Warning: Season 6 spoilers abound.
It’s the scene the entire Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones—and in some sense the series up to this point—has been building toward. There stands the Red Woman, Melisandre, the goddess behind so much of the show’s deus ex machina, in her bedroom. A fire crackles. A candle flickers. Music, at once sharp and flat, plays. Melisandre, regarding herself in a foggy mirror, unbuttons her dress. It falls away. All that remains is her necklace—a choker made of metal, completed with a red stone. The tension builds. The notes swell. She gazes at herself. We gaze along with her.
And then—a gong rumbles into a dramatic crescendo—she is transformed: An old woman, naked, stares back in that mirror. Melisandre’s glossy red hair has been replaced with sparse, white strands. Her eyes have sunken; her breasts have sagged; her back has hunched. The camera lingers on her naked body; we linger, too. She seems small and shriveled and weak. More than that: She seems sad. Melisandre slowly folds her frail body into her bed. She covers it with a blanket of animal furs. She sleeps.
So: The Red Woman is also an old woman! The scene is, all in all, the most satisfying type of plot twist: the kind that is shocking and also that you kind of anticipated the whole time. George R.R. Martin’s books, after all, have long suggested Melisandre’s age; the show based on them, for its part, has teased audiences with her very big secret. Outside of the Winterfellian world, too, there have been hints. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop points out, Carice van Houten, the actor who plays Melisandre, has for years given interviews suggesting that the character is much more than 100 years old—and a fellow actor has mentioned, off-handedly, that she is in fact closer to 400.