Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Game of Thrones dropped yet another bombshell in its season 6 premiere on Sunday, April 24, when the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) removed her necklace for the first time and revealed herself to be ancient — and legitimately magical.
"I was really happy when I read that we were going to reveal that this year … It makes her immediately more vulnerable, but also more wise and even more mysterious," van Houten, 39, told Entertainment Weekly of the big reveal, which closed out the episode.
She added that it gives context to some of Melisandre's past actions — most notably, her decision to sacrifice young Shireen Baratheon in season 5. "That's why she was able to say, 'This is just a small war, it's all relative compared to the big war we're going to face,'" the actress explained. "[Her age] makes everything even more meta."
But what exactly is her age? The episode's director, Jeremy Podeswa, isn't saying. "The idea is there's an indefinite indeterminate quality that she could be ancient," Podeswa told EW. "Here you feel like she's very old without putting a number on it."
He also echoed van Houten's sentiment that the moment she takes her necklace off is a vulnerable one for the character. "At that moment, it's a telling gestural thing to do. She's questioning her power and ability to proselytize," he explained. "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." (Last season saw the death of Iron Throne contender Stannis Baratheon, whom Melisandre had not only championed but also prophesied as the true, rightful leader of Westeros. His absence leaves her with virtually no allies.)
Fans were shocked by the revelation, of course — but they weren't the only ones. Van Houten's costars didn't see it coming, either.
"I didn't read it in the script, so I didn't know it was going to happen," Hannah Murray (Gilly) told TVLine. "So it was a real moment. You could've heard a pin drop [in the theater at the Hollywood premiere]. I think it was one of the best things [the show] has ever done. And it's only the first episode."
Added Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H'ghar): "I was really surprised by how touching the moment was, because you have this character you didn't really like and then all of a sudden she turns into this old woman; there's something so human and touching about it. Your entire perception of the character changed in that one moment. It's magical. It's also this moment of weakness."
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), meanwhile, was more concerned with the actress than the character. "I know it's a massive story point and a lot of people are going to be very, very confused by it … but honestly, all I kept thinking was, 'Whoa, I wonder how long Carice had to sit in hair and makeup,'" she told TVLine, laughing. "I was also thinking, 'Oh, that looks incredible. Emmys, Emmys everywhere!'"
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