The character faces new challenges now that her quest with Jaime Lannister has ended.
When I met up with Gwendoline Christie in New York City a couple of weeks ago to talk about Game of Thrones’ brand new fourth season, the actress otherwise known as the warrior Brienne was giddy with excitement. The Season 4 opener of the HBO hit had its premiere party the night before, and it was clear that Christie was still riding high from the evening. I mean, they even had a giant dragon there!
As Christie and I sat in a hotel suite high above the city overlooking Central Park, we talked about Brienne’s new path in Season 4 as she finds herself in the treacherous world of the royal court and King’s Landing. And you thought fighting a bear was dangerous?!
IGN: Are you enjoying New York — or do you even get a chance to leave the hotel?
Gwendoline Christie: [Laughs] They don’t let me out of the forest! This is a rare outing for me. I’m kept in the woods, wearing metal clothing.
IGN: [Laughs] Heavy clothing, fighting bears. You do most of your shooting in Ireland, is that right?
Christie: Mhmm. Yeah, up to — from what we’ve seen so far, I have shot pretty much exclusively in Belfast, apart from the bear-fighting scene, which we shot in LA, and then the very final scene at the end of Season 3, which was shot in Croatia, where Jaime and Brienne enter King’s Landing.
IGN: Ah, okay, and that was basically for the landscape, right?
Christie: Yeah, for it all to be precise and accurate, which I appreciate. It makes your job as an actor so much easier, to be in a real environment, rather than a mocked-up one.
IGN: I was in Belfast a couple of months ago. They were shooting a Dracula film up there, and everyone kept talking about how all the sound stages were Game of Thrones, and they had to find other spots to shoot.
Christie: Yeah, I know! They’ve really commandeered the landscape. They absolutely have. It’s Game of Thrones World. [Laughs]
IGN: So I watched the first three episodes of this season. They told me it was okay to kind of talk — not that anything too groundbreaking happens with your character.
Christie: Yeah, yes… What do you mean!? [Laughs] I’m so hurt right now!
IGN: [Laughs] I mean, in terms of bear fights… No, don’t get me wrong, I loved your interplay with Cersei, for one thing. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But to start off, you’ve really been repositioned this season from the trek that you had with Jaime to now you’re in the Royal Court; you get to take baths and stuff and also interact with other characters now! It’s not just you and Jaime and bad guys. What is that like for you? Is it scary, in a way?
Christie: I think it’s scary for the character Brienne, because she’s a fairly insular person. Her skills don’t lie in verbal communication, and certainly not the interplay one can expect at King’s Landing, which is a world of secrets, treachery and words. It’s intellectual fencing. She is a woman of physicality and a woman of action. So she doesn’t know how to navigate that world at all. She certainly doesn’t know how to navigate someone like Cersei — or Lena [Headey]. You can see from that first scene that when she enters the room it’s her choice, but it’s under duress. She’s obeying a code of conduct, of respectability and manners. She’s rehearsed that, and she goes in and is expecting the worst, and is ultimately, truly surprised when Lena is so embracing of her.
IGN: Of course, as a viewer we’re thinking she has it in the back of her mind not to totally trust her.
Christie: Oh, I know, I know! There’s a beautiful naiveté, isn’t there? There’s an innocence. She truly has the best intentions, and she’s trying to see the good in everybody. You just think, “Don’t trust them!”
IGN: Also, they’re the people who seem to get into the most trouble when you’re in King’s Landing, right? I mean, Ned Stark.
Christie: Right, you just wouldn’t hang out with them. Too high risk. Those people are too high risk.
IGN: So what is her relationship with Jaime going to be like, as much as you can tell me? I sense that they still have a strong bond.
Christie: It’s interesting, isn’t it, because we see from the first episode, certainly. I can’t recall precisely what happens in episode three, so I’m trying to be economic in what I tell you.
IGN: I don’t think you were in much of episode three, if I remember correctly.
Christie: How upsetting. [Laughs]
IGN: [Laughs] I mean, this is how it goes.
Christie: And then I watch it, and I’ve got loads of scenes, and they just didn’t resonate with you! It’s like I wasn’t there. [Laughs] “Then I watched it, and I guess Scott just ignored all my stuff!”
IGN: [Laughs] Now I’m going to feel really bad if I go back and watch it!
