Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

Everything You Need To Know About That Frightening Melisandre Scene

comments
Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
Last night's Game of Thrones season premiere ends with a big surprise that shows how one character is definitely not who we think she is. Melisandre (Carice van Houten), The Red Woman, takes off her choker and voila, she's an old woman. She looks at her decrepit figure in the mirror, and then crawls into bed, leaving us to wonder.

The hag-like witch masquerading as a beautiful woman is not a new trope, but given that this is Thrones, the theories about its application here are running wild. Meanwhile, information about this shocker is trickling out, thanks to interviews with the cast and creators, and some close reading of the books.

What The Cast & Crew Has Revealed
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly following the episode's airing, van Houten discussed how the transformation highlights the cracks in the armour of her fearsome character. "It makes her immediately more vulnerable, but also more wise and even more mysterious," van Houten said. "There’s also a vulnerability in her age."

Co-creator D.B. Weiss is also thinking along those lines, as evidenced by his comments in HBO's "Inside the Episode" clip. He said that as Melisandre gazes in the mirror, she confronts the "reality of her situation." He explained that "her appearance is a lie, just as the Lord of Light's supposed promises to her and messages to her were lies." And finally: "At the end of episode 1, she's in a place where she really needs to look her real self in the eye and come to terms with where she stands now." Director Jeremy Podeswa told EW that we are seeing her at her "lowest point," and the manner in which she gets into her bed is a "sign of her frailty."

Speaking with Variety, Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth, noted how the moment lifts the veil on Melisandre. "It’s the real woman you get to see, the broken woman… Everything she believed in is gone," he said. "It’s remarkable because for the past five seasons, everything you’ve known about Melisandre is now a lie, so you’re never going to be able to look at her the same way again. From what we’ve got coming up, you’re always, as an audience member, going ‘what I’m looking at there… [I] don’t know what the f*ck is going on,’ and that’s incredibly interesting as an audience member, because it doesn’t happen in real life. You’re allowing it to sit in your brain as a reality."

But while she may seem feeble, van Houten also made the point that age brings knowledge. Her being so old "makes everything even more meta," she said.
Cue up the Blink-182
While Melisandra herself may be wondering what's my age again? — and fans are certainly trying to puzzle that out — the fact that she's older than previously thought isn't such a stunner to anyone who's been watching carefully.

"There have been a few hints before that Melisandre is much older than she appears going back to a very early conversation with George Martin about her," Co-creator David Benioff said in the "Inside the Episode" clip. "She's supposed to be several centuries old. So we always wanted to show her true age and were waiting for the right moment, and this was it."

But even if you don't have a direct line to Martin, you might have heard some rumblings that Melisandre's appearance was deceiving. Many have been pointing back to a 2012 interview with Access Hollywood, where van Houten declared that her character is "way over 100 years." Additionally, actor Oliver Ford Davies, who played Maester Cressen, also dropped some information about Melisandre's age. Davies, speaking with Flicks and the City, explained that he questioned van Houten after his character died from consuming poison and she didn't: "In between takes I said to her, 'I'm not quite up to speed on this, why don't you die?' And she said, 'I'm 400 years old.'" Vanity Fair and MTV News also note that her past as a slave might yield some clues.

Or perhaps the actual number doesn't matter. Podeswa noted in his talk with EW that they weren't going for a specific age in creating the moment, which combined makeup used on van Houten and an older body double. "The idea is there’s an indefinite, indeterminate quality that she could be ancient," he said.

Magic To Do
Vox helpfully directed attention to a passage in A Dance with Dragons that might illuminate Melisandre's methods. In that text, the character describes "glamours" to Jon Snow. "Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion. R'hllor is Lord of Light, Jon Snow, and it is given to his servants to weave with it, as others weave with thread," she says.

Clearly, her necklace is involved in some way, but don't look to van Houten for answers. She "has no idea how she does it," the actress told EW. "A magic necklace? Wow." Wow indeed.
SHARE
TWEET
EMAIL