Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Interpreting prophecies in the Universe of Ice and Fire
The often-discussed subjects in A Song of Ice and Fire: Prophecies, dreams and visions, are frequently mixed up with curses, which are entirely different matters. The former, are forms of augury while the latter are hexes or maledictions inflicted on a person or object as punishment with the intent of causing harm.
Unequivocally, the castle of Harrenhal is cursed. After hundreds of years, the castelans and lords of the castle continue meeting terrible ends. That curse was likely put on the castle by the Children of the Forest because it was built in the sacred land at the edge of the God’s Eye.
Daenerys, in ‘a Game of Thrones’ cursed herself by drawing Viserys’s blood in Vaes Dothrak, the sacred land of the Dothraki, where blood could not be spilled. She proceeds by holding the sandsilk cloak splattered with his blood against her pregnant belly with one of the dragon’s egg, offering, that way, her unborn son as sacrifice for her disobedience.
Mirri Maz Duur later curses Daenerys as well, claiming that Khal Drogo would return when a succession of events happened – "When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child.” (AGOT Daenerys IX)
There were several curses thrown as gifts to the attentive readers – Religion is one of the mediums for curses. Lady Catelyn says so herself: “The Gods must have their due” (AGOT Catelyn XI) – She, evidently, cursed Bran by asking that he didn’t leave Winterfell to go to King’s Landing with Ned.
Lord Rickard Karstark cursed Robb with: “Kill me and be cursed. You are no king of mine” (ASOS Catelyn III)
There is the curse for kinslaying (“No man is as cursed as the kinslayer”), the curse of the Tower of the Hand, which reads somewhat like Voldemort and the position of Defense against the Dark Arts – once Lord Tywin left the position during King Aerys’s reign, every Hand of the King met a tragic end, until he himself got hit by his own curse - there is also the curse of the Rat Cook with his prince-and-bacon pie and on and on it goes. Curses fill the pages of the books and offer the readers plenty of fun and tragic material.
Prophecies are different. They come as an offering to the characters in the shape of dreams or visions and they are really fickle. George R.R. Martin himself has said:
“Prophecy is a staple element in fantasy, but it’s tricky. You want to play with the notion of prophecies coming true but in an unexpected way. You want to be unpredictable about it.”
He goes on to explain aspects of prophecies that are misinterpreted and then he gives us the exact idea of his vision – when “the sea goes to Winterfell” and "the sea" is represented by the Iron Islanders with Theon.
A person who dedicates wholeheartedly to prophecies is bound to be disappointed. The crones of the Dosh Khaleen proclaimed: “Khalakka dothrae!” The prince is riding. In reality, Rhaego may never have been the “Stallion that will mount the world”. Daenerys is likely to be the stallion who will unite all the khalasars and with her dragons, ride bringing fear into people’s hearts, burning cities to the ground and trampling nations into dust. The vision was not wrong, just the interpretation.
In the house of the undying the visions are many and some of them show events that could never happen because somehow, reality changed – and at the same time, she saw events that were and would be. She sees a beautiful woman sprawled naked on the floor while four little men crawled over her. The beautiful woman, evidently, was Westeros and the four men were Stannis, Robb, Joffrey and Baelon, destroying the land with their war of five kings (The fifth, Renly, was already dead when she went into the house). She saw the Red Wedding, her past, followed by her father during the sacking of King’s Landing, her brother Rhaegar and a baby whose song was “the song of ice and fire”, leading the reader to some interesting conclusions, as it might suggest that it was a vision of the past, prince Rhaegar and princess Elia, they had baby Aegon, and that was even "confirmed" by George, but it isn’t possible as prince Rhaegar was an intelligent man and would never say that the cross between Fire and Sun would provide “Ice and Fire”, or it might be due to a prophecy he read, or even yet, it might be that it was prince Rhaegar and lady Lyanna, which suggests that child is one of two or that he considered himself to be one, because, unequivocally, he says there must be one more as the dragon had three heads. Either way, it’s a prophecy that didn’t work because princess Elia gave birth to baby Aegon and was told she couldn’t have any more children and Lyanna gave birth after prince Rhaegar had already perished, making it a vision of the "would be" instead of was or will be.
Cersei Lannister is another character with a prophecy about herself. The certain death of her children and the loss of all she holds dear makes her act trying to diffuse the prophecy, hating the women who are bound to marry her boys, never considering the inevitable arrival of the evidently “younger and more beautiful” person who will take her crown and power, which is the only thing she has ever held dear. That person, obviously, would never marry a Lannister.
Lady Melisandre is desperate for fitting lord Stannis to the prophecy of Azor Ahai. She goes the other extreme as lady Cersei, where one tries to fruitlessly avoid, the other pushes to fruition.
The character who seems to best understand prophecies, is Daenerys, who is constantly part of the mystery aspect of the story. She accepts prophecies, thinks about them, but understands they are fickle. Once she hears or is exposed to a prophecy, she remembers them and tries to fit them to her story as it goes, but doesn’t allow them to dictate her actions.
And from all prophecies, the most valuable one is the prophecy for the Prince that was Promised, the prophecy that is not written in the books, but it meant the future of the realm and as long as the prophecies are absorbed without fact, they are a great source of fun to the readers. As lady Melisandre said: "An ant who hears the words of a king may not comprehend what he is saying and all men are ants before the fiery face of god. If sometimes I have mistaken a warning for a prophecy or a prophecy for a warning, the fault lies in the reader, not the book." (ASOS Davos V)