Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire.
Prophecy is a tricky thing in the world of Game of Thrones — you hear them all the time, but whether they come true is a matter of interpretation, and interpretations can vary wildly. It's like the red comet in season two — everyone thought it was a portent about their situation (whether Robb would win a battle in the South, whether the Lannisters would rule all seven kingdoms, and so on). "Stars don't fall for men," our doomed Osha said. "A red comet means one thing — dragons." Maybe she was right, maybe not. But what does knowing about a prophecy do to help guide you in this world?
Good luck making sense of them, or expecting them to turn out the way you interpret. "Prophecy is like a half-trained mule," Tyrion complains in the books. "It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head." Another character puts it more bluntly: "Prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with pleasure ... and then her teeth snap shut. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time." Or as Jaime Lannister said earlier this season, "Fuck prophecy." Whether you believe in it or not, most of the characters in this world do, so here's a refresher on two of the prophecies most relevant in Sunday night’s episode.
The Stallion Who Mounts the World. When Daenerys first visits Vaes Dothrak and eats a stallion's heart, the Dosh Khaleen prophesize about the Stallion Who Mounts the World. The Stallion is the khal of khals, who will unite the Dothraki into a single khalasar and ride to the ends of the earth, with all the people of the world as his herd, as promised in an ancient prophecy. Vaes Dothrak is considered the holiest of cities, and no blood is to be shed there, because the riders believe that, one day, all the khalasars will gather together there once more beneath the banners of this great khal. In the books, we're told that this prince will be "fierce as a storm," that his enemies will "tremble," and their wives will "weep tears of blood and rend their flesh in grief." (In the books, the Dosh Khaleen priestess seems terrified that this could come to pass. In the show, this is a moment of triumph.)
Dany interprets the prophecy to mean the Stallion is the unborn child in her womb, whom she names Rhaego. Mirri Maz Duur also seems to accept this interpretation when she says that because Rhaego was stillborn, "Now he will burn no cities. Now his khalasar will trample no nations into dust." But what if the Dosh Khaleen did not mean Rhaego? After all, Dany ends up having other "children" — she is the mother of dragons. What if Drogon is the Stallion? Or what if Dany herself is the Stallion? Certainly, the Dothraki now bowing down to her might believe that.
The Prince Who Was Promised/Azor Ahai Reborn. Melisandre used to believe that Stannis was the fulfillment of this prophecy, but now she believes it is Jon Snow, as she told Davos. (Even he was confused about her change of heart.) But what is this prophecy, and what does it mean? We first heard the red priestess speak of it the evening she was burning effigies of the Seven, on the night of the red comet. The champion she was preaching about is alternately called the Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire, the Lord's chosen, the Prince Who Was Promised, and Azor Ahai.
The prophecy, written in ancient books of Asshai, says that "there will come a day after a long summer, when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world," Melisandre explains in the books. "In this dread hour, a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword will be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and that darkness shall flee before him." This hero is supposed to lead the living in the war for the dawn, which is interpreted to be the fight against the White Walkers, to prevent the Long Night from coming again. All those who die for this hero shall be reborn, and the hero's triumph should bring a summer that will never end.
The original Azor Ahai, it's said, performed his deeds before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age. He forged his hero's blade in sacred fires, but it took a couple of tries before he could temper it. The first time, he plunged it in water, and it burst. The second time, he tried by plunging it in a lion's heart, but the steel shattered. The third time, he had to plunge the sword through the living heart of his beloved wife, Nissa Nissa, and it was the blood sacrifice that saved the steel. (This is the part that should worry anyone who tries to follow the terms of the prophecy to the letter — you'd have to kill the person you love the most.)
Other cultures in this world share a version of this story, but give it a different name — Hyrkoon the Hero, Yin Tar, Nefarion, Eldric Shadowchaser. All speak of a great warrior who rose to save the race of men against the darkness, to restore light to the world. Whoever it is, the hero is supposed to be reborn, and to wake dragons out of stone. Mel used to think that meant Dragonstone, Stannis's home base, and that might have been why she sought out Stannis in the first place. The rest of the Red Temple priests and priestesses, however, seem to think this hero is not a prince, but a princess, and that it is Dany, because she brought dragons into the world. And now, of course, the latest candidate is Jon, thanks to his resurrection.
Could Dany be the embodiment of one belief, and Jon the other? Could Dany be both? Could neither be true, just fanciful tales that have lasted through the ages, which these characters believe in to their own detriment? If only Melisandre's fires came with instruction manuals.