This Game of Thrones article contains spoilers for the TV series and books.
New Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon’s official trailer opens with a description of a dream “clearer than a memory” that the dreamer clearly thinks is prophetic. Like many other fantasy worlds, there are dreams and prophecies scattered throughout Game of Thrones, but unlike most other stories, not all of them came true. Or did they?
George RR Martin himself has called prophecies “a double-edge[d] sword” and suggests that “the more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true.” That fits with the function of prophecy in a lot of fantasy, going right back to Greek mythology, in which extensive efforts to prevent baby Oedipus from killing his father and marrying his mother only serve to make it happen. Martin has also specifically related this to Cersei, talking about Maggy the Frog’s prophecy to her and how Cersei might end up bringing it about in trying to avoid it.
Still, there have been times when the prophecies in the A Song of Ice and Fire books felt at odds with how they were adapted for the TV series.
Prophecies Cut Short or Ignored by TV
It’s important to note that the story as shown in the TV show Game of Thrones is not the same as the story in the books. There are many more dreams, visions, and prophecies in the books than in the show, and some were cut short for the TV version.
In the show, for example, Maggy the Frog doesn’t say anything to Cersei about her being killed by “the valonquar” (High Valyrian for “little brother”), so Cersei being crushed by falling masonry instead of strangled by Tyrion/Jaime/Arya (take your pick on the meaning of “valonquar”) is not unfulfilled, because that prophecy doesn’t exist in this version of the story. This also means Cersei’s fate in the TV show is very unlikely to match her book fate. It’s far more likely that whatever eventually happens to her in the books, it will echo the prophecy in some way.
Dany’s visions in the House of the Undying are also fewer and simpler on TV than in the book version, with much less to unpack. For example, the TV show cut Dany’s vision of the Red Wedding in the House of the Undying, partly because viewers would have recognized Robb and Catelyn Stark and the surprise would have been spoiled.
In addition, we’re not counting Mirri Maz Duur telling Dany that Drogo will recover “when the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry, when the mountains blow in the wind” as a prophecy because the sarcastic tone this is given in the show, along with the cutting out of references to Dany having another baby from the books, suggests it is a cruel way of saying “never” rather than a prophecy in its TV context. Whether this will function more as a prophecy in the books, where each reader imagines the tone of voice for themselves, is harder to say.
There are also some major book prophecies missing from the show all together, like Jaime’s dream while sleeping against a weirwood tree which prompts him to go back and save Brienne from a bear. In the show, Jaime discovers his lie intended to protect her has put her in danger instead, and dreams have nothing to do with it – and it’s worth noting that episode was written by Martin himself, so whether that prophecy will matter in the books is up for debate.
Even if Jaime’s dream does come true, it’s also not likely to happen in The Winds of Winter. Jaime dreams about himself and Brienne underneath Casterly Rock, surrounded by dead people – including Cersei. He dreams that both of them end up with flaming swords and that this is where he will die. This all sounds like it’s far more likely to happen in the final book in the series, A Dream of Spring, as the story draws to its conclusion – though Cersei might be polished off a bit sooner.
Still, despite having far fewer prophecies to deal with, it seemed that some were still left unfulfilled by the TV series finale. In some cases, that’s a matter of how you, the reader/viewer, interpret these visions and dreams. But even if some prophecies have been foiled on the TV series, we suspect that they will all be addressed in some way eventually on the page.
The Stallion Who Mounts the World
When Daenerys, pregnant with her son Rhaego, manages to choke down an entire raw horse’s heart, the Dothraki prophesy that her son will be “the stallion that mounts the world… the khal of khals. He shall unite the people into a single khalasar, all the people of the world will be his herd.”
Sadly, Rhaego is stillborn so this is usually the go-to example in discussing Martin’s ambiguous attitude towards prophecy – this prophecy is unfulfilled, so here’s a clear indication that prophecies can’t be relied upon in Martin’s world. But there are a couple of things to bear in mind here. Firstly, Rhaego’s stillbirth, unlike real life cases, wasn’t an unaccountable tragedy with no clear explanation. Mirri Maz Duur caused his death using her magic when Dany asked her to heal Drogo, and she did so specifically in order to foil the prophecy. Otherwise, perhaps the prophecy would have come to pass. So it wasn’t so much that the prophecy itself was faulty, but it was counteracted by human action. Perhaps prophecies in this world work differently than the ones we’re used to from real Earth mythology, and some prophecies are vulnerable to human meddling, and cannot come to pass if prevented by magic.
Also, although the context clearly seems to point to Rhaego as the subject of the prophecy, it’s Dany who has just eaten a horse’s heart – so maybe it’s Dany who is the Stallion That Mounts the World. She does, in fact, bring all the Dothraki together into a single khalasar, an action that might be considered as uniting “all the people of the world” from a Dothraki point of view. Or it could even refer to her dragon son Drogon, whom she relies on to achieve that goal. If Dany’s story in The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring is at all similar to her story on the TV show – which seems likely – this prophecy may yet be fulfilled in an unexpected way.
Myrcella’s Gold Crown
The TV show version of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy to Cersei, although cut down from the book version, did keep the references to her children, and Robert’s as well. “The king will have twenty children and you will have three,” Maggy tells Cersei, and in reference to her three, “gold will be their crowns, gold their shrouds.” But in the show, although two of Cersei’s children (Joffrey and Tommen) do indeed become kings before predeceasing her, Myrcella is never a Queen with a golden crown, only a princess.
