In the nine long months that spanned between the Season 5 finale and last night's Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones, countless theories and rumors spread throughout the Internet that covered everything from the fates of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), to the return of Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and much more. Just a few weeks ago, HBO finally revealed the title of the Season 6 premiere, The Red Woman, an obvious reference to Melisandre (Carice Van Houten). Now we finally know why the episode was entitled The Red Woman, with the final moments revealing a shocking twist, which director Jeremy Podeswa and actress Carice Van Houten speak about in a new interview. Be warned, if you didn't watch The Red Woman last night, there will be massive SPOILERS below.
We last saw Melisandre towards the end of the Season 5 premiere, as she was returning to Castle Black, presumably after finding Stannis Baratheon dead on the battlefield. She was looking quite distraught after finding Stannis, a demeanor which carried over to The Red Woman, when she learns that Jon Snow has been killed while she was gone. While some had theorized that Melisandre would use her mystical powers to bring Jon Snow back to life, that didn't happen, but instead, we got an even bigger twist. The episode's final scene showed Melisandre getting ready for bed, getting completely naked before taking off her mysterious red necklace that she is always seen wearing. Moments after her necklace is removed, fans see the real Melisandre for the first time, an ancient woman who may be hundreds of years old. Carice Van Houten was once indirectly quoted as saying that Melisandre is 400 years old, stating in another interview that she is at least 100 years old, but Entertainment Weekly caught up with director Jeremy Podeswa, who revealed that they didn't want to reveal an exact age for Melisandre.
"The idea is there's an indefinite indeterminate quality that she could be ancient. We were limited by choosing to use a real person rather than a complete CG creation. Because what does a 400-year-old person look like? We don't know. So if you try to create that, then you're creating something that looks beyond our known reality. Here you feel like she's very old without putting a number on it. I think the performance of both actresses helps making her look ageless. There was a question of whether we should add more effects to make [the body double] look older, but I think anything we could have done would have made them look less real. When doing a fantasy show - or a show with fantasy elements - the more you can anchor an effect to reality the stronger the illusion is."
While many Game of Thrones twists often revolve around the death of a beloved character, this was in effect the complete opposite, showing this character's true age, and, for the first time, showing how frail and vulnerable she really is. Melisandre has always been portrayed as this powerful priestess who follows the Lord of Light, but this scene showed us a side of her character we've never seen before, as she reveals her true self while getting into bed alone. Here's what the director had to say, when it was mentioned that the reveal was even more effective since it was coupled with the mundane task of Melisandre going to bed.
"That's an interesting way of looking at it, but there's another aspect as well: At that moment, it's a telling gestural thing to do. She's questioning her power and ability to prosthelytize. She's at her lowest point, looking at the mirror and her true self. It's a sign of her frailty. You're seeing her at her most vulnerable moment."
Melisandre isn't exactly the most beloved character on Game of Thrones, especially after last season, when she convinced Stannis to sacrifice his only daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) to the Lord of Light, to potentially save Stannis and his entire army. The reveal of Melisandre's age helps put her idea of sacrificing Shireen in perspective, since she has seen so many die in her time. Here's what Carice Van Houten had to say about how Melisandre has a different perspective on this war, and how thrilled she was that the show was finally going to reveal the real Melisandre.
"I was really happy when I read that we were going to reveal that this year. I don't think a lot of people will see that coming. It makes her immediately more vulnerable, but also more wise and even more mysterious. There's also a vulnerability in her age. That's why she was able to say, 'This is just a small war, it's all relative compared to the big war were going to face.' [Her age] makes everything even more meta. Definitely, that's where all that stuff comes from."
Fans have seen Melisandre's supernatural powers on display several times throughout the series, but the fact that she didn't bring both Stannis and Jon Snow back from the dead was quite puzzling for some. We know that Red Priests and Red Priestesses have the power to resurrect the dead, as we saw in Season 3 when the Red Priest Thoros of Myr brought back Bendric Dondarrian (Richard Dormer) from the dead. It seems, though, that Melisandre herself doesn't exactly know how her mystical powers work.
"She has no idea how she does it. A magic necklace? Wow. It's changing and I really like it. We see her from a really different side of her now. We see somebody whose whole belief system is tumbling down. She's completely confused, and I really like to play that. After all the security and strength and pride, now we see something completely different. I've been really waiting for this moment."
You may recall that, back in Season 3, Thoros told Melisandre that he didn't quite believe in the Lord of Light, until his friend Bendric was killed by Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (Hafpor Julíus Bjornsson), and he was called upon to resurrect Bendric. We have seen in previous trailers for Season 6 that Melisandre tells Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) that the "great victory" she saw in the flames was all a lie. Perhaps Melisandre is going through a crisis of faith similar to Thoros, and maybe this crisis could end when she resurrects someone from the dead, whether it be Jon Snow or Stannis Baratheon. That's just a theory for now, but perhaps we'll find out more when Game of Thrones returns with next week's episode, Home, airing Sunday, May 1 at 9 PM ET on HBO.