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'Game of Thrones' director explains Melisandre's age surprise

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HBO

This post contains revelations about the season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Just how old is Melisandre, anyway?

We spoke to Game of Thrones director and three-time Emmy nominee Jeremy Podeswa about the season 6 premiere’s shocking ending twist, how the stunning visual effect was achieved, and what this means for her character. The hugely anticipated return of the HBO drama concluded with a jaw-dropping revelation when Melisandre (Carice van Houten) removed her mysterious necklace, revealing her true self (image below).

To create an ancient version of The Red Woman, the Thrones team took a cue from making last season’s Walk of Shame sequence, where special effects were used to combine a nude body double with actress Lena Headey. In this case, van Houten wore prosthetic makeup for her face and hair, while her body was performed by an older woman.

In previous media reports, van Houten has suggested Melisandre is at least 100 years old, and could be as much as 400 years old. But Podeswa says the show’s producers did not want to suggest a specific age.

“The idea is there’s an indefinite indeterminate quality that she could be ancient,” Podeswa says. “We were limited by choosing to use a real person rather than a complete CG creation. Because what does a 400-year-old person look like? We don’t know. So if you try to create that, then you’re creating something that looks beyond our known reality. Here you feel like she’s very old without putting a number on it.”

Continues the director: “I think the performance of both actresses helps making her look ageless. There was a question of whether we should add more effects to make [the body double] look older, but I think anything we could have done would have made them look less real. When doing a fantasy show — or a show with fantasy elements — the more you can anchor an effect to reality the stronger the illusion is.”

RELATED: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 First Look

So is Melisandre more powerful than we know, or less? And how much does her necklace play a role in her abilities? Podeswa can’t go there, but he did find our observation from our recap of “The Red Woman” intriguing — that having Melisandre crawl into bed was so effective because it married a magical reveal with a relatable and mundane activity.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it,” the director replies, “but there’s another aspect as well: At that moment, it’s a telling gestural thing to do. She’s questioning her power and ability to prosthelytize. She’s at her lowest point, looking at the mirror and her true self. It’s a sign of her frailty. You’re seeing her at her most vulnerable moment.”

For more thoughts on this scene, check out our interview with The Red Woman herself, Carice van Houten.

HBO

More coverage: EW has its GoT recap for “The Red Woman” up. Also, we have an interview with Gwendoline Christie on Brienne’s rousing return.  

Also, the first official episode of our new Game of Thrones podcast is now live: “How Old Is Melisandre, Anyway?” We talk about The Red Woman’s accessorizing, stabby Sand Snakes, the future of Jon Snow’s decomposing corpse and more. Subscribe to the podcast right here, or just listen to the new episode below:

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