Beyond The Wall

What the Big 'Dragon Has Three Heads' Theory Means for Jon Snow's 'Thrones' Future

jon snow and drogon the dragon
HBO
This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 5, "Eastwatch," and every episode before it. Visit our "Beyond the Wall" hub for more GoT recaps, theories, and spoilers.

Jon Snow has finally touched a dragon.

For fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, it was a moment more than twenty years in the making, since 1996's A Game of Thrones first teased Jon’s Targaryen roots. Now that it’s more or less confirmed that Jon is a true-born Targaryen prince, his emotional encounter with Drogon has the added weight of destiny. The blood family he always desired is literally at his fingertips.

The next logical step in Jon’s dragon journey? Riding a dragon, of course. The question is which one. Drogon is Daenerys’s baby, but she could let Jon ride Rhaegal, who’s named after his father – and her brother. The incest angle might complicate things, but a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing, and Dany of all people should be happy to have a dragon rider who deserves a place at her side.

But who will ride the third dragon? This is the burning question at the center of the "dragon has three heads," a long-gestating fan theory that purports a mythic Targaryen prophecy, one that’s tied intrinsically to The Prince That Was Promised and the fate of Westeros. The prophecy has many interpretations, and fans have debated the accuracy of it for years now. Is it about literal dragon riders, or the Targaryen line in general? Are Jon and Dany heads of the dragon, or merely red herrings?

Let’s dig into the popular theory, its possible meaning, and what it could mean for Game of Thrones going forward.

daenerys season 4 house of the undying vision
HBO

The theory begins in the House of the Undying

Back in Season 2, Daenerys entered the mystifying House of the Undying after the warlock Pyatt Pree kidnapped her dragons. The Qarth-based structure is an ancient ruin full of magic, where visitors encounter prophetic visions. On the show, Dany sees the Iron Throne covered in snow, walks north of the Wall, and is tempted by the specter of Khal Drogo and their unborn son. It’s all a rouse of temptation meant to disarm the Dragon Queen, but she emerges unscathed, with her dragons in tow, having resisted the magic within.

In the books, this event plays out much differently. Instead of straightforward and familiar imagery, Dany’s visions are psychedelic and metaphorical. She sees the body of a naked woman being ravaged by small dwarves, her childhood home in Braavos, the Mad King surrounded by flames, and a feast of slaughtered corpses where a dead man with a wolf’s head sits atop a throne – foreshadowing the Red Wedding.

She also sees a vision of who readers believe to be her brother, Rhaegar, naming his newborn son Aegon. The woman nursing Aegon asks Rhaegar if he’ll make a song for the boy, to which he responds: "He has a song. He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire." Rhaegar then looks at Dany and says, "There must be one more. The dragon has three heads."

jon snow touches a dragon season 7 game of thrones
HBO

What the the prophecy is likely referring to

Prince Rhaegar, son of the Mad King, brother Daenerys, and instigator of Robert’s Rebellion, is a fascinating character we know only through the memories of those who knew him. Though he lives in infamy as the "kidnapper" of Lyanna Stark, his friends – and even some of his enemies – remember a softer soul who played his harp, sang to the lowborn, and was fiercely intelligent, noble, and quietly tender.

Rhaegar was also obsessed with prophecies, to his own undoing. He believed that his direct bloodline would produce the Prince That Was Promised, a hero who would save the world of men from the next Long Night. Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, sister of Oberyn, and with her produced two children: a daughter named Rhaenys and a son named Aegon. At first, Rhaegar believed Aegon was the prince that was promised, but had an apparent change of heart after learning his sickly wife could have no more children. Another ancient Targaryen prophecy spoke of the return of dragons, specifying the dragons would have "three heads." Though it’s never spelled out in the text, one can assume that -- given Rhaegar’s words in Dany’s vision -- that he believed the two prophecies were related.

Though fans have spent a great deal of time wondering who the heads might be and why they’re important -- many believe the three heads pertain to Dany's three dragons and the individuals who will one day ride them into battle -- the easiest explanation is pretty simple: the heads refer to Rhaegar’s children, and Jon is the third. We know that Rhaegar ran off with Lyanna, married her after annulling his union with Elia, and had Jon. So it’s likely that Rhaegar’s words about Aegon – "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire" – are really about Jon, his third legitimate and only living heir.

This books are a little more complicated. A boy claiming to be Aegon shows up in A Dance With Dragons and plans to challenge Daenerys’s claim. But his absence on the show, which will follow Martin’s master plan, indicates he’s a phony and that Jon is the prince after all.

tyrion dragons
HBO

If the prophecy is about riders, Tyrion might be the third

If I’m wrong and the three heads do refer to dragon riders, there are a few options for who might be the third, after Jon and Dany. Bran is one possibility. Recall the OG Three-Eyed Raven’s words to him in Season 4: "You will never walk again, but you will fly." Though this probably just refers to his raven-warging – which we saw in this week’s episode, "Eastwatch" – it could also refer to dragon-warging.

The prophecy could also refer to the potential child of Jon and Daenerys. The Prince That Was Promised theory fits both of them, which could mean their union will secure the next true-born heir and protector of men. Yes, Dany is infertile, but with magic back in Westeros, and the collision of destiny and prophecy, the alchemy may be right for a new Targaryen baby. And remember what Dany called her unborn son with Khal Drogo? The Stallion Who Mounts the World. In Dothraki legend, that’s the name for the savior of men; it’s just another way of saying the Prince That Was Promised or Azor Ahai. Could Dany, like her brother Rhaegar, have had the wrong child in mind?

And then, of course, there’s Tyrion Lannister. In Season 6, he bonded with Dany’s dragons when he released them from their chains in Meereen. There’s a popular and controversial theory in Thrones fandom that suggests Tyrion might also be a Targaryen. His mother, Joanna, was an object of lust for the Mad King, and the timeline works out just right that she may have been in his presence around the time of Tyrion’s conception.

Though the idea of another secret Targaryen is exciting, it would undo Tyrion’s complicated relationship with Tywin, which is a lynchpin of his characterization. Tyrion’s conflicting emotions about siding with an enemy force and his emotional reunion with Jaime become way less interesting if Tyrion is a Targaryen. It also robs Jon’s development of its importance if anyone might be a secret Targ.

But does Tyrion have to be a Targaryen to be a dragon-rider? Sort of. The only known riders in A Song of Ice and Fire were all of the Targaryen bloodline. Dragons were more common in ancient Valryia, where the Targaryens hail from, but all of those families were lost in the Doom, a mysterious event that destroyed the Valyrian Freehold and all who lived there. The Targaryens are the only major family who survived, and thus the only ones still connected to dragons.

Which takes us back to Jon, his past, and his potential future with Daenerys. Together, they’re the basis of all the major prophecies. Only time will tell if it's as individuals or as parents that their fates will be fulfilled.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Lindsey Romain is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She covers politics for Teen Vogue and has also appeared in Vulture, Birth.Movies.Death, and more. Follow her on Twitter @lindseyromain.