The Long Night isn’t what you think it is. The Night King was a red herring, Lightbringer isn’t a sword, and The Stallion Who Mounts The World wasn’t murdered.
Most people’s reaction to the shocking Game of Thrones finale, and S8E3, was that every single prophecy didn’t come true. The Night King was defeated without a legendary flaming sword or a sacrifice. The Prince That Was Promised didn’t bother showing up, and the identity of Azor Ahai is unclear. In S8E5 Cersei was killed by quite literally a ton of bricks- not the valonqar predicted by Maggy the Frog. In addition, The Stallion Who Mounts The World- Daenerys’ son- was defeated in utero by Mirri Maaz Duur back in Season 1.
So is the takeaway of Game of Thrones that prophecy cannot be trusted? That it’s simply a human belief which drives action in the story? Maybe in the A Song of Ice and Fire books that could be a possibility. George R. R. Martin is an atheist, so the idea of him writing a novel in which destiny is not set could make sense as that points to the absence of a divine plan. However, in Game of Thrones, every prophecy did come true- it was just that, in classic GRRM fashion, they each had a twist and were misunderstood by the characters.
The Stallion Who Mounts The World
Let’s start at the beginning with an easy prophecy. In a ritual at the Dothraki capital of Vaes Dothrak, teenage Daenerys recieves a prophecy that her unborn baby is a boy who will become the long-awaited “stallion who mounts the world”. It’s interesting to note that while in our English, “mount” means “to ascend or climb on top of”, the Dothraki use the word to mean sexual or physical violence. Actually physical violence might be a more accurate translation as the Dothraki appear to understand sexual violence as a type of physical violence. Both these definitions are important in regard to the prophecy. The horse is also almost sacred in Dothraki culture, while maleness is privileged even more than in Westeros and strength is idolised. The stallion is probably considered the strongest and most intelligent known animal to the Dothraki, as despite the existence of lions, they cannot be trained and seem rare and easily hunted, so might not hold the Dothraki imagination. A male horse- a stallion- would be the ultimate symbol of prestige and power. Not unlike the dragon in Westeros, which as well as being the royal Targaryen symbol is also the strongest, cleverest known animal and has an aura of the supernatural.
Obviously the unborn Rhaego was either killed by Mirri Maaz Duur or possibly had his life force ‘swapped’ to enable Rhaegal’s hatching. So at first glance The Stallion Who Mounts The World was a false prophecy or his destiny was subverted. But what if prophecy can be vulnerable to human error, as we’ve seen so often with Melisandre, whose true visions are interpreted wrongly?
If we take the male-dominated culture of the Dosh Khaleen seers then it’s improbable they would be able to entertain the idea of a woman leader. That’s a concept that doesn’t exist among the Dothraki. So it makes sense that Daenerys was the Stallion Who Mounts The World but the Dosh Khaleen, while sensing the Stallion’s presence, concluded he must be male and so misinterpreted the Stallion to be Daenerys’ male foetus (or assumed her baby must be a son to be the Stallion). Daenerys has fulfilled every part of the Stallion prophecy: uniting all the Khalasars, taking the Dothraki to the ends of the earth (“the world ends at the black salt sea”), riding as swift as the wind (on Drogon) and all the peoples of the earth being her herd (Dany conquered, ruled and traded with all of the civilisations known to the Dothraki, and people from all of them were represented in her Unsullied army.) And of course, she fulfilled the part of the prophecy about trampling nations into dust (Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen could be considered city-states and smashing the slave trade obliterated their identity, purpose and economy) and burning cities to the ground. Daenerys also planned world domination in the finale. She truly brought violence on a devastating level everywhere she went, fulfilling the Dothraki definition of “mount” as “violence”. Dany also mounted Drogon, ascended to the leadership of Meereen and got the Iron Throne, and planned to rule- or at least conquer- the world. These actions correspond to the English definition of “mount”.
The Night King was essentially a red herring. The real threat was The Stallion Who Mounts The World. And that’s who Azor Ahai had to defeat to end the Long Night.
Who was Azor Ahai and what was Lightbringer?
Most of us thought it was Jon Snow. And we were right- but with a twist! According to the Azor Ahai prophecy, Azor Ahai is predestined to stab his true love in the heart to end the Long Night. The original Azor Ahai tempered his sword in water, then a lion’s heart, then finaly the heart of his wife Nissa Nissa to forge Lightbringer. (The sword must have been pretty short by the end of this, unless the shattered pieces were re-worked, which means the Catspaw Dagger being the original Lightbringer is a possibility).
There are layers of symbolism to this. As others have noted, the Night King and Euron represent ice or water and Cersei- a lion- was heartbroken witnessing the destruction of King’s Landing. So Jon Snow could be said to have tempered his resolve, or even literal sword, fighting against the Night King and Cersei even though he didn’t personally kill them. However, while this may be deliberate symbolism, I don’t think Jon’s sword is the main meaning of Lightbringer. The whole point of Lightbringer is to end the Long Night, and Jon’s sword didn’t do that. I’ll explain why below, but first..
The Long Night isn’t what you think…
The Long Night that the prophecy refers to is nothing to do with the Night King. Readers and the characters assume it is because they confuse Azor Ahai with the story (not a prophecy) of the Last Hero who definitely did get involved with the White Walkers and Children of the Forest. Instead, the darkness referred to in the Azor Ahai myth is a metaphor for mass or global oppression. The real Long Night was the 300 year long Targaryen dictatorship or perhaps centuries of ongoing tyranny pre-Targaryen in the time of the Hundred Kingdoms and even before. The Long Night could also refer to Dany’s attempt at world domination which would have been a darkness which covered the world.
