Fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones (or fans of the book series it’s based on) will no doubt be familiar with the character of Melisandre of Asshai. She’s pretty memorable.
Some pretty interesting stuff happened in the most recent season involving Melisandre, and I’m going to be talking about that. So if you’re not caught up on her story, you’ve been warned.
A Dimming of the (Lord of) Light
This season featured Melisandre possibly at her lowest. Her faith that Stannis Baratheon was the chosen of her god, R’hllor, proved to be mostly unfounded. On the morning of an alleged miracle in Stannis’ favor (the weather turned better… like it sometimes does) a huge number of Stannis’ men had abandoned his army and his grief-struck and guilt-ridden wife had hung herself. They just weren’t happy with the cost of the climate change.
Realizing that she was in deep-in on a losing cause, Melisandre snuck out of Stannis’ camp and returned to Castle Black, extremely bummed out. Meanwhile the doomed Stannis marched his men all the way to Winterfell to get clobbered.
Ramsay: Rather decent of you to come to me, so my overwhelming forces wouldn’t have to exert themselves overmuch with traveling to destroy you. Although it is a nice day to go riding.
Stannis: It seemed the polite thing to do. You know, you could always just surrender to me out of respect for my accommodation to you. Especially as thanks for my arranging the mild weather.
Ramsay: Did I just say yes? I meant no.
At Castle Black, while talking to Ser Davos, Melisandre made some disparaging comments about her past predictions.
The great victory I saw in the flames … all of it was a lie.
When some people heard Melisandre say that in the first Season Six trailer, about her prophetic visions being lies, they misinterpreted it as a confession from the Red Woman that she had been running a scam on Stannis the entire time. I’m not going to dignify that with a debunking. I’ll grant that Melisandre admitted to Queen Selyse that she wasn’t above doing some fancy sleight-of-hand/fire-juggling for the masses, but it was reasonably clear that Melisandre was devout in her religious beliefs and in the rightness of her cause.
Can we imagine Melisandre just making this all up?
Melisandre: Hey, you should totally set your child on fire. For, uh, victory. Yeah, that’s it!
Stannis: You’re not just pulling my leg, are you?
Melisandre: *suppressing giggles* Dude, don’t question my verve, yo.
Stannis: Okay, I guess I have to…
Melisandre: *thinking to herself* I can’t wait to tell Kinvara about this! Best Prank Ever!
Melisandre is certainly someone that we can accuse of misconduct (as Ser Davos righteously did in the recent finale.) She’s a bit too extreme in her willingness to roast people as sacrifices to her angry and hungry god. Especially if those people have king’s blood for miracle-making. But she was probably honest in her extremism.
Melisandre and her very old trick
A few years ago, I wrote a post about Melisandre, trying to eye her vaunted magical powers with a critical eye. As far as I was concerned, the only definitive magic she had performed was birthing the shadow-assassin that killed Renly.
But the recent season firmly established that Melisandre demonstrably has at least one other impressive magical power. She can make herself look totally old. You know, for fun.
Fine, fine. That’s not what’s happening.
The more accurate interpretation is that Melisandre is much older than she appears, and she has the magical ability to either look younger or can actually make herself physically younger. (That’s kind of a fine distinction, and probably won’t ever have to be explained. Kind of like how we accept that the Faceless Men can add or subtract height and weight when they put on a “face” – it’s magic, yo. It doesn’t always have to be explained in detail.)
There’s an assumption that Melisandre’s necklace is part of this wrinkle-reducing glamour, since when she dramatically showed her true age she had just taken the necklace off. There has already been tremendous buzz and discussion of a bathtub scene where Melisandre is visibly young but not wearing the necklace (or anything else.)
I’ve seen suggestions that it was just a continuity error, as well as rationalizations that Selyse (who was talking to Melisandre in the scene) was either actually seeing Melisandre in her crone-form, or that Melisandre doesn’t need the necklace to appear youthful to Selyse. I don’t think the show will answer that nor do I really need them to.
The thing that interests me: Melisandre of Asshai is really old, and she can be as old as they want her to be for the story, and I think I’d accept it. A hundred years old? A thousand years old? Why not?
We don’t know what happened when the Others first attacked Westeros 8000 years before. But maybe young Melisandre was around for the Long Night over in Asshai and has some things to say about that.
Okay, maybe that’s too many years for her, but I wouldn’t blink in shock if Melisandre reveals some first-hand Targaryen conquest knowledge, or really anything along those lines.
This could be good news for Carice Van Houten, if she wants to appear in any of the Game of Thrones prequel spin-offs that they’re considering over at HBO. Then again, maybe Bran Stark will see a familiar (to us) face when observing the past.
Meera: Bran! You’ve been warging for too long again.
Bran: Sorry. Sheesh!
Meera: You’ve been doing a lot more extended warging lately.
Bran: It’s not my fault! This red-headed witch takes a lot of baths.
Bran: Uh, it’ll probably end up being really important. Don’t judge me!
This is just my gut feeling, but I assume that Melisandre’s incredibly advanced age won’t really come into play in these last seasons of the show. I’d be happy if I’m wrong on that, since it’s such an interesting detail. Feel free to tell me what you think.
