Gwendoline Christie got to have a rare happy ending on “Game of Thrones,” with her Brienne of Tarth becoming a knight of the Seven Kingdoms and member of the Small Council. Christie has been a member of the show’s sprawling cast since Season 2, with Brienne being one the most popular characters.
Christie recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about Brienne’s ultimate fate on “Game of Thrones,” working with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and what she’ll take with her moving forward in her career. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Gwendoline, first things first, what did you think of where we left off with Brienne in the series finale?
Gwendoline Christie: I loved it, I have to say. I was so happy that she became Commander of the Kingsguard. When we first saw Brienne in Season 2, she was besting Ser Loras, Knight of the Flowers, to become a part of Renly’s Kingsguard and it was great to see in her final moments that she achieves her dream, and one of the few characters on “Game of Thrones” that does achieve their dreams. So I was very pleased about that. I was also pleased that her very last line was, “I think ships take preference over brothels.”
GD: So good. It’s so Brienne, isn’t it? That’s her.
GC: It’s practicality and it’s a woman with an innately feminist outlook and through that, it’s about equality and accepting people as they are. I think that’s what I really loved about playing the character is that in this incredibly unconventional character who nobody liked, she’s mocked, she’s very much outside of that society, she’s a misfit, but she creates her own path and through her own self-belief she creates her own life and her own identity. It’s uncompromising and also she has a truly altruistic outlook. She dedicates herself to a life of service, in service of an idea larger than herself. What she does do is that we see her evolve over the last couple of seasons and we see particularly in the final season her get in touch with own wants, needs and desires and we see her vulnerability and we see her take risks and it be about her as a woman as opposed to her as a machine.
GD: You have hit the nail on the head because there’s something about her even in the books, people just adore her. The way that you have played her, fans are just so in love with this character because she is so selfless and she is always striving for that recognition and equality and then by Season 8, she’s kind of arrived and we start to see things pay off for her. It’s just such a wonder to watch, isn’t it?
GC: I love that when I got the scripts I was very excited because I felt we got to see into her interior life. So many seasons I’ve loved playing her because she’s so strong. She’s so morally strong. She’s always about taking the higher ground. She’s about pushing through the pain barrier. She’s about being stoic and achieving the strength that maybe others don’t have, can’t find and trying to give that strength to them. Being allowed to shine a light inside that world, that personal world and look at what she wants and also, in the books, it said how Brienne doesn’t smile. I really took that onboard and I was thinking with each season, it was always in my mind, “When will she smile? When will it be appropriate for her to smile?” I didn’t want to throw it away and I didn’t want to waste it. Then, when I read the scripts I saw and I don’t think it was in the scripts, but when she’s knighted, it felt to me, that’s the time when we see Brienne smile because that’s about achieving her dreams on her own terms, that she is made a Ser. She achieves the impossible. She steps outside of gender boundaries and it’s just about the choices she’s made and how she’s chosen to live her life. It was operating on different levels for me as well, I’m afraid to say. To be employed for eight years is an incredible thing for an actor and an incredible thing for me. Being in that scene and the unbelievable love I have for the character, the way in which the character has done so much for me personally, it’s done amazing things for me in terms of being allowed to have a career but in terms of my confidence and my belief in my ability as an actor, it’s been transformative and standing there with people who helped teach me to act, who have supported me, the crew who I loved, my cast members who I loved and in terms of what it means in society, the way in which “Game of Thrones” has been such a global phenomenon and has united people across political opinion, and what that character represents in terms of women outside of the patriarchy, all of that coming together. What it meant for me as an actor, what it means to the character, an idea of what it meant for women in that moment, it hit me very strongly. It all came out in that smile. It wasn’t planned, really. I thought that this would be the point but I didn’t plan for it to be the beam that I saw when I watched the TV show. But there was a lot of love that I received from people in that room and outside of that room. It really struck me and for the character to feel that kind of support and magical radiance in that moment. It was a very special moment for me, which I won’t forget.
GD: It’s very important that people have to remember that Brienne didn’t really smile. Her stoicism was so overt and then she finally receives such an honor by this man that she really loves and we were able to reflect on her journey over the years by just looking at your face. So much emotion crossed over your face. The way you were able to achieve that was quite remarkable. When I watched that episode for the first time, just because unfortunately this is the way I think, I can’t help myself, sometimes I wonder what would it have been like when you first read that script and you’ve already explained how you decided to take it in that direction with the smile, but did it hit you that this thing’s coming to an end and she’s finally getting somewhere in her life?
GC: Yeah. The final season was all about endings. Each scene felt like it was about an ending. I was preparing myself that the character could die offscreen in the first episode. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I couldn’t believe that she was allowed so much resolution throughout the series. That particular scene for her to actually achieve something that she desired personally, it meant a great deal to me. I think everybody was very conscious when we were filming “Game of Thrones” that the days were counting down. We were all delighted to come back together again for one last time but you play a scene like that and it feels like, wow, there’s seven seasons coming to a conclusion right here, seven seasons of this character’s hard work and striving and working happily, thanklessly, and then to achieve that kind of honor, also to be made a Ser, it isn’t some adaptation for a woman. She is recognized for being a knight, for being chivalrous. I remember actually when I first got the part going and buying some kid’s handbook on being a knight and what that meant, this child’s book and it was very useful to break it down to its simplest terms about what it meant and what being a knight of the realm means. It’s an extraordinary thing. I just loved that I felt that it was crossing gender barriers, actually. That’s what I loved.
GD: It’s so special and speaking of special, I remember when I watched “The Last Watch,” the documentary about the show it was utterly heartbreaking to watch you comfort Conleth Hill as he read through Varys’ final scenes. It reminded me that no matter what you do in your profession in your life, you do form bonds with the people that you spend a lot of time with, more so than your own family on many occasions. I saw how you comforted him and it just made think firstly, how cool was it that they captured that moment and secondly, what kind of bonds were you all able to create over the years working together on this show?
GC: We spent a lot of time together. Interestingly, we were broken up into very small groups or just pairs. I spent a lot of time with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and I spent a lot of time with Daniel Portman. Daniel Portman and I spent many, many days, nights together huddled around gas fires in mud, in rain, finding proper friendship and the same with Nikolaj and I. There were so many really phenomenal actors but phenomenal people on that show. Because you love what you’re doing and because you love your character, and I think everybody did love their character, that’s what really comes through in the show. Also, people could feel intense bonds with their characters and you become united through that love. I did not want Brienne to die. I really didn’t. I was prepared for the worst but I think it would’ve broken my heart if she had. You know, Conleth, that he will feel that extreme pain. We all know they’re just characters. We all know we’re just really lucky to do a job as actors but you can’t help but give yourself over almost completely to the character in service of making it live, in service of this great story, in service of these books. As it says in the show, there’s nothing as powerful as a good story. To be in something as loved by people is extraordinary. You’re lucky to be in something that anyone watches, but something that people love and you love it, it was palpable. I could feel Conleth’s pain there. You wanted to comfort him and show him that love because it’s an incredible thing that’s changed all of our lives coming to an end. Everybody’s staring over the precipice at the same time. I felt extraordinarily lucky that Brienne lived. It means that she can live on in my mind but also what I’ve learned from the character, of which I’ve learned so much, I can take with me into other parts, in terms of how I view other parts, in terms of how other parts can be interpreted. I think that’s very significant for women now, is that it isn’t, unfortunately, always on the page. It isn’t like there’s a dearth of incredible scripts for women with the involvement of women, care-taking women’s stories. Many actors will tell you this. A lot of work often has to be done with just what’s on the page, of trying to transform it into something else, in trying to communicate a relevant story about society and reflecting people’s lives. It all exists. It’s all out there. It’s just paying attention to it. People put a lot of work into their characters in trying to bring something of the now and bring something relevant and something hopefully of some significance.
GD: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of things that people love, this show obviously is a phenomenon, which meant that a lot of people around the globe felt some ownership for it and being honest, there was a mixed reaction about some of the episodes of the final season and particularly the final episode. I loved it. You’ve mentioned that you loved it, but what did it feel like to hear that some people were not happy about it and wanted something different and how do you balance that reaction out with how you felt about it yourself?
GC: I knew that this story would never in a way that would please everybody. I knew that its ending was totally unconventional and that would surprise people and it might not necessarily be the ending they expected or the ending that they wanted or the ending that conventional narrative has suggested to us. The conventional narrative is that our favorites get there in the end. The people we spent the most time with get there in the end. What I loved about it was that it was someone who was completely unambitious and was not in pursuit of power and therefore is the least likely to be corrupted and that I loved. I loved that it was the quiet boy who had traveled to different places and was not in service of his own ego. That I was happy with. But also in another way, yes, you want people to be happy. You want people to love it but this was never a conventional story and it was never going to have the happy ending that you all expected. So I like that it was subversive.
GD: I think that’s a really good way to put it. As a final question, you’ve touched on this earlier in our discussion but you’ve gotten to play Captain Phasma and you are playing Titania on stage. You’ve got some really amazing roles, perhaps out of the exposure you received from this show. You’re obviously super thankful but are you now ready to let “Game of Thrones” go or do you think you’ll be talking about it forever?
GC: I am in a very privileged position to be talking about it forever. I am unbelievably lucky to have been a part of such an incredible TV show that people have loved and so if I have to talk about it forever, then that is not really a hardship. I have to mention him, I’ve been lucky enough to play opposite Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and the relationship between Jaime and Brienne has been truly extraordinary because it has really evolved beyond what most male-female relationships have been presented as on television. It’s been borne out of a mutual dislike to a begrudging respect and then changed into an odd mercurial relationship where neither character really knew what was happening and then evolves into something resembling love for a moment and then dies. I’ve learned so much from working with Nikolaj, I, unfortunately, have to say. I’ve loved playing that relationship and I’ve loved exploring how unlikely it is, an unlikely relationship between a man and a woman, the fact that George R. R. Martin created it so it was a reversal of “Beauty and the Beast” with the woman being the beast and the man being the beauty, the fact that it has been about upending gender stereotypes and male-female relationships. I’ve been so lucky to work with that actor and I truly love playing that relationship. I love Captain Phasma in “Star Wars” conceptually. I love what she represents. Again, it’s about an unconventional woman. It’s about stepping outside of patriarchal constraints and it’s extraordinary how many people latched onto that and loved it and continue to love it, and particularly young kids. What I love is that it’s little girls and it’s little boys. That’s what I love about it. I think what is surprising about the character of Brienne of Tarth is that no one expected her to be beloved, particularly me. I think it represents that society is ready for a change in their stories and I really hope that continues. What I’ve learned from how unconventional that character is is that I will take that outlook into every part I have and be unafraid.
GD: Absolutely. Thank you, Gwendoline, for your time today. We loved watching Brienne over the years. It’s been great.
GC: Thank you, Rob! Thanks so much.