Carice van Houten talks Melisandre’s future on Game of Thrones

“I will return, dear Spider. One last time. I have to die in this strange country. Just like you.”—Melisandre, to Varys, “The Queen’s Justice”

Melisandre is apparently retreating to Essos for the time being, but she says she’s coming back. Not only that, she’s saying that she is fated to die in Westeros (and so is Varys). What does Carice Van Houten think about her character’s history and her latest ominous prophecies? She had a lot to say about it in an interview with Elle.

“I’ve had some really epic scenes,” van Houten said. “In fact, I’m spoiled because now I feel like, Where was my big, crazy scene this year?”

According to Elle, Melisandre is done for season 7, but the two scenes we’ve had with her so far may well prove important down the line. In “Stormborn,” she muddied the waters regarding the identity of the Prince That Was Promised, opening the possibility that it could be either Dany or Jon. (Or both?) And in “The Queen’s Justice,” she predicted her own death and the death of another major character, Varys the Spider.

Conleth Hill as Varys and Carice van Houten as Melisandre. Photo: HBO.

Talking so candidly with Varys was a change for Melisandre. Both characters are survivors, lowborn foreigners who have become masters of the great game in Westeros. “It was different for her, talking to Varys, than it was talking to Stannis or Davos,” she said. “Here’s someone who, like her, has a long-term vision, who has that sarcastic sort of confidence. They both know how to get what they want in sneaky ways.”

Van Houten doesn’t think theres much hope for Varys. “I think he’s not gonna make it,” she said. “But that’s my personal thought. Some things, terrible things, have to happen in these last seasons! It’ll probably be one of those where he’ll try run from it, but he’ll get it in the end.” But she doesn’t see any sunshine and roses awaiting Melisandre, either. In fact, she believes her character is unafraid and ready for death (as long as her quest is accomplished):

I have a feeling that she’s tired. She’s old, man. She knows what this world is about. That’s what makes her powerful, but also more vulnerable in the end. But I think she’s afraid of dying before seeing for herself that everything ends all right. Even if it means she has to sacrifice herself. That’s my other theory.

Of course, we all remember how inaccurate Melisandre’s flame-reading predictions can be, from informing Stannis that he was the Prince Who was Promised to having him barbecue his daughter Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) in order to secure a victory that never happened. Van Houten feels that Melisandre’s failures have chastened her, and improved her focus. “She’s made huge mistakes and is aware of it. She’s more careful. And she’s regained a little bit of her faith after bringing Jon Snow back from the dead.”

Van Houten also embraces some of the controversy surrounding her character, specifically the fan backlash that resulted from Shireen Baratheon’s sacrifice. “[T]here are people who take the show very seriously,” Van Houten said. “So it definitely didn’t get me any sympathy points, that’s for sure.” Of course, she was redeemed in the eyes of many fans when she resurrected Jon Snow in the sixth season: “Suddenly, I was a hero! All of a sudden it was ‘Melisandre for President!’ Before it was just, ‘Die, bitch, die!'”

Shireen’s “iconic” death scene is Van Houten’s favorite so far. “I think that was probably my favorite scene of the whole series. I love not having any lines because—apart from the fact that I don’t have to learn them—I just love silent acting.”

Of course, things were lighter backstage than onscreen, and Van Houten had nothing but kind things to say about Kerry Ingram, saying she “was such a lovely girl with a lot of humor,” and that “we had a lot of fun backstage.”

As for the big reveal of how ancient Melisande is, Van Houten was just as taken aback as fans. “The tricky thing is that, as much as I think I know about her, I still don’t really know anything,” Van Houten explained. “You hear that your character is actually very old, and six seasons later you’re sitting in a chair with five and a half hours worth of makeup on your face and you think, ‘Oh, that’s what they meant.'”

To pull the scene off, Van Houten’s head was digitally placed on an older body double. It was a shocking experience for the actress: “I went to my trailer to pee, and when I walked out of the trailer and looked in the mirror, I’d forgotten that I looked like that. I was scared to death!”

The producers hinted at the reveal, Van Houten explains, by clothing Melisandre in thicker and thicker furs leading up to her bare-it-all scene:

You could sense [her vulnerability] from her costumes. I was always freezing cold while shooting [outside] in my regular costume. Because Melisandre is never cold. But in the sixth season, she actually wears a fur draped around her in front of the fire. She’s cold. She’s depressed. She knows she’s made a mistake.

And what about the nature of that magical choker Melisandre wears? If it’s a glamour that conceals her true age, how did she remain young and beautiful when she removed it to bathe in “Mockingbird” (S4/Ep7)? “That was an oops moment!” Van Houten admits.

Van Houten gave birth to a baby boy (with partner actor Guy Pierce) 11 months ago, and she feels that the experience improved her performance as Melisandre. Van Houten was weepy and stricken about being separated from her baby while shooting her scenes, but “The good news was that my character has become more vulnerable, more transparent, more human. I could use my own emotional tools, my own shit. I was relieved when I was able to show some tears, show some doubts and fear and vulnerability.” Melisandre may be deeply troubled and dark, but Van Houten has never thought of her as evil:

I see her as a fanatic, someone who had a really strong vision of the future and was not prepared to let it go. As we know from history and fiction, nobody we consider to be evil thinks they’re evil. Look at stuff going on in the world right now. The guys we find scary, they think they’re doing the right thing. That’s the scariest thing about it.

Van Houten is currently moving between movie sets in Europe, filming Brian De Palma’s thriller Domino with fellow Game of Thrones star Nokolaj Coster-Waldau (and life partner Pierce). De Palma’s movie is set in the modern world of international terror and intrigue, but van Houten says that she and Coster-Waldau often find themselves thinking about Westeros. “It’s funny, even I sometimes think, ‘Look at me, I’m sitting in a car, having a scene with Jaime Lannister!'” Van Houten says. “I was talking to Nikolaj the other day about it. We were sitting in the Green Room, and I said, ‘What do you think will happen?’ He said, ‘I have no fucking clue!'”

Need more van Houten? Here she is responding to fan theories:

We have another short bit of inside for you before we close. Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton talked to HBO’s Making Game of Thrones blog about Euron Greyjoy’s “rock star”-like costumes, which have stirred up a fair amount of commentary since they debuted in the season premiere.

Clapton describes Euron as a “psychopathic arse,” and designed his wardrobe to reflect that. “The slashed leather jacket is linked to the slashed front of the Greyjoy armour, but his is methodical; repetitive. He systematically cut the tongues out of his crew, so I think he did this to his jacket himself.”

He wants his look to get inside Jaime’s head, to threaten him visually and physically. He’s attractive and swaggering…he is a threat.

Take a look at some of his threads below.

You you can see more at the Making Game of Thrones blog.

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