Spoiler alert: This contains a big revelation from Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones.
What a difference bringing someone back to life makes!
Carice van Houten has felt the full force of fan hate – and now love – for her portrayal of Red Priestess Melisandre, whose penchant for human bonfires is now overshadowed by her power to raise the beloved Jon Snow (Kit Harington) from the dead on HBO’s Game of Thrones (Sunday, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
“Were they mad me? They were like, ‘Kill (her). Die, b----,” van Houten recalls, especially after Melisandre advocated the burning of King Stannis Baratheon’s young daughter, Shireen. After reviving Jon in Sunday’s episode, “I’m very popular. It’s like, ‘Melisandre for President!’ It really makes me laugh.”
Melisandre has been involved in some of Thrones’ most intense scenes, including giving birth to a shadow assassin and her shocking transformation from a young beauty into a vulnerable old woman after she removes her necklace in the Season 6 premiere.
Jon Snow’s revival, which came at the urging of competing Stannis adviser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), “was one of those epic scenes,” van Houten tells USA TODAY.
In the scene, Melisandre washes Jon’s bloody body, cuts his hair and burns it and recites a Valyrian spell to try to bring him back to life after he was stabbed by Night’s Watch brothers in the Season 5 finale. "It’s one of the most important scenes of the season," she says. We took forever to shoot it. (There were) a lot of takes.”
As Jon Snow’s fate was the subject of fevered speculation, including the theory that Melisandre would revive him, van Houten had to avoid the role of spoiler.
“I knew I had to shut up for a year, but it was a good lie to keep,” she says. “It was so much fun but tricky some times, because I’ve been asked this question more than anyone else: ‘Is he going to be alive?’ ”
The Dutch actress, whose films include Race and Black Butterflies (with Cunningham), even had to deflect questions from her mother and sister. “They’re fans of Jon Snow.”
Melisandre, who left the room before Jon came back to life, has been crestfallen in recent episodes, losing faith in her powers and the Lord of Light after Stannis’s army was destroyed and he was killed, despite her efforts to guarantee triumph, including advocating the sacrifice of Shireen.
“That was a huge blow. We find her in a true identity crisis at the beginning” of Season 6, says van Houten, who joined Thrones in its second season. “She sacrificed this little girl. When she finds out it was for nothing, it starts her faith tumbling down.”
The scene showing Melisandre’s transformation into an aged woman (via body double) crawling into bed displayed a vulnerability to the powerful character, who is more than 300 years old. "No one saw that coming. (The depiction) was very touching,” van Houten says.
She can’t go into detail about Melisandre’s future, but her magical accomplishment shows she still has power. “Some of her faith in the Lord of Light comes back.”
Melisandre's revival of Jon Snow, added to the revelation of her age, adds complexity to a character some had seen as a villain.
“She’s still sort of a mystery to me,” van Houten says. “I keep telling people she does things for the greater good. She knows something way bigger is ahead of us. She has the will to save humanity, in a way.”