We’re about a year out from the end of Game of Thrones, and in some quarters, emotion is still running high. Few shows inspired as much passion as Game of Thrones over the course of its eight-season run, and few inspired the kind of rage we saw in the wake of what many perceived to be a weak final batch of episodes.
One of the many problems people had with the eighth and final season was the ending, where Bran Stark was chosen as king of the Seven Kingdoms. (Or six, if the North is no longer a part of them, but maybe the Iron Islands are now? Whatever, it’s not important.) The choice seemed to come basically out of nowhere, which ticked off some fans who had gotten used watching a show that had a good grasp of cause and effect. Speaking to Insider, star Carice van Houten, who played the Red Woman Melisandre, had a different take.
“I loved the ending. I loved the randomness of just picking a king,” van Houten said. “That’s why I loved the first season, the guy who actually was king [Robert Baratheon], didn’t want to be king, so we already got a lesson in the beginning: ‘Why are you striving for that sort of power when, obviously, it doesn’t make you happy?'”
I loved the randomness and clumsiness of picking some guy, which is very representative of the world right now, as crazy people are ruling the world. I thought it was a great comparison.
It’s very true that Robert Baratheon was not a good king. He preferred to indulge his vices and leave the tough decision-making to others, ultimately proving far better at winning the throne than sitting it. But while I admire van Houten’s creativity in finding a new angle on the ending, I kind of doubt the show wanted us to watch that final group of characters pick Bran’s name out of a hat and think that the “randomness and clumsiness” of it was clever. The way those scene are framed, I get the idea that the show thought this was a good solution. But hey, there are lots of ways to read the series.
“The fact that some people were so disappointed is because everything before that was so good,” van Houten continued. “So [the backlash] feels a bit ungrateful. You’ve had such great times and then yeah, you’re going to be disappointed because it’s not going to go exactly how you anticipated. Of course, you’re going to have all sorts of criticisms and I just thought it was a sign of how good the show was.”
People sometimes take it too far and get too personal, but I can’t take that seriously. I just thought it’s people being really emotional about this show. It just always amazes me how people can go behind their computer and just type ‘die b—- die,’ I’m fascinated by that human psyche.
And lest we forget, van Houten is very familiar with the “die b—- die” contingent of the fandom. Between killing Renly, leeching Gendry, and of course burning Shireen at the stake, Melisandre did her fair share of dirty deeds, and the fans let her know it. “It was so funny to see the audience’s reaction to me because after Joffrey died, which I was sad about because I loved hating him and he [Jack Gleeson] was so good, I was second in line in being the baddie and everyone was focused on me being evil after burning Shireen,” van Houten remembered. “Then, the season straight after, I brought Jon Snow back to life. It went from ‘die b—- die’ and death threats toward my character, to fans asking me to marry them. I thought, ‘How fickle.’ It was a great thing to watch in audience response.”
With that experience, it makes sense that van Houten wouldn’t pay too much heed towards fans who tear the show — and the people who made it — apart online, although she does feel sympathy for showrunner David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who got the lion’s share of criticism after season 8 ended, some of it pretty heinous. “That’s beyond fandom. That’s extremism. That’s scary,” van Houten said. “Knowing the writers and knowing how f—–g great they are, they don’t deserve that. I think they are probably cool enough to deal with that but still, they are human beings, they are trying to make a good product.”
I’m on board with her here. Like many fans, I had major problems with the ending, but some of the intense pillorying of the people who made the show — not criticism of the actual episodes, but ridicule of the folks behind the scenes — was weird and gross and wildly inappropriate. I’m with van Houten in being fascinated that people are even capable of that.
As for playing Melisandre, van Houten seems to have nothing but warm memories. “I loved my arc,” she said. “I did get the turn of the character. At some point, her whole world starts falling apart, and that was my favourite moment. Up till then, it was fun to play someone who is so confident but it’s not my forté.”
I enjoy playing people who are not sure of themselves. I have all sorts of flaws and neuroses and fears and doubts, I love that s—. Melisandre made two jokes in eight years, maybe one, but I remember enjoying those lighter scenes so much. I so craved trying to put a wink in there, it’s just my natural way of not taking things too seriously.
Melisandre was indeed eerily confident, to the point where she could burn a little girl at the stake and everyone around her would just let it happen, more or less. “I have people stare at me and be a bit scared, or they say I know you from something and they say please tell me what it is, and I say, ‘The night is dark and full of terrors’ and they scream,” van Houten laughed. “People in the airport waving saying ‘Lord of light!’ It’s funny, I love that sort of stuff.”
All that said, there are some things van Houten wanted to do that didn’t end up happing, like a scene between Melisandre and Cersei. “[I]t would have been really fun if they just clicked immediately and had some sort of unspoken affair,” she said. And as for Melisandre doing her part in killing the Night King by parroting the line she said to Arya in season 3 back to her in season 8 (“Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes”), van Houten had no clue that was coming back. “I had no idea,” she said. “No idea. At the time, I thought ‘I’m just going to say it, it’s probably there for a reason.’ They told me, ‘We’ll get there later.'”
I wonder how early on they told her that? Something for the Game of Thrones retrospective.