Well, obviously she’s attractive, that’s not my point.
This post discusses elements from the first three seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. There will not be any spoilers regarding future plot points from the books. If you are up to date on the show, this post should not be considered dark and full of terrors.
Game of Thrones can loosely be described as a realistic fantasy (moreso in the beginning admittedly), there are fantasy elements but they are usually more behind the scenes. The average person of Westeros might hold superstitious beliefs while never seeing anything supernatural.
There are notable exceptions, north of the Wall roam the restless murderous dead and their frozen commanders, the White Walkers. Across the sea are warlocks and dragons. But close to home, things seem pretty mundane. Except at the Baratheon fortress of Dragonstone.
Serving Stannis Baratheon, the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, is the mysterious and magical Melisandre of Asshai. Certainly she possesses power, but how much? I thought I’d fire off a post on what she can do, what she might be able to do, and what’s probably just smoke.
Magic of the Red God
Of the four religions presented in Game of Thrones, R’hllor, Melisandre’s deity of choice, seems to nearly have a monopoly on overt power. Besides Melisandre’s various powers (to be discussed), Thoros of Myr certainly did something special when he unexpectedly resurrected Beric Dondarrion. And then resurrected him again and again. The Drowned God just seems to be all wet, and the Seven Gods have certainly inspired the building of septs, but aren’t that adept at keeping High Septons from being torn apart by hungry crowds.
The Old Gods may or may not be behind the northern mystical events of direwolf-controlling and three-eyed crow dreams. So I can’t count them out just yet. But something’s happening with the followers of the Red God.
But lets see what she’s done, and try to be skeptical. Shall we? We shall? Bully!
Prophecy and Profits
Melisandre is big on “I saw this in the flames” or “I saw that in the flames” but that seems a bit Sylvia Browne to me. The prediction business is pretty safe when there’s not much attention paid to misses and lucky hits can be blown out of proportion.
For example, Melisandre mentions to Mathos, Davos’ son that “a death by fire is the purest death.” After the Battle of Blackwater where Mathos (and thousands) died burning, Davos brings up those words and Melisandre gloats and gloats.
That seems pretty significant on Melisandre’s part, and it very well might be that Melisandre saw Mathos’ upcoming demise in flame. But, for all we know, Melisandre just drops fire-fortune-cookie pithy sayings all the time.
Dude: Morning, Miss Melisandre. Here’s your breakfast.
Melisandre: Thank you! The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long!
Dude: My lady, his grace requests your presence in the map room, and to not wear anything complicated.
Melisandre: Yes, yes. And remember, only you can prevent forest fires.
So, I’m not willing to give Melisandre much credit on prophecy, until we start getting some solid predictions. Preferably about Book Six and Book Seven A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s the prediction gold standard, yo.
Hard Drinking Lady
At the beginning of Season Two, Melisandre had convinced Stannis Baratheon to renounce the traditional Seven Gods of Westeros in favor of the red god, R’hllor. The maester who served Stannis decided that this was a dangerous path for the future king of Westeros, and stoically shared a cup of poison with Melisandre. He died and she didn’t break a sweat.
Now, I’ve seen The Princess Bride, so surviving poison isn’t always that mysterious. Had she been taking minute amounts of poison for years to develop an immunity? Did she routinely take antidotes? Or is there something magical about her the kept her safe from poison?
Without any other evidence, I’ll say magical. (Her throat amulet was also pulsing at the time of her survival and Cressen’s death, so that kind of reinforces magic.)
Still, surviving poison doesn’t seem to be that shocking or impressive a power.
Blood Magic, Slug Magic
In Season Three, Melisandre puts off Stannis’ suggestion that they get busy and work on more shadowy assassins. Instead, Melisandre heads off on a vision quest and comes back with one of Robert Baratheon’s bastard sons. (Whoa, I might have to give Melisandre’s prophecy powers more points. Her visions led her to Gendry. Okay I’ll say she’s got a magical GPS. Or a really impressive spy network.)
Melisandre’s position is that Gendry has king’s blood in his veins, and his blood can be used for some tremendous spell. Stannis opts not to go all in on that plan. A test is made, where slugs filled with Gendry’s blood are ritually destroyed and the three remaining usurpers, Joffrey, Balon, and Robb Stark are named.
Soon after, Robb Stark dies at the Red Wedding, and Melisandre is quick to take credit.
Now, I’m not saying that Melisandre’s magic couldn’t have been involved. But I’m pretty sure Robb was killed by mundane treachery. There were no skulking shadows, or flying daggers, or goblins. Or fire, really.
I give Melisandre no credit.
Bouncing Baby Bogeyman
Much more impressive is the magical assassin that killed Renly, birthed in a cave by a super pregnant Melisandre. Okay, I know that being pregnant is a binary deal. You are either pregnant or you are not. No one is more or less pregnant, slightly pregnant, or very pregnant.
But Melisandre has sex with Stannis on the map table and two weeks later, goes from being svelte and slim on one day and great with child the next. And she gives birth to a smoky, shadowy murderous thing.
That’s super-pregnant. That’s supernaturally pregnant.
I can’t adequately explain the shadow assassin rationally. We know from the Warlocks in Qarth that there is a precedent for illusion, so I can imagine Davos being fooled into believing Melisandre was pregnant and birthing a demon. That’d be a pretty serious prank on her part.
But for Renly to be killed by an illusion? I can’t explain that.
Totally magical. And impressive.
Melisandre is the real deal when it comes to birthing magical assassins. Although on the show she’s only done it once. It might not be that easily reproducible. (See what I did there. Reproduce? I apologize) no matter how much Stannis would offer to try.
But other than birthing bane-babies, her magical ability to find bastards, and her resistance to poison, she doesn’t seem super magical.
But that’s a good thing. Not just because she’s a bad influence on Stannis, but from a story-telling point of view, I’d rather there be some questions about her abilities. I’m cool either way if her prophetic powers are the real deal, or if we’ve only seen her successes.
And time for a poll:
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved