Azor Ahai is one of Game of Thrones’ most legendary figures, a messianic hero predicted to be reborn when Westeros needs saving from death. The identity of this figure, or who on the show it might turn out to be, has been a central mystery since Melisandre introduced the prophecy to us back in season 2. For years, people assumed that either Jon or Dany would rise to the occasion, but in the wake of season 8’s “The Long Night,” theory-spinning fans have a new idea.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8]
At the tail end of The Battle of Winterfell, Arya Stark killed the Night King, leading a handful of people to wonder if she is Azor Ahai. If she was powerful enough to take out the main villain of the entire season, she must be more powerful than anyone had ever imagined. Otherworldly, even.
This doesn’t quite track. For a Game of Thrones character to own that resurrected role, they’d have to meet the criteria set down by the Azor Ahai prophecy or The Prince That Was Promised legend — or at least some of it. In the show, we haven’t heard too many details about the legend; the books fill in some important blanks. First, the person in question was supposed to have been born of smoke and salt under a bleeding star. This person is also, if songs of older times are to be believed, supposed to have been born from the line of Rhaella and Aerys Targaryen.
As far as evidence for Arya fulfilling a prophecy, this isn’t particularly convincing. The biggest problem might be that we’ve already got two people who both fit that prophecy. Arya killing the Night King is an extraordinary, world-shaping act, but not necessarily part of the prophecy. The only real details we got on what exactly Azor Ahai, or The Prince That Was Promised, will do is that they will help the world stand against The Others (the books’ term for White Walkers). And as far as that goes, it seems like Jon and Daenerys filled that role together and did so pretty effectively by bringing most of Westeros together to stand against the army of the dead at Winterfell. Neither of them actually did the killing, but prophecy is murky like that.
Those entertaining the “Arya is Azor Ahai” theory all seem to be working backwards from the fancy dagger work that eventually did the Night King in. The truth is that she doesn’t fit any of the series’ biggest prophecies, and overlooks years training as a Faceless Man. For those invested in Thrones, it’s better that this won’t pan out.
Of all Game of Thrones’ many tricks, subverting our idea of prophecy and heroism is often one of its cleverest. The promised heroes of legend turn out to be leaders whose most important role was uniting people. Wars aren’t won alone by a single hero, but by thousands of people helping, and sacrificing, to put that hero in the right spot.
As for the hero herself, Arya was never the fated killer of the Night King — though Melisandre may disagree. She was just the show’s hardest working character. Since the earliest moments we saw her, Arya Stark wanted to be a warrior. She practiced archery in the yard of Winterfell, learned sword fighting from Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos. She picked up the stealthiness that would help her sneak through the Battle of Winterfell by catching cats in King’s Landing. And that’s all before she went to the House of Black and White to train with the world’s deadliest assassins, learning to fight with a staff, something she put to good use against the wights, holding her own while temporarily blind, and absorbing secrets that turned her into one of the deadliest people in all of Westeros.
Rather than a prophecy dictating that a legendary hero must end the battle, the person we watched put six seasons worth of work into becoming the best assassin in Westeros did the job. And, at the end of The Long Night, Arya proved that not even the Night King could stand against her.