This week’s Game of Thrones ended with a bit of a shock, as Carice van Houten’s sorceress Melisandre revealed that her youthful appearance is only a spell and that she’s actually a lot older.
We still don’t know how long or why she’s been doing this – maybe it was part of a plan to seduce Stannis, maybe she’s trying to disguise her true identity, or maybe she just likes looking younger (who doesn't) – but one thing's for sure, it was a terrific unforeseen surprise for absolutely everyone. Right?
Well, actually, no. A quick trawl of the internet reveals that fans of the original George RR Martin books have been kicking this theory around for years, probably beginning about three years ago when one reddit user suggested that Melisandre might be using her glowing necklace as a “glamour” (in other words a spell) to disguise her appearance.
This theory was partly brought up because Melisandre commented at one point (in both the books and TV show) that she had been a slave, despite having none of the tattoos or brands (such as this tearmark, below) used by slavers in George RR Martin’s world.
The books also hint that the character has been around for a while, as in this sentence from the only chapter written from Melisandre’s point of view – “Melisandre had practiced her art for years beyond count, and she had paid the price”.
Adding to all that is the fact that in the books we actually see Melisandre put a glamour on someone else, using a ruby just like the one worn at her neck to make Mance Rayder appear as another character and avoid being burned to death by the Night’s Watch (though in the TV series he actually just died as far as we know).
Adding these elements together fans concluded that Melisandre was using magic to conceal her great age, an idea finally proven right in this week’s Game of Thrones as the Red Priestess took off her necklace and revealed her true appearance. And according to co-showrunner David Benioff, this was George RR Martin’s plan for the books as well, so all the clues people picked up on were planted with a purpose.
"There have been a few hints before that Melisandre is much older than she appears," Benioff said in an Inside the Episode video (below). "[This is] going back to a very early conversation with George RR Martin about her: she’s supposed to be several centuries old."
“But hang on,” you may be thinking. “I have a photographic memory for every time Carice van Houten takes her clothes off (for reasons I’d rather not share), and isn’t there a scene in series four where she removes the magic de-ageing ruby WITHOUT going all Mother Gothel on us?”
And you’d be right – you can watch the NSFW clip here – but the Game of Thrones fans also have an answer for that, posted a relatively recent 12 months before the episode was broadcast. Jeez, they really dragged their feet on the pre-emptive response against the backlash to an event that hadn't happened yet.
As brashendeavors puts it in this reddit post: “Rewatch the scene where she takes her bath without the ruby choker, and this time, picture Selyse seeing the hag in its true form but still its obedient servant."
"’If they are lies milady, aren't they best avoided?’ Selyse refers to Melisandre's illusion of a sexual temptress. ‘Not always,’ Mel replies. When she discusses ‘the trick that led them to the truth,’ she is talking to Selyse as someone who has crossed over that line, into the true believer camp. She does not need to use ruby chokers with Selyse."
“I think it's clear the missing choker in the bath scene was not an oversight but instead was a clue for us. Mel uses tricks with most, she uses none with Selyse. It also means that Selyse is not acting under any charms, any illusions, any ‘ruby choker’ magic mind tricks, when she agrees to take her daughter to the Wall. She already knows the truth.”
It's definitely an interesting theory, though we here at RadioTimes.com have a few other ideas for the apparent continuity error as well. Maybe Mels doesn’t actually need to wear the necklace to keep the spell up, and just chose to go casual in this week’s episode while depressed over Stannis’ defeat. Maybe it acts as a way to focus her magic but doesn’t actually need to be worn at all times, or maybe last night’s revelation was a revelation of how she sees herself rather than how she actually is (in something of a reversal of the reddit theory). Or you know, it could be that the production team messed up a small detail a few years ago and we should all just move on.
Anything's possible – but whatever the truth, we’re hoping for a few more death-defying spells from Melisandre in the coming weeks. We don’t want Kit Harington getting too bored playing a corpse, after all…
Game of Thrones returns next Monday at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic