Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are filled with prophecies, foretellings, visions, dreams about the future, and all manner of portents… some of them more important than others.
Two prophecies in particular stand out among the pack, foreboding how the series will end and how humanity can defeat the Others. One is the legend of The Prince That Was Promised. The other, intimately linked to it, is the prophecy that claims “the dragon has three heads.” So who are the three heads of the dragon, and why does it matter? Although much more will be revealed when author George R.R. Martin finally reveals more about Winds of Winter and its upcoming release date, here’s what we know so far.
In A Clash of Kings, Daenerys enters the House of the Undying in Qarth, and under the influence of warlock magic she sees strange visions. One of them goes like this:
The man [she saw] had her brother’s hair, but he was taller, and his eyes were a dark indigo rather than lilac. “Aegon,” he said to a woman nursing a newborn babe in a great wooden bed. “What better name for a king?”
“Will you make a song for him?” the woman asked.
“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany’s, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. “There must be one more,” he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in the bed he could not say. “The dragon has three heads.”
The man is Rhaegar Targaryen, her older brother. In A Feast For Crows, Maester Aemon (also a Targaryen) also says that “the dragon must have three heads.” The books never spell out the exact meaning, but the implication seems clear: Rhaegar was foreseeing the looming danger of the Long Night and the return of the Others… and that only a (metaphorical) three-headed dragon could save the world. With the birth of Daenerys’s dragons, the prophecy came into clearer focus: these dragons needed riders, three champions to stand up against evil.
Rhaegar’s prophecy didn’t appear in such explicit terms in Game of Thrones, and for good reason: the show’s approach to the White Walkers (known in the books as The Others) is quite different from what the books have foreshadowed. The only dragonriders in the show were Daenerys and Jon Snow (remember their sexy dragon ride together, just before everything went way downhill?), and the Night King, who rather rudely killed Viserion, resurrected him as a dragon-wight, and hopped aboard. In the show, the dragon didn’t have three heads. But Winds of Winter is likely to go in a different direction.
The First Head of the Dragon: Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys is essentially indisputable as one of Rhaegar’s three heads of the dragons. She is, after all, the Mother of Dragons, the one living Targaryen with truly undisputed heritage, the only person in three hundred years to actually ride a dragon, and possibly even The Prince That Was Promised and/or Azor Ahai reborn.
The books repeatedly set up Daenerys as a parallel to her ancestor Aegon the Conqueror, who conquered Westeros with his two sisters, each riding a dragon. She’s preparing to do the same, and if she does so alongside two male Targaryens, it will be a perfect mirror image of Aegon’s original conquest. Daenerys may very well break bad before the end of the books and ransack King’s Landing, but it’s safe to say she’s going to play a key role in saving the world first.
The Second Head of the Dragon: Jon Snow
Jon Snow is almost certainly one of the heads of the dragon; almost every relevant prophecy in the books, as well as analogous plot points in the show, point in that direction. Game of Thrones season 7 confirmed something that book fans have suspected for years, but hasn’t yet been revealed in the novels: that Jon Snow is not actually Ned Stark’s bastard, but the trueborn son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen (and the first and only child in Westerosi history to share both Stark and Targaryen blood). Between the reveal of his true heritage in the show, his romance with Aunt Daenerys, and the numerous teases and hints in the books that Ned Stark lied about Jon, it would almost be more surprising at this point if Jon wasn’t truly a Targaryen. Indeed, Rhaegar’s motivation in seeking out Lyanna may have come from the prophecy itself. He believed that the dragon needed three heads, and may have foreseen that he needed another child. One that united both ice and fire.
There’s really only good argument against Jon Snow being one of the heads of the dragons: He’s dead.
Almost nine years after the release of A Dance With Dragons, it’s easy to forget that Jon Snow dies at the end, killed by his own men in the Night’s Watch, and nothing has happened in the intervening almost-decade to change that. Of course, the likeliest scenario is that he’ll come back to life in The Winds of Winter, revived by Melisandre’s magic and the power of the Lord of Light, just as he was brought back in Game of Thrones season 6. But until it happens in the books, which would require George R. R. Martin to actually finish writing Winds of Winter, we can’t take it for granted.
The Third Head of the Dragon
Option 1: Aegon “Young Griff” Targaryen
Now for the fun ones. The third head of the dragon remains a great mystery, and will remain so at least until Winds of Winter comes out. But there is one easy answer: Young Griff, the youth Tyrion meets while wandering in Essos. Tyrion finds out that Young Griff is actually Aegon Targaryen, Rhaegar’s eldest son, who was believed killed during Robert’s Rebellion. Supposedly, Varys smuggled the real Aegon out of the city and has secretly been raising the child to be a king. By the end of A Dance With Dragons, Aegon has launched an invasion of Westeros, backed by the Golden Company, and intends to press his claim to the throne… one that is technically stronger than Daenerys’s, although her dragons may tip the scales in that regard.
