This post contains frank discussion of Season 7, Episode 3 of Game of Thrones: “The Queen’s Justice.” If you’re not caught up or don’t want to be spoiled, now would be the time to leave. Seriously, I won’t warn you again. Skedaddle.
In a jam-packed episode full of dramatic character deaths, gruesome callbacks, and long-awaited meetings, the most mysterious moment belonged, of course, to the two biggest drama queens kicking around Westeros: Melisandre of Asshai and Lord Varys the Spider. The pair shared a clue-riddled goodbye on the cliffs of Dragonstone as Melisandre nimbly avoided Jon Snow and Davos (who had sworn to kill her as payback for Shireen) and lived to prophesy another day.
Varys advises Melisandre to, essentially, get out of dodge and never look back. The Red Woman, for her part, drops some cryptic responses as she tells him she’s off to Volantis, for now: “I’ve done my part. I’ve bought ice and fire together. . . . My time whispering in the ears of kings has come to an end. . . . Neither of us is common folk anymore. . . . Oh, I will return dear Spider. One last time. I have to die in this strange country, just like you.”
What is Melisandre doing in Volantis—and what does she know about Varys’s death? George R.R. Martin’s books (and previous seasons of the HBO series) provide some potential answers.
One of the most formative things that ever happened to poor Lord Varys was his traumatic castration at the hands of a magician from Myr. As he told Tyrion back in Season 3:
I still dream of that night. Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade—I
dream of the voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, a
conjurer’s trick? I don’t know. But the sorcerer called and a voice
answered and ever since that day I have hated magic and all those who
Up until now, we didn’t know what the voice in the flame said to Varys. But we know the followers of R’hllor somehow do. Kinvara, the high-ranking red priestess who paid Tyrion and Varys a visit in Meereen last season, made it clear that the Spider’s voice-in-the-flames moment was known to her.
Do you remember what you heard that night when the sorcerer tossed
your parts in the fire? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do
you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you
the name of the one who spoke?
It stands to reason that Melisandre knows about this too, and the look of recognition Varys gives her as she drops a comment about their shared appointment with death could indicate that the Spider heard his own demise foretold by R’hllor (or whatever you want to call it) in the fire as a child.
As for Melisandre’s own (overdue) date with the Grim Reaper, well, that was also hinted at back in Season 3. The Red Woman paused in the middle of stealing Gendry away from Arya to stare deeply into the eyes of the Stark girl.
“I see a darkness in you,” she said in the show-invented scene. Then, predicting Arya’s future as a Faceless Man, she added: “And in that darkness, eyes starring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes sealed shut forever. We will meet again.” This was the moment Arya added Melisandre to her kill list, and the Red Woman looks justifiably worried about it.
Remember: the ancient Melisandre is very hard to kill. She survived drinking poison way back in Season 2. The actor who didn’t survive that scene, Oliver Ford Davies, asked Melisandre herself, Carice van Houten, if the Red Woman was immortal. In a 2013 interview he said: “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.”
But if anyone can take out an ancient hard-to-kill magic practitioner like Melisandre, it’s Arya, right? It seems as though the Red Woman won’t get what’s coming to her (R.I.P. Shireen) until much later. Melisandre seems like she would welcome death at this point, but she also feels the burden of the destiny she has yet to fulfill—and is headed all the way back to the city of Volantis in Essos for now. This may be the last we see of her this year, as the Game of Thrones showrunners have confirmed that Essos will not appear in Season 7. But what will Melisandre be doing in Essos as she runs out the clock on her last century?
A return to Volantis shouldn’t surprise us—this is the home of the Temple of the Lord of Light, and the headquarters for the red priests and priestesses spreading the word of Daenerys-as-messiah throughout Essos. “He has sent you a savior,” Varys and Tyrion heard one red priestess preach on the long bridge of Volantis. “From the fire he was reborn to save the world.” The fact that there’s an entire religious order proselytizing in Daenerys’s name is a Season 5 and 6 thread that the show has left dangling. Why introduce Kinvara et. al. and have them drum up support for the Dragon Queen abroad if Daenerys is never going back to Essos?
One popular theory is that the R’hllor faithful will show up on the shores of Westeros in Season 8, just in time to help sway the battle between the Night King and the realm of men. If the Night King is bringing the ice a little too hard, perhaps the red priests and priestesses can help bring the fire. As we discussed last week, both George R.R. Martin and the HBO series are fond of the deus ex machina approach to winning battles. A squad of R’hllor-ites, led by Melisandre, rolling up to the fight seems very on-brand for Game of Thrones. Maybe Daario can even come too, if he’s very good.
There’s another theory generated by book readers which posits that Melisandre will fulfill a prophecy the novels laid out for Daenerys. In the books, a mysterious masked woman named Quaithe (who popped up briefly in Season 2) told Daenerys: “To go north, you must go south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”
Many readers took the last part especially to mean that Daenerys would have to go to the Shadow Lands of Asshai (a.k.a. Melisandre’s home turf) before she could conquer Westeros. In the books, Daenerys herself had that same reaction: “Asshai, Dany thought. She would have me go to Asshai. ‘Will the Asshai’i give me an army?’ she demanded. ‘Will there be gold for me in Asshai? Will there be ships? What is there in Asshai that I will not find in Qarth?’ ‘Truth,’ said the woman in the mask. And bowing, she faded back into the crowd.”
In the context of the show, at least, this has proven . . . not to be the case. And maybe Daenerys’s Season 6 road trip to Vaes Dothrak completed the prophecy. To get to Vaes Dothrak, she traveled east instead of west, she went back instead of forward, and she passed between the shadow of the Dothraki’s Mother of Mountains. George R.R. Martin has also said we will likely never see Asshai in the books. But if you’re not ready to give up on there being something in Asshai that Daenerys needs to win the war, then who better than Melisandre of Asshai to go get it for her? (Volantis is certainly on the way to Asshai.)
And what could that Asshaian item or “truth” be? Some think it might be the original Lightbringer, a.k.a. the Red Sword of Heroes which Azor Ahai once wielded. Many more think Daenerys’s version of Lightbringer won’t be a literal sword but, possibly, her dragons. So what better place to possibly get more dragons than the Shadow Lands? After all, that’s where Daenerys’s brood came from in the first place. “Dragon’s eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai,” Magister Illyrio told the young Targaryen as he gave her the world’s best wedding gift. “The eons have turned them to stone, yet still they burn bright with beauty.”
The most tantalizing prospect yet? A combination of these theories, which would result in Melisandre and an army of red priests and priestesses arriving on the backs of dragons just in time for the Season 8 finale. Is that too much, even for HBO? Only the Lord of Light can say for sure.
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