Christie: I can’t wait. I hope those are the facts, that most of my stuff is in episode three. No, sorry, to answer your question seriously [Laughs] — what we see from the first couple of episodes, episode one establishes that they have this preexisting bond that can’t be denied, and she’s reminding him of the oath that he has sworn. We see from their interaction, there’s still a closeness there. They’re still sort of bickering like some old married couple, or brother and sister. She’s trying to remind him of the man that she knows he truly is and has in her mind become, as opposed to the man he was before.
Jaime and Brienne, the best of buds in Season 3
IGN: That really was a transformative thing for him, hanging out with your character.
Christie: Yeah, those two — it sort of made their minds explode a bit. Neither of them could really handle it; they’re both staring at the floor. In that scene where Brienne says goodbye to Jaime, he can’t even look at her. There’s something thrillingly teenage about the whole thing, isn’t there?
IGN: Yeah, and Cersei sort of touches upon it too in episode two, when she tells Brienne she’s obviously in love with Jaime.
Christie: Oh, when I read that — when I read the script — “Nooooo!!” It’s sort of the worst thing, like when you’re a kid at school and someone says, “You fancy him!” “No!”
IGN: Do you think she’s aware that she loves him?
Christie: No, I don’t think she is.
IGN: I mean, Cersei is right though, isn’t she?
Christie: What’s brilliant about the writing is that in that moment, that’s the first moment [Brienne] considers it, and it’s the horror that that might be true and what she might have to deal with. It’s so brilliantly directed by Alex Graves, because — well, I haven’t seen that moment, I only filmed it, so I don’t know what ended up in the edit. But when we filmed it, obviously, there’s that terrible confrontation, face to face, with Cersei. She moves away; she doesn’t do the formal exit. She just has to turn away. Even Brienne is incredibly aware of respectability and manners, as difficult as it is for her; she’s still a lady. But she doesn’t give a formal exit, she turns away. Then in her eye-line is Jaime. It’s, I think, really slapped her hard on one side of the face, and then the other even harder, as she runs off red-faced. “Oh, God!”
IGN: I guess in a case like this, I have to ask, have you read all the books? Do you know where she goes?
Christie: I wrote all the books. My pseudonym is “George R. R. Martin.” That guy’s just an actor.
IGN: [Laughs] Oh, okay. I was going to ask about that guy!
Christie: Yeah, because I needed a vehicle for myself, so 20 years ago I started writing. No, I’m sorry — I’m being silly! I read all of Brienne‘s story in preparation for the meeting for the part; Dance of Dragons wasn’t out then. But my mother has read all of them, so I rang her up when it came out. I was like, “Have you read it?” She’s like, “Yeah, I’ve read it,” and she filled me in.
IGN: Okay, so when something like this big moment happens, when Cersei’s sort of informed you that you’re in love with him, was that something…
Christie: I don’t believe that is in the books, so it was extra exciting when I was reading the scripts, and they put that in. Because George is so involved in the television series, it’s fabulous to know it’s all with his blessing. So a moment like that, it was thrilling. But it’s quite sick to take someone so vulnerable, who’s such an outsider, who’s such a glorious role model for female empowerment, and then put her in the most teenage, awkward situation — the worst, the worst emotional distress.
IGN: Which is totally a Cersei kind of play too. Whereas your character is very physically imposing and strong and able.
Christie: Mmm, and Cersei, it’s her mind. She’s an intellectual warrior.
IGN: Yeah, and also you’re noble, and Cersei’s not — whatever the opposite of noble is!
Christie: Yeah, naughty. [Laughs]
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne
IGN: I love when you step up to Joffrey in that scene, and she sort of snickers and says, “Did you just bow?”
Christie: It’s so horrible, yes. It’s just starting. It’s like those nasty girls at school that are poking holes. There’s this sort of awkward teenager that’s a bit taller than everyone else and a bit self-conscious. Then there’s a really pretty girl that’s just like, “Did you just do that?” [Laughs]
IGN: She’s such an outsider, and the best characters — or the kindest characters — on this show, and the ones we root for, are often the outsiders. I think in a way she’s an inspiring character for younger folks who might be watching, who feel like outsiders.
