For decades, Bloodraven has been using the prophecy from the Woods Witch, among other things, for manipulating the Targaryens to bring back dragons. But for what? We’ve established who Bloodraven and Quaithe’s proposed Three Heads of the Dragon are. But what is the purpose and meaning of the Prince That Was Promised? And what is the Song of Ice and Fire? It’s time to get down to the true purpose of Jon and Daenerys.
Yes, we’re talking Jon and Dany getting married. Also we’ll talk old man Cregan Stark, (for those of you who care).
“I should have seen it. Fire consumes but cold preserves.” -Maester Aemon (Samwell III, AFFC)
The King in the North
Anyone really paying attention knows the major points about Jon. Presumably Jon is coming back to life after spending some time within Ghost, whether by way of Melisandre, or Lady Stoneheart, or both, or neither. The R+L=J theory makes him the likely son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, giving him a claim to the throne if they were married in front of a heart tree like many suspect. Now yes this claim wouldn’t be considered valid by most Westerosi custom, but in the absence of Stannis no one really has much claim, so his claim matters in the event of a great council or as a way to legitimize a military conquest. The fact that Jon will come back, has been basically confirmed by HBO. That he will be technically freed from his vows, is implicit and highly suggested. That we will eventually find out his secret parentage has been confirmed by Martin in SSM #159(whether this is through Bran, Melisandre, the Winterfell Crypts, Benjen, or Howland, is anyone’s guess). And how he will be changed by death after returning has been covered by other essays. Now to talk about where he goes from here, we have to go back a bit. And because this is Weirwood Leviathan, we’re going back to Bloodraven.
He rose and dressed in darkness, as Mormont’s raven muttered across the room. “Corn,” the bird said, and, “King,” and, “Snow, Jon Snow, Jon Snow.” That was queer. The bird had never said his full name before, as best Jon could recall. -Jon, ADWD
It’s clear by several hints throughout the story that Bloodraven is backing Jon. In fact, we really need to look no further than this when questioning why the Last Greenseer is against Aegon. Because Aegon isn’t Jon. Given Howland Reed‘s spiritual retreat to the Isle of Faces prior to the Tourney at Harrenhal, and his presence in the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree (and the ‘Tree’ aspect of that Knight), we have indication that Bloodraven had a hand in that situation, or at least knowledge of Jon’s parentage (though it should be noted that the Tower of Joy is located in the Red Mountains of Dorne, where the Old God’s have no power, so it’s questionable whether Rhaegar and Lyanna wanted to hide from the sight of the Old Gods. If they were even aware that is…) Though, aside from the Bloodraven + Quaithe connection, Bloodraven is clearly skin changing Lord Commander Mormont’s raven, which just like the raven in Bran’s dreams, prefers to eat corn. This raven also seems to cryptically support Jon. It enthusiastically emphasizes that Bran will “Live.” And then when Jon is in combat with a wight, it’s Mormont’s Raven which tells Jon to “Burn” the wight. And it outright calls Jon Snow “King.”
We can actually look at Bloodraven’s backing of Jon Snow as paralleling two important fantasy narratives, Arthurian Legend, and The Lord of the Rings.
The Once and Future King of the Andals and the First Men
You see, Bloodraven is actually GRRM’s parallel to the infamous wizard Merlin. For example, there’s a popular story about Merlin which parallels the Blackfyre rebellions which Brynden Rivers defended against, involving a prophecy about a battle between a Red dragon (representing Wales) and White dragon (representing the Saxons). And just like Merlin’s ultimate undoing is to be bound in the trunk of a tree by the Lady of the Lake, Bloodraven’s too is ultimately bound to a tree and has a similar love which is never fully requited to Shiera Seastar.
