Game of Thrones definitely reigns supreme as one of the most, if not the most, popular and widely debated television series of the past decade. The writers and showrunners played heavily with traditional audience expectations and weren't afraid to kill off any main characters. Now two years after her final turn on the show, one Game of Thrones star reflects on how the expectations from fans at the end of the HBO series changed and how it changed her.
One of the most heavily discussed characters throughout Game of Thrones’ run was Melisandre, played by Carice van Houten. Unsuspecting fans couldn't decide if she was good or plain old evil, and her final reveal left many jaws dropped. According to van Houten’s interview with Collider, the expectations for her character were so heightened toward the end of the show that it took a toll on the actress:
It was so epic that, for a long time, I wasn’t really aware of it being that epic. I just was doing my job and having fun with my colleagues, being in this weird fantasy series that was really well-written and really new and cool. Only towards the end did I feel like it was really taking over the world and that the expectations were becoming so crazy and high. It became bigger, bigger, bigger, and bigger, and I felt a bit smaller and smaller and smaller, even though people knew me more. It has definitely done good for my career, but creatively, after a certain amount of years, I just felt like I needed to go in a different direction. I loved playing her and I loved being on that show. It definitely has opened a lot of doors for me, that would probably not have been opened before or after, if I hadn’t done it.
Carice van Houten, who many have seen recently in her role on The Affair, is not exaggerating the hoopla surrounding the end of Game of Thrones. The series came to prominence during a very opportune time. Though social media certainly existed in rough forms prior to Game of Thrones’ premiere in 2011, it gained vast momentum in the last decade as we began to use the likes of Twitter and Facebook more and more to have huge cultural and social dialogue.
To the actress’ point, the collective expectations were particularly astronomical toward the end of Game of Thrones, especially for the female characters. Van Houten’s Melisandre revealed herself in a mirror to be an aged, sagging, elderly woman the entire time. It was a direct contrast to the portrayal of the Red Woman up until that point of being young, beautiful and powerful (as well as frequently naked). Fans were also hugely divided on the decision for Daenerys Targaryen’s abrupt character change. All in all, the discussion was laser-focused on whether HBO ultimately did the characters justice.
The assertion by Carice van Houten that the hype for the end of Game of Thrones made her feel “smaller and smaller” is a troubling one and a potent reminder that characters are only characters. Powerful stories can sweep us away, but we must be wary of flattening the three-dimensional actors playing them, especially with plans moving forward for Game of Thrones prequels and spinoffs.