Christie: Yeah, I think there’s a bit of all of us that feels like an outsider. That’s why that character’s so fabulous — not just for women — in terms of it’s a phenomenally written part for a woman to play, which is strangely fresh and feels fresh. I’m hoping that will breed a [bunch] of other female characters with that degree of complexity and such a 360-degree view of a woman’s psyche. But there’s a bit of all of us that feels like an outsider. Because Brienne is motivated by the very best of intentions, I think that’s why we love her. We see that she’s doing her best to overcome the obstacles and utilize her strengths. But there’s such a childlike vulnerability and naiveté, and we all see ourselves in that.
IGN: Totally, and that’s what I think rubbed off on Jaime somewhat, which changed him. The thing is, did any of Jaime rub off on her? Is there a dark side as well to her perhaps?
Christie: Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if that’s where Brienne is taken, if she remains truly good with that beautiful naiveté, or if she is subject to corruption in the way so many of the other characters are. You know, it’s very easy to get drunk on power. So… I hope they don’t do it. Just leave her alone!
IGN: I’d rather she get her hand cut off than turn bad.
Christie: Yeah! Me too, me too. But, ugh… Don’t get too attached to any of the characters in Game of Thrones.
IGN: [Laughs] That’s true!
Christie: Because they’ll just get killed in the most horrific way possible, right in front of your eyes. Yeah, you’ll just lose all faith in humanity. But that’s why we love the show! [Laughs]
IGN: It’s treacherous too, if you don’t know the story from the books, trying to avoid those spoilers as well.
Christie: It’s so much fun that such an enormous television show — people won’t tell you what happens. Because I started watching Breaking Bad, and then I got involved in work, so I picked up again and re-watched the first series, and halfway through the second series, I thought, “My word, I know the show has finished and all of my friends have watched it, but no one’s told me what happens.” I think it’s really lovely when people don’t want to spoil it for you.
IGN: Yeah, it’s great. They’re enjoying watching you watch it. “Did you get to this part?”
Christie: Yeah, that fascination. It’s become so much of our language, of how we communicate with one another. Before I started binge-watching — which is a term I just adore, “binge-watching” TV shows; I feel like everyone’s started to do that — I was at a fitting for something, and the costume people were discussing it. I said, “No, I’ve not seen that,” and they said, “God, what are you doing if you’re not binge-watching these shows!?” It’s become such a mainstay of the way in which we communicate with one another.
IGN: So you’ve fought the bear, you’ve kicked butt. Do you have some cool action this season?
Christie: What I will say to you is that Brienne undergoes her greatest hardship, and we’re not sure how she can possibly come out of it.
IGN: Hmm, very intriguing! That sounds like a “later in the season” kind of situation?
Christie: Possibly, yes.
IGN: But does it involve some kicking butt though?
Christie: Possibly, yes. [Laughs]
Margaery and Brienne
IGN: Now what about Margaery and that side of things? You do have the scene with her where you’re kind of paying your respects. You still have a loyalty to that house as well, don’t you?
Christie: Well, yes, because her entire focus has been that she was part of Renly’s Kingsguard. So she was to protect him to the death. The reason for that is stated in the books, which is that Renly was the first man to treat her with respect and treat her like a woman. She then falls in love with him — again, in that sort of beautiful, naive way of unrequited love — although Renly’s sexual preference means that he’s not going to return her love in the way that she might want; she’s possibly not even aware of that. So she’s sworn to his Kingsguard, and she bests Sir Loras in order to get there. She’s a woman of her word. It will always be that that’s what she dedicated her life to.
IGN: Even in death.
Christie: Yes, and then Catelyn Stark is there and witnesses that horrible, supernatural death. We see Brienne, and she bests Sir Loras — he’s a brilliant swordsman — and she’s part of the Kingsguard. Everything’s going as it should, and it’s conventional. Then this woman that’s enormously physically strong and highly accomplished and skillful at sword fighting and combat — essentially a ghost kills the man she loves in front of her. There’s nothing she can do about it. You really see the rug just pulled from underneath her feet, in a way that we could never have expected.
IGN: Forgive me if I’m not remembering, but have we seen much of her reaction to Catelyn’s death?
