Editorial Featured Game of Thrones Melisandre

How old is Melisandre?

Okay, first things first: turn back if you don’t want to be exposed to SPOILERS.

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Okay, for all those still here: Game of Thrones fans got a shocker at the end of “The Red Woman,” the Season 6 premiere: Melisandre, the Red Priestess played since Season 2 by Carice van Houten, took off her ruby-studded choker and revealed that she is quite a bit older than she looks. Melisandre is a beautiful woman, and Van Houten is 39, but the Melisandre we saw at the end of the episode was ancient, a bent-backed woman with brittle hair and sagging breasts. Clearly, she’s done some serious time in the world.

Before we try and answer the question of exactly how old she is, let’s acknowledge that the show has hinted at this before. At the end of Season 2, Stannis is angry at Melisandre following his defeat in the Battle of the Blackwater.

Melisandre: “Will you quit the war just because you’ve lost a battle?”

Stannis: “You talk about war as if you understand it.”

Melisandre: “I’ve been fighting far longer than you.”

Stannis is a middle-aged man, so in order to be fighting far longer than him, Melisandre would have to have some years on her. Most fans didn’t give that line too much thought when it first happened, but it seems important now.

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Also, Van Houten came right out said that Melisandre is older than she looks in an interview with Access Hollywood back in 2012.

I don’t how old she is, but she’s way over 100 years, so she is a wiser spirit, in a way, but it’s difficult for me to say too much because A — we want it to at least stay sort of a mystery and B — I didn’t read the books.

This was before the show tightened up spoilers, and if she had said that today, surely Van Houten would be in hot water. Actor Oliver Ford Davies, who played Maester Cressen in the Season 2 premiere, also once told journalists that Melisandre was “400 years old.” So the information has been out there for a while.

The most recent estimate comes from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff himself, in the “Inside the Episode” feature that followed the Season 6 premiere. He said that Melisandre is “several centuries old.” He also said that he got this information from George R.R. Martin, so consider that book detail spoiled.

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Book-readers probably even have a good guess as to how Melisandre manages to make herself look younger. In A Dance with Dragons, she puts an enchantment on wildling king Mance Rayder to make him look like the wildling Rattleshirt, and vice versa. It’s not hard to believe that she does the same thing on herself. In the case of Rattleshirt, her ability to maintain the illusion was tied to the ruby-studded choker she always wears. It makes sense that her real self was revealed after she took it off.

Fans have rightly pointed out that Melisandre doesn’t wear the choker in a Season 4 scene where she’s bathing and talking with Selyse, Stannis’ wife. Is this an inconsistency? Probably, but there are a couple of theories that could make sense of it. Some fans think that Selyse does indeed see Melisandre’s true form here, hence why she’s averting her eyes. That seems unlikely to me, though—she could have been averting her eyes just because she’s uncomfortable with nudity.

It’s also possible that taking off the choker isn’t the only thing that needs to happen in order for her true self to shine through. As Dan Weiss notes in the “Inside the Episode” segment, Melisandre removed her glamour on purpose. Her faith was shaken following Stannis defeat outside Winterfell. She was tired of all the lies in her life, and wanted to remind herself who she truly was, and what she really looked like. There may be a mental element at work here.

We’ll see if this development has more of an effect on the story going forward, or if it’s just something private we share with this centuries old Red Priestess.

23 Comments

  • If she is 400 years old, then she should be able to spot a false vision by now. Another hand is at work, and it rhymes with Bloodraven, makes more sense. Melisandre seemed sad that she now knows what she has to do to make those visions real.

    • She’s more than sad, she’s giving up. That’s why she went back to her true form, because she’s tired of the (what she now thinks are) lies, as seen in the trailer when she says “it was all lies”.
      The problem I see now is that it’s gonna take Davos, or somebody, several episodes to convince her to try some magic or prayers on Jon, because she’s lost her faith and has given up at this point. So that will be drawn out. Damn

      • And another reason I think she’s giving up and (literally) laying down (in the bed) is because in the books in pretty sure she says that she never sleeps, or at least never lets the light (fire) go out in her room. Idk, it just looked like a give up posture to me. Plus she got under the thick covers. I thought the LoL kept her warm..

        • I don’t think it’ll get several episode to get her back to Jon… the show has already changed a character’s mind with just a one-liner from a strong character, I’m pretty sure Davos will make her do her magic on Jon next episode

  • So if I’m getting this correctly, and this is very important for future discussion of the show. You are telling me that Bloodraven rhymes with Bloodraven.

