This article contains major Game of Thrones spoilers for season 8 episode 3. You’ve been warned.
The first thing Melisandre tells Ser Davos Seaworth upon her arrival in Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3 “The Long Night” is “There’s no need to execute me, Ser Davos. I’ll be dead before the dawn.”
And that, my friends, is how you make a Game of Thrones Season 8 entrance. Melisandre, the red priestess from Asshai has been missing in action on Game of Thrones since season 7 when she briefly stopped by Dragonstone to see Daenerys on her return to Volantis. Melisandre had been exiled from the North by the newly-recognized King Jon I despite Melisandre raising that very same king from the dead. Jon Snow really didn’t have a choice as Ser Davos would have killed Melisandre if she stayed, due to her role in burning Shireen at the stake in order to secure King Stannis’s good fortune.
Yes, Melisandre has had quite the journey on Game of Thrones. It’s a journey, however, that she always seemed to know the end to. After all, when she met Varys in season 7 she told him “Oh, I will return dear Spider. One last time. I have to die in this strange country, just like you.”
She knows she has to die in Westeros. She tells that to Varys. She tells the same to Ser Davos. Then, after the Battle of Winterfell, she simply dies as promised. She walks out into the snowy field, removes her bewitched necklace and rapidly ages away to dust. It’s a fitting end for a mysterious, somewhat spooky character. But why does that have to be her end? Why is Melisandre so set on her own doom?
To understand Melisandre’s decisions, we need to know a little more about her religion. Melisandre is a follower of the Lord of Light. This lord is named “R’hllor” though that name is rarely spoken on the show since it’s basically unpronounceable. Followers of the Lord of Light, known as red priests and priestesses, have a dualistic worldview. There are only two forces in the world: light and shadow. The Lord of Light is the god of light, warmth, fire, and life. His antithesis, known as The Great Other, is the god of shadow, cold, and death. These two gods are locked in a titanic struggle for the world that will only end when a hero emerges – a hero known by many names including Azor Ahai and the Prince Who Was Promised.
All of Melisandre’s decisions begin to make a bit more sense when viewed through that worldview. The only thing that ultimately matters is the final struggle between light and dark. Melisandre took a rather circuitous path to finding a good Azor Ahai candidate (Stannis is great and all but a little uninspiring). Once she found two in Jon and Daenerys, however, she was more convinced than ever that the final struggle between R’hllor and The Great Other was around the corner.
As fate would have it, she was right! Melisandre returns to Westeros just in time for the Battle of Winterfell like she promised. Her timing is impeccable, likely because she still has access to her prophetic flames. Then she proves herself to be a real asset for the forces of life. After Daenerys fails to light up the trench with fire, Melisandre summons up her witch magic to do so. One of the benefits of this religion as opposed to say, The Faith of the Seven, is that R’hllor produces results.
Little did Melisandre know, however, that the Lord of Light may have had someone else in mind entirely for the Azor Ahai savior role. Later on she reminds Arya of her words to her about all the eyes she will one day shut forever “brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes…” This inspires Arya to realize her destiny and kill The Night King once and for all.
Is Arya Stark Azor Ahai reborn? Unlikely only because it’s unlikely that anyone was actually Azor Ahair reborn. Despite the magical results produced by R’hllor, he is like most other gods in Westeros: mostly just a story. Azor Ahai was a (likely apocryphal) grand king who forged the legendary sword Lightbringer by plunging it into his wife, Nissa Nissa’s heart. Arya (nor Jon for that matter) didn’t have to all that because as any young Chosen One wizard can tell you: prophecies aren’t set in stone. The important thing is that The Night King needed to die and thanks to Arya’s quicking thinking, he did.
Having proved her worth to the forces of life…Melisandre simply decides to die. Melisandre decides to die not because she’s a woman of her word and she told Davos she’d be dead “before dawn.” She dies because it’s time to die.
Melisandre is old – very, very old. Actress Carice van Houten once said that her character is over 400 years old. Of course, in the Game of Thrones Season 6 premiere, we saw what a 400-year-old Melisandre actually looks like and it doesn’t look like she’s having a lot of fun. The question isn’t necessarily then “why did Melisandre choose to die?” The question is “why did Melisandre let herself live this long in the first place?”
Ultimatley she had to. Melisandre could not remove that powerful necklace until the final battle for the dawn was won for good. The Night King is now gone as are his forces of white walkers and wights. The light was victorious. The Lord of Light was victorious. The shadow has been defeated. And now the poor old woman can finally get some rest.