Did Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen end that with his sword? I’m going to say no. He killed Dany but tyranny would easily have continued, at least in Westeros. The only thing which finally broke the wheel was the proto-democracy which Tyrion created. Which means…
Lightbringer was democracy
…And we witnessed its first forging. Westeros has adopted the Iron Islands’ style of leader-for-life election. A large nation following this example will help spread more democratic practices to the nearby regions of Essos and hopefully one day the entire Planetos (assuming no other large nations already have it). This is a leap forward as, though some other states do elect leaders, the pool of candidates and voters is even smaller than that of Westeros e.g. the Triarchy. But obviously there’s stil a long way to go before Samwell Tarly’s invention comes to fruition. If the prophecy is true, thee will need to be two more changes made to the system before Westeros (or another country, as we don’t know if the prophecy pertains to Westeros at all) becomes the first true democracy.
This first forging also represents within it a forging triad, as Dany was stabbed once and the Iron Throne was melted in two attempts. (Watch it again, Drogon breathes fire twice). These three acts were necessary for the forgining of Lightbringer/democracy.
A second possibility for the identity of Azor Ahai is that Azor Ahai is Jon and Daenerys together. It was Daenerys’ dream to break the wheel, and that enabled Tyrion to continue her legacy and sell the idea to Grey Worm and Yara Greyjoy. Dany was “reborn amidst smoke and salt”. These are the smoke from Khal Drogo’s pyre in which she hatched her dragons and the sea which she crossed to begin her conquest of Westeros, where she finally identified as a Targaryen and began her journey to the Iron Throne. Waking dragons from stone is self-explanatory. Both Jon and Dany were reborn- Jon was literally reborn after being murdered- around the time of the red comet, the Sparrows’ (red) star scarification rituals, and the destruction of the Sept of Baelor which killed the Sparrow cult. All or any of these could be the bleeding red star foretold in the prophecy.
Why Bran Stark is The Prince Who Was Promised
Bran was a prince who became un-royal when he became King.
Let’s back up. Bran had two brothers and a sister who were monarchs, making him a Prince. When he was given Kingship it was really more like a Xi JinPing President for Life situation. Xi’s children won’t become President after him (as of the time of writing) and neither will Bran’s, even if he were able to have kids. He is ‘promised’ because he heralds a new age of (a bit more) equality and (slightly improved) justice. Bran may have made the election possible by foreseeing Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing and not only not preventing it, but driving her to rage by informing Jon and Sansa of Jon’s true identity. Thus, “the Prince Who Was Promised will bring the dawn.”
Who was Cersei’s valonqar?
When Cersei was a preteen she was given this prophecy by a witch known Maggy the Frog:
“Queen you shall be, for a time. Then comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear. And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar [Valyrian for ‘little brother’] will wrap his hands around your throat and choke the life from you.”
The show version doesn’t mention the valonqar but I’m making a leap of faith that Cersei dies in a similarly underwhelming way in the books. The showrunners Dan and Dave seem to prize spectacle over actual plot, so I can’t see them skipping over a showdown between Dany and Cersei, or her murder by Jaime or Tyrion.
The more beautiful queen is easily Dany. However, the valonqar part didn’t appear on Game of Thrones. Now, Maggy’s prophecy has proved true so far; she correctly predicted the number of children she and Robert Baratheon would have, their fates, and even seems to have seen Westeros’ political future, accurately foretelling that Cersei’s betrothed Rhaegar Targaryen would not be king. Blood magic, which Maggy used, is also the most powerful form of magic. So I don’t think her prophecy is simply wrong. I think that, like Mel, she misunderstood it.
Cersei was “choked” to death by being smothered under a load of stone. She may have died from asphyxiation rather than being crushed to death, depending on how the blocks fell. Her little brother Jaime did have his arms wrapped around her at the moment of death. Furthermore, her other little brother Tyrion was the one who found her body and he uses his hands to move the stones which killed her, thus confusing Maggy’s viewing of events. Tyrion could be seen as Cersei’s enemy since they were fighting on different sides of the war. To complicate matters even more, Tyrion was at that moment Hand of the Queen to Daenerys- who planned to kill Cersei and unkowingly caused Cersei’s death by making the stones fall. Plus, he actually did murder his lover Shae by choking her with a necklace of gold hands. Jaime is also wearing a gold hand as he holds Cersei.
Maggy the Frog’s use of the word “drowned” could also be a reference to asphyxiation by being under a substance- in this case, stones. Euron’s defeat cemented Cersei’s fate and Euron is associated with water and the Drowned God. He also makes reference to having “two good hands” and to his “finger” at an important strategic moment (proposing the alliance with Cersei which ultimately was a factor in her death). Euron is killed near water by Jaime who is known for his rather expensive hand, to which Euron makes reference before Jaime stabs him. Cersei walking downwards before her death could also be seen as a “drowning”. She was crying, which lends credence to the line “when your tears have drowned you.” All of these factors led to Maggy the Frog misinterpreting what she saw.
So the irony of Cersei’s story is that her increased hatred of Tyrion was pointless and she spent most of her life fearing something that would never happen. That’s a George R. R. Martin type of ending.