It's long been assumed that the powerful Red Woman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), would use her magical abilities to resurrect the late Lord Commander, but that might not be as simple as we previously thought. Read below the spoiler warning for more about what Sunday's big twist means going forward.
The episode ended with Melisandre wistfully staring at herself in a mirror as she de-robes. Melisandre has always been a bit of an exhibitionist, so at first this seems like another excuse for "tits and dragons," as Ian McShane calls it. But after Melisandre removes her ruby necklace, we see the Red Woman's true form - a frail old crone.
Melisandre's real age isn't that big of a shock if you're a Game of Thrones obsessive. In various interviews dating back to 2012, van Houten has referred to Melisandre as being over a century old, sometimes even going so far to say she's over 400 years old. In order to maintain her youthful appearance, Melisandre has been using a glamor spell, in which magic is used (often with the aid of an object) to cloak a person's appearance.
But — as with most powerful magic — glamor spells demand sacrifices, as hinted at in George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons: " 'They need never know how difficult it had been, or how much it had cost her,' Melisandre thinks to herself."
The show has always presented Melisandre as all-powerful and potentially even immortal. (Remember when she survived Cressen's poison in Season 2?) But in her true form, Melisandre looks far from either. She's feeble and vulnerable in a way the Red Woman has never appeared before. It's possible that the long-term effects of such a potent glamor have taken their toll, and that Melisandre is no longer as strong as she once was.
Melisandre certainly seems to be questioning her own abilities. She is visibly shaken when her predictions about Jon and Stannis are both proven false. And when she crawls into bed, it's no longer as a confident priestess, but as a weak old woman, unsure of what the future holds.
"We see her from a really different side of her now," van Houten told Entertainment Weekly. "We see somebody whose whole belief system is tumbling down. She's completely confused, and I really like to play that. After all the security and strength and pride, now we see something completely different. I've been really waiting for this moment."
Although Melisandre is suffering from a crisis of confidence, it's likely we'll see her abilities put to the test soon enough. Jon's body still lays nearby at Castle Black, waiting for someone to resurrect him. We've seen the Red Priest Thoros of Myr resurrect Beric Dondarrion, so we know the spell exists. What we don't know is if Melisandre is strong enough to use it.
It's possible that if Melisandre does attempt to revive Jon Snow, the toll on her will be so great that she might not survive. Beric Dondarrion said that every time he was resurrected, he lost a part of himself. What if that's true for the sorcerer as well? The consequences of bringing Jon back from the dead might be enough to kill Melisandre, or at least destroy her glamor.
But if Melisandre's intentions are true, and all she wants is to aid Azor Ahai in the war against the Others, it would seem as though she has no other choice but to take the risk. And after sacrificing so many innocent lives in the name of the Prince Who Was Promised (RIP Shireen), it would be only fitting that Melisandre sacrifice herself too.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.