But my main focus for this parallel, is the legend where Merlin helps Uther Pendragon (Rhaegar Targaryen), use circumstances to trick Lady Igraine (Lyanna Stark) who is the wife (fiancé) of his enemy Gorlois (Robert Baratheon), into sleeping with him. This results in the siring of King Arthur (Jon) who due to the troubled times is taken by Merlin to be raised elsewhere in secret (in some instances hiding Arthur was Merlin’s price for helping Uther, in others it was for safe keeping). Similarly in ASOIAF, this conception between Rhaegar and Lyanna results in King Jon, who is ultimately taken to be raised in secret (Howland is seemingly also Merlin by proxy here).
Many of us know the popular story of how in order to prove himself the rightful King, Arthur pulls the infamous Sword from the Stone, which sat atop an anvil with the words “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone, is right wise King born of all England.” But it’s not often considered that it was Merlin himself who planted the sword in the stone, words and all, having arranged already Arthur’s birth. So in a sense, the sword in the stone was actually just Merlin’s trick, a physical piece of propaganda which would prove Arthur’s legitimacy in the eyes of all of England. This will likely be reflected in Jon and the Azor Ahai prophecy, which Bloodraven has used Melisandre spread to the North.
The Lord of the Greensight
Tolkein is an admitted major influence of Martin’s work, and I propose that Bloodraven is actually Martin’s answer to Gandalf. Gandalf the White (Bloodraven the Last Greenseer), while prepping mankind for war against the armies of Sauron (the Others), also uses this opportunity to supplant the Stewards of Gondor (the Baratheon line), with Aragorn (Jon), the one true King of Gondor(King of the Andals and the First Men) descended from a seemingly severed line called the Dunedain (the Targaryens), who actually hail from the Elendils (Valyrians) of the advanced civilization of Numenor (Valyria). Aragorn is disguised as a Northern Ranger called Strider (Northern Ranger/Lord Commander called Snow). In fact, when Aragorn leads the armies of men against Mordor as King, he even wears the sigil of the White Tree of Gondor (Weirwood Tree). May the Weirwood tree end up being Jon’s sigil, just as the Laughing Tree?
Even beyond this, Aragorn is fostered in Rivendell(Winterfell) under the care of Elrond (Ned Stark) who actually gives Aragorn the name Estel. Aragorn falls for Elrond’s daughter Arwen (Arya, who was supposed to fall in love with Jon in the original outline). And both Jon and Aragorn wield swords which can cut the dead.
And even beyond that, Gandalf sends Frodo (Bran) on a secret quest to take the Ring (Bran’s powers) into Mordor (North of the Wall). Of course, in this part of the metaphor Bloodraven is also the Eye of Sauron… and Hodor is Golem.
Metaphors aside. Besides claim, why would Bloodraven be backing Jon?
A Song of Tropes and Cliches
Discussion of why Jon is special, tends to focus on the abstract, the symbolic, and the intangible. We tend to look at cliche things like, Jon being a child of an ice Maiden and a dragon prince, “an embodied song of ice and fire”. We look at things like Jon being the Prince That Was Promised because Lyanna made Ned promise #promisemened, or Jon being the first ever “Starkgaryen”, or Jon being a first men + valyrian (not by any means the first one here mind you). Things like Jon being Azor Ahai because he will be reborn amidst salt and smoke, or things like Jon being Lightbringer because he was Rhaegar’s third attempt at creating a hero and supposedly killed his mother in childbirth.
Side note: If Rhaegar believed he was Azor Ahai, it makes sense why he chose Elia Martell as his Nissa Nissa.
Now all of these are relatively obvious readings of prophecy, but I personally find them all to be shallow and uninteresting, as they all revolve around abstract magical and semantic coincidences making Jon cosmically ordained to do and say all of the right things and be placed into the perfect circumstances to save the world. Sorry, but I think that’s boring and conceptually meaningless and lacking in substance. That is just using the fact that the author told you what will happen to explain why it happens. It doesn’t explain why.
