In the world of Game of Thrones theories, it’s almost become a joke to claim that various characters are actually Azor Ahai — the mythical hero destined to save the world from the Long Night. But the Season 7 premiere offers surprisingly sound evidence that it’s Sandor Clegane: the Hound.
As a refresher, Melisandre has mentioned Azor Ahai, or the prince that was promised, before. He’s a mythical hero who saved the world from darkness years ago, wielding a flaming sword called Lightbringer. He had to kill his wife in order to forge it, and he’s supposed to be “reborn” to save the world from darkness again.
For a while Melisandre thought Stannis was Azor Ahai reborn. After she proved to be incredibly wrong about that, she pivoted to Jon Snow.
The conditions of this rebirth call for a rebirth “amidst salt and smoke.” From A Clash of Kings:
There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour 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, and the darkness shall flee before him.
The clearest textual evidence points to Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen. Both have experience with fire and rebirth, and both are characters who have existed on the fringes of the story for a long time. Surely they have important destinies ahead — and what’s more important than saving the world?
On the other hand, because Jon and Daenerys are the obvious candidates, it would be just like Game of Thrones to pick someone surprising and unexpected, like a foul-mouthed, scarred warrior with an affinity for chicken.
The Hound has been reborn, too, since he nearly died at the end of Season 4. Ian McShane’s Brother Ray brought him back in Season 6. Thanks to the childhood incident in which his brother, the Mountain, burnt his face in fire, the “salt and smoke” elements are there. But the Season 7 premiere offered the most evidence when he actually saw a vision in the flames.
The belief in Azor Ahai is linked to the Lord of Light, but not just anyone can see images in the flames. It’s significant that the Hound apparently can. Presumably, the Lord of Light would allow his special champion to see visions in the flames.
Of course, there are still elements of the legend the Hound has yet to fulfill. There’s Azor Ahai’s legendary sword Lightbringer and the murder of a wife or loved one. But Game of Thrones is rarely straightforward. Sandor Clegane seemed to hold a fraternal love for Ian McShane’s Brother Ray, who died. He’s also fully responsible for the death of the farmer and his daughter he buried in Season 7’s “Dragonstone”. They could potentially fill in the “sacrificial death” aspect.
As for the flaming sword, his travel buddy Beric Dondarrion has one. If Beric dies for good in the wars to come, the Hound could easily get possession of his sword.
If a gruff, crass, and former comic-relief character ended up saving the world instead of an obvious hero, that would be a very Game of Thrones-like twist.
Game of Thrones Season 7 is currently airing Sunday nights on HBO.