“The Long Night” was dark and full of terrors, but Melisandre was instrumental in burning them all away. Whatever your feelings about the mysterious red priestess, she certainly knew how to make an entrance – and an exit. From her stunning introduction in season two on the windswept beaches of Dragonstone, to her poetic death as dawn broke over Winterfell, Carice Van Houten made a powerful and unforgettable impression.
Funnily enough, Van Houten was almost cast as another character – Cersei Lannister. She was initially approached to audition for our favorite villainous queen but had to decline as she was filming the movie Intruders at the time. Fortunately she was able to join the series for season two in the role of Melisandre instead, and I think we can all agree it worked out for the best in both cases.
Playing a challenging character like Melisandre wasn’t easy, and Van Houten has admitted it “was a struggle in the beginning. The things I’d done before, in film or theater, were tragicomic roles where the focus was on human flaws, fears and doubts. This confident, religious, extreme character seemed to lack all of that. So I really had to work hard.”
The beauty of Van Houten’s performance, however, is that despite her confidence and intimidating presence, Melisandre did have fears and doubts beneath the surface. She was able to express them beautifully in season six when all hope seemed lost. Despite her terrible sacrifice of Shireen a season earlier, Stannis was defeated and killed – and mankind’s other great hope to defeat the long night had just been brutally murdered by his Night’s Watch brothers.
It was an interesting time for Van Houten, who went from receiving death threats by fans after burning Shireen to receiving marriage proposals for resurrecting Jon Snow. While the audience may take the show a little too seriously at times, she revels in the impact her character has made. In an interview with The Guardian, she recounted a story of telling a fan “the night is dark and full of terrors” when the girl couldn’t quite place how she knew Van Houten. “[She] almost screamed – not just because she recognized someone from TV, but as if she really thought I was scary. Which was fun!”
Scary she may have been, but no one could deny that Melisandre’s focus was on the greater good – despite the sometimes horrific acts she committed. It is fitting then, that her last act was to help defeat the threat she’d been warning against since the beginning. Van Houten gave an inspired, understated performance during the battle of Winterfell, and the final shot of her walking out into the snow, removing her glamour, and falling peacefully to the ground as her incredibly advanced age overcame her was one of the most moving of the episode. Her long night is now at an end.
Besides Game of Thrones, Carice Van Houten is best known for her lead roles in the highly successful Dutch film Black Book, the Jesse Owens biopic Race, and playing opposite Tom Cruise in Valkyrie. An accomplished singer as well, Van Houten provided vocals for the Black Book soundtrack and has released two albums of her own. Her next project is the upcoming movie Domino, in which she stars with her husband, Guy Pearce, and fellow Game of Thrones castmate Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Hopefully Van Houten will continue to grace our screens with her magnetic presence for years to come.