Gwendoline Christie’s greeting will really rattle you with its joy. Helloooooo! she sings out when she answers the phone, like a delighted Oprah with a posh Mary Poppins accent. So, yeah, it’s about as un-Brienne of Tarth as possible.
After Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” she has extra cause for jubilance: In a heart-expanding moment of pure grace, Brienne received the recognition she’s been working toward for almost a decade. (That’s Ser Brienne now.) As Christie put it during our effervescent chat about redemption, the knighting scene’s personal resonance for her, Tormund’s puzzling come-ons, and Podrick’s pipes, “Brienne has one of the few pure souls in the world of Game of Thrones. She’s one of the few truly good characters.”
How are you?
I’m just amazing. It’s absolutely extraordinary, the response to the whole series has been one of complete and utter warmth and delight. But I have to admit, I’ve been really, genuinely overwhelmed by people’s response to me being made a Ser.
Do you feel like you’ve personally been knighted?
No, sadly not. That was just in the realms of the television program that I was lucky enough to work on. It doesn’t feel personal at all.
I want to talk a little bit about that scene, about Brienne being knighted. We don’t get a lot of big grins on Game of Thrones, and Bryan Cogman told one of my colleagues that initially the directive was for you to have a neutral expression. Can you tell me a little big about that moment? What were you thinking about and how you conjured that big grin up?
Well, throughout the years and seasons, Brienne of Tarth hasn’t had much reason to smile. The position she’s been given in society has not been one automatically of power. She has not been naturally appreciated by the patriarchy. She’s a woman that’s really forged her own path, on her own terms in service of an idea larger than herself. Of wanting to protect and restore the Stark girls for their mother. So that’s been her reason for living. And within that, she hasn’t really sought out personal joy. She’s never been a creature of her own desires — other than the desire to serve others. Brienne has one of the few pure souls in the world of Game of Thrones. She’s one of the few truly good characters from what we’ve seen so far.
Her and Davos.
Yes. But I had been waiting and I made sure that I didn’t allow a moment like that to just sneak through. I didn’t throw that [smile] away easy. In the final [season], I was thinking as I received the scripts, I wonder if there will be occasion for that, I wonder where that can be placed, I wonder if that actually will live?
For Brienne, it’s the achievement of something that she wanted. And she’s achieved it on her own terms. She’s not used anything other than her sense of honor. It felt incredibly personal for me, for Brienne to be knighted, for her to be given this, for her to be made a Ser. Because, yes, she is a woman, but she isn’t interested in fitting into any kind of norm whatsoever.
It crosses a boundary. Ultimately, it just matters how she serves.
Exactly that. Also, it was significant because it’s so rare that a character in the world of Game of Thrones actually receives what they want.
Did you ever feel like that put a mark on Brienne? You know, she’s just too honorable, so she is marked for death?
Yes, I think there was a bit of that. Because people’s response mainly in the past has been, “I love the character, she’s so pure of heart that, for that reason, she’s probably going to die.”
But going back to that scene, it operated on many different levels. A character that was good actually got something good for a change. And on a personal level, it really spoke to me. As someone that’s been very open about the struggles of my past, that many actors have had — and many people, full stop — about not fitting into a normal society. It’s being allowed, being credible, being given the incredible opportunity to play this part that I truly love, that’s true to me. It really touched me.
You feel like a survivor, don’t you?
Yes, but fundamentally, it’s about acceptance. That’s what people need to give them the confidence to go on, to make the kind of choices that they want, to create the kind of work that they want. I’ve not taken lightly the incredible support that I’ve had from people who’ve enjoyed the character that I’ve been lucky enough to play. And so it touched me very personally, in terms of the character as well as what it represents on a larger scale — in terms of what women have to go through in a patriarchal society, how hard they have to work, how there is still gender bias when it comes to how much men and women are paid. Women are still not paid as much as men, they’re still not given the same opportunities as men.
You’re also the only woman in that scene, which is interesting to me.
You’re the only woman that makes it into that men’s club around the fire of these staunch warriors. Brienne has crossed that threshold.
Yes, yes. In the harsh world of that sort of male warrior environment, she has proved that her ability is equal to, or exceeds, the people in that room.
Can I ask you about some of the men in that room? The moment when Jamie knights Brienne says as much about him, I think, as it does about her. And you and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau have had so many amazing scenes together. What were you hoping for Jaime out of all of this?
Well, it’s about reform isn’t it? The employment of compassionate reasoning rather than selfish, immediate indulgences. Jamie Lannister has always been an extremely complex character and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has played all of that complexity with real subtlety. He’s played all of the notes of it. So, what I think what people love about him, and why I think he is one of the great characters of the show, is that you never know what to think of him. Even eight years after Brienne starts her journey with Jamie Lannister, I don’t know quite how to respond. I don’t quite know what to say, I can’t say whether he’s good or bad. I truly can’t. You can say that about all the characters, but with him truly there has been the depths of depravity — pushing a child out of a window — to seeing past the superficial patriarchal constraints that that society places on women to form a respectful, deep, mutual bond with a woman and not have sex with her.
And also, offering himself up and losing his hand to protect her from being raped. Multiple times, they have rescued each other. I feel like what we saw in Jamie Lannister is a broken man reformed. What I like about those two is there is a real ebb and flow to their relationship. They’re often repaying the favor and that’s something really beautiful. This is the best thing that he can give to her before they go into battle and potentially die.
I’m sure you know there’s a lot of chatter about Brienne’s romantic life. In that scene, she was sitting between Tormund, this man who obviously wants her, and Jamie, with whom she’s had years of sexual tension. Is there a crackle of lust there? What’s your take on Brienne’s romantic predicament?
If she was clicking on a Facebook profile, it would say “It’s complicated.” [Laughs.]
Brienne doesn’t really operate in that sexual realm. It’s the night before the battle. The stakes are really high and people are allowing themselves to feel things that they wouldn’t necessarily feel. She is experiencing all manner of things, but as usual, she’s not quite sure where to put any of it. What’s been marvelous about the relationship between Brienne and Jamie has been that we haven’t been able to contextualize it. It’s pretty rare, that sort of relationship on a mainstream TV show. Where it’s two women— sorry! That it’s a man and a woman …
I was going to say, what do you mean to tell me?
Oops, spoiler alert! Not really. [Laughs.] It’s an amazing relationship between Tormund and Brienne because what they do so well is that kind of unbridled desire toward someone. It’ll be interesting to see which way the barometer will swing.
Intriguing! You posted a really sweet Instagram photo with Daniel Portman this week, and we’re all a little worried about Pod’s fate now. But I want to ask: There’s that moment where, all of a sudden, he breaks out in this beautiful song. Did you know that was something Daniel could do?
Daniel had told me that he could sing. I really don’t feel we’ve really begun to scratch the surface of what he is capable of doing — and that day, he was extraordinary. We hadn’t heard the song, we hadn’t heard him rehearsing the song, but we were told. You know, it’s high stakes. People want to give their very best performances, you’re aware there’s the limitations of time, you’re aware you are working with brilliant people. So, there can be an element of pressure. They did maybe 20 takes and Daniel had to nail it every time. And he did.
Oh my gosh.
It was exquisitely beautiful. So full of his very large heart every time. The range and depth of the emotions that Daniel has readily to him.
Did you cry? When Daniel sang?
Look, there was a lot of crying going on that day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.