Melisandre 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?
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.
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?