A Song Of Ice And Fire: answering the big questions

Feature Juliette Harrisson Louisa Mellor 30 Jun 2014 - 07:00

Who is Azor Ahai? Who are the heads of the dragon? We tackle the spoiler-filled, big questions of the Game Of Thrones novels...

Warning: contains spoilers for A Song Of Ice And Fire, all the way up to A Dance With Dragons.

Having mulled over some of the many reader theories circulating about the A Song Of Ice And Fire novels, now we set our attention to the questions that won't be answered until George R.R. Martin's seventh - or eighth, according to recent rumours - book in the series finally hits the shelves.

Some are raised by prophecies (who will be the Valonquar? Who is Azor Ahai? Which three characters will form the three heads of the dragon?) and others by the structure of the series itself (who will sit the Iron Throne? Will the Seven Kingdoms still be united by the end of the saga?). We've given the questions our best go below, and are keen to hear your interpretations and pick over the evidence with you. Without further ado then, here are some of the big questions of A Song Of Ice And Fire...

The Big Question: Who is the valonquar?

When Cersei was a child, fortune teller Maggy the Frog gave her a fairly long prophecy about her future, which culminated in the statement that “when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you”. But just who is meant by ‘the valonquar’?

Possibilities: ‘Valonqar’, we learn, is High Valyrian for ‘little brother’. The most obvious candidate is Tyrion, Cersei’s younger and littler brother who has already literally strangled a woman with a chain made up of golden hands. Cersei herself thinks it refers to Tyrion and that’s partly why she hates him so much. The chief objections to this theory are one, that Tyrion is in Essos and it’s unclear if he and Cersei will ever meet again, and more importantly two, that this particular solution is far too obvious and therefore almost certainly wrong.

The next most obvious candidate is Jaime, the second twin to be born and currently not overly happy with Cersei. The most obvious practical objection to this theory is that it would be quite difficult to wrap a golden hand around anything, but since Jaime can apparently lace britches one-handed that probably isn’t a major issue.

However, there is another alternative. Qyburn took an unhealthy interest in Jaime’s severed hand when they first met at Harrenhal, and it has been strongly implied that he has since performed a Dr Frankenstein on Gregor Clegane, possibly going so far as to replace the man’s head. Unlike either Jaime or Tyrion, FrankenGregor is currently in King’s Landing, with Cersei. Did Qyburn give him Jaime’s hand, and will he use it to kill Cersei? Alternatively, and given that the prophecy refers to ‘hands’ in the plural, did Qyburn give FrankenGregor the late Oberyn Martell’s hands and maybe even his head – the younger Martell brother, who hated all Lannisters?

Beyond that, since the prophecy refers to the valonqar rather than Cersei’s valonqar it could be almost any younger brother in the series, including the Hound (if he’s still alive), Rickon Stark, Garlen or Loras Tyrell, Theon Greyjoy, etc. etc. etc. However, the prophecy would seem to make more sense if the valonqar related specifically to Cersei in some way – the Hound or Loras Tyrell, both supposedly out of the picture but neither seen to be dead, seem the more likely options (bonus points if Loras, whose father is the current Hand of the King, uses the same chain Tyrion used to kill Shae). Arya Stark is a possibility (and Cersei is on her kill-list), on the grounds that she is a ‘brother’ of the Faceless Men (and she’s posed as a boy a few times) or that the translation should be ‘sibling’ rather than ‘brother’ (as ‘prince’ is not gendered in High Valyrian), or perhaps Stannis Baratheon, Cersei’s brother-in-law and Robert’s younger brother.

We'd bet on: Both Tyrion and Jaime seem too obvious, the unrelated options not obvious enough – we’re plumping for FrankenGregor.

 

The Big Question: Who is Azor Ahai?

As its title indicates, the big picture conflict in A Song Of Ice And Fire is the approaching battle between the the undead and the living, between White Walkers and humans, between Ice and Fire. Compared to that, the game of thrones is a mere playground punch-up.

According to Assai prophecy, the person destined to defeat the White Walkers is a second coming kind of deal, a reincarnation of the ancient warrior Azor Ahai who, with his famed burning sword Lightbringer (forged after three attempts, by being plunged into the heart of his willing sacrifice and beloved wife, Nissa Nissa), once banished the darkness. It was foretold that Azor Ahai would be reborn “after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world”. “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers,” the legend states, “Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone”. Fans will recognise that as a fair description of the period in which ASoIAF is set (the bleeding red star = the red comet). Additionally, a Wood’s Witch/The Ghost of High Heart is said to have once told King Jaehaerhys II that The Prince Who Was Promised (widely accepted as an alternative title for Azor Ahai) would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen.

So, assuming that one of our characters is the second coming of Azor Ahai, and thus the person prophesied to defeat the Others, who might it be?

