'Game of Thrones' Exclusive: English actress Gwendoline Christie reveals Brienne of Tarth's heart and soul — spoilers ahead
Woman of substance
In the days leading up to the conclusion of the eighth and final season of HBO's Game of Thrones on 19 May, we will be taking a look back at some of the show's most fascinating supporting characters. Along with brief highlights that include their backstory, an iconic mic-drop moment and speculations on where they might be headed (read: dead), we'll be reminiscing with the outstanding actors who play them, in a Singapore-exclusive interview courtesy of HBO. Up next: the statuesque Brienne of Tarth played by English actress Gwendoline Christie.
The sole surviving daughter and heir of Lord Sewlyn Tarth, the formidable (in appearance and on the battlefield) Brienne of Tarth has forged a couple of loyalities throughout the course of GoT's seven seasons. Yet, despite her steadfast devotion and winning swordsmanship, ironically, they have all ended up dead: first as part of Renly Baratheon's Kingsguard and then with Lady Catelyn Stark. She is now part of Jon Snow and Daenery's legion in the North, serving her oath to protect the Stark sisters: Arya and Sansa.
Fittingly, Brienne has had some major kills with her Valyrian 'Oathkeeper' steel sword. Mostly notably, she ended Stannis Baratheon's run in season five. However, her story arc has shifted considerably away from the blood-smeared mess on the battlefield towards her romantic feelings for Ser Jaime Lannister that have bubbled away beneath the cold surface of her hardy breastplates ever since that fateful hot tub confession in season three.
You see, Brienne, unlike any other woman on GoT, has been defined not by her relationships with men and marriage, but the lack thereof; her constant display in full-on armoured gear becoming a physical manifestation of her emotionally guarded nature. Also, despite her royal lineage, she never receives the title of "Lady". Instead, she is simply referred to by her first name.
It all comes full circle in season eight's episode two, though, when Jaime knights her. Teary-eyed and finally receiving some sort of validation from the man she is unknowingly falling for, Brienne deservedly receives the glorious title of "Ser Brienne of Tarth, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms".
Iconic mic-drop moment
Not much of a mic-drop than an epic showcase of her badassery — the showdown between the Hound and Brienne in season four was a demonstration of her valiant efforts and undying commitment to protect the Stark sisters — in this instance, a young Arya. Brienne comes out victorious and sends the Hound off a cliff with series of knockout punches, but not without receiving some heavy blows to the face and sensitive nether regions. Ouch!
Hopefully, by now, you're all caught up until episode three of season eight. If you haven't, then stop reading because there are spoilers ahead!
In episode four, our suspicions that Brienne is still a virgin are confirmed. This time, however, she goes on to reveal herself to Jaime Lannister, both physically and emotionally like she has never done before. As the fire place sizzles in the background, Brienne undresses herself and then lends a hand to Jaime. For Brienne, it marked the first time she has slept with anyone. For Jaime, it marked quite possibly the first time he has slept with a fellow knight or anyone other than his twin sister, Cersei.
We're predicting that it's not going to be all rainbows and butterflies for the new couple. While they managed to survive and fight alongside each other against the undead siege in the Battle of Winterfell in episode three, the probability of both of them remaining together and alive for the rest of the season is pretty slim. After all, Jaime has earned a reputation of being GoT's designated fuccboi. Whether it's for dealing the final blow on his sister Cersei's reign at King's Landing or being present for the birth of his third child, Jaime is going to leave Brienne in the dust and bawling her eyes out as her first love walks out on her, but at least she's going to be still alive. We wish we could say the same for him.
What was her perspective on the battle with the Army of the Undead?
I think that she was rightfully taking on board the possibility that she may die in that. Brienne has always been in service of a greater good and I think that she saw that as the zenith of her life. This was everything that she's strived for. Although she's always had this altruistic sense of fighting for what is good, that she is happy to sacrifice herself in service of others, there crept in a humanity actually, which was fear.
How did you feel the last time you took off the armour and said goodbye to the character?
I'm very attached to this character. She has meant a great deal to me in my life, not just in terms of my work but personally too, in terms of stripping away all of the vanities that we all hang about ourselves. It's given me a lot of confidence to accept who I am and to accept things that we have no control over, that form who we are as human beings. Society has started to change. With the rise of the internet, people are saying, "This is my voice and I want to see myself represented in entertainment." There's nothing as powerful as a good story, and people want to be able to see something of themselves reflected in order to feel grounded in their existence. So I've been preparing for the end for a while.
On the last day, I told myself in the morning I'd be fine. I wasn't. I cried for two hours until everyone was rolling their eyes because there I was changing out of costume and removing makeup and hair things while still crying. People were saying, "Yes, she's still going. Nope, hasn't stopped. Still going." I thought it was important to vent that grief. What struck me was this part has revolutionised the way in which I see myself and see the way things can be in the world. It has really made me explore the idea of story and the idea of women in society. That is something that will never leave me. That's something that will continue growing.
Looking back, was there a moment where you realised the show had gone from very popular to something bigger than that?
Yes, season three. I knew the books and the third book is sensational. It's a fascinating, gripping, exciting, action-filled book and structurally, it's really surprising as well. The scripts were so good for that season. I remember thinking, "I think this might be the one that tips us over into being more popular." I didn't expect there to be the kind of explosion that took place.
Then you assume, because everyone tells you, that TV shows always become successful and then they plateau before falling away. This just got bigger and bigger and bigger with every year, until I realised that it was in every aspect of my life and that my public life had changed drastically. That was entirely beyond my control, but at the same time, you know that you're a part of something extraordinary. As surprising as it may be, you know how lucky you are and it's just a question of how to navigate that.
What have you taken from Game of Thrones in terms of practical skills?
It's been an incredibly physically demanding role, and beyond the realms of anything I could ever have conceived. Interestingly, I thought that I would I retire in a way I would normally physically retire. But I cannot let it go and I've actually incorporated boxing into my routine. I work with a trainer five times a week and I'm now exploring other kinds of physical disciplines. Martial arts I think might be the next step; we've been talking about that. Basically, having gone through an eye-bleedingly hard amount of work to get up to speed with the physical stuff, now I want to explore more. What it's taught me is that the body is such an incredible tool. Whilst I really want my intellect to be tested, what this job has given me is an insatiable thirst for challenge. I love pushing myself beyond my small limits!
When you think back across the seasons, what were the funniest moments?
You see I'm quite boring because I'm quite serious on set. But that's because I had an incredibly strict training at Drama Centre London when it was very old school. You were there to work. Around that, the cast are truly hilarious. I have absolutely just been in gut-twisting convulsions of laughter with a lot of them. Working with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been frankly insane, but also people like Liam Cunningham just truly make me cry with laughter. Kit Harington, unfortunately, we have to add his humour to his endless list of attributes. Alfie Allen is hilarious too. All of the crew have kept me laughing through some quite hard conditions on set. I'll never forget them.
Stream the eighth and final season on HBO GO (available on the App Store, Google Play, SingTel, StarHub, and Toggle) or watch it on HBO (Starhub TV Ch 601/Singtel TV Ch 420) at 9am with a same-day encore at 10pm, or catch it at your convenience anytime on HBO On Demand.