Castlevania is known for hot vampires. But even more so, what fans of the series will point out is that appearance is just one small element. In fact, it’s how characters act and their motivations that push the series’ vampires well beyond expectation. This no truer than with Carmilla, a vampire queen from Styria who made it clear in Season 2 of the series she was not around to take orders from men. Instead, as the series continued, she aimed to conquer and rule the lands that men had mismanaged. But what her constant push for overthrowing men shows is her struggle to come to a point where she, in a world controlled by men, is given the respect she deserves.
Starting from the beginning, there is a lot to love about Carmilla. From her iconic fashion sense dripping in red and gold to her long white hair and the perfect red lip. Physically, her beauty is stoic, powerful, and it stops you. Animated with an angular face and a thin frame, she is drastically different than her in-game counterpart, and it works. Carmilla’s body is her own, and while sexy characters aren’t inherently bad, Carmilla’s beauty being removed from a busty character design makes her hit differently. Designed like an Haute couture model, she’s an image of propriety, but her actions are all about deception.
In her first appearance in Season 2, with her blood-red dress and lips, she opens Dracula’s castle and makes a loud entrance. When Dracula comments on it, she responds, “It was not meant to disrespect you. It was to unsettle a room full of men. I prefer in such situations to arrive with as many advantages as possible.” On her entrance, it’s clear that while vampires are immortal and powerful, female vampires are still at a disadvantage. And, looking at the rulers brought to Dracula’s court, it’s very clear that Styria, where she rules with her three vampire sisters, is the exception and not the rule.
As Season 2 continues, Carmilla makes her stance clear; she is there for her. And upon seeing Dracula’s weakness and lack of planning, she realizes that she is yet again beholden to a man who isn’t driven by strategy or power, just his own madness. By making the other men in the castle, specifically Godbrand and Dracula’s Forgemaster Hector, her pawns, she plans and begins to pull Dracula’s power away from him. Carmilla is ruthless and manipulating, but she isn’t just pushed by greed and power for power’s sake. No, instead, she’s pushed by her own trauma instead of just plain misandry. Still, in Season 2, we get a small glimpse into Carmilla’s past as she confronts Godbrand, with her feet firmly planted on his chest.
She explains to the Viking vampire that she was turned by a ruling vampire, a man who began to lose his mind. She was controlled by him; her life wasn’t her own until she decided to change that, “And I was bound to him. Until I decided to take back my world. I wasn’t going to be dictated to by mad old men anymore. Never Again.” She is, effectively, pushed by her trauma. Having reclaimed her agency, she won’t lose it, especially not to another mad old man like Dracula.
But Carmilla is just one story of revenge and survival, and she is but one example that Castlevania gives for characters reclaiming their agency. Having risen to power, she plots for more. Beginning in Season 3, we see that Carmilla wants to fill the power vacuum left by not just Dracula’s death but the deaths of other ruling vampires. She will push Styria past its borders, taking what she sees as hers. She is unwavering in her need to grow. She is relentless in pursuit of what she feels she needs to be complete – power.
In the early part of Castlevania Season 4, Carmilla explains her motivations to Lenore, “The first part of my life was men taking things from me. Then I took their lives and their things and their homes.” For Carmilla, she deserves their “stuff,” she deserves it not just because of who she is but because the men around her have proven that they will run it all into the ground.
In a way, Carmilla’s plan and her attitude is where Isaac would have ended up had he not met with the Captain in Season 3. In fact, Carmilla and Isaac are two sides of the same coin. Both characters have been harmed by the world, controlled by others, and fought to reclaim their agency. But Isaac in Season 4 chooses to become a builder and to let go of just pushing to survive. Power to him means nothing if it isn’t grounded in his choices. He will reach so far as he needs to maintain his agency and build the future he envisions.