Possibilities: Let’s start with the strongest possibility: Daenerys Targaryen. No other character currently has as many ticks in the ‘Could they be Azor Ahai?’ evidence column as the Khaleesi. To begin with, she’s the daughter of King Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen, and was born on Dragonstone Island while a great storm raged, which could be interpreted as providing the (sea) salt and possibly (dragon) smoke, though a more convincing reading is less to do with Dany’s actual birth and more to do with her rebirth as the Mother of Dragons. The red comet - a portent of Azor Ahai’s second coming - was first glimpsed in the sky prior to the hatching of Dany’s children, when she literally awoke dragons out of stone through the smoke of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, and the salt of her tears.

What about Lightbringer? According to prophecy, “…a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again”. Dany pulled no sword Red Sword of Heroes from the flames, only her dragons. It’s been theorised that Lightbringer is not an actual sword, but another weapon that will vanquish the darkness, i.e. the dragons themselves. The fact that the dragons, like the legend of Lightbringer, were ‘forged’ on Dany’s third attempt to hatch them (first on the brazier, then after her post-childbirth fever dreams, then successfully on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre after she mercy killed her lover), further supports this theory.

An option given plenty of inches in the novels due to it being the belief of Melisandre, the Red Priestess, is that Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai reborn. George R.R. Martin has provided enough clues however, that Melisandre is barking up the wrong tree and Stannis is roughly as likely as Hodo to be be Azor Ahai. First of all, Stannis hasn’t been ‘reborn’, unless you count his pragmatic conversion to the Lord of Light. Yes, Stannis pulled a flaming sword out of the burning wooden effigy of the Maiden’s heart in his own homage to Lightbringer’s forging, but it was more pantomime than prophecy. The sword set Stannis' glove on fire before he plunged it into the ground, leaving his servants to retrieve it later. It’s hardly heroic stuff, and as Davos Seaworth remarks, watching the scene, “The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess”. Later on Salladhor Saan (originally from Lys, where they know about this stuff) disparages the notion that Stannis is Azor Ahai, telling Davos “that sword was not Lightbringer, my friend”. In  A Feast For Crows, Maester Aemon comments to Samwell that Stannis’ sword “is wrong… an empty glamour”, giving further credence to the idea that it has merely been enchanted by Melisandre and is not the real McCoy.

Images of flaming swords abound in A Song Of Ice And Fire. Jaime Lannister dreams that in A Storm Of Swords that he and Brienne’s swords burn with silvery flames until their life drains from them. Thoros of  Myr used to fight with one anointed with wildfire to impress the public at tourneys, though it was known there was no magic in it. Thoros is later able to light the resurrected Ser Beric Dondarrion’s sword aflame using blood and magic, positing the latter - like Victarion Greyjoy, whom some believe is the reincarnated warrior - another unsubstantiated possibility.

Much more likely is a character whose anticipated rebirth is yet to come: Jon Snow. Assuming that R + L + J (see Theories), Jon has the right provenance to be Azor Ahai reborn, though few of the other requirements. Yet.

The best evidence so far that Jon could turn out to be the warrior who repels the darkness is from Melisandre, who is frustrated when flame-gazing that “I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai and R’hallor shows me only Snow”. Add to that the Jon’s prophetic dream in A Dance With Dragons of being “armoured in black ice” but having a blade that “burned red in his fist”. If Jon is Azor Ahai, then it’s likely we’ve not seen the forging of Lightbringer yet (unless you follow the theory that the Night’s Watch itself is Lightbringer - a weapon that will repel the Others). If however, Jon has to follow the legend and kill his beloved in order to forge it, then a juicy suggestion has spread that Melisandre, using the same glamour she employed to make Mance Rayder look like Rattleshirt in A Dance With Dragons, will appear to Jon disguised as Ygritte, and he will forge his burning sword in her heart…

We’d bet on: Maester Aemon was convinced it was Daenerys, and ordinarily we’d never question him, but the arguments putting Jon forward for the role are too enjoyable to dismiss. We're eighty percent Dany, twenty percent Jon at the present time.

 

The Big Question: Who are the heads of the dragon?

While Daenerys is in the House of the Undying, she sees a vision of a man who looks like Viserys (presumably Rhaegar Targaryen) and a woman with a newborn baby. Rhaegar says that the baby should be called Aegon and that he is ‘the prince who was promised’ and ‘his is the song of ice and fire’. The man looks at Daenerys and tells her “There must be one more… the dragon has three heads”. It is presumed that Dany’s three dragons each need an individual rider, and that Dany plus two others will be the three heads of the resurgent Targaryen dragon, riding Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal. But which two others?