  • Back in the episode with Selyse, Mel points out which of her potions do what.
    In this one, there are vials of various potions near where Mel’s choker is placed. Notice how the gemstone flickers before the light fades from it? Could any of those potions be used to ‘refill’ or ‘re-energise’ the choker?

    I’m not sure Mel has the wherewithal to bring Jon back. There was a comment to Thoros, when she picked up Gendry. ‘You should not have this power.’ That was almost like her questioning whether or not she could do it, probably with Stannis (at that point).

    If, as I think it’ll play out, Jon is inside Ghost – the last word he says in the books taken as a clue – Mel may not be the one who can restore Jon. Skinchanging and warging are knowns with Wildlings & North people rather than elsewhere. Won’t it be one of those reveals, when a Wildling tries to warg into Ghost?

    Could it be Bran who discovers where Jon’s ‘spirit’ is? I can see Bran wanting to find out about Rickon via Shaggydog, and Jon via Ghost. Surely he will be able to see thru other eyes while warging or skinchanging. Maybe that’ll be book only. Who knows?

    • but after warging he needs to get back into his (or another’s body) else our hero will be a mute wolf for the rest of the show…..

    • Melisandre went looking for the Brother Without Banners (S3) pretty soon after the birth of the dragons (S1) and the red comet (S2) — maybe magic was still in the process of returning?

    • Mel knows about Jon’s warging in the books. She tells him not to fight it. I think she even tells him that he has power in the show too, and not to fight it

  • This Effin show is going to spoil the books and its nobody’s fault except good old George himself …. Finish the damn book already !!!

    • you know i’m not worried about that anymore. they’re making such a hash of it i think they are going to be such totally different products.

      • I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now as to whether they make a hash of it, but yeah, totally on board that I’m not considering the show as spoiling the books anymore. For example, the sand snakes taking over Dorne (not a good sign in terms of botching the show….) is pretty unlikely to happen in the books.

  • I’m happy that the theory on Mel has finally come off. Though what i’m now confused by is WHO she is since 400 years rules out the theories of her being SS or (my fav) daughter of SS and BR :o(

    • well this may come as a shock but not every character in game of thrones is secretly somebody else

      • very true and things do get tinfoil crazy with secret second identities (but its fun to speculate!). but clearly in this particular case, mel is indeed not quite who she has been purporting to be, there must be a back-story to this, an explanation on motivations or something, and the two popular contenders seem to be ruled out by the timing.

        though that said, D$D could well be happy just to leave it hanging without any underlying reason or logic given! ok guys, she’s just a red priestess that’s been knocking around for 400 years awaiting the return of a saviour, lets just leave it at that! pfft

    • That 400 years old is 100% non-canon… and, even if it turns out to be true, she could have glamoured herself as young for Shiera as well as she did with her present form

    • It was my first thought too Gaia. Who is she? Is she anyone with a history? I think GRRM has conditioned this response in us…… Not our faults!

  • It might be that the choker can work remotely. When she took it off on yesterday’s episode it seemed to give a faint last light and then extinguish. Who knows if it was working on season 4 but she just didn’t have it on?

    And besides, as she is a seductress it is probably necessary for it to work this way. If for some reason the man took it off, it would all go sour, wouldn’t it?

    I could also think that that necklace might be the focus for her immortality

  • Maaaaybeeee… The choker is just an indicator for how strong her faith is. And the strip off is just symbolic for her loss.

    It would be interesting, if any non-book-reader is eager on this subject. For me it is just a discussion book reader make up. The others should not care.

  • I’m not sure if this is really a spoiler from Book 6, as it was hinted at in Melisandre’s point of view chapter in a Dance with Dragons (“…had practiced her art for years beyond count”). True, we don’t see her as a super old woman in that chapter, but her magic keeping her alive for many, many years clearly came across (in the books, she also doesn’t need to eat – only does it so people see her doing it)

    I think this is a “spoiler,” a là the scene with the White Walker with Craster’s last son in Season 4. Nothing explicitly confirmed or describe in the texts, but firmly hinted at in a quick flash (Gilly calls the the White Walkers/Others surrounding the village she and Sam are in, “{her infant son}’s brothers.” – the writers of the show simply took this line to the logical conclusion).

  • Rattleshift? Really? Not read what you have written?

    Rattleshirt.

    Bloody southerners. Winter is coming

  • There were vials on the table… Did she take poison ? which could’ve ( maybe ) released her from the glamour or spell cast via the ruby choker…and at age 400 surely she could have learned how to derive power from the ruby without direct skin contact ?
    …. Only blood can pay for life…. Am sure Lady Mel’s bit in this season is far from over!! It’s just transient delayed post-natal depression… She will get over it and make another shadow baby!!