The days are getting shorter and shorter (at least they are here in the northern hemisphere), leading us to the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. It’ll be a Long Night.
Possibly because of the extra-long darkness, December has multiple traditions that celebrate with light. Maybe lighting candles is one’s thing, maybe tossing a Yule log on the fire … maybe some have glowing, decorated trees indoors or have jazzed up the neighborhood with dazzling illumination on houses.
With the month’s focus on lighting up the night defiantly in the face of the longest seasonal darkness, December is an appropriate month to check in on Melisandre of Asshai. Game of Thrones‘ fiery red witch would be the first to tell us about things being dark and full of terrors.
Melisandre: And that’s just the shopping mall parking lots.
Most of the prophetic and vision-adjacent characters from A Song of Ice and Fire either haven’t made it into the show or have had a limited role, but Melisandre is easily the show’s stand-out prognosticator as well as the show’s primary source of arcane exposition. She gives us context on legendary figures like Azor Ahai and his flaming sword Lightbringer, as well as details on the prophesied Prince (or Princess) that was Promised. Her expertise all but guarantees that she’ll be important in the coming fight with the White Walkers and the falling of another Long Night on Westeros.
Melisandre will definitely be back in Season Eight.
We know this, because Melisandre has told us so while chatting with Varys in Season Seven.
Melisandre: I would only be a distraction if I stayed.
Varys: Where would you go?
Varys: Good. If you don’t mind my saying, I don’t think you should return to Westeros. I’m not sure you’ll be safe here.
Melisandre: I will return, dear spider. One last time. I have to die in this strange country. Just like you.
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Saturday December 15, 2018
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Straight up, it’s fair to be skeptical of Melisandre when she plays the role of fortune teller. She picked the wrong candidate for Azor Ahai reborn in supporting Stannis Baratheon, which had disastrous consequences including convincing Stannis to sacrifice his daughter in hopes of a magical advantage against the Boltons.
But much of that was due to faulty extrapolation from incomplete data. Melisandre legitimately saw the Bolton banners struck down at Winterfell. But it wasn’t Stannis and his Stormlanders doing that. It was Jon’s northern coalition and the Knight of the Vale, who eventually defeated the Baratheon-routing Boltons.
But if Melisandre has seen in her flames that she’ll be returning to Westeros and never leaving the land alive, we might as well believe her. She’s done this trick before.
Melisandre: Death by fire is the purest death.
Matthos: Uh, thanks?
Davos: DON’T TALK TO HER!
Anyone predicting that Melisandre will die in Season Eight isn’t making all that crazy a statement. At this point it’s hard to predict who might live with absolute certainty. The show is rough on its cast of characters, and being an interesting or compelling character doesn’t provide much plot armor.
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There have even been memorable characters who were introduced and killed off in the same episode.
A harder challenge than predicting if Melisandre will die in Season Eight or not (she will) is in deciding who will be complicit in her death, like a game of Westerosi Clue. It’s not that it’s hard to find potential suspects – it’s that there are so many candidates who might want her dead.
In the North…
At the end of the sixth season, Melisandre found herself exiled from the kingdom of the North. Davos Seaworth accused Melisandre of sacrificing his beloved princess Shireen to the bloodthirsty god R’hllor. Davos had demanded justice be done in Winterfell, but large-and-in-charge Jon Snow was reluctant to sentence Melisandre to death.
Possibly Jon felt like he owed Melisandre for bringing him back to life.
Or maybe this is just more evidence that Jon can’t execute beautiful red-heads.
Ygritte: Hey! I thought I was his one and only commuted sentence!
But Jon decreed that if she returned to the North, she would be hung.
Stannis: Hanged. She’s not a tapestry.
Davos accepted Jon’s judgment with good grace, but if he encountered Melisandre again, regardless of geography, he might take matters into his not-complete hands.
Besides Jon and Davos, there are more characters in the North who have no love for Melisandre.
Arya Stark didn’t quite have Melisandre’s name on her list, but she had her description.
The Red Woman
Arya had put Melisandre on the murder list for her part in taking Gendry a prisoner with permission from the Brotherhood without Banners. Although “the Red Woman” was on the list for several seasons, that particular entry seems to have been omitted recently. But that omission can be just as easily corrected if Arya comes across Melisandre again. And those two should cross paths in the upcoming season. Melisandre has predicted this happening.
I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes. Blue eyes. Green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever. We’ll meet again.
Melisandre seemed rather shook when talking to Arya – maybe that’s when she got her first insight on her ultimate fate, and has been just living with that fatalistic knowledge ever since. But I don’t want to just fall into some assumption, to commit to an extrapolation from incomplate data. That’s the kind of fallacy that Melisandre falls prey to.
Arya had Melisandre on her list because of Gendry, and our handsome blacksmithing bastard has even more of a reason to have a grudge against the Red Woman. She not only kidnapped him, but she then lobbied Gendry’s uncle Stannis to burn his baseborn nephew alive, so as to reap the magic of a blood sacrifice.
Melisandre: He didn’t complain when I bedded him.
Gendry: The leech on my penis kind of ruined that. I reserve the right to complain.
Roose Bolton: Penis-leeching? Tell me more.
But even though Gendry has a right to hold a grudge, he has been pretty level-headed when face to face with Beric Dondarrion, who sold him out to Melisandre. Gendry set aside any animosity and found common cause with the Lightning Lord against the threat of the White Walkers. Gendry might be willing to let bygones be bygones if he met Melisandre again.
Gendry: I reserve the right to complain.
Arya: Me too! (That could be a hashtag.)
Brienne: Me too!
Brienne of Tarth avenged the death of her liege King Renly Baratheon by executing the fratricidal Stannis. Brienne knows that Renly was slain by shadowy sorcery, and it doesn’t take too much detective work to deduce that Stannis’s shadowbinder from Asshai might have made that happen. Despite that, Brienne took no action against Melisandre, other than looming in an intimidating fashion over the red witch and announcing that she’d personally killed King Stannis.
I’m not saying that Brienne woud seek to murder Melisandre, but she wouldn’t hesitate to act if she felt the Red Woman was a danger to those she’d sworn to serve and protect.
One of those whom Brienne has sworn to protect is Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell. Unlike Arya, Sansa has had no direct dealings with Melisandre, but Sansa’s experiences over the years have forged her into someone very different from the little lady who eagerly went to King’s Landing in the hopes of marrying a prince and having his babies.
“My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.”
— A Storm of Swords, Sansa V
Sansa Stark had just dealt with a major problem in Littlefinger trying to worm his way into power and influence at Winterfell. Melisandre is no Littlefinger, being one who speaks plainly and openly. Maybe a bit too plainly.
Melisandre: I one-hundred-percent am suggesting you murderize Princess Shireen with fire. This is not a metaphor.
Stannis: Holy [expletive]!
Melisandre: Did you literally say “bracket expletive bracket” just now?
Stannis: What if I did?
But Melisandre’s attraction to power is clear, as is trying to get the powerful to follow her agenda. A death-sentence in the North would cramp the Red Woman’s style in fighting the White Walkers, and she might misread tension between Sansa and Jon (and Daenerys) as an opening for her to curry favor and push her agenda. Sansa has many reasons to be mistrustful, and Melisandre’s actions might bring her to meet the business-like ways of either of Sansa’s fighting cadre: Arya or Brienne.
But why would Melisandre even be in the North, risking lethal consequences?
It would be reckless for Melisandre to endanger herself by breaking exile and returning to the snowy kingdom, but frankly that’s exactly where she’s needed with her esoteric knowledge and command of fire magic, against the threat of the icy White Walkers.
But her violating border security of the North might not be all that risky for her. The show has established that Melisandre’s youthful and attractive appearance is from a magic glamour that she employs to conceal her true, ancient form.
(Unless her crone aspect is also from a glamour, but that doesn’t change the point being made…)
No one in the North (or south, one supposes) knows about Melisandre’s glamours. She could even come to Jon’s court and offer magical assistance incognito.