Possibilities: There’s some debate over whether the three heads of the dragon all need to be Targaryens. Targaryens certainly have an affinity with dragons, and presumably the three will have some kind of connections with dragons, Dany and the Targaryens, fire or animals – they won’t be random – but whether they all have to be biologically related to Targaryens is less clear.

Naturally, Aegon Targaryen immediately springs to mind as one of the heads of the dragon since that seems clearly implied in the vision. But this is far from certain. For one thing, it isn’t clear whether Aegon really is Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and Elia, or not (depending partly on whether the Quaithe’s reference to a ‘mummer’s dragon’ simply describes him as belonging to Varys the mummer, or implies that he is a fake).

For another, Daenerys does not know who she is looking at, other than recognising Rhaegar thanks to his resemblance to Viserys, so the woman and the baby are not necessarily Elia and Aegon; they could be Rhaegar’s mistress/second wife and their child. Seeing the boy’s father say that he should be called Aegon is not the same as confirming that the child was known by that name – he could have later been given another name. Jon Snow, for example. If R+L=J (see Theories) then Jon Snow seems a pretty likely candidate for one of the heads of the dragon, especially if ‘his is the song of ice and fire’ (if he is the offspring of a Stark and a Targaryen, living on the Wall, possibly raised from the dead by the fires of R’hllor – granted there’s a lot of conjecture here but it’s fairly solid conjecture).

Even if we assume that seems likely – what with the whole ‘ice and fire’ motif fitting Jon and Dany perfectly – that still leaves one more head of the dragon. There are no other known living Targaryens beyond Dany and (possibly) Aegon, but while Jon Snow is the most popular guess for a secret Targaryen, there are also a number of fans who think Tyrion Lannister might not be a lion after all (see Theories). Even if he is as Lannister through and through as he thinks he is, he could still be a head of the dragon, though that wouldn’t necessarily fit in with the Quaithe’s warning to Dany against ‘the lion’ (presumably Tyrion).

Outside of Targaryens, Bran Stark seems the most likely guess, since the Three-Eyed Crow told him that although he will never walk again, he will fly. Bran could either ride a dragon (if helped up) or, more likely, warg into one. On the other hand, there are plenty of flying creatures around and Bran has a much closer affinity with birds than dragons.

Warging is also not the same as riding, so even if Bran did warg into a dragon, there’s still a chance it will have a human rider as well. If it’s someone close to Bran, Meera Reed might fit the bill. Victarion Greyjoy is currently bent on finding and controlling the dragons, so he’s clearly a possibility. Beyond that we’re mostly into wild guessing that could run to any character in the series, but Arya Stark has got to leave Braavos at some point and seems the strongest candidate of the rest, due to her admiration for warrior women, her close connection with Jon Snow and her current lack of much direction beyond ninja training and working her way through her kill list.

Or perhaps it will be someone else entirely, someone new that Dany finds. In her vision, Rhaegar suggested a second ‘head’, with her the first, and told her they still needed a third. Maybe Missandei will really come out of her shell.

We'd bet on: Jon Snow and Dany seem almost certain bets at this point. For the third, it seems likely that Bran will have something to do with it, but if he wargs there’s still space for a human rider, most likely Meera or Arya due to their closeness with him. Plus, Jon and Dany are the actual protagonists of the whole series, the possible royal heir and the exiled princess, and Bran is their kooky prophet sidekick and the first character whose viewpoint we experience in first book (excluding the Prologue). Jon, Dany and Bran are by far the most likely candidates for the three heads of the dragon.

 

The Big Question: Who will win the Iron Throne?

Considering the fates of those who’ve fought for it so far, winning the Iron Throne can be considered something of a pyrrhic victory, the cost outweighing the reward. Robert Baratheon won it and was murdered, Joffrey inherited it and was poisoned, Tommen sits it currently and (according to Cersei’s fortune) his days are also numbered. Add to that the aforementioned fact that when the real battle of the Seven Kingdoms - between humans and the Others - arrives, whose buttocks are warming the Iron Throne will be little more than an irrelevance, and it’s a wonder anyone bothers to play the game of thrones at all.

But play it they do, and here are the most likely candidates for future occupants…

Possibilities: Let’s consider the blood claims. Despite their crowns, Cersei and Jaime’s children have no legitimate claim to the throne (well, unless you’re one of those who believes that their father was secretly Aerys Targaryen instead of Tywin Lannister), and Cersei is destined to outlive both Tommen and Myrcella according to Maggy’s fortune, so even if Myrcella does inherit the throne after Tommen, she’ll likely share her brothers’ mayfly longevity of rule.

What about the legitimate Baratheon heirs? Stannis is Robert’s rightful heir, followed by his daughter Shireen. After all he’s done to secure it, including rescinding his religion and getting up to his armpits in debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos, the fates would be cruel to Stannis if he didn’t eventually win the throne, but then, the fates of ASoIAF are notorious for their cruelty. Shireen’s prospects don’t look too hot either, what with Val’s predictions in A Dance With Dragons that her greyscale is slowly killing the child.

