess of Winterfell as the Starks have declared their independence from the Seven Kingdoms.

But what about the rest of the prophecy? One could easily argue Arya Stark was born amidst salt and smoke as her journey began with the Lannisters setting metaphorical fire to her life before she sailed across the salty Narrow Sea to become an assassin. Waking dragons out of stone could simply be the priests getting glimpses of the dragons in the fires, not knowing how they played into the story since prophecies rarely appear as complete linear narratives. As for Lightbringer, any sword that destroys Death itself could be poetically called that, especially now that we know Beric Dondarrion’s sword was not special and the priests of R’hllor can magically ignite any weapon. If R’hllor truly originated in Asshai, where the most ancient variant of the prophecy comes from, it would make sense for it to use visuals understandable to that culture.

Then again, it is possible¬†Game of Thrones hasn’t gotten to the prophecy yet. The Night King does not exist within the novels at the time of this writing. Everyone has assumed the “darkness” the prophecy spoke of was the Night King, but it never mentions him by name. It is entirely possible the Night King was merely a symptom of the upcoming battle with the Great Other and not the cause. Could our heroes be prematurely celebrating?

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