But she might hit an unexpected snag when crossing paths with Arya.
Arya: You did say we’d meet again.
Melisandre: *gulp* I … I’m not sure what you mean.
Arya: Brown eyes. Blue eyes. Green eyes. Your eyes.
Arya’s training at the House of Black and White, playing the Game of Faces that relied on supernatural awareness of hidden truths might be the end of any clandestine operation from Melisandre.
Melisandre: I would have gotten away with it too. If not for that meddling kid.
But maybe Melisandre will safely stay out of the North. There still places to die in Westeros further south.
Even though almost all of the action (and the actors) can be found in the North, there’s storied opportunities for Melisandre further south (at least south of the swampy Neck.)
Melisandre told Varys that she was going to go to Volantis before she returns. There’s someone else on the show who we know will be crossing the Narrow Sea between Westeros and Essos and returning: Cersei Lannister’s pirate admiral Euron Greyjoy.
Euron on the show has significant differences from his book counterpart, but is still largely cut from the same narrative sailcloth. One element missing from the show’s Euron is his supernatural focus. Should Euron encounter Melisandre, either in Volantis when he’s picking the Golden Company or coming across her while being on the waters, some of the magical elements from the books might come back into play.
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There is no Victarion Greyjoy on the show, and the less-mystical Euron has a Victarion feel. Victarion in the books has a captive Red Priest, so Euron taking Melisandre captive would hit on the Victarion cylinders as well, similar to how Jorah Mormont took on characteristics of the kingmaking exile Hand Jon Connington.
One shouldn’t rule out Melisandre actively seeking Euron Greyjoy out. With her hopes dashed by Stannis not being Azor Ahai reborn, and hedging her bets that either Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen could be the Prince(ss) that was Promised, Melisandre might be casting as wide a net as possible and want to determine if the Ironborn Pirate King might be the prophesied one. A case can be made that seafaring raider Euron was figuratively born of salt and smoke.
Melisandre’s actions in doing so aren’t as crazy as they might seem. One feature of a character motivated by magical visions is that it’s hard to complain when they do things for the convenience of plot. Which might supply a different reason for Melisandre coming into contact with Euron. Theon Greyjoy is on his way to intercept his murderous uncle in hopes of rescuing the captive Yara Greyjoy. If Melisandre believes Theon and Yara are important in the fight against the White Walkers (why not?) she could provide assistance to Theon, bringing her to Euron.
However Melisandre might come into Euron’s orbit, whether as a friend, foe, or fated encounter, she’d be in danger. It’s not as explicit on the show as it is in the books, but Euron is a monster. One’s life expectancy is inversely proportional to how close one is to him. But Melisandre expects to die in Westeros – this strange land – and not on the sea where it would be more likely with the Greyjoy king. But maybe Euron would bring the Red Woman to Cersei as a gift, as he did with Ellaria and Tyene Sand.
Cersei might have less of a beef with Melisandre than she did with Ellaria and Tyene, but Melisandre did support the usurper Stannis Baratheon in the uncorroborated slander that Joffrey and her other children were illegitimate. And Cersei has had an unpleasant run-in with witchy prophets before. It’s not hard to imagine Cersei blaming Maggy the Frog for the prediction foretelling the death of her children, and her fate of losing all to a younger, beautiful queen.
Melisandre might come to Cersei’s court, with full knowledge of the danger she’s in in dealing with the volatile Lannister, and offer magical assistance to Cersei with the intent of sabotage, in an echo of Mirri Maz Duur’s treacherous outreach to Daenerys in the first season. If Melisandre wants to serve the Prince(ss) who was Promised, but can’t be in the North, manipulating Cersei into a position of weakness might be an admirable move.
An admirable move, and a bold one since Cersei does not play well with others, particularly with other women.
Cersei: You’re so beautiful. Are you, by chance, younger than me?
Melisandre: I guarantee that you are far more youthful than I am, your Grace.
