[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the second episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season, "Stormborn."]
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) isn't the only person who went through a homecoming of sorts as she traveled to Dragonstone.
The second episode of season seven saw another familiar Thrones character returning to Dragonstone for the first time in a while: Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the Red Priestess of Asshai. When we last saw the character, she was riding away from Winterfell, exiled from the Jon Snow (Kit Harington) regime after Davos (Liam Cunningham) outed her involvement in killing Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram). Both men swore that she would die if she ever returned to the North. From there, her next moves were unknown. Would she run into Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) somewhere along her travels? After all, Melisandre once made a prophecy about the young wolf: "We will see each other again." Then again, as a wise woman once said: "Prophecies are dangerous things."
Here's what we know: Melisandre is in Dragonstone because she still believes in Jon, she also believes in Dany, and she believes the two of them have a role to play in the great war to come. Beyond that? Both the character and the actor are stopping short of making any predictions. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Carice van Houten explained why Melisandre is taking on a more measured tone in season seven, and how that humble approach could be just the thing she needs to make her more human — and just the thing that could end Melisandre's long life for good.
Welcome back to Westeros! Are you happy to have Melisandre back in the action?
Hell yeah. (Laughs.) Yeah, because I was a little bit afraid. The last time I had a conversation with Jon Snow and what's-his-name, Davos, it didn't really look good for me. I had no idea if I was going to come back. I just figured, good god, where does she go now? I was very happy to read that she's back, not with per se a vengeance, but with an interesting and important mission.
Did you have any thoughts on what was going to happen with the character, once she rode away from Winterfell?
She wasn't going to be in the North, that was for sure. That would be dangerous for me. I thought maybe I would get to go to Spain and go south! But unfortunately not. I didn't go that far south. But there are so many things that could have happened. There's some untied knots in some of these stories, and loose ends with Arya. There's still a few things I think are bound to happen still.
Melisandre went into season six very broken and unsure of herself. Everything she believed in with Stannis was washed away in his defeat. She throws her lot in with Jon Snow and brings him back from the dead. Then she's once again on her own, cast out from the North. But is it a different kind of defeat? Is the Melisandre we see riding away from Winterfell less broken than the Melisandre we saw riding into Castle Black at the end of season five?
Well, yes, a little less broken, but she knows now that she has to completely look at this from a different point of view. The first shock of everything that she believed in isn't true, that her whole world had fallen apart, and everything that came with that — the burning of Shireen, which she never allowed herself to feel anything about because she was so sure it would lead to good things in the end — she was a wreck in season six. She slowly regains her confidence. Not so much her own confidence, but maybe her faith. She sees herself as a vessel. I don't think she's in it for her own gain. I don't see her as a selfish person, per se. I think she regained some of her power and confidence after Jon Snow [came back to life]. She had no idea that was going to work. The fact that he was alive again, she must have allowed herself to think: "I was on the wrong track before. I'm on the right track now." And then to be sent away again? It's very frustrating, of course. She leaves Winterfell more heartbroken for the world than for herself.
When she arrives in Dragonstone, there's something sober about Melisandre, what with how she's talking about the dangers of prophecy. She comes across as more measured than ever before. Was that intentional on your part?
Yes. She's more realistic, I guess, and self-aware in that sense. She's more ironic, almost. It's as if she can look at herself better now. She doesn't have that fanatic point of view. It makes her, to me, more interesting to play.
What does Melisandre make of Daenerys?
She has respect for her. At this point, she's just thinking: "What do we need to do in order to stay alive? What do we need to do to stop the world from fucking ending," really? She's very serious about bringing the right people together in order to direct some of it, at least. I do think she knows more about what it means, what's going to actually come. She's seen it.
In putting "the right people together," Melisandre is potentially putting herself at great risk. When she last saw Jon and Davos, they promised to kill her if she crossed their path again. What does it say about Melisandre's growth, that she's willing to occupy the same space as Jon, even after a threat like that?
That's why I think this isn't a selfish act. She's on a mission. She was wrong, terribly wrong, about the other mission — her first plan, with Stannis. But now she's all the more determined to get it right, I think.
Is it painful for Melisandre to return to Dragonstone?
Yeah, I think so. I think so. It makes her humble, too. The way I played that scene, I as the character almost felt intimidated. Intimidated is a big word, but I really did, by being there and being surrounded by all of these people. She's definitely gone through a lot of personal stuff. That's what makes her way more vulnerable, I think. I don't know what you read into that last scene, but I tried to be really ... nice, in a way. Not even trying. It almost feels sometimes like I'm a whole different character than I was before.
How much of that ties into the revelation of Melisandre's true age, from last season? Is that playing a factor in the growth of the character over the last year or so, and also the way you're playing her now?
I think so. We see more of that. We haven't seen her tell that to anyone. But she's more transparent now. She's becoming nicer, which we would say is a good thing from a human point of view. But she might get too vulnerable for it. That's my personal view of it. Who knows? She might be getting toward her end. She might be dying for all we know.
It's worth wondering about: Does she feel like she's seen and done so much that her personal safety doesn't matter much to her anymore, if she can push the world in the right direction?
Exactly. It's dangerous to say, but I feel sorry for her. I think she [feels like] she's in her last days. But I can't predict anything.
How difficult is it to speak in High Valyrian?
Fucking. Difficult. (Laughs.) Especially when you've just had a baby six weeks earlier, and you're just like, "Holy shit, wait a minute ... Lines! What language is this? How the hell am I supposed to remember anything?" Your brain is like fucking gouda cheese. It's tricky! It was really tricky. But I love it. It's fun because the other actors can't understand you. It's really between you and the other person. You do feel like you're talking in a secret language, which is cool. Apart from the fact that I find it difficult to learn, because there's no reference to any other language, I'm always very impressed that the language exists at all.
You're shooting a Brian De Palma movie, Domino, with a Game of Thrones co-star right now: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. What can you say about that experience?
It's really great. It's very scattered so far. We'll have a week here and two weeks there. There's a lot of time in between. It's very great. It's funny to meet two completely different characters, where we've never met on the show. It's funny for people to see us, extras and the like. We're shooting in Spain, where the fan base is so huge. It's been very sweet and funny. People will look at me sometimes like I can scare them a little bit. These big, grown-up men who look at me: "You're not really going to do anything, right? You don't really have fire powers?" They're sort of joking, but I can sense that feeling I had when I first met [Jack Gleeson, who plays] Joffrey. I was very scared of him! He was really scary! (Laughs.) It's funny, the effect this show has on people.
Watch the video below for the Game of Thrones cast's preview of season seven's battles.
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