Really though Jon fits into so many tropes and cliches that it’s often confusing to readers and fan speculation. Jon is a bastard of humble beginnings who likely has a secret origin/lineage which makes him King. He is a white male teenager who doesn’t get as much respect as he feels he should, but is constantly proving himself by being heroic. And he even gets to be good looking and fall in love with a girl. He reminds us of Aragorn, and King Arthur, and Luke Skywalker, and even Jesus. And he reflects the demographic which is culturally most pandered to.
As a result, fans tend to either unquestioningly accept that Jon is the cosmically ordained chosen one who will save the world for esoteric and convenient reasons because that is just what happens in fantasy, OR they presume that Jon will be the new Night’s King and lead the Others against humanity. But it’s more complicated than either of those. ASOIAF definitely doesn’t do convenient pandering heroism (and I expect the Night’s King Parallel for Jon has already been fulfilled with the Wildlings). Even the idea that a person is a hero because magic made them the hero is the opposite of what Martin writes, and it might as well just be ‘because they’re the main character and the author said so.’ Instead, let’s look at what does Jon bring to the table that Bloodraven (and his allies the Children of the Forest) would find advantageous? And I mean what SPECIFIC and TANGIBLE things make Jon special?
Jon, he will be King
Despite his “underdog” status, Jon Snow’s got a lot going for him. Raised a recognized bastard of Winterfell, though he is not a Stark, he’s still affiliated with the Stark family, one of the oldest, and easily in the top 5 most respected and powerful families in the realm. And as of late, the Northern Houses have turned to him in the absence of the Starks. He has a pet direwolf which he has the rare hereditary ability to skin change (which to be fair Bloodraven is probably using to keep tabs on him, as Ghost has the albino coloration of greenseers and weirwood trees). Jon was also given a White Walker slaying Valyrian steel bastard sword well before he really earned it, and given his Targaryen father he may well have the ability to ride a dragon. He has quickly risen to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he has the respect and perhaps allegiance of the Wildlings, and he is clearly going to get to come back to life, through the “power of R’hllor” which might give him the allegiance of some of Stannis’ followers as well. I mean how many in Westeros have so many advantages? Lucky guy right?
When we strip away abstract prophecy and symbolism, Jon actually has real political potential and thus he has specific use to Bloodraven. After all, Jon can remember, standing, by the wall. His direwolf, his connection and respect for the Old Gods, his potential blood of the dragon, his warg blood, his claim to the throne, his ability to carry the allegiance of the largest of the Seven Kingdoms, his focus on the threat of the Others… These are actual tangible attributes, as well as political realities which define Jon as a leader. And in Jon’s case, a potential king. But what does the King in the North really need? The King in the North needs a Queen… and dragons.
The cliche is real folks. Jon and Daenerys are the ultimate political alliance, and so they are being set up to get married.
… and Dany, she will be Queen
“Her silver was trotting through the grass, to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars. A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly. A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. . . . mother of dragons, bride of fire. . .” – Vision at the House of the Undying, ACOK Daenerys IV
And there is a very very clear cut allusion to this in the narrative. In the ‘Bride of Fire’ segment of Daenerys’ House of the Undying vision, Jon (the blue winter rose in the wall of ice), is depicted favorably, and is indicated to be Dany’s third and final marriage. The Mother of Dragons is already being prepped to be Jon’s Bride of Fire. This is something a lot of the fandom avoids looking at (I myself mentally blocked this passage out for a while because it seemed way too played out). For a notorious trope breaker like Martin, this feels like such a huge cliche. Jon and Daenerys, the two good looking teenage heroes of our story, meeting and getting married and saving the world together. It feels too convenient. It feels staged.
But that is just the point of it of it. It is convenient, and it is staged. As we’ve seen time and time again in this story, political marriages aren’t normally about love or romance, they are about brokering power, which is about creating a stable society. And a marriage between Jon and Dany, is the most advantageous possible political marriage to defeat the Others. Just as we learned in the Long Night, foreign war has a major societal effect of consolidating power. And any regime, any hero King and Queen that defeats the Others, will be respected.
