Melisandre hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite for the past eight seasons of Game of Thrones. She did, after all, burn multiple people, including a young princess, at the stake and birthed a really a creepy shadow monster to kill Renly Baratheon, among other deeds.
But the Red Woman redeemed herself in the eyes of many in last week’s episode when she played an integral role in defending Winterfell against the undead and bringing down the Night King before meeting her own demise.
Carice van Houten, who portrays Melisandre, told BuzzFeed News that after all the complicated ways her character was portrayed, she felt like she was finally redeemed and fulfilled her purpose on the series.
“I knew I had it coming, I just had no idea how it was going to happen,” van Houten said, adding that she had no prior knowledge of Melisandre’s fate until she read the scripts for the final season. “I always thought she would probably be killed in some violent death or something really terrible, which would’ve made sense for the show, but when I read that, it was a really poetic, elegant, bittersweet ending.”
The actor also said she has been “overwhelmed” by fans’ reactions to Melisandre’s death, since she’s normally used to being on the receiving end of negative feedback from viewers who are unhappy with her character’s choices.
“It really touched me, to be honest,” van Houten said.
Melisandre’s conflicting actions and redemption narrative in Episode 3 may have been confusing to fans, but it also forced people to think about the character in a more complicated way, she added.
“I quite like that she challenged people to think differently,” she said.
In the episode, Melisandre shows up at Winterfell even though she was previously banished by Jon Snow after the Battle of the Bastards when he found out she was responsible for burning Shireen Baratheon and other innocent people alive in the name of the Lord of Light. Ser Davos, who had a close paternal relationship with Shireen, is not pleased to see the Red Woman arrive at the gates, but she reassures him she’ll be “dead before the dawn.”
Van Houten said she didn’t watch with the rest of the world when the episode first aired on Sunday night because she was traveling and didn’t want to view it on a tiny screen with headphones — the actor wanted the full experience of watching her character say goodbye to the epic HBO series.
“I was so pleased,” van Houten said about her death scene. “And I thought it was a wonderful, beautiful way to end and honor her character.”
According to van Houten, the moment Melisandre walks away from the castle, takes her enchanted necklace off, and instantly ages hundreds of years into her own death was an emotional scene to film. The production team used CGI when depicting her aging onscreen, but van Houten said it was her when she walked out of Winterfell and eventually collapsed on the battlefield.
After watching the record-breaking Game of Thrones episode a couple of days later, van Houten said it was even more moving to witness than it was to film.
“When I watched it on the screen, it was even more beautiful,” she said. “You have the huge, bombastic kind of music. It’s almost like a symphony as you’re watching. And I was just very, very grateful.”
As for her character nudging Arya Stark onto the path that leads to the destruction of the Night King — and every wight and White Walker he created — van Houten said it was “the last thing on earth” that she needed to do, “so it’s quite loaded in a way for her.”
“But at the same time, she doesn’t really let that show, because she has to inspire Arya. So it’s sort of a mixture of emotions,” she said. “It’s also sort of motherly of her. You never see her give a young woman a look that’s so warm.”
With the Night King dead and another battle with Cersei, Euron Greyjoy, and their armies at King’s Landing on the horizon, there are still many questions left unanswered, and Melisandre’s unexpected role in the Battle of Winterfell has inspired fans to consider other ways her character will continue to influence the series. For one, fans are theorizing about why she brought Jon Snow back to life now that we’ve seen Beric Dondarrion die in order to protect Arya Stark. If Melisandre brought Beric back in order to fill that role, have we seen Jon Snow fulfill his true purpose yet, or is that moment still to come?
“I don’t know anything,” van Houten said. “I’m dead.”