But one shouldn’t be too quick to assign honorable intentions to Melisandre. She might come back from Volantis with a mission to provide legitimate aid to Cersei’s faction, because it might align with her own mysterious purposes. Although this might be unexpected, it wouldn’t be all that atypical for Cersei. If Cersei has a superpower, it would be consistently managing to fail upwards.
Ned Stark discovers her dark secret, and she’s in danger of being exposed? A boar takes out King Robert.
The Faith Militant is going to put her on trial? The Great Sept is wired to explode, thanks to Mad King Aerys.
Dany has overwhelming forces and is going to besiege King’s Landing? King Euron’s magic pirate ships save the day.
No matter how many elephants the Golden Company brings with them from Essos, those pachyderms aren’t fire-proof. Dany will be coming back south with dragons. Cersei will need a magical arsenal, not just a conventional army.
But if Melisandre sides with Cersei, her affinity for fire will be put to the test. Melisandre has predicted that she’ll die in Westeros, and if she’s not careful, it’ll be from dragonfire.
Davos: She did tell my son Matthos that “death by fire is the purest death.”
The Dragon’s Lair …
Of all the factions vying for control of Westeros (even if they don’t know that they’re vying for control, because they know nothing) Melisandre probably has the least amount of ill will with Daenerys. When Dany was absent from Meereen, it was emissaries from Melisandre’s religion who helped restore peace – and laid down some pretty solid Public Relations work for Dany as the Mhysa Messiah. Melisandre personally brought Daenerys the gospel of her being the Princess that was Promised.
Dany has no reason (yet) to regret listening to Melisandre’s diplomatic counsel about King in the North Jon Snow. The alliance between Starks and Targaryens is certainly a good move in acting to counter the otherwise overwhelming forces of the Night King. But at some point, Jon’s secret Targaryen status will be revealed, which might make Daenerys experience the classic George RR Martin “heart in conflict with itself.” If there ends up tensions between Dany and Jon (even if those tensions are all in Dany’s head) – Melisandre needs to play it carefully.
Daenerys has no reason to be distrustful of Melisandre’s loyalties, but she has no reason to trust anyone. And she has the example of Mirri Maz Duur of a witch bearing magical promises.
If the show had done more with the masked seer Quaithe and her prophecies and dream visitations to Dany, Melisandre might have more of a positive association with the Targaryen queen.
Daenerys: Quaithe was the only person during my time in Qarth that wasn’t trying to rip me off somehow.
Ser Jorah: I wasn’t trying to rip you off, Khaleesi.
Daenerys: Simmer down, man.
Melisandre spending time with Daenerys might even be a way to bring in some mystical content analogous to Quaithe’s vision-visits in the books.
But Melisandre has a vulnerability that she might not even realize. She’s totally Team Jon. Even though he banned her from his kingdom on pain of death, Melisandre brought Jon back to life. He’s a miracle in her personal mythology and if he’s revealed to be a legitimate Targaryen with an arguably better claim to the Iron Throne than Dany, she’s going to be elated. That might have lethal consequences depending on which Targaryen she’s spending time with.
Of course, if Melisandre realizes just how much magic blood there is among the people she’s associating with, it might be hard for her not to fall into some old, bad habits.
Melisandre: Wait, you both are Targaryens? Praise be to R’hllor! I’ll be able to harness incredible magical powers if we sacrifice either one of you to the Lord of Light in a bonfire ceremony! Which one of you two should we burn alive and screaming?
Dany: I’m open to the idea that someone here is about to be set on fire.
It’s possible that Melisandre can stay on Daenerys’s good side (as well as Jon’s if she stays out of the North.) But there’s another person on the Dragon team that she should be worried about.
Varys: I don’t think you should return to Westeros. I’m not sure you’ll be safe here.
Melisandre didn’t only predict her own death, she predicted Varys the Spider’s death as well. It had just a hint of threat from her to him, in response to an almost nakedly unveiled veiled threat from Varys.
There’s nothing more ironic than someone ensuring a prophecy comes to be by trying to short-circuit it.
If Melisandre is welcomed to Daenerys’s court, Varys might consider her the motivating force in whatever form his demise might take, and he’d proceed to step into the classic “kill the prophet to kill the prophecy” strategy. (That never works, kids.)
