Poll: Is Melisandre Good or Evil?

melisandre-burns-sevenMelisandre has been behind some of Game of Thrones worst moments. She introduced the concept of burning heretics and king’s blood to Stannis and his followers. She wanted to burn Gendry (or Edric Storm in the books) — and would have if Gendry hadn’t escaped. She facilitated the burning of Selyse’s own brother on the beach at Dragonstone. She set Mance Rayder to the torch. And, she urged Stannis to burn his daughter Shireen to secure his victory at Winterfell.

But, is Melisandre a truly evil person?

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Melisandre lights Mance’s pyre.

Perhaps, Melisandre is just following the ways of her faith. She is trying to help Stannis because she believes he is Azor Ahai reincarnated — essentially her messiah reborn (to put it in real world terms).

In Melisandre’s mind, she is helping to save the world. It has been prophesied that Azor Ahai will defeat the Great Other. In the faith of R’hllor, the Great Other is the god of darkness, cold, and death, which sounds an awful lot like the White Walkers (or their leader).

As she said to Davos, “These little wars are no more than a scuffle of children before what is to come.” When she facilitates Stannis’ offering of Shireen to R’hllor, she is doing it not for personal gain. Unlike most followers of a noble lord, she isn’t expecting trickle-down rewards should he become king. She probably isn’t even that interested in whether or not he ever sits on the Iron Throne, except for the power it would give the king to defeat the Great Other.

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Ser Axell Florent

Excluding the sacrifice of Shireen, the most heinous act was the burning of Selyse’s brother along with two other “heretics” on the beach. Selyse brother, Ser Axell Florent, refused to renounce the faith of the Seven and worship R’hllor. As he begins to burn, he begs Stannis and Selyse for mercy, which they refuse to give. Instead, Selyse smiles as her brother screams.

When Melisandre sanctions the immolation of heretics, is she any different than Sir Thomas More? We don’t consider him to be evil. When he burned heretics before Henry VIII broke with Rome, he was upholding his faith and the law. Is Melisandre doing any different? To Melisandre, fire purifies.

Everyone is hoping that Melisandre may bring Jon Snow back to life. If she does, will she suddenly become a hero or a misguided hero?

If somebody is acting in accordance to their belief system, but that belief system conflicts with our modern values, does that exonerate them? Or, is it wrong to apply our value judgments on other societies in other time periods or worlds?

Is Melisandre a force for good or evil?

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Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

6 Comments

  • Reply April 29, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    I’ll never forgive Melisandrefor the burning of Shireen, Jamie. That may be due to Kerry Ingram’s engaging portrayal of Shireen. Melisandre has (at least until the deaths of Stannis and Jon) been religious but hers is in its way as fanatical a religion as that of the High Sparrow. It hasn’t been intimated yet that Melisandre is a “nutter” but I sometimes wonder if fanatics are somewhat crazy.

    I hadn’t realised Thomas More had sanctioned burning of “heretics” – would that be of the people who were known as Lollards? Of course there were terrible things done on both Catholic and Protestant sides at the time of the Reformation.

    “If somebody is acting in accordance to their belief system, but that belief system conflicts with our modern values, does that exonerate them?” That’s a difficult one. I would say, no, it doesn’t exonerate them. After all, a lot of the minor nazis – employees at the death camps etc – at the end of World War II tried to use the “only following orders” excuse as a cop-out.

  • Reply April 29, 2016

    Apocalyptic Queen

    I think she is both evil and good, but I agree that the burning of Stannis’ daughter Shireen was the final straw. In the TV adaptation, I also did not find Stannis’ response to the proposal that he burn his daughter very convincing, given the fact that he had bonded with her earlier in the season and had flatly rejected Mel’s initial suggestion. If he was driven to sheer madness by desperation, it would have been more convincing for me.

    Aside from having followed Mel’s religion, Stannis hasn’t (up until now) seemed like too much of a tyrant (unless you count the episode where he murdered his brother, but then again, Stannis had the better claim to the throne and had offered to make Renly his heir). Some of these instances aside, I doubt he’d have made a bad ruler, but his propensity to follow prophecies has clouded his judgement. His reaction to Shireen’s death and murder was too cold and calculating, even for Stannis.

    I believe the ultimate irony will be this. Mel has spent her life sacrificing other people to the “Lord of Light” but I believe it is her blood that the Lord actually desires and if so, it would be a fitting end for Melissandre.

  • Reply April 30, 2016

    Alayne Stone

    I always thought Melisandre was up to something fishy…but once I read her ADWD chapter I liked her for that. I find her to be a well-intentioned extremist with a very interesting past.

  • Reply April 30, 2016

    Jun

    It’s interesting that you put out the question in terms of good and evil, Jamie. This gets to the heart of GRRM’s world view. He clearly has very strong opinions about what he believes to be right and wrong, but he almost never gets into a choice between good and evil. I think he is intentionally avoiding a system that divides people and ideas in this way. Perhaps because he is a recovering Catholic, I suspect LOL.

    • Reply May 1, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Jun, I suspect you might be right. I think GRRM likes his characters to be grey, but he creates polarizing situations (?) to make us think. The polemics of scene? i don’t know. :>)

  • Reply May 1, 2016

    Caracalla

    She’s a monotheist. She doesn’t just adhere to her God and let the others be, she has to go to the effort of actively persecuting the worship of the others.
    That is evil. A reognisable, modern evil.

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