This one is reasonably easily explained by the adaptation process. It’s obvious that the showrunners didn’t initially intend to use this prophecy. In season one, they had a firm rule against flashbacks, explaining everything the audience needed to know through dialogue (a rule they actually stuck to outside of this one scene – all the other flashbacks in the series happen in the form of visions, usually involving Bran travelling through time. This is the only time the narrative completely stops for a flashback). They also gave Cersei a fourth child, a son with Robert who died in infancy, which completely contradicts the prophecy that Cersei would have three children.
As things currently stand in the books (at the end of A Dance with Dragons), Tommen and Myrcella are both still alive, and there is a Dornish plot afoot to put Myrcella on the throne, since the Dornish do not follow the rule of male primogeniture and therefore to them, their hostage Myrcella is the rightful heir. As we know, the TV series cut off the Dornish storyline rather abruptly, and inserted Jaime into it, having him take Myrcella back, only for her to be killed by Ellaria Sand. So this seems to be a case of the adaptation including Martin’s prophecy for the poetry of it, but being unable to fulfill this particular aspect of it thanks to their own changes to the story. As a result, we have high hopes that we’ll actually see this prophecy fulfilled in The Winds of Winter.
The Prince/ss Who Was Promised
This one is complicated, because characters within the books tend to conflate prophecies about the return of legendary figure Azor Ahai and the coming of the Prince That Was Promised. The TV show then further complicates things by cutting Azor Ahai out altogether. The name “Azor Ahai” is never spoken in the TV show, and the specific story about how he drove his sword into his wife Nissa Nissa’s heart in order to create the flaming sword Lightbringer is left out entirely.
However, there are plenty of references in the show to the Prince/ss (the word in High Valyrian has no gender, Missandei tells us) That Was Promised, a prophecy that Melisandre infamously misinterprets, thinking it refers to Stannis Baratheon. In her first scene, Melisandre says it’s written that “a warrior will draw a burning sword from the fire, and that sword shall be Lightbringer.” Melisandre tells Stannis repeatedly that she saw his victory in the flames, even after the defeat at Blackwater, telling him “you are the warrior of light… you will be King.” Then she gets him to look into the fire and asks him “do you see?” and he says “yes.” Stannis does win one victory, at the Battle of Castle Black where Mance Rayder is defeated, but it’s safe to say he doesn’t fulfil the rest of this prophecy in any way, shape, or form.
Meanwhile, the Red Priests and Priestesses we see in Essos believe that Daenerys is the Princess That Was Promised. Kinvara says, “from the fire she was reborn to remake the world… her dragons are fire made flesh, a gift from the Lord of Light.” She also says, “the dragons will purify non-believers by the thousands, burning their sins and flesh away” and that, “Daenerys has been sent to lead the people against the darkness, in this war and in the great war still to come.”
After she resurrects Jon Snow, Melisandre tells him, “Stannis was not the Prince That Was Promised, but someone has to be,” though having been burned (hah!) before, she stops short of actually saying it’s him. She’s similarly cagey when she meets Daenerys, telling her, “the Long Night is coming. Only the Prince That Was Promised can bring the dawn” but without committing to saying who exactly that will be, though she says she believes both Dany and Jon Snow have a role to play.
So, is the prophecy unfulfilled in the TV version of the story? Perhaps. The prophecy about the sword Lightbringer is sort of fulfilled when Melisandre lights up the Dothrakis’ swords in flames during the Battle of Winterfell, but does that make Melisandre herself the Princess That Was Promised? Daenerys and Drogon do indeed “purify non-believers by the thousands,” but not for the sake of the religion of the Lord of Light.
We’re chalking this up to adaptation changes again. By leaving out Azor Ahai and switching the climactic resolutions of the political and fantastical stories so that the Night King is defeated first, the TV version robbed itself of the opportunity to have Jon Snow kill Daenerys, his lover, with his sword, which her soul can then go into and create a new Lightbringer, and he can use it to kill the Night King, making him Azor Ahai reborn, the Prince That Was Promised, and her the new Nissa Nissa.
That would be our clear guess for how the Azor Ahai prophecy will play out – once again, probably in A Dream of Spring rather than The Winds of Winter. But then, Jaime did have that dream about wielding a flaming sword, and Book Jaime certainly isn’t too happy with Cersei right now, so perhaps the Prince That Was Promised won’t be either Jon or Dany after all…
The Books Will Be Different
Martin has stated several times since the TV series ended that the ending to his story in the books will be different in some ways to what we saw on TV. That means all prophecies are still in play on the page, and although he has said that some things in the final two novels will turn out the same as the show, we can’t be sure which events he’s referring to until the books are published.
However, the extensive use of prophecy in the books does give us some idea of where some storylines might be going, and the differences between the books and the TV show are an even clearer signpost.
The TV show cut most of the dreams, visions, and prophecies originally written by Martin. That doesn’t necessarily mean the books will abandon them, too. But it does mean the prophecies that made it into the TV version are possibly the most important prophecies of all. We’ll just have to wait for The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring to know for sure.
In the meantime, you can watch prequel House of the Dragon starting on Aug. 14.