Since the start of her story, Melisandre, Game of Thrones’ resident magic-wielder, has always worried about saving the world from death. So it only makes sense that she would break her self-imposed disappearing act from season 6 when the living need her in the battle against the Night King. But where has the Red Priestess been the whole time?
The first time we meet Melisandre in Game of Thrones, in season 2, she was the primary council for Stannis Baratheon. Stannis was Robert Baratheon’s brother, meaning he had a legitimate claim to the throne after Robert’s death. Stannis’ entitlement to the throne became fanatical after Melisandre assured him that he was a part of a prophecy. As she told it, a great evil was coming for the Seven Kingdoms and only the chosen one sent by her Lord of Light, R’hllor could save the world. That, she claimed, was Stannis Baratheon.
Though it’s mostly explained in the books rather than the show, the force that Melisandre is fighting against is known as the Great Other. Where While R’hllor is the Lord of Light, the Great Other is the “Lord of Darkness, The South of Ice, the God of Night and Terror.” These two gods, R’hllor and the Great Other, are eternally at war in a battle of light and dark, life and death.
Believing him to be the key to fulfilling the prophecy between the two gods, Melisandre helped Stannis vie for the Iron Throne, so that he could unite the world of the living against the great evil. Many doubted Melisandre’s true powers and instead believed her to be a fraud, but she demonstrated her mysterious magic abilities by creating a shadow assassin to kill Renly, Stannis’ brother and rival for the throne.
While Stannis’ goal was always the Throne, Melisandre convinced him that the true threat was to the North, where the army of the dead would eventually come from. Thanks to her insistence, Stannis showed up just in time to save Jon and the Night’s Watch from an army of Wildlings. However, while Stannis was north, Ramsay Bolton massacred his forces. In a desperate bid to help give Stannis strength, Melisandre used Stannis’ only daughter, Shireen, as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. But the sacrifice didn’t work: Stannis died against Ramsay’s army and Shireen was killed for nothing.
The incident left Melisandre in a crisis of faith. For the first time, the powers of the Lord of Light failed her. Her faith is restored just moments later when she wakes Jon Snow from the dead, and sees him helping to save the world on a field of fire. Shortly after she revives Jon, we also get our first glimpse of Melisandre’s true form. When she takes off the amulet she wears around her neck, we see that she is actually extremely old. Kept alive, we assume, by the powers of the Lord of Light so that she might finally fulfill her purpose, whatever it may be.
Convinced that Jon is the chosen one, rather than Stannis, Melisandre vowed to aid him. However, when Davos revealed that she was the reason Shireen was dead, Jon banished her from the North and told never to return.
After that, Melisandre is left to wander the Seven Kingdoms. She later popped up in an important place is in Dragonstone with Daenerys Targaryen who she convinced to meet with Jon Snow. While setting up the meeting may seem small, the Red Priestess hinted that she is aware of the importance of these two becoming allies might have in the war against the dead.
After bringing these two potential rulers together, Melisandre remarked to Varys that she is done, “whispering in the ears of kings” and that her work is done now that she has “brought ice and fire together.” She left for Volantis with one tantalizing hint of her future: When Varys told her she shouldn’t return to Westeros, she said she couldn’t do that and that she was fated to die there, just like he is.
Melisandre then disappeared to Essos and Ashai, never to be heard from again. At least, until she rode up to Winterfell on a horse to start season 8’s third episode, ready to help the living defeat the Night King — or the Great Other, in her mind.
With her surprise reappearance, it’s hard to say what role Melisandre might play in the battle against the dead. Since she first showed up on Game of Thrones, she’s always been one of the show’s most mysterious characters. But as always, it seems that she knows why she’s there and she knows her role in helping defeat the dead and save the living once and for all.