The “Game of Thrones” Season 6 premiere featured plenty of memorable moments — including the long-awaited reunion between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), after the warrior finally won Sansa’s trust by saving her and Theon (Alfie Allen) from the Boltons’ soldiers — but executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss saved the best for last, ending the episode by letting the audience spy on the Red Priestess Melisandre in a rare moment of vulnerability — shedding her façade of beauty and youth to reveal an old, fragile woman before she settled down to sleep for the night.
If you were confused by what was happening in the scene, you weren’t the only one — some cast members didn’t know how to interpret the reveal, which saw actress Carice van Houten wearing full-body makeup and prosthetics to achieve Melisandre’s aged look.
“I feel like it’s a very confusing moment for audience members, but it keeps you watching, and all does get revealed,” star Maisie Williams tells Variety. “When I read it I was really confused, and then when I watched it I was like, ‘oh, I get it,’ and ‘holy s—, that’s Carice.’ It’s incredible that it’s full-body makeup.”
Even Tom Wlaschiha — who is accustomed to his own character, Jaqen H’ghar, changing his appearance as one of the Faceless Man — found the scene “really surprising, because when you read it, it tells you, ‘she looks in the mirror and her appearance changes to that of a really old woman,’ and you go, ‘okay, yeah, that’s a reveal,’ but then when you watch it, it’s actually a very moving and touching moment. The way Carice is playing that is amazing, because it’s just in her eyes. She looks in that blind mirror and you can totally see her façade coming off.”
“I didn’t read episodes I wasn’t in this year, but I think that’s one of those moments that even when you do know and you read it on paper, the impact of it visually is something you couldn’t really predict,” says John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly. “The fact is that David and Dan finish these scripts and you read parts of them that seem unfilmable – I don’t know how they’re gonna pull this off visually, and then they hand it over to the creative teams and the design teams and they pull it off.”
Turner says she “knew that was coming, because there were so many makeup tests for it,” telling Variety she thinks it’ll make viewers see Melisandre in a whole new light. “It definitely brings such a vulnerability to her that we’ve never seen before, which is really exciting, because she’s the hard bitch you don’t wanna mess with, so that brings a whole new side to her. And it kind of makes you feel sorry for her — it’ll definitely change people’s opinions on her.”
Liam Cunningham — whose Ser Davos Seaworth has always had a contentious relationship with Melisandre — notes that for the first time since her character was introduced, “it’s the real woman you get to see, the broken woman… everything she believed in is gone. It’s remarkable because for the past five seasons, everything you’ve known about Melisandre is now a lie, so you’re never going to be able to look at her the same way again. From what we’ve got coming up, you’re always, as an audience member, going ‘what I’m looking at there… [I] don’t know what the f— is going on,’ and that’s incredibly interesting as an audience member, because it doesn’t happen in real life. You’re allowing it to sit in your brain as a reality.”
Many fans have speculated that Melisandre might somehow be responsible for resurrecting the murdered Jon Snow (Kit Harington) this season, and while we saw plenty of the Lord Commander in the episode (sadly still dead), The Red Woman didn’t work any magic on his corpse. Could there still be a chance for her to save him, and might we see him alive at some point in Season 6? The cast remains tight-lipped, but star Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark — another character with special abilities — says of the final scene, “What I think is interesting about that is clearly her magic is the magic that works – so much of the other magic is like ‘I can do this for you!’ and it’s like ‘really?’ [because] it’s trickery — but she’s the real deal, which I think is interesting.”
John Bradley cryptically agrees of the final scene, “It just lets you know what she’s capable of.”
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.