Major spoilers. Major, massive, enormous spoilers. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, please come back later.
So. You have been warned. Arya kills the Night King. While it was a remarkably cool moment – a gust of wind, silence, followed by the all-consuming wrath of the Girl With No Name – it also got me thinking about the prophecy of Azor Ahai and the Prince That Was Promised.
From the books (and perhaps the show, I wouldn’t know because I haven’t watched all of the seasons; just the first and the eighth) we know a few things. First, that the word used for ‘Prince’ in the original prophecy was gender-neutral; that was what led many to believe that Dany was the Prince(ss) That was Promised. Second, that there are two signs that herald the coming of Azor Ahai – a bleeding star, after which (s)he will be born amidst smoke and salt.
The thing that I’ve always found strange about the prophecy is that Martin really, really likes to subvert the tropes of the genre so having a prophecy fortelling the coming of a hero was very unlike him. Most – if not all – of A Song of Ice and Fire has been about choice and consequence, character agency and the fallout (or lack thereof) of decisions that they make. So the idea of a ‘chosen one’ was just plain weird.
But in hindsight, if Arya was the Princess that was Promised and Azor Ahai Reborn, then the interpretation of the prophecy is very much in line with Martin’s way of doing things.
First, the more literal interpretation of the bleeding star is a comet which did a fantastic job of setting up first Aegon and then Dany as the chosen ones. But I’ve read a rather interesting theory that talks about how Melisandre is the red star – which suggests that her arrival just before the battle of Winterfell is a sign that Azor Ahai was about to be born.
Second, the smoke and salt bit. There was a ton of smoke at the battle of Winterfell because, like, everything was on fire and salt could easily be interpreted as blood or sweat or tears.
And finally, since it was Melisandre herself whose words seemed to put the idea in Arya’s head – the bit about killing things with blue eyes and the question ‘what do we say to death?’ – it could easily be argued that Azor Ahai was reborn in the moment that Arya added the Night King to her list. It ultimately boils down to how you interpret the idea of ‘birth’ and who or what chose the original Azor Ahai to stand against the darkness in the first place.
I don’t believe the original Azor Ahai story talks about who chose him to stand against the darkness. Was his mission self-appointed? Was he chosen by someone or something? Or was he the kind of hero that Arya was: who saw the darkness and simply chose to stand against it?
Arya being Azor Ahai Reborn takes the idea of a prophecy and does something very clever with it. Yes, there were signs that mark the chosen one, but the chosen one isn’t predestined to do something great. The chosen one is simply the one who makes the choice.
Traditional fantasy heroes are sort of boxed into their roles, born to do great and terrible things because it is simply their destiny to do so. Arya wasn’t born to do great and terrible things. Arya was born – in the way of ladies of her time – to sew and get married and have children, and all of the other things that Ned talks to her about in the earliest book and in season one of the show. But Arya took her destiny into her own hands.
She learned to fight. She made her list. She sought out the tools and the training she needed to be able to cross names off that list. She made her choices – some for love, some for vengeance, some simply to survive – and it was those choices that made her uniquely suited to be the one that put a dagger through the Night King’s heart.
Even the method of his death was uniquely her. A sword is traditionally understood as a soldier’s weapon, a warrior’s weapon. A dagger is an assassin’s weapon. Azor Ahai forged a hero’s sword and (according to legend, although who really knows) sacrificed his great love to be able to wield it’s power. Arya made that same sacrifice. She gave up her childhood, peace, love, family – all to be able to right the wrongs of her world. So the weapon she chose was the one she earned; it was her very own hero’s weapon.
So, before the next Long Night, thousands of years from now, the legends will speak of a princess with a dagger who walked up to the great Lord of Darkness, silent as the night itself, and put her blade through his heart. And, in that time, everyone will probably be looking in the wrong direction at the wrong people all over again because history has an unpleasant tendency of repeating itself.
But here’s what it boils down to: fate didn’t make Arya the chosen one. She chose herself. And if I’m looking at this right, if Arya is Azor Ahai and the Prince That Was Promised, this is a really bloody clever way to handle a prophecy. Good shit.