‘Game of Thrones’ Weirdest Magic Comes From the Creepiest Part of the World


The Big Picture

  • Melisandre’s shadowbinding magic is the most unnerving and sinister magical element in
    Game of Thrones
  • Melisandre hails from Asshai, a mysterious city known for its deep and intimate knowledge of shadowy magic.
  • Asshai’s shadowbinding magic involves creating and controlling sentient shadows, making it one of the darkest forms of magic.

HBO’s Game of Thrones has entrenched itself in the pop culture zeitgeist as one of the most expansive and addicting works of live-action fantasy, on such a large scale that it can dwarf even feature films as a television series. However, unlike more traditional works of fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones shows a degree of restraint with its magical elements. But that doesn’t mean that the series is devoid of magic entirely, because in addition to the intricate political drama, Game of Thrones is still, at its core, a fantasy series.

But throughout the eight seasons of dragons, White Walkers, and face-stealing assassins, there is one facet of the arcane and occult that stands out for being the weirdest and most disconcerting of all the rest: the shadowbinding magic from the ominous land of Asshai. Truly only manifested by one person in the series, the shadow magic used by Melisandre (Carice van Houten) is the most disturbing magical element the series has ever explored — and with how sinister this magic is, maybe it’s best that we only got a small taste of it.

Game Of Thrones

Nine noble families fight for control over the lands of Westeros, while an ancient enemy returns after being dormant for a millennia.

Release Date
April 17, 2011

David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Main Genre



As a Red Priestess of R’hllor, Melisandre Can Harness Different Types of Magic

Melisandre is a mysterious figure, even compared to the countless scheming players vying for power in the game for the Iron Throne. Known as the Red Woman (or Red Witch), Melisandre is a Red Priestess of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, a god deeply associated with fire, light, and the legend of Azor Ahai. Though worship of R’hllor is prominent in Essos believers of the Lord of Light are scarce in Westeros. Most of the people of Westeros hold the Faith of the Seven or the Old Gods, like in the North. Even the Ironborn have their own beliefs in the Drowned God, but all of which are a distant cry from the Lord of Light’s religion. On the Westerosi mainland, the main people associated with R’hllor are Melisandre, Beric Dondarion (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane).

Red Priestesses and other worshipers of R’hllor possess some of the most potent magical abilities seen in the entire series. Through the magic of Thoros of Myr (another Red Priest), Beric Dondarion is able to be resurrected from the dead; it’s one of the most powerful displays of the supernatural in the series, and only one other notable instance of this display was when Melisandre bringing Jon Snow (Kit Harington) back from the dead. Melisandre also repeatedly claimed the gift of prophecy, asserting that R’hllor could show her the future when she looked into burning flames.

This led to her becoming an integral member of Stannis Baratheon’s court, contributing to converting him to the faith of the Lord of Light. However, as with fire itself, illumination is not the only thing brought about by believing in R’hllor. Much of the Lord of Light’s magic requires sacrifice, ranging from the cost of a bit of blood all the way to the burning people alive for R’hllor.

Asshai Is a Mysterious Place That We Know Little About

Quaithe from 'Game of Thrones'
Image via HBO

Despite the foreignness of R’hllor’s faith in Westeros, her fire magic isn’t even the weirdest type of magic she can harness. Melisandre hails from Asshai, the easternmost inhabited city in George R. R. Martin‘s fantasy world. Asshai is an ancient city, with imposing structures built out of greasy black stone evocative of Lovecraftian eldritch horrors. The city is sparsely populated — with no children in the city at all — but its residents have a reputation for possessing deep and intimate knowledge of shadowy magic.

Much of the foreboding presence of Asshai has to do with its proximity to an inhospitable wasteland known as the Shadowlands, which contributes to the city’s moniker as “Asshai-by-the-Shadow.” The Shadowlands are even more of an unknown than the city, believed to be inhabited by demons and other unspeakable horrors. It’s rumored that dragons originated from the Shadowlands, and the three dragon eggs given to Daenerys were said to come from this mythical region. Though Daenerys’ case, the eggs could have come from a place closer to home.

The only other person in the show from Asshai is the masked Quaithe (Laura Pradelska), one of the mysterious people Daenerys meets in Qarth. Like most people from Asshai, Quaithe wears an intricate red mask with hexagonal patterns that both encompasses her face and wardrobe. While Melisandre does not wear a mask due to being a shadowbinder, her clothing also has similar hexagonal patterns. Not to mention the glamour charm Melisandre uses to make her appear far younger than she actually is, as the Red Priestess is much older than she appears. Little else is known about the people from Asshai, and perhaps for good reason.


Every ‘Game of Thrones’ Spinoff Series in Development or Cancelled

Although ‘Game of Thrones’ is over, the future looks bright for Westeros.

Asshai’s Shadow Magic Killed Renly Baratheon

One of Asshai’s most infamous and deadly claims to power is their possession of one of the darkest forms of magic ever seen in the show: shadowbinding. Shadowbinders are able to create, manipulate, and control shadows to perform their bidding. Fittingly enough, knowledge of this magic is as obscured as the name suggests, but its singular demonstration in the series was enough to scar anyone who witnessed it.

In order to help Stannis ascend the Iron Throne, Melisandre seduces him, and after the two have sex, she goes on to literally birth a monstrous shadow creature. The birth of the shadow assassin is one of the most uncomfortable scenes in Game of Thrones, as it uses its inhuman hands to pull itself out of Melisandre before it swiftly disappears into the night with murder as its sole purpose for existence. The shadow then infiltrated Renly Baratheon’s (Gethin Anthony) camp to murder him, before disappearing into the shadows once more. Stannis later implores Melisandre to create another shadow monster to kill more of his enemies, but she refuses due to how much it drains his life force — a welcome limitation on magic even more dangerously efficient than dragons at causing death.

Unlike Valyria, Asshai is still a livng city, one inhabited by mages capable of unspeakable magic. It begs countless questions about the limits and scope of Asshai magic. What are the people of Asshai truly capable of? What threats lie in wait in the Shadowlands? Unlike many other aspects of Westeros and Essos, it might be best if George R. R. Martin never unveils these secrets, even if we are dying to know the answers.

All episodes of Game of Thrones are streaming on Max.

Watch on Max


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *