'Game of Thrones': Gwendoline Christie Breaks Down Brienne's Final Season Journey

The Hollywood Reporter speaks with a knight of the Seven Kingdoms about the war for the Iron Throne.
Helen Sloan/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode four of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Last of the Starks."]

"Arise, Brienne of Tarth: a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms." 

Two weeks have passed since Gwendoline Christie's beaming smile as Brienne warmed the Game of Thrones fandom's collective hearts, and the feelings have yet to subside — even after "The Last of the Starks," which included the impromptu knight ceremony's sad counterpart. Following her survival at the Battle of Winterfell, Ser Brienne found herself with a new lease on life, and a new partner with whom to share it: Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), if only for a time. The final season's fourth episode ends with Jaime and Brienne's brief romance here and gone in a flash, as the Kingslayer rides away toward King's Landing and back to Cersei (Lena Headey). Whether Jaime plans to return to his sister as a lover or an enemy remains unclear, but in either event, the heaviness of his departure leaves one with the sense of a one-way ticket.

With or without Jaime, Brienne of Tarth's future feels as wide open as ever, alive with possibilities. She's a knight through and through, with her faithful squire Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) alive and by her side. Brienne still stands by Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), their trust so ironclad that the Lady of Winterfell willingly allowed Jaime to stay at Winterfell despite understandable frictions with House Lannister. War is still very much on the horizon, and it's not impossible Brienne will follow Jaime to King's Landing in order to stop him from doing something stupid, to help him do something heroic, or some combination of the two. 

For now, through four episodes at least, Brienne is alive and thriving — already a major win in the world of Westeros, where life is far from a guarantee, let alone a thriving one. For her part, Christie is thriving as well, within and beyond Westeros. As Thrones eyes its series finale, Christie next looks toward taking the stage in director Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Bridge Theater in London, playing the dual role of queens Hippolyta and Titania. Ahead, she joins The Hollywood Reporter to look back on Brienne's journey through the final season thus far, her own journey through Thrones and where she hopes she's heading next.

Through the final season's four episodes, Brienne has experienced so much: war, love, and beyond. What have you experienced in terms of the audience's reaction to Brienne, and what was your own reaction to the material?

It's been incredible. I've been so happy. I've never had such a response to work, and also, I couldn't be more delighted that in the final season of Game of Thrones, I was given such good material to play. I have been very open about how I've loved this character from the beginning, and what she represents. She's literally stepped out of the shadows and started exploring a different side of herself — who she is as a woman. It's another dimension added to the writing. What's so amazing about Game of Thrones is how they take characters and put them in the most unlikely situations. We've seen that done particularly acutely with this character this season. I couldn't be more grateful. 

While we were shooting, I was really delighted to have this material to work with. I was really glad it had arrived. I've never before felt such love from people, just walking down the street. It's an amazing testament to the character George R.R. Martin created and the work that [creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have done with the writing, and how they brought it to life with all the creatives and cast this show is so lucky to have. I truly feel so lucky to be a part of this show. It's a phenomenon that will probably only happen once in any person's life. I feel really lucky to be a part of it.

How much did you wonder about Brienne's eventual fate over the seasons, and how did the reality measure up to your expectations? Was the eventual turn in the relationship with Brienne and Jaime what you expected, for instance?

I really didn't know if that would happen. I wasn't necessarily hoping for it. What I've always loved about playing that relationship with Nikolaj is that it's so unlikely. It's so unlike the kinds of relationships we see in our mainstream entertainment. No one's really known what kind of shape it would take. That's what's captivated people for so many years. From my perspective, although I've known what I was playing in a given scene, I haven't had an overriding goal of wanting them to end up in bed together or in a relationship together. We never knew where it was going, so we always played it moment by moment.

Of course, I had wondered where [the story between Brienne and Jaime] was going, and all sorts of other things. What was it Brienne wanted? Companionship? Did she want to be alone? To be with a man? A woman? What is it she wants in life? All I've known is I really loved the relationships she's formed, particularly with Jaime Lannister. Playing it has been incredibly exciting, because I never know where we're going to end up in a scene. I could be laughing uproariously with Nikolaj, or I can end up wanting to scream at him and claw his eyes out. (Laughs.) It's been so entertaining to play. I've been so lucky to play these scenes with such a brilliant, mercurial actor. It's what made the scenes so good; they move around, and neither of us ever really knew where it was going to go.

Speaking of not knowing whether to laugh or claw his eyes out, this episode features a bit of both. Brienne and Jaime not only solidify their relationship, but also end it in the space of one episode.

I love a challenge. When you read it, you think, "How can I go there? How can I go on that roller coaster and make it happen?" That's what's so exciting about an acting challenge. Those things do happen in life, and that's what you get to work with. I thought it was phenomenal and typical of Game of Thrones that in a space of one episode, after seven years of building this relationship, it not only comes together but also falls apart. Those things do happen in life. It was very much about putting ourselves in a situation of not knowing how to play it that allowed us to let it happen. [When Jaime arrives to her room], Brienne is just going with it in the moment. She's going with her feelings, going with something that she as a character has never really done before. She doesn't know what she's doing, but she's committing to it. As an actor, that's what you do: you just commit to it. 

I've been very open about how much I love this character and how protective I am of the character, and I know I'm just an actor and this is just a character in a TV show, but I can't help but be invested because of how much I have invested to make this character come alive. The idea of her being brutally hurt [by Jaime], what I really loved about it and what helped in the playing of it, is that Brienne made the decision to be with him. Although he comes to her room and it's all a bit overwhelming, she chooses to have the experience. I loved that. She elects to go for it. She's not stupid. She's really aware that this is a conflicted man on many levels. But she wants that moment. She's just cheated death; she managed to survive the battle. She decides to give herself that experience. 

In leaving herself so open and so raw, the pain is so acute [when it ends] because she's taken such a risk. She's done something for herself. For once, she's really done something that was all about her, in an area where she has no experience at all. She's hurt in the worst way possible. Even now, when I think about it, it makes me feel… (Pauses.) You know, it makes me feel. It was a glorious acting challenge. It wasn't easy to play at all. I feel like this character has given a voice to people who maybe don't feel like they fit in, or feel marginalized, or feel they don't fit into a patriarchal mold of what it is to be considered attractive; I don't know. There are lots of people who identify with her. It means a lot to me. 

We laughed a lot on the day, shooting [the love scene], because it's ludicrous! You're in there with a medieval fireplace and a hundred people in the room… it's ludicrous. (Laughs.) But that's also what was so thrilling. Somehow, you connect with the suspension of disbelief. In that moment, you just let the characters live. It's what was so thrilling about playing the writing.

In episode two, Jaime knights Brienne, which itself is an expression of love, and to my mind, the happiest moment in Game of Thrones. It was such a joy to watch. What was it like to play?

When we got the final season's scripts, I wanted to receive the story. I didn't want to race ahead and see how it ended up for Brienne. When I read that scene [in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"], I couldn't believe that something good was happening to my character. (Laughs.) Something that she actually wanted! But on a larger scale, I was really delighted, because it felt like it was about a larger idea. It was about acceptance. Sometimes, there's nothing more powerful than a good story. Sometimes, when you have a character who has battled for so long to overcome obstacles and does not tend to have a lot go their way, the idea of that person finally being given some kind of acceptance is extraordinarily beautiful. She's toiled for so long, and she never expected it. 

I really wanted to bring a reality to it. I wanted her to experience the journey of emotions that she would have, in all of its conflicting parts. There's a lot of conflict inside Brienne. Acceptance is not something she's had readily. I think it meant an enormous amount to her. I wanted to portray that. But it meant a great deal to me, too. You just allow yourself to be present. [Director] David Nutter made the crew cheer for me as well, when it was that close-up [on Brienne smiling]. It was the crew I've worked with for seven years. These are people who have taught me how to act, who have supported me and have made me laugh and are my friends. It made the moment larger than just a scene. It was really beautiful. I worked very hard to try and convey all the fantastic things on the page. I have to say, David Nutter really did an incredible job. He was a brilliant director who really worked with me and worked with all of us. He was patient, kind and gentle. He took the time to coax performances out of people. I'm really hugely grateful. I had a wonderful time working with him. He really moved me on as an actor. I couldn't be more delighted to have had that experience on the final season of this amazing show.

Brienne is now a knight. You are on the cusp of becoming a queen, twice over, in A Midsummer Night's Dream. As you're saying goodbye to Brienne and Game of Thrones having had so much to play in the final season, what kind of momentum do you feel as you're looking ahead to new roles and projects?

I feel really buoyed by this experience to try some new things. I'm really delighted to come away from this with a little bit of confidence. That's the most incredible gift of all: to feel some confidence and acceptance to go forward. I want to play all sorts of extraordinary women. I want to look into the darker recesses of human life and explore those, and explore what we're not supposed to talk about and look at. I'm really excited to explore more unconventional characters. It's thrilling to be getting back on stage again and to explore reality in a live space, with such a revered theater director in the form of Sir Nicholas Hytner. It's exciting times. Mostly, I'm really looking forward to the projects I feel passionately about with auteurs and artists who really speak to my sensibilities. I want to create more content myself, and be more involved in a creative role. That's what I'd really like, going forward. Quite genuinely, I'm really grateful to have been employed over these past several years, and I'll forever be grateful to Game of Thrones for giving me the opportunity and the platform. It means a great deal to me. I just hope I keep working. (Laughs.)

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Read all of THR's Final Path series, featuring character-by-character predictions:

1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
13. Varys
14. Melisandre
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
17. Bronn
18. Tormund Giantsbane
19. Beric Dondarrion
20. The Dragons
21. The Night King
22. Across the World of Ice and Fire
23. Final Predictions

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage all season long.