Christie: No. We do see her reaction, but again, it’s an unconventional narrative. It’s through her deeds. Because I haven’t watched the episodes, I don’t know precisely how they’ve organized the story in terms of how they edit, but from what I recall of the scripts — from what you have seen so far — you perhaps have not witnessed her response indeed.
IGN: That was an important part of her oath.
Christie: Yes, I think it’s part of the evolution of the character, Brienne. We see her emotional response to Renly’s death in Season 2, and we see her evolution, rather than her responding emotionally, and running, and she says in a later scene where she swears her oath to Catelyn Stark — she says, “I should never have fled.” Now, it’s about action. That’s why I love playing this part. It’s such a brilliant female character, because she moves from one mode of being to an entirely different one, and we get to see every step of that psychological arc.
IGN: It’s like she’s breaking the glass ceiling of Westeros as well in a way, right? I mean, she is very progressive in a land of anti-woman behavior.
Christie: Yeah, yes. She’s unique. She unconsciously embraces her uniqueness. She chooses a totally unconventional path, with this sort of bare focus, this solid focus and enthusiasm. She chooses to become a female knight in a world where that doesn’t exist. But she doesn’t consider that it doesn’t exist. She just has that focus and does it.
IGN: Which is amazing.
IGN: There’s another thing that Cersei says to you, which is really quite cruel, where she sort of throws out the whole notion of the pledges you have made to these people. She implies that you’ve jumped ship, as politically necessary, which is of course totally not what it is.
Christie: So painful. Again, it slaps her across the face! But yes, she’s navigating the world. She’s dedicated to the greater good, and she’s navigating the world by her own rules of what she believes is good. She swears herself to Renly; he dies in front of her. What does she do? Catelyn Stark is there, and they escape together — this woman, the like of which she’s never met before, who has this incredible strength that doesn’t manifest itself physically; it manifests itself in a moral good and a greater good. So she decides to swear an oath to her, because this woman is truly good, exceptional. Then that woman is taken away. It’s just so interesting to see someone’s intellectual choices at war with their emotional world and the world of experience. As human beings, that’s always really thrilling, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve got it mapped out, life will just turn a corner.
IGN: That’s for sure, especially if you live in King’s Landing. You probably know where her story is going, because of your mom.
Christie: Because of my mom. [Laughs]
IGN: That’s what moms are for, right? But — maybe not pertaining to her specifically — are happy endings possible for any of these people in this story?
Christie: That could be the most unexpected ending of all in Game of Thrones.
IGN: Yeah, one more rug-pull. Have an actual happy ending?
Christie: “And then they all lived happily ever after.”
IGN: Who saw that coming?
Christie: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly — in a world where all men must die…
Don’t mess with Brienne.
IGN: Because the show is so dense in the number of people and storylines, how do you as an actress make yourself stand out? Because you only get “X” amount of minutes per episode. Sometimes you might not be in an episode. I know that’s a hard question to answer.
Christie: No, the way I was trained was that that is not one’s focus. The job that you’re doing is to honor the material and to perform it as best to your abilities as you can. Acting seems to work best when the focus is on other people rather than one’s self. I’m not sure it would ever serve me to just be “Check me out! I’ve only got 15 minutes of screen time, and I’m going to make you remember me!” — although I might try it in the future, Scott. If I start doing that, I’ll remember that it’s because of you. [Laughs]
IGN: The Tom Cruise of Game of Thrones, right? Fly in in a jet or something!
Christie: I’m going to start doing that. Season 5! It’s all guns and jets!
IGN: Do you have a favorite character — aside from your own?
Christie: I love the character of Jaime Lannister. He’s just so complex — a character that we love to hate — but it’s a lot more complex than hatred. It starts off, and he seems so arrogant and so smug. Then there’s that one scene where you realize that actually he’s a man of honor. But he’s at war with himself. He’s having a sexual relationship with his sister for crying out loud, but somehow we kind of love him.
IGN: Last season, it was kind of easy to avoid that topic, but now you guys are all together in one place.
Christie: And there’s that great scene in the first episode where they’re there together, and she says, “You went away,” and he says, “I was captured!” “But you still went away.” To see that tipping — brother and sister, and yet lovers — it’s fascinating to me. It’s a rare relationship.
IGN: Well, I’m rooting that you guys get together in the end.
Christie: Oh my word!
Game of Thrones Season 4 continues this Sunday night on HBO!