And that’s really what we’re pushing towards isn’t it? Winter is Coming and a new War for the Dawn is imminent. Just like in the legends and prophecies. But rather than thinking of this War for the Dawn as an inevitable and totally symbolic/esoteric battle between the illogical and uncaring forces of ice and fire, let’s consider it a consequence of human action. A real war with a realistic purpose beyond the simplicity of good vs. evil, or a war for the preservation of humanity. It’s a war about power. A war about establishing Westeros under a new monarchy, and quieting the constant civil war which has plagued the continent since the dragons died. If it ever sounded too perfect or too orchestrated, it’s because it was. A Northern King and a Dragon Queen, to save the realm from winter and death, and to become the father and mother of a new dynasty, is almost like a song. A song of Ice and Fire.
This leaves the question, is Daenerys actually barren? Mirri Maz Durr tells her she is, but is that the truth? Did Mirri’s sorcery make her that way? After all she seems to suffer a miscarriage. Then again, after Summerhall and before having her, so did her mother Rhaella actually, many many times. But that may have been the work of maesters. Still, in a world where people come back to life, would Dany having a child be so strange? If magic made her infertile could magic undo that curse? Will Dany be able to have a child with Jon? or would Jon instead simply be Dany’s heir and be expected to marry someone else, like Arianne Martell to bring in Dorne (though Bloodraven probably doesn’t care much about Dorne)? or Val to bring in the wildlings? or even Sansa? Will a resurrected Jon even be able to make children? Would a seemingly magically infertile Dany specifically only be able to have a child with a magically resurrected Jon? Would that heir be a normal person even?
So, which is the Prince That Was Promised, Jon or Dany? And is there any precedent for a Targaryen Princess marrying a Northern Prince? Let’s talk about the Prince That Was Promised.
A Promise to an Old Man and his Old Gods
One of the most infamous Starks in the history of Westeros, is Cregan Stark. Cregan was the Lord of Winterfell during the famed Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. During the Dance, the larger numbers were behind the claim of Aegon II and the Greens, as the Greens followed Westerosi customs of succession which favored males. But Rhaenyra Targaryen and the Blacks, who had more dragons hatched on their side, are able to bring to their side among others, the Iron Islands, and the North. Dalton Greyjoy ‘The Red Kraken‘ brings Iron Islanders to the cause of the Blacks because rather than being promised titles or honors, the Blacks promised the chance to pillage and attack the Westerlands, appealing to the bloodlust and warrior culture of the Iron Islanders. So what did the Blacks promise Cregan Stark and North you might ask? Well, they promised a princess.
In what is called ‘The Pact of Ice and Fire‘, Prince Jacaerys Velaryon flies to Winterfell to meet with Lord Cregan Stark to gain the support of the North for the claim of his mother Rhaenyra Targaryen. This pact, among other things, promised that a Targaryen princess would marry into the Stark family. Now from a political standpoint, this is a strange choice on Cregan’s part, because if he wanted to increase the political power of the North, he would ask for a Stark maiden to marry a Targaryen Prince, or heir. Because that way, the Stark bloodline would work it’s way into the royal family, and the future monarch would be half Stark. Instead, Cregan specifically asks for a Targaryen princess, not to marry him, but simply to marry into the Stark family, which means it would be Targaryen blood which would make it’s way into the Stark family. And of course, this pact, like all pacts in the North, was made in front of a heart tree… before the Old Gods.
The Targaryens have magical blood/genes which allows the to tame and hatch dragons, and yet this doesn’t actually follow the name “Targaryen”, so unlike a last name, it can be passed from a father or a mother. And the practice of the Starks bringing magical blood into their line dates all the way back to the Age of Heroes, when the Starks defeated the Warg King, who ruled from Sea Dragon Point deep in the Wolfswood. Now the Warg King likely is an ancestor of the extinct House Greenwood, as well as House Blackwood, who claim to be descended from the Wolfswood. In any case, after the Starks defeated the Warg King, they killed his sons, his beasts, and his greenseers. But they took his daughters as prizes, thereby bringing Warg blood into their line. In fact, the Stark bloodline shows that Blackwoods are the only family from outside the North that the Starks marry their heir to. And during the Dance Cregan Stark was likely doing the same thing with the blood of the dragon. Trying to bring it into the Stark bloodline.
