A Major Character Finally Returned to 'Game of Thrones' to Sway the Battle of Winterfell
She told us she was coming back. Melisandre, the Red Woman, foreshadowed her own return multiple times in the course of the series. She told Arya she would see her again when she took Gendry away to leech him of his king's blood; when she departed Dragonstone for Volantis, she told Varys that she would die in Westeros, just like him.
And now she's back, having arrived at Winterfell just before the united living forces do battle with the dead. Just in time, too, because without her, wights would've ended the war before it even really started. That means it's time to take a look at the Red Woman's legacy, and what she's up to now that armies of the undead blasted through Winterfell.
Even though Melisandre hasn't been physically present before the third episode of the eighth season, her words have been looming large over these final episodes. She, of course, supplied the Azor Ahai prophecy, telling Daenerys that "only the prince who was promised can bring the dawn" during the Long Night. Now, the Long Night is very much upon our heroes, and we're still not sure exactly who this "prince" is, though he or she is purportedly a reincarnated version of the Azor Ahai who was the victor of the first Long Night.
The third episode of Game of Thrones' final season perfectly encapsulates Melisandre's paradoxically potent, yet ineffective magic. She chants Valyrian to light the Dothraki swords on fire, but all of them get snuffed out. She temporarily saves the day by summoning fire to light the trenches, but the Army of the Dead figures out how make bridges of zombie bodies to breach them. The Red Woman has also interacted with Arya in the past, telling her she would shut many eyes in the future -- including blue ones, which Melisandre references when they meet again in Winterfell, Arya having slain a few dozen wights. This, however, turns out to be the Red Woman's greatest prophecy of all, given what Arya winds up doing to save the day in the episode's dying moments.
Melisandre's legacy is a strange one; she's always been both incredibly right and really wrong, helpful and destructive in equal measure. She's responsible for what is arguably the most horrifying moment in the series history: Convincing Stannis that he should burn his daughter Shireen to ensure his victory. That, quite obviously, did not pan out. It branded her as one of the series' worst villains, and ultimately led to her banishment by Jon and Dany.
And yet she's also been offered something of a redemption arc, helping to revive hero Jon Snow. With her return to Westeros, Melisandre proves crucial in beating off the wights... until they overrun Winterfell anyway. Despite her convictions and her Valyrian phrases, her "help" is always tainted.
If you don't want to go far as redemption, she's at least sympathetic in her new conflict. She's a priestess whose beauty is held together by a necklace, a fact that will prove important to her fate; without her magic, she's physically crumbling. She did terrible deeds in service of her misguided beliefs, but resolved to make Daenerys and Jon meet. (Though who knows how that's going to turn out -- their being related and everything.) In an interview, actor Carice Van Houten told HuffPost that Melisandre "sees herself more as a matchmaker at this point, bringing together the right people in the right place. Yes, steering people in the right direction because that’s more her job now."
Despite her flaws, she knows her role is to sacrifice herself, to offer her magic as long as she could so that others can better fight the Army of the Dead. In the end, though, her words to Ser Davos prove true in an unexpected way. As she trudges out past the carnage left in the wake of the battle -- which she survives -- Melisandre takes off her necklace, the one thing preserving her youth. While Davos looks on, she quickly ages before dropping her trademark red cloak and falling into the snow. She wrought a lot of pain in Game of Thrones, but it's tough to argue that she's coming from a disingenuous place. Melisandre says that the Lord of Light brought Beric (and his sick fire sword) back for a purpose, which he served by dying. In the end, Melisandre served her purpose, too, which turns out to be inspiring Arya Stark to destroy the Night King. Just when your faith in the Lord of Light is at its lowest point, Melisandre shows why she's certainly not an antagonist. Despite what The Hound says, you can beat death. Now that Melisandre's arc is done, she no longer needs to fight death herself.