Edric Storm (or Gendry, as the TV series has it) is one of Robert’s bastards, giving him a blood claim, but not a legitimate one. In the Seven Kingdoms, unless a father legitimises his bastard - as Roose Bolton has done to Ramsay - they have no claim to an inheritance. A few fans would like to see Arya and Gendry unite as adults to rule the Seven Kingdoms, but their claim is a weak one.

Now for the most likely contenders to end the series on the Iron Throne: the Targaryens. Assuming as we are that R = L + J, there are two, possibly three, Targaryen heirs in the running. Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Young Griff/Aegon (if the latter isn't a fake). Dany, thanks to her dragons and substantial army, is the most visible threat to King’s Landing, but her nephew(s) also have their claim. Of course, it’s common for Targaryen siblings to marry, so there’s no reason Dany wouldn’t take nephew Jon as a husband, for instance, so they could rule together. Varys and Illyrio have plotted for Young Griff to share the throne with his aunt, thus restoring the Targaryen royal line, but the Mummer’s Dragon really what he seems? (See Theories).

We should also remember that blood claims have little to do with it when armies are involved. Robert the Usurper took the Iron Throne by force, leaving the way open for any other warrior with the means and the motivation to seize power. Victarion Greyjoy is a strong possibility, Roose Bolton and House Tyrell certainly have ambition, but who knows? Perhaps Littlefinger and Sansa, or Bran, Davos, Bronn or one of ASoIaF’s bit players might step up? There's little textual evidence to suggest that Robb Stark's bride, Jeyne Westerling, was pregnant before his death (she survives in the books, unlike the TV show's Talisa), but if she was, there could be a little heir to the North somewhere in the background, too.

We’d bet on: As we say below (Will the Seven Kingdoms still be united at the end of the series?), the significance of the Iron Throne is likely to change before the books are out. If the kingdoms split back to their pre-Aegon the Conqueror days, there may not even be an Iron Throne by the books' close. If we’re forced to pick one sure bet though, our money’s on Dany.

 

The Big Question: Will the Seven Kingdoms still be united at the end of the series?

Not all the kings in the War of Five Kings were fighting for the Iron Throne or the Seven Kingdoms. Robb Stark was named King in the North and was really only interested in ruling the North as a separate kingdom, while Balon Greyjoy was also after the North, ruling from the Iron Islands. Will there still be a Seven Kingdoms by the time winter has come and gone?

Possibilities: The simplest possibility would be that the North (with the Iron Islands) splits off to become an independent kingdom. Alternatively, it could become a slightly more independent state with the Seven Kingdoms, like Dorne.

Speaking of Dorne, the Martells would probably be quite keen on independence as well and may try to break away from the influence of the Iron Throne. This seems especially likely considering that Cersei was told that all her three children would have golden crowns by Maggy the Frog. While Myrcella might come back to King’s Landing and sit on the Iron Throne after Tommen’s death (the deaths of all three children before Cersei herself were also part of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy), it seems more likely at this point that she’ll be crowned in Dorne, either as the rightful heir of the Iron Throne according to Dornish law (pretending that her father was Robert) or as Queen of an independent Dorne, married to a Martell.

Another possibility is that the lands controlled by the Iron Throne might expand rather than contracting. Daenerys currently rules in Meereen – will she simply stay there? Or will she install a ruler who reports to her and continue to rule nominally, expanding her territory out into Essos? The fact that the Free Cities plus an extensive wasteland sit between Meereen and Westeros might be a problem there. Perhaps more likely is the addition of lands north of the Wall. The Wildings do not bend the knee to kings, but they ended up with one anyway in Mance Rayder. They do want Westeros’ protection from White Walkers, so perhaps they might be persuaded to join in a more formal alliance or federation of states.

It may be worth bearing in mind here that while Dorne is culturally fairly Spanish, its political place as part of the Seven Kingdoms is more analogous to Wales’s place in the United Kingdom, or medieval England. The Wall is based on Hadrian’s Wall, which would imply that North of the Wall is Scotland and the North is the north of England – but none of these analogies are absolute, so an alternative reading might see Scotland in the North, above the neck. Insert your own political comment/reading here. On the other hand, George RR Martin is American and may not be that heavily invested in current British politics.

We'd bet on: It seems unlikely that the Seven Kingdoms will be unaffected by its current political turmoil and surfeit of kings. We reckon at the very least the North will either split off all together, or gain an increased degree of independence from the Iron Throne. Which would allow more than one character to rule in the end – Daenerys on the Iron Throne and Jon Snow in the North, for example.

Read more spoiler-filled theories about the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, here.

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