The night is dark and full of spoilers and speculation – some of which might actually be true…
Well, let’s start with what’s guaranteed – Melisandre is old. It was something that book readers had assumed previously – but for the show, it’s now an absolute certainty. So, we know that she’s older than her usual visage, the 39-year-old Carice van Houten. The big question then, is how old is she really? A hundred years old? Two? Back when the character was introduced in season two, the actor playing Maester Cressen, Oliver Ford-Davies, said she was 400 years old. I’m not sure why he of all people would know, and it’s likely he was just using hyperbole to add to the mystique of Melisandre’s demeanour, but who knows?
Now, you might argue that it doesn’t matter exactly how old she is – only that her magic, be it a product of her glamour (the necklace she wears) or her own supernatural nature, is powerful enough to sustain the youthful illusion. But if we start to look at exactly how old Melisandre is, we can start to wonder if her potential past is as important as her future.Delving into the canon backstory of this world, what if, for example, she’s a hundred years older than she looks, so let’s say 140-years-old. Well, we’re in around 300AC – standing for Aegon’s Conquest – by this point in the show. 140 years before that, the world is a very different place. Robert’s Rebellion and all the events that come with it are more than a century away. Indeed, Dorne is still 20-odd years from formally becoming part of the Seven Kingdoms.
But perhaps the most interesting development happens in 153AC, when the last dragon dies (before Dany hatches her three, that is). This death is often said to coincide with magic leaving the world, and this is only 7 years off of the rather loose ‘140-years-old’ presumption. If Melisandre was that old, then would it be too much of a coincidence for a person with such magical abilities – shadow monsters and blood magic and all that horror – to be born just as magic is supposedly dying out?
Just as importantly, this could also mean she’s an adult by the time of the First Blackfyre Rebellion in 193AC. Why does this matter? Because a key participant in that was Brynden Rivers, aka Bloodraven, who was once Hand of the King, and then eventually became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, before disappearing north of the Wall on a ranging. He’s also assumed to be the true identity of the Three-Eyed Raven. Again, too much of a coincidence?But let’s go back further. If she’s over 240 years old, that places her birth around the time of the uprising of the first Faith Miliant, a religion-based parallel that could also have potential given the resurrected prominence in the present day of the Faith under the High Sparrow. And let’s entertain that ‘400 years old’ comment from earlier – what then? Well, then it gets really interesting, because in 114BC – Before Conquest – we have the Doom of Valyria.
Remember Tyrion and Jorah sailing through those ruins? That was once the capital of the Valyrian Freehold, the most powerful empire to be seen in pretty much the entire history of the world, before its destruction in a cataclysmic event around that time. It was also where the Targaryens originated and, crucially, a place where magic was commonplace. What a turn of events it would be if Melisandre was somehow a relic of that? Add to that her alleged history as a slave, and Valyria’s extensive and cruel exploitation of slavery, and perhaps she has motivation to rally against Daenerys at some point.
So what could this all mean for the future of her and the show? Well, the popular assumption is still that she’ll give up her life to resurrect Jon Snow. It would be disappointing from a mythological point of view – all that mysterious backstory just to be used as a plot point for someone else – but it would make some sense. With Stannis gone, her arc is suddenly unknown, and what’s more, it would seem poetic for her wavering faith in R’hllor, the Lord of Light, to end with her sacrifice for ‘him’ to bring back Jon Snow as the ‘Lightbringer’ Stannis was meant to be.Alternatively, she has a far more central role to play. We saw what her magic did in the War of the Five Kings – directly causing Renlys death, and seemingly dooming Robb and Joffrey too – imagine what damage she could do when her agenda isn’t tied to such a mortal combat. And if any of the historical links mentioned here are true, then suddenly we have a very powerful character with very significant motivations one way or another.
Or, maybe she’s just crawled into bed in that last scene to die there and then. I doubt it, given it would be a bit of a weird and pointless way to kill her off, and I’m fairly certain that there were scenes of her in the trailers that weren’t in the first episode, but hey, it’s Game of Thrones, and what better way to combat spoilers than to have fake scenes in the trailers?
If one thing is certain, it’s that next week is shaping up to be a very interesting episode.