So Melisandre is an extremely old woman who used magic to hide her real appearance. Most fans are surprised by this reveal but for the avid fans of Game of Thrones as well as for the readers of George R.R. Martin’s novels, this wouldn’t have been much of a revelation.
In a 2012 interview, Carice van Houten actually revealed that Melisandre is over 100 years old and there are good hints about this in the books as well. So how did she manage to alter her appearance?
For starters, she is a witch! But in the books, there is a name for this kind of magic- ‘glamor’. In A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre reveals to Jon Snow that she possesses the power to create illusions:
“Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion. R’hllor is Lord of Light, Jon Snow, and it is given to his servants to weave with it, as others weave with thread.”
In the same book, Arya’s mentor in the Faceless Men tells her about ‘glamor’:
“Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye.”
Melisandre also shows a demonstration of these powers in the book. She tells Jon Snow that she faked Mance Rayder’s death by ‘glamoring’ another wildling (Rattleshirt aka Lord of Bones) to look like him. This storyline was omitted by Game of Thrones as it was deemed confusing and probably would have lessened the shock value of Melisandre’s big reveal in the last episode.
She also explains that if a person has a strong connection to an object, illusion can be strengthened by using that object. Therefore, Mance wears Rattleshirt’s bone armor to look more like the Lord of Bones:
“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”
Melisandre, in her case, used the ruby necklace to strengthen her illusion. It is also mentioned in the books that ‘glamor’ magic takes its toll on the person performing it:
“They need never know how difficult it had been, or how much it had cost her,” she thinks.
So how old is Melisandre? Book readers did speculate that she had been disguising her appearance for a long time when it was revealed that she had ‘glamor’ powers. And in her own POV chapter in A Dance with Dragons, it is mentioned that she ‘had practiced her art for years beyond count.’
An year after the book’s release, Melisandre was introduced in the show and van Houten was seemingly informed about her character’s old age so that she can play the role better. She also hasn’t been very tight lipped about this fact either. In the 2012 interview, she revealed:
“I don’t how old she is, but she’s way over 100 years.”
On the sets, when they were filming season 2, she revealed to Oliver Ford Davies (Cressen) that she’s ‘400 year old:
“In between takes, I said to her, ‘I’m not quite up to speed on this, why don’t you die?’ And she said, “I’m 400 years old.” And I thought, oh, well, fair enough, that’s a lesson learned. If you’re trying to poison somebody, check first that they’re not 400 years old.”
Davies was referring to the scene in the first episode of season 2 (The North Remembers) when Cressen and Melisandre both drink poisoned wine but it only kills him and not her.
Creator David Benioff also revealed in ‘Inside the Episode’ segment that Martin had already told them that Melisandre is ‘several centuries old’.
So do these impressive magical powers possessed by Melisandre also include resurrection? We will have to wait and see how it all unfolds in upcoming episodes.