But Carmilla, she is stuck. You can tell that what she hears is what the ruling men said about her and her sisters, “Bloody women, they said. Let them die, they said.” And the only way to not be left to die is to take everything from everybody until you are no longer at anyone’s mercy. That said, Carmilla sees the world as a constant battle to prove herself, to keep gaining everything until she feels happiness. Her future stopped being one she strived towards for her and her sisters when she became singularly focused on collecting things from the men around her. Carmilla simply exists in one long night, one where she just wants to survive, even if she doesn’t see it that way.
Carmilla is an immovable object. She digs her heels in and refuses to break to those around her. It’s who she is, her agency, her choice; that is what’s important. And her story is an example of what letting pain control you does. While Isaac’s arc shows him moving past it and still holding people accountable and reclaiming his agency, Carmilla’s arc is about her uncertainty. A Queen with nothing but ambition, yes, but one fighting to keep her agency, even if there isn’t a clear enemy coming to take it. While she fought for her agency, she is swallowed by the perceived threats she sees against it. But that paranoia isn’t something to be scoffed at.
It’s a dreaded fear pushed on you by an imposter syndrome of sorts but also of the reality of existing in a society that values you less. When the world is set up to strop your agency, it’s hard to stop feeling like you can rest. And when you’ve been controlled, you’ll stop at nothing to keep it from happening again.
All of that being said, it’s hard to see Carmilla as weak or as mad. She’s a woman driven by the crushing pressure of knowing that the men around her will always have more while doing less. She’s pushed by her past and chasing a future that she can’t see clearly, but she knows that she wants to live to see it. That is until a man comes to take her life.
Carmilla’s story is her story. She owns it. She owns her body, her choices, Styria, and her future. In her final episode, we get the chance to see Isaac and her confront each other. Having committed to rebuilding, Carmilla and her ambition is the only thing that stands in his way. You see, Isaac recognizes himself in her — at least, it feels like he does. And because he can see himself, he knows that she won’t stop reaching for power, reaching to wipe those who would harm her from the world.
In one of Castlevania’s most stunning fight sequences —which is saying something given, well, you know, everything in its seasonal penultimate episodes— we see Isaac and Carmilla fight each other on a floor covered in blood spilled by Carmilla’s sword. Having decimated waves of night creatures and still fighting more as she takes on Isaac, she is losing. With blood-red eyes, similar to Dracula’s in his final battle, Carmilla is pushed to her limit and past it. But the writing is on the wall, and she has to die.
Only Carmilla isn’t one to lose. Her death, like her life, is her choice. Having lived to take away everything from the men around her, she takes her death from the Forgemaster. Carmilla declares, “You do not deserve my blood.” As she plunges her sword through her heart, she declares, “I win,” with a close-up of red tears coming down her cheek. Visually, everything about her final fight and her death is breathtaking.
While death may not be seen as a win by all, for Carmilla, it was keeping control of her life. She chose to keep herself from being taken out of the world by a man. She chose to end it all of her own will. Her death is the final piece of who she is. She is immovable, but Isaac is unstoppable. Knowing this, and knowing herself, Carmilla taking her life is a middle finger to him and the men he represents.
Thinking about her death and her journey across three seasons of Castlevania, I can’t help but think, no one deserved Carmilla’s blood. Not the men she fought, not those she worked with, and not even her sisters. Carmilla’s tragedy is that she lives for only herself, despite how much she claims to be making choices for her sisters. It has always been about her, and while that is her flaw, it is what solidifies her as a stronger character than others we’ve seen. We’ve seen mad queens in media, and we’ve seen queens pushing for their own power, but Carmilla’s path isn’t shifted by love —yes, I’m still mad about Cersei— and she isn’t even shaken by the thought of death. She is true to herself, to a fault.
This is why she’s a good villain, but most importantly, why viewers can root for her. Most importantly, though, the fact that her end comes in opposition to the only other character who shares her determination and pain is not only poetic, but the only way this could have happened. Pride, rage, and determination define her character’s life and her death. This brings in the truth, no one did deserve Carmilla’s blood, and we should just be glad that she even graced us with her presence.
Castlevania Season 4 is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.