Since the finale of “Game of Thrones” ran Sunday night, Gwendoline Christie has been asking local cab drivers what they thought, both of that last episode and the series overall. The recognizable actress, 40, doesn’t seem to care what the actual critics think — she’s interested in the fan reaction. “They might not be telling the truth but so far, everyone’s really positive,” Christie says. “Everyone’s said they didn’t expect that ending, but they could see why it made sense.”
For Christie, chatting on a lunch break from rehearsals for a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at London’s Bridge Theatre, the conclusion of the beloved HBO series was satisfying. It handed her character, Ser Brienne of Tarth, what Christie considers a happy ending, one that brings the recently knighted character back around to what she wanted from the very beginning: to be a member of the Kingsguard.
“I could not believe that I made it all the way through,” the actress says of her character’s survival, laughing. “And I was in the end of the final episode. Brienne makes it through and has a life beyond. I found that incredibly positive and unexpected. And she gets a great