Game of Thrones Actor talks to PEOPLE about that surprising end of episode reveal
Warning: This story contains spoilers for Sunday’s season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones, "The Red Woman."
Just when you think you know everything there is to know about a character on Game of Thrones, they either get killed or reveal some shocking secret or character trait. In the final moments of Sunday’s season premiere, fans were treated with one of those shocking reveals.
Melisandre, aka The Red Woman, the mysterious, powerful beauty who once birthed a murderous shadow baby and convinced Stannis Baratheon to sacrifice his daughter in a fire, was revealed to be a frail, wrinkled, very old woman.
The reveal comes at the very end of the episode after a defeated, demoralized Melisandre (played by Carice van Houten) very slowly removes her powerful necklace, which has apparently been hiding her true form. PEOPLE caught up with Van Houten and her costars Liam Cunningham (Sir Davos) and Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark), to hear their thoughts on that moment, how many hours Van Houten spent in the makeup chair to achieve her “ancient” look and what we can expect from The Red Woman going forward.
Van Houten estimates Melisandre’s real age to be in the 200-300-year-old range, and she spent many hours in the makeup chair to achieve that “look.” They also used an 80-year-old body double. “This lovely lady from Ireland,” Van Houten says. “She was really sweet.”
“I did six hours of makeup,” Van Houten says of her process. “It’s not just one face that they glue on you. But it’s worth it because of what you look like after. It was quite nice, it was like a zen practice for me, I quite enjoyed it,” she said of her time in the makeup chair. “I need music. I can’t do it without. I have very eclectic taste, from jazz to reggae to indie rock, pop, a lot.”
“It’s funny because you can sit there for six hours and it’s fine but once it’s over you just want to rip it off. Then, that hour to take it off, that’s really long. You feel like, ‘Just get it off me!'”
Van Houten says she was only in the old age makeup twice, once to do a makeup test and another time to film the scene. And on the latter day she unknowingly scared a few members of the cast and crew.
“I was on set one day in my trailer, I could hear Carice outside,” recalls Isaac Hempstead Wright. “I could just hear her voice, so I went, ‘Oh hi Carice,’ so she opened the trailer door and I went, “Aaah! Oh! How are you doing?’ It was very funny. It was really funny. It was so well done.”
“Of course Liam must have made 20,000 jokes,” Van Houten says of her co-star’s playful sense of humor. The two actors have been friends for years, outside of and before Game of Thrones. “He must have said something like, ‘Finally we see the way she looks! She doesn’t really need makeup,’ all that stuff. He must’ve said thousands of things like that. He’s a really funny bully.”
Cunningham did get a kick out of poking some fun in the moment but, the actor says he’s more excited about what Melisandre’s reveal allows Van Houten to now do as an actor and what it means for the character.
“She’s wonderful to watch and she’s an incredible sexy woman,” he says. “It’s a different woman. Because [in that scene] I know the minute I see her something’s up. She’s broken. She is this a different woman. Carice looks different. And what we’ve seen at the end of episode 1 is like, ‘Whaaat?’ It’s an explosion of difference for Carice and she’s got somewhere to go and me and her have somewhere to go with this bizarre relationship that Davos and Melisandre have. That remarkable reveal of the real her is astonishing.”
What did Van Houten think of that scene when she read it in the script?
“I really loved it,” she says. “Because it’s so much background all of the sudden and for me personally, I feel much more comfortable playing anxiety and fear and doubt, longing and very emotional things, than to be so secure and so strong all the time. And the fact that she is so old makes everything, it makes sense now in retrospect, why she would say, ‘that’s just another death,’ because she has an overview on a big scale, one death means nothing compared to what we’re facing and that could be the end of the world. It makes the character immediately more vulnerable and sad,” she continues. “To make an old woman look at herself in the mirror as a young woman and then as her true age, that’s quite painful.”
“You’ll never look at her the same way again for the rest of the show,” adds Cunningham. “She’s not that person we’re seeing anymore, she’s somebody else, and that’s remarkable about the show, it’s brilliant.”
Nope, we’re pretty sure we won’t.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on HBO.