Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously spoilers and speculation will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
In last week’s episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” the red priestess Melisandre avoided an awkward reunion with Ser Davos Seaworth by hiding in the hills around Dragonstone. When questioned about her cagey ways by Varys, Melisandre stated she was traveling to Volantis but would return as it is her destiny (and Varys’) to die in Westeros. But why is Melisandre crossing the Narrow Sea in a journey that will take months? What could possibly be in Volantis that she needs in order to help Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen defeat the Night King? The rest of her Order.
Game of Thrones hasn’t spent as much time with the priests of R’hllor, also known as the Red God, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, and the God of Flame and Shadow. But what little has bled into the show is just the tip of the iceberg. Melisandre, Thoros of Myr, and the High Priestess Kinvara have all had roles to play but they are just one of the unnamed thousands that are pressed into the service of R’hllor. If Melisandre is headed to Volantis, it is most likely for reinforcements. If you’ll recall, last season High Priestess Kinvara of Volantis came to see Tyrion in Meereen. The Queen’s Hand had hoped to convince the First Servant of the Lord of Light to back Daenerys as the savior of the people, but Kinvara needed no convincing. She already believed Dany was the prophesied savior. This is similar to how the High Priest Benerro of Volantis in the novels reacts to Dany. By introducing Kinvara last season, it stands to reason Melisandre is headed to Volantis to meet with her about their next move.
But what can the High Priestess of Volantis do, exactly? She can rally the troops, both figuratively and literally. Volantis is home to the largest temple to R’hllor in the world. It is approximately three times larger than the Sept of Baelor, which as you’ll recall was sizable before its untimely demise via wildfire. Thousands of slaves train to become priests, priestesses, temple prostitutes, and warriors that go on to live and die in the Red Temple. More are sent to other bastions of civilization to preach about the Lord of Light. But the key players for Melisandre could be the warriors. Known as the Fiery Hand, Volantis keeps no more and no less than one thousand of these living weapons on hand at any given time. Armored in ornate orange robes under steel armor, the Fiery Hand are equipped with spears shaped like living flame. Slave-soldiers similar to the Unsullied, little has been revealed about the powers of the Fiery Hand but should they have even a thimble of the power Melisandre wields, they’d be powerful allies in the fight against the Night King.
There is also the possibility that Melisandre will enlist the help of her fellow Shadowbinders, who have nothing to do with the religion of R’hllor at all. In whatever ancient past Melisandre inhabited, she began life as a citizen of Asshai, the oldest city in the world. This, more than anything else, should prove her old beyond measure as no children have lived in Asshai-by-the-Shadow in living memory. In modern times, the city is a shell of its former self, infected with dark magic. However, it is theorized Asshai is where the religion that would become the Lord of the Light originated from. It’s possible Melisandre will only stop by Volantis to galvanize the religious troops before moving further east to her homeland. Should she convince other Shadowbinders to help stave off the advance of the Night King, the final season of Game of Thrones will be a smorgasbord of magical visuals. Can the combined might of the Children of the Forest, the Valyrian dragons, the priests of R’hllor, and the Shadowbinders of Asshai (and perhaps the water mages of the Rhoyne) push back the second coming of the Long Night? For Westeros’ sake, they better hope so.