Game of Thrones’ Carice van Houten on Melisandre’s Obsession With Blood, and Why People Love to Hate Her

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Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.

Melisandre (Carice van Houten) sure likes her king's blood. It comes in handy for lots of things, whether you want to make a shadow baby or throw leeches on the fire. But king's blood has been in short supply in the North, which is probably why the red priestess thought Stannis's daughter, Shireen, needed to come along. If we suspected ulterior motives before, they were confirmed in Sunday night’s episode, when Melisandre asks Stannis to sacrifice Shireen. (And just when the two were getting so cuddly!) Carice van Houten chatted with Vulture about Melisandre's penchant for blood sacrifice, getting Twitter hate, and why she thanks Seth Meyers for convincing her to take the part.

Why should Stannis listen to Melisandre right now?
We are in quite some trouble at this point, because we are in the middle of a snowstorm. We can't go backwards. We can't go forward. Davos is saying, "Let's go back." He wants to go forward, but he knows that they cannot just stay there. He probably thinks, We have to go all the way, one way or the other, otherwise we won't make it. And yes, it's always been part of Melisandre's plan, to have Shireen there as a sort of backup, for when the shit hit the fan. And now it sort of has. This is the last thing she's certain of that will do the trick.

Well, Stannis isn't certain of that. He doesn't appreciate this particular suggestion.
And rightfully so! [Laughs.] But she says, "We have to sacrifice ... Think about it." Or not even think about it. "I would strongly suggest ... " Because this is our only hope. Otherwise, it will fail. The whole plan will fall apart, she believes. It's the only way, she says. [Sighs.] It's hard. Her methods are so cruel, so vicious. I wish she had just like a magic power where she could make the world better.

So far we've only seen Melisandre in action when the king's blood belonged to a male, when she could use seduction to get it. Such as with Stannis, to make the shadow baby. Or with Gendry, to get the blood for the leeches. Or even with Jon Snow, although that attempt failed. But this is a little girl.
Yes. Exactly. So you feel that it's not going to be anything sexual, or anything that has to do with procreation. I can't tell you more without spoiling it! [Laughs.]

Melisandre likes to claim her methods always work, but do they? When she threw the leeches on the fire, she named three kings. Two are dead — Joffrey and Robb. But what about Balon Greyjoy? He's dead in the books, but on the show, he might still be alive.
Mmmhmm. We haven't really mentioned him yet. Not at all, actually. I don't know if he's dead. We don't know! And we're going off-book here. Have you read the books? What happens in the books to my character?

Oh, in the books, Melisandre doesn't go on this march. She stays at Castle Black, in part to deal with Jon Snow. And we got some hints about that. He seems to be on her royal radar.
Yeah, definitely. [Laughs.] Yeah, that's for sure. People got so mad at me for that. Oh, man. On Twitter, lots of people are like, "Get the fuck out of my face! Don't touch Jon Snow! Get your hands off Jon Snow! What are you doing?! Go away, bitch!" [Laughs.] It's crazy! And I love it. They're so into it! They're so concerned. They're so worried. It's nothing personal. And I completely get it. I can see why. It's like when they said things to Jack Gleeson, Joffrey, even though we're not similar characters. They love to hate someone.

Melisandre admits that some of her methods are tricks, that she uses powders for illusions. Do you think she has any doubts about what she says she sees in the flames?  
She's still loyal to Stannis. She has faith. She still thinks he's the chosen one. I think she's slightly distracted by Jon Snow, and I'm not sure if she even knows why. Not yet. She might have seen something in the flames. But I'm not sure how clear of a vision that was, because she's been wrong, sort of wrong before. I don't think she's a fraud, but I don't think she sees exactly what she needs to see. Sometimes, it's a little too blurry.

Seth Meyers told me once that he convinced you to take this part. I'm wondering how you knew he was the guy to ask, and how you knew each other? He says you met in Amsterdam?
I knew him because I dated his brother [Josh] for a little bit, and so I met his family and I went to their house in New Hampshire, and I spent quite some time with them. And then we stayed friends. I lived in Amsterdam, and he came there one time, too. I knew he was a guy who would read the books. He was that kind of guy! I figured he would be into that kind of thing. I don't know how I knew that, but it is true, that he told me to say yes, to do this.

Do you ever get him little things from the set to pay him back in any way?
Ha! Well ... I've given him some background information, sometimes. I'm actually going to do that more often. I think — spoiler alert! — if I'm going to be on set again, if I'm coming back. That's definitely a spoiler. [Laughs.] I'll actually send him a picture tonight, a nice picture of the set. Being on the set, it's like it's been there forever. Unbelievable. I think he would really appreciate that.