Imagine Daenerys considers Melisandre an ally and asset, and Varys kills the Red Woman. Dany already gave Varys a “one strike and you’re out” speech in Season Seven. Varys might seal his own fate in harming Melisandre.
Varys: Typical Varys.
Melisandre: Self-fulfilling prophecies for the win!
I’m fond of the idea of Varys killing Melisandre and dooming himself. There’s appropriate groundwork laid, not only with Varys and Melisandre’s cliffside chat, but Varys’s interactions with the red priestess Kinvara in Meereen. Kinvara had given Varys quite a start by discussing the spooky details of his castration.
Melisandre: For the record, that wasn’t me.
Varys: Don’t care. All you buxom red priestesses look alike to me.
One should also consider the possibility that none of these fatal fates befall Melisandre. No being hung hanged for enterting the Northern forbidden zone, no vengeful killing by Davos, and no execution brought on by the paranoid concerns of queens.
It’s possible No One kills Melisandre.
No One …
I’m not insinuating that the Faceless Men assassinate her. (But that would be badass.)
Melisandre is old. Super old. I wouldn’t be surprised if after helping the plucky and flawed heroes stop the White Walker apocalypse, an exhausted and ancient Melisandre removes her glamour and lets time catch up with her. The fight to end the night and bring the dawn might require all of her supernatural reserves.
Gendry: Wait, she wasn’t really amazingly beautiful? I’m glad I reserved the right to complain.
Sandor Clegane: You nailed that? Har har.
If Melisandre were to expire in such a way, she’d join the ranks of a very exclusive set of characters in Game of Thrones who didn’t die by violence.
(Or from complications of giving birth. Please, no more shadow assassin birthings.)
We’ll just have to wait for Season Eight to see what happens.
Waiting and getting to the end…
Although this feature was largely an incomplete examination of how Melisandre could potentially impact the plot on a character basis in Season Eight, from knowing that she’s fated to die, I hope the feature can also speak to a larger point that is brought up by fans of the show and fans of the books.
Season Eight will complete Game of Thrones, exposing major plot points and character beats that will eventually be in the conclusion of George RR Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire.
Not everyone is happy that the conclusion of the book series will be previewed by the television show. Particularly because people boycotting the show will not be able to escape these details that will be widely disseminated through all kinds of avenues. I respect their feelings in this matter, and recognize the feelings are valid. I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone, including the show runners, would have preferred that the final book A Dream of Spring had been published and made available for adaptation, instead of HBO having to create original parallel content to what GRRM has in his head.
Reportedly, George RR Martin shared the endpoints of each character’s journey to Weiss and Benioff, so they could plan accordingly not only in their adaptation (what has to remain in, what can safely be excised) but also if they had to continue on without materials to adapt. Watching the show, we’re going to learn those end points.
Will that ruin The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring for us, when they come out?
Has knowing that Melisandre is going to die ruined Season Eight? I don’t think so.
Melisandre is an important character, if not a major one, and the potential of her interactions with the other characters in the story is complex and deep. Knowing that she’s going to die builds in suspense on how that’s going to come about. It’s engaging.
When the show concludes, we’ll have some insight in how the books will handle the story, but even if the books cleave strictly to the plot points of the show (which it can’t – there’s already been too many divergances and unadapted material to deal with) the execution of the writing will bring a level of satisfaction that can’t be ruined by spoilers.
George’s writing in the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire led to the show being greenlit. I have faith that George will bring us something great in the final books, regardless of what we see in the show.
I think we should temper our expectations on what influence the show will have on the books.
Because watching Game of Thrones is like Melisandre staring into the flames. We’ll see things, we’ll know things. But if we’re making guesses on the books, we’re still extrapolating from incomplete data. Just like Melisandre, who proved to be taken by surprise when her interpretations of the available data were flawed.
Be careful about that.
Melisandre: Whatever. I’m still going to be dead in Season Eight.
Me: Do you know how you’ll die?
Melisandre: Of course.
Melisandre: That would be telling.
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