The Dance of the Dragons is a long story, but it ends in something called ‘The Hour of the Wolf‘, where Cregan Stark marches into King’s Landing for the Blacks to find Aegon II already poisoned by his own men, and eleven year old Aegon III (son of Rhaenyra) seated on the throne. Aegon III makes Cregan Stark hand of the King (not that he has a ton of choice in the matter), and Cregan Stark holds that office for a day. Although Cregan fought for the Blacks, he sought to punish all oath breakers equally, including those who had betrayed his enemy Aegon II. Corlys Velaryon, a prominent leader of the Blacks, is pardoned by the new King Aegon III, but Cregan (at this point holding all of the power), still wants to make Lord Corlys stand trial, as his honor will not allow him to pardon an oathbreaker even on his own side.
But even the honor bound Cregan, allows the pardon to stand in exchange for a marriage to Alysanne ‘Black Aly’ Blackwood. Now, this doesn’t technically fulfill the Pact of Ice and Fire, as Alysanne is not a Targayen princess, nor is she a reward for the Northern involvement in the war on behalf of the Blacks. That said, Black Aly is a Blackwood descended from the Warg King, which further cements the fact that Cregan was intent on bringing magical blood into the Stark Line. Likely due to a lack of post Dance Targaryen Princesses, and the subsequent Maidenvault incident, the Pact of Ice and Fire though, is never fulfilled… which could explain why Cregan ends up dueling Aemon the DragonKnight as some point…
They can be Heroes!
Together, Dany and Jon are set up to play out the two structurally defining moments in Westerosi history (as well as maybe the Dance of the Dragons, which may occur between Dany and Aegon, with Jon fulfilling the role of Cregan). These two moments are the Long Night, and Aegon’s Conquest. Daenerys is meant to arrive in Westeros, with the Seven Kingdoms basically separate and without order , and unify those Kingdoms with the might of dragons (unless of course Aegon VI throws a wrench in that). Meanwhile in the north, Jon (with Dany), is meant to lead Westeros in a foreign war against a winter apocalypse. But this time, after the new Long Night, the North will have dragons, and the dragon monarchy will lead the realm with a common purpose.
A union between a hero King and a hero Queen who defeat the Others is one for the whole realm to get behind. A union establishing a dragon monarchy to stabalize Westeros. In the words of Maester Aemon, “Fire consumes but cold preserves.” Daenerys and her dragons bring the fire of conquest, and Jon and the war with the Others brings the ice which binds the realm together. Jon is a unifying figure affiliated with one of the oldest most respected families in Westeros as well as the Night’s Watch, and war with a threatening foreign power brings the common unifying purpose that a conquering military force just can’t. That’s what it’s ALL been about. The prophecies, the red comet, the dragons, the visions, the Others, the marriage, and the Ragnarok-like War for the Dawn…. The Song of Ice and Fire isn’t about hot and cold fighting or a love story between a Prince who happens to be from a dragon bloodline and a maiden that happens to be from a place where it’s cold. It’s about remaking the world.
“Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?” – (GRRM on Tolkein)
But… what kind of a world will it be? We assume that our heroes winning in the end is right because we cheer for them, but what kind of a structure do our protagonists bring with them? Because according to Bloodraven’s plan at least; Jon, he will be King. And Dany, she will be Queen.
I’d like to thank everyone for reading this far. In part 8 we’re going to finally reach the root of everything. What kind of a world is Bloodraven building? Who are the true heroes and who are the villains of ASOIAF? Why is this all happening now? We’re finally getting to the Children of the Forest, the Children of Pride, and Bran Stark the little Prince of Winterfell.