If it was all so cut and dry, Aegon would seem to be indisputably the third head of the dragon. He is referred to as The Prince That Was Promised in Rhaegar’s prophecy itself, seemingly directly. But it’s not quite so easy. Because there’s plenty of evidence that Aegon Targaryen isn’t actually a Targaryen. In A Dance with Dragons, the warlock Quaithe warns Daenerys that
The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.
Young Griff, alias “Aegon Targaryen,” may well be that “mummer’s dragon,” a false Targaryen under the control of Varys, who was once a mummer. Many fans believe Aegon is secretly a Blackfyre, the bastard offshoot of the Targaryens that repeatedly tried to overthrow them. And if that’s true, his status as the third head of the dragon is a lot less likely.
In that case, the child Daenerys sees in her vision is not actually Aegon at all, and the woman not his mother Rhaella. Instead, she may have been Lyanna Stark, and the child an infant Jon Snow, who may also be named Aegon.
Option 2: Tyrion “Secretly a Targaryen” Lannister
Tyrion Lannister has always been the ultimate fan-favorite character in A Song of Ice and Fire. So it’s no surprise that readers have eagerly linked him to Rhaegar’s prophecy, hoping that the Imp would finally gain the respect he deserves. It all starts with the widely held theory that Tyrion could himself be a Targaryen, the bastard son of the Mad King and Joanna Lannister. Even the show has nodded at this possibility, and Tyrion seems to be sizing up the dragons on at least one occasion. But, fun though this theory is, the textual evidence is relatively slim.
And really, most of the satisfaction would have been seeing Peter Dinklage ride a dragon and finally get his revenge on Cersei. With the end of the show, that ship has sailed.
Option 3: Euron Greyjoy
Unlike the other options presented so far, Euron Greyjoy doesn’t have any Targaryen blood, although he has a different claim to the dragons: he has traveled to the smoking ruins of Valyria and retrieved an ancient dragonbinder horn. With this, he may be able to take control of one of Daenerys’s dragons, similar to what the Night King did in the show.
But does this mean he could be one of the heads of the dragon? If he steals a dragon from Daenerys, he will immediately become her most dangerous enemy, not a potential ally against the Others. But prophecies work in mysterious ways, so don’t count Euron out… even if he does end up being the ultimate villain of the series.
Option 4: Bran Stark
Bran Stark, the three-eyed crow, has long been a fan favorite as a potential head of the dragon. Here’s the logic: according to the prophecy, the dragon must have three heads, and the prince that was promised has a song… the song of ice and fire. Daenerys, a trueborn Targaryen, is pure fire. Jon Snow, the child of both Stark and Targaryen blood, represents ice and fire mixed together. But Bran, a Stark who has learned the old magic from the last greenseer and the children of the forest, represents pure ice. This is similar to the reason why some fans believe Bran Stark is actually evil, but flipped on its head.
Bran, of course, won’t be doing any dragonriding. But he has the power to warg his mind into other creatures, including humans. Who’s to say he can’t also warg into a dragon? After all, the last greenseer told Bran he would never walk again… but that he would learn to fly.
Also, Bran Stark is the New York Public Library’s semi-official guess for the third head of the dragon. Plan accordingly.
Option Zero: Anyone You Want, Or No One
The great thing about prophecies is that they can be interpreted in a boundless number of ways. And with nine years since the release of A Dance with Dragons, readers have had no shortage of time to come up with wacky ideas on the identity of the third head of the dragon. Some say it’s Jaime Lannister, who could be Azor Ahai reborn. Or Arya Stark. Or Stannis’s daughter, Shireen Baratheon. Or Brown Ben Plumm, the sellsword commander of the Second Sons mercenary company, who has a drop or two of Targaryen blood. Or that Daenerys herself is all three heads of the dragon. Or that Rhaegar was wrong about the prophecy altogether, and the whole thing is misdirection, or metaphorical rather than literal, or has nothing to do with dragonriders, or is sheer vanity on his part. The possibilities are limitless!
And let’s not forget the most plausible theory of all, the one we all know in our hearts to be true: that the dragons don’t matter in the least, because the true Prince That Was Promised is Stannis Baratheon, and only he can save Westeros from the Others. It has to be true. Melisandre told him so.
We won’t know the truth until Winds of Winter comes out.