Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 2, Episode 4: “Garden of Bones”
Original Air Date: April 22th, 2012
Director: David Petrarca
Written by: Vanessa Taylor
This episode gets its title—”Garden of Bones”—from Daenerys and her small khalasar arriving at Qarth. Yeah, that’s right, it took four episodes just for her to walk through the gates of the greatest city that ever was or will be, and even then nothing actually happened. So after ending season one with her walking out of a bonfire with baby dragons, season two decided to take almost half a season of aimlessly wandering through the desert to proceed to the next story for Daenerys. It was frustrating in the moment, and it seems really strange now.
But we aren’t worried about bones or dragons this week, but rather shadows. A shadow baby to be exact, because this was the episode that ended with Melisandre giving birth to a Stannis-shaped, man-sized shadow baby assassin. The scene is still unsettling all these years later, and it definitely makes the Lord of Light and his followers feel less like the salvation of mankind and more like practitioners of dark magic.
I’ve long been of the belief that R’hllor and his fire-loving worshippers are the flip side of the same coin as the White Walkers, and Melisandre’s evil shadow son—the one bred to kill Renly—is in many ways more dangerous than any blue-eyed monster. At least you can see a White Walker coming and possibly protect yourself.
But even before that final horrible moment, Melisandre says something that gives us insight into who she is, and why she might yet be able to help save mankind. Ser Davos was tasked with smuggling Melisandre ashore (though he didn’t know exactly why), and on the boat she asks him if he is a good man or a bad man.
Davos: “I’d say my parts are mixed, my lady: good and bad.”
Melisandre: “If half an onion is black with rot, it’s a rotten onion. A man is good or he is evil.”
These are the words of a religious fanatic. “You’re either with me or against me.” She sees the world in terms of absolutes, even though the world of Game of Thrones is a world of gray, where people like Jaime Lannister can be both good and bad, even in the same moment. Few people are wholly good or bad, noble or evil, and what constitutes doing good or bad is often impossible to discern by even the wisest of leaders.
Now that we know Melisandre is really an old woman that has been given some form of eternal youth by her god, it’s easy to understand why she has complete faith in her lord. This birth shows us just how much power, evil though it might seem to us, she gets from her faith. And for sure, even while we view what is happening here as wrong, it reaffirms her belief that she is wholly good. When Ser Davos asks her the same question she says, “I’m a knight myself, of sorts, a champion of light and life.”
Fanatics are dangerous, and few think of themselves as being anything but warriors in a holy war, meaning their ends justify the means. That absolute devotion and faith in R’hllor led her to advocate burning poor young Shireen alive. How many acts have been as heinous in the Seven Kingdoms? She thought it was a sacrifice that would lead to good, but if that’s true, what kind of god are they seeking salvation in?
That’s why Melisandre’s crisis of faith, after her visions falsely led her to believe that Stannis was Azor Ahai reborn, could be the very thing that not saves her from her fanaticism, but also results in her truly being a champion for the living. Now she knows that those decisions and “truths” aren’t black and white. She was so sure of everything, and she was wrong about all of it.
But we know that she has power, real power, that can be used for good–or bad. She always wanted to do good, but it’s only now that she isn’t sure what that truly entails that she might be capable to actually be helpful.
She might be out in the world meandering after Jon cast her out, but it’s hard to imagine we’ve seen the last of her. Her shadow hangs over all of this, and the light will be needed to defeat the coming darkness. Her loss of faith might be something to believe in.
What do you think the future holds for Melisandre? Tell us what you think in the comments below.