Game of Thrones gave us our first big shock of the season when Melisandre removed her ruby necklace during Sunday night's Season 6 premiere, titled "The Red Woman," to reveal her true self: a crone. It seems the Red Priestess has been keeping up appearances using magic, or more accurately, a glamor. This isn't entirely unprecedented, as book readers have long suspected that Melisandre's alluring appearance was nothing more than an illusion.
Still, this is the first major reveal for fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, who are still waiting for Winds of Winter (cough, GRRM) to be released. We're finally getting answers! It's all new and exciting!
Of course, Melisandre's age has been hinted at in the books before, especially in the most recent release, 2011's A Dance With Dragons, in which Melisandre received her first POV chapter. In it, she tells Jon Snow that the Lord of Light has given her the power to create illusions:
"The spell is made of shadow and suggestion. Men see what they expect to see ... Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion. R'hllor is Lord of Light, Jon Snow, and it is given to his servants to weave with it, as others weave with thread."
Arya Stark also gets a brief explanation about glamor magic, from one of the priests of the Many-Faced God, known as the kindly man: "Mummers change their faces with artifice ... and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye."
But Melisandre has been low-key hinting at her old age on the HBO drama since Season 3, when she told Gendry that she was born a slave. This is given more context in A Dance With Dragons, as she recalled her early life as a slave named Melony, sold as "Lot Seven." Here's where things get interesting.
Melisandre was sold to the Red Temple of Voltanis as a young girl. All slaves of R'hllor have flames tattooed on their cheeks to mark their position, and according to Melisandre, when she was sold, "She was weeping, and her tears were flame." That would imply that Melisandre was branded with the mark of a slave -- as slaves often are in Game of Thrones (Jorah has the mark of a demon's mask) -- and we've seen nary a mark on the gorgeous Red Woman's face since we first met her in Season 2. Again, this would suggest that she's been using the glamor to appear as someone she is not.
Both the show and the book have implied that Melisandre's ruby necklace is the source of her mysterious power. In a Season 2 scene with Maester Cressen, it glows and pulses red after Melisandre consumes poison, and in Sunday night's Season 6 premiere, it dims to black when she takes it off, perhaps signaling her loss of faith.
Back in 2012, actress Carice van Houten even alluded to Melisandre's real age, telling Access Hollywood, "I don’t know how old she is, but she’s way over 100 years, so she is a wiser spirit, in a way, but it’s difficult for me to say too much because A -- we want it to at least stay sort of a mystery and B -- I didn’t read the books." In an interview after Sunday's Season 6 premiere, showrunner David Benioff calls her "several centuries old."
No wonder Melisandre is having a crisis of faith. She's been at this for centuries, and her visions have deceived her. She was convinced Stannis was Azor Ahai, reborn to defeat the Other -- and clearly, she was wrong. But will her visions of Snow restore her faith in R'hllor?