“It is written in prophecy as well. When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.”
--Melisandre, SoS, pg. 289
The above prophecy may very well be the key to the main conflict in the series--a hero fighting against the invading Others. Melisandre, at least, seems to believe that this prophecy refers to Stannis Baratheon. However, there is quite a lot of room to doubt her on this point, and several other characters have been suggested as the real Azor Ahai come again.
First of all, we must look at what we know about the original Azor Ahai--the man who came 5,000 years ago. Salladhor Saan tells Davos part of the story on CoK, pg. 154. At a time when ‘darkness was heavy upon the world’ Azor Ahai decided to forge the hero’s blade of Lightbringer. Twice he tried, but both times the blade shattered in a test. Finally, Azor Ahai forged a third sword, drew it from a fire, and plunged it into the heart of his wife Nissa Nissa. Her sacrifice allowed her life spirit to go into the blade and make it Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.
Now who in the present day fits with Melisandre’s prophecy, but also parallels Salladhor’s story? Let’s look at our options.
I. THE CANDIDATES
1) Stannis Baratheon
The main thing going towards Stannis right now is that he has a red priestess from Asshai claiming that he is Azor Ahai reborn. Assuming that Melisandre knows her stuff, why should she be wrong?
Well, there are several reasons. For one, while Stannis has made his home on Dragonstone, it is a known fact that he is not happy with the fortress. It can hardly be said that he was ‘reborn’ amidst smoke and salt; there has been no apparent change in Stannis. And while he has been urged to sacrifice royal blood to wake a stone dragon, no dragon has been awoken so far. Could Melisandre be mistaken? Or perhaps she is deliberately misleading Stannis?
However, Stannis does have Lightbringer, although we still have no idea where he got it from. He drew a sword from a fire on CoK, pg. 150, but it came out a blackened and charred mess. The next time we see Stannis, at his parley with Renly, he sports the colorful blade he calls Lightbringer. Where did he procure this weapon?
Even some characters seem to doubt that this is the true Lightbringer, though. On SoS, pg. 886, Maester Aemon talks to Sam after being presented with the blade.
“I felt no heat. Did you, Sam?”
“Heat? From the sword?” He thought back. “The air around it was shimmering, the way it does above a hot brazier.”
“Yet you felt no heat, did you? And the scabbard that held the blade, it is wood and leather, yes? I heard the sound when His Grace drew out the blade. Was the leather scorched, Sam? Did the wood seem burnt or blackened?”
“No,” Sam admitted. “Not that I could see.”
Maester Aemon nodded...”It is hard to be so old,” he sighed as he settled onto the cushion. “And harder still to be so blind. I miss the sun. And books. I miss books most of all.”
While Maester Aemon does not make any direct claims, he seems to imply that he has doubts that the blade is truly Lightbringer.
Finally, we have one more piece of evidence to take into account, from Dany’s trip into the House of the Undying.
Glowing like sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow...mother of dragons...slayer of lies...
--CoK, pg. 706
Stannis has blue eyes, and the part about no shadows might be a reference to the shadowbabies that take his form. The fact that the Undying call Dany ‘slayer of lies’ soon after that vision imply that this vision of Stannis holding Lightbringer is a lie Dany will prove wrong.
2) Sandor Clegane
One of less believeable suggestions to have sprung out, Sandor no less deserves a look. He certainly had a nasty experience with fire, even thought he might not have been ‘reborn.’
However, this theory can easily be dismissed away. For one thing, while Sandor might have been exposed to ‘smoke and salt’ when Gregor burned him in the brazier, it was years before the red comet ever graced itself in the skies. And Sandor has come no closer to waking dragons out of stone then any other character thus far. So while an Azor Ahai Hound might be an interesting concept, it is most certainly implausible.
3) Beric Dondarrion
Unlike most other candidates, Beric has been ‘reborn’ in quite a literal sense. And his first resurrection probably came about the same time the comet first started to appear in the skies. Also, both Beric and Thoros have likened Beric’s resurrections to coming out of flame and fire. Beric even wielded a flaming sword in his duel against Sandor.
However, like most other candidates, Beric seems to be on no path toward saving the world or waking dragons out of stone. And the flaming sword was Thoros’s idea; he has been using it since Greyjoy’s Rebellion. (GoT, pg. 294). However, there is nothing to go against this theory, so for now we’ll just have to keep our eyes on Beric and see what happens.
4) Davos Seaworth
Davos quite literally came out of salt and smoke in the Battle of the Blackwater, from the wildfire’s smoke and the ocean’s salt water. The comet was high in the sky at this time, and Davos was even ‘reborn,’ in so far that he was unconscious and then miraculously hung on to life. And it would be plain irony if Melisandre’s true quarry was right under her nose the entire time.
However, like Sandor and Beric, Davos simply has no connection with Azor Ahai besides the cursory ‘salt and smoke’ link. Again, he’s a man to keep an eye on, but until Davos wakes a dragon from stone, he is no more likely Azor Ahai than anyone else.
5) Bran Stark
Already on a path north of the Wall, Bran is one of the more plausible candidates. It has been suggested that his rebirth in smoke and salt came after Ramsay Bolton razed Winterfell, and Bran emerged from the darkness of the crypts. It has even been theorized that a dragon underneath Winterfell was awoken during the castle’s fall, that had been living in the warmth of the hot springs for hundreds of years.
This theory comes from something seen from Summer’s point of view on CoK, pg. 956
The smoke and ash clouded his eyes, and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame. He bared his teeth, but then the snake was gone.
Others claim that the vision Summer saw was not a real dragon, but merely a prophetic vision, or perhaps his interpretation of the comet in the sky. However, Osha says something interesting in the same chapter, CoK pg. 964
“We made enough noise to wake a dragon.”
Could this possibly be foreshadowing, or is it just an innocent phrase?
6) Daenerys Targaryen
Far and away the most likely candidate for Azor Ahai, Dany fits all the requirements. She awoke the dragons out of her petrified stone eggs, on the very night she spotted the comet for the first time. (GoT, pg. 804). That night, there was smoke from the funeral pyre and salt from Dany’s tears. And she was ‘reborn’ in the sense that she emerged from the fire a stronger person--a leader whom the Dothraki would follow.
But how does Dany’s story match up with Salladhor’s? Well, one suggestion has been that her dragons are actually Lightbringer, because they can produce fire. This makes a great amount of sense. Like Azor Ahai, Dany tried three times to make her weapon--once while putting them on a brazier (GoT, pg. 593), once while coming out of her fevered nightmares (GoT, pg. 753-754), and finally succeeding on the third try at Drogo’s pyre. Also, like Azor Ahai, Dany sacrificed her spouse to make her weapon, and drew the weapon out of a fire.
Other people merely think that Lightbringer is still a sword, and perhaps Dany will find it elsewhere, maybne in Asshai or far east.
But the fact remains that, of all the candidates, Dany is the only one who has woken dragons out of stone. Unless another character is going to accomplish the same thing, Dany seems like a safe bet to be Azor Ahai reborn.
There is a theory that the real sword Lightbringer has been in Westeros the whole time, and it is the sword Dawn, the hereditary greatsword of House Dayne. The sword was made from the metal of a fallen meteorite. (CoK, pg. 332). Eddard carried Dawn back to Starfall after Arthur Dayne’s death (GoT, pg. 65). Perhaps Dany or another character will find the true Lightbringer there?
There is only one thing wrong with this theory. Dawn is described as being ‘pale as milkglass’ (GoT, pg. 425), while Lightbringer is known as the Red Sword of Heroes. However, besides this slight difference in color, there is no evidence against Dawn being Lightbringer.
II. THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED
Another prophetic figure that has been hinted at is named The Prince Who Was Promised, or PwwP. We know even less about this person than Azor Ahai, but enough to make a few connections. Is the PwwP the same person as Azor Ahai reborn?
First, let’s look at the references we have to the PwwP. There is a scarce amount. The first we get is from Dany’s trip to the House of the Undying.
The man had her brother’s hair, but he was taller, and his eyes were a dark indigo rather than lilac. “Aegon,” he said to a woman nursing a newborn babe in a great wooden bed. “What better name for a king?”
“Will you make a song for him?” the woman asked.
“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
--CoK, pg. 701.
These are tantilizing clues, but they tell us nothing. The man is Rhaegar, the woman Elia, the baby Aegon. Some have suggested that Rhaegar found some prophecy about the PwwP that changed the course of his life (SoS, pg. 91) but right now, this is mere speculation.
The only other reference comes from a conversation between Melisandre and Maester Aemon:
“Make no mistake, good sers and valiant brothers, the war we’ve come to fight is no petty squabble over lands and honors. Outs is a war for life itself, and should we fail the world dies with us.”
...All of them seemed surprised to hear Maester Aemon murmur, “It is the war for the dawn you speak of, my lady. But where is the prince that was promised?”
“He stands before you,” Melisandre declared, “though you do not have the eyes to see it. Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai come again, the warrior of fire.”
--SoS, pg. 884
Note that only Melisandre seems to think that the PwwP is Azor Ahai reborn. No one else has made that claim. So are the two figures one and the same? Some believe they are, and Dany is both. Others believe that the Prince That Was Promised is a seperate entity all together. However, finding candidates for this role is harder, because we know nothing about the PwwP other than he will play a prominent role in the fight against the Others. Suggestions for the PwwP have included Jon, Bran, Sam and Aegon himself. (See ‘Is Baby Aegon Still Alive?’).
In conclusion, comparing all the candidates to the information we know about Azor Ahai, Dany seems like the most likely candidate by a good majority. She fits all the critera perfectly, as opposed to others, and her dragons may or may not be Lightbringer.
The Prince That Was Promised, however, remains an enigmatic figure. Melisandre believes him to be the same person as Azor Ahai, but since she is most likely already mistaken on the point that Stannis is Azor Ahai, she could simply be erring again. We cannot ascertain anything else without more information.