Arya Stark’s latest shining moment would still be nothing more than a distant fantasy if it weren’t for Melisandre, Game of Thrones' mysterious flame-enthralled Red Woman, whose mystical powers haven’t exactly always been put to their highest and best use.
But for anyone left with lingering questions about Melisandre’s more-than-questionable morals after watching her take part in Sunday’s epic Winterfell battle, actor Carice von Houten has answers — even though, she admits, the episode’s closing moments left some unfinished business on the table.
**SPOILER WARNING: A major spoiler from Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Long Night,” appears below. Hightail it back to Westeros if you want to see what happens first!**
Melisandre’s return after a long absence from the recent action came with all the heavy baggage she’d collected along the way, making her appearance in Winterfell all the more intriguing as one character from her past after another eyed her with suspicion. No one had more to begrudge the Red Woman than Ser Davos Seaworth, who was wise never to trust her ill-fated scheming on behalf of his king at the time, Stannis Baratheon.
But Melisandre's icebreaker — “There’s no need to execute me, Ser Davos; I'll be dead before the dawn” — foreshadowed her redemption in the wake of earlier murders, both spectral and fiery. So when it came time for her to die, that’s exactly what she did, removing her youth-preserving magic choker and staggering, frail and inhumanly old, to collapse in the snow in one of the episode’s most dramatic shots.
Why was it okay for Melisandre to finally die? It all had to do with her role in guiding Arya to land the killing blow against the Night King, van Houten told The Hollywood Reporter.
“This is why I'm here. Once I've done what I have to do, I can go, and I can rest,” she explained. “I'm a few hundred years old, and I am tired,” adding that reading the script for her snowy, solitary death scene, once she’d seen Arya’s mission to the finish, gave her “goosebumps.”
Arya’s brief encounter with Melisandre at Winterfell capped a long-running prophecy hatched all the way back in Season 3, when she cryptically told her that Arya would go on to “shut forever” many eyes of every color — including White Walker blue. That prediction came full circle in Sunday’s episode, when Melisandre again reminded Arya that she’s still destined to shut “brown eyes, green eyes … blue eyes” — with special emphasis, this time, on the blue.
Van Houten said jump-starting Arya’s understanding of her game-saving role in Sunday’s battle was a way for Melisandre to find final absolution, after being wrong so many times before — and leaving so much death in her wake.
“I didn’t really expect to know what I’m saying, but at the same time I also knew it was not just a random, weird thing. And I knew that [prophecy] was so significant and [showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] did say ‘we’re going to come back to that and we’re going to come back to your age,’” she told The Wrap. “… Melisandre herself was never really sure. She was just a vessel trying to read the flames and read the Lord of Light as best as she could, obviously making some mistakes along the way. But I did know that this was setting something up.”
Though she touched Game of Thrones characters in both good ways and bad (remember when she killed Renly Baratheon, only to later bring Jon Snow back from the dead?), Melisandre never got the chance to cross paths with Cersei Lannister, GoT’s biggest human antagonist. Van Houten says she kind of hates that, but at least her Arya redemption story brought Melisandre’s hundreds of years in Westeros to a satisfying close.
“She and Cersei would be a good combination,” van Houten told Entertainment Weekly — and it’s hard to argue with that. Watching the Red Woman take on the scourge of King’s Landing is one Game of Thrones clash we’re bummed to be missing out on.
At least Melisandre did her part to secure victory for the living. Cersei and the rest of Westeros await the tattered survivors of the Battle of Winterfell when Season 8 of Game of Thrones continues this Sunday on HBO.