Hot Enough to Bring a Dead Man Back to Life
Another power that we can potentially assign to Melisandre is resurrection. She’s managed that trick once with Jon Snow. Or rather, she did a lot of magical ritual stuff over Jon’s corpose and then shortly after that the former Lord Commander came back to life. The timing certainly implies that she’s responsible.
I’d personally like it to be revealed that Jon’s resurrection was more in-line with Old God magic than the kind of sorcery that resurrected Lord Beric Dondarrion. Lord Beric didn’t necessarily come back all that “wrong” on the show, but he admits in the books to not being as he was. (In fairness, Thoros of Myr relentlessly keeps bringing him back. Maybe multiple resurrections just aren’t viable for anyone to handle.)
Whenever magic is done on the show, there are questions of why the magic isn’t repeated. Can’t Melisandre bringing everyone back? Why not try to bring Rickon back? Shouldn’t she try?
Those are fair questions. I’d like it for Melisandre to try and bring someone else back and have it not work.
The repeatability of resurrection will go unanswered for now, since Melisandre was ordered by Jon to pack up and leave the North as punishment for her complicity in Shireen Baratheon’s death. It is unlikely that she’ll get the chance to bring Jon Snow back to life a second time.
I do wonder if in the future she’ll try to resurrect someone else, though. (It’s not like there won’t be any deaths coming up on the show.)
What Does the Future Hold for Melisandre?
Since we’re thinking about the future…
Melisandre used to heavily rely on her prophetic visions for guidance. She has more cause now to question both the validity of what she sees in the flames and her ability to interpret these visions reliably. I will give her some credit; just the fact that she’s seeing *something* is interesting, even though I’m not a fan of prophecy in general.
Because I’m such a skeptic of her scrying in the flame, is it hypocritical of me to stare into some flames as well and try to predict what the show has in store for her? Yes. Yes, it is. So maybe I’ll just think about things instead, which might be about as accurate as her divine revelations.
Where is she going? Who will she be interacting with?
Well. we know Jon ordered her to leave the North. She could ride to the coast and get a boat and go wherever, but we’re running out of seasons and I assume they want to start bringing characters and disjoint plotlines together. I doubt this is the end of Melisandre’s story for us, and there’s no time to have her engage in some meaningful narrative off in Myr or Tyrosh or wherever.
So I’m assuming she’s just riding south, and will be staying in Westeros.
Due south is the Riverlands where there’s at least one group moving north – the Brotherhood without Banners. Melisandre has had interactions with them before; she theoretically has an ally in Thoros of Myr and she can give Thoros and Lord Beric information about the resurrected Jon Snow.
Maybe Melisandre won’t be able to serve Jon Snow, whom she now believes is the Prince That Was Promised, but possibly she can urge Thoros to do so.
Melisandre might be intrigued to hear about the approach of Daenerys and her fire-made-flesh dragons. Dany already has the blessing from the Eastern Orthodox Church of R’hllor (or at least from the Meereenese branch) so maybe Melisandre will try to cast her lot with a known Targaryen. (Someone who has a lot of king’s blood.) There’s already built-in conflict and drama with Daenerys’ team; Varys would not be happy to see Melisandre since:
- She’s a red priestess and Varys is receptive to magic-users or miracle workers
- Varys was clearly anti-Stannis in season 2 specifically because of his reliance on Melisandre
Melisandre might end up in Dany’s circles, but there’s someone else I’d rather she meet up with, just to close the loop on something the show added that was not in the books.
In Season Three, Melisandre came across the Brotherhood without Banners while the red priestess was using her magical insights to track down Gendry the blacksmith – possibly the last remaining bastard of Robert Baratheon. (Sorry Mya Stone, the show had no time for you.) Confronted by a defiant Arya who was trying to forestall Gendry’s forced relocation, Melisandre accurately assessed Arya’s murderous nature and prophesied a reunion with the Stark girl.
I’m not a betting man, but if I was I’d bet that such a reunion won’t go well for Melisandre.
Melisandre used to be on Arya’s kill-list (along with both Beric and Thoros for separating her for Gendry) but in recent seasons I don’t recall the little wolf-girl including the Red Woman in her murder-prayer recitation. So it’s anyone’s guess if this reunion will take place or not, or if Arya will be up for some kind of throat-slashing revenge if they do meet up.
But because Arya and Melisandre never met in the books, this Melisandre’s pronouncement in Season Three seems an odd thing to include and then drop from the plot. So I’m expecting Melisandre to be looking into Arya’s calculating eyes at some point.
Okay, I think I’ve mostly expressed all of my main thoughts on Melisandre.
I do have at least one crazy theory that Melisandre might end up taking on the role of a stone-hearted character whom the show runners have otherwise omitted from the story.
I’m not super confident on that, and talking about it here might be too spoilery. (Feel free to demand details by leaving comments in my general purpose spoiler-post.)
Anyone have opinions or thoughts on the dangerous and deceptively lovely Melisandre of Asshai? Feel free to let me know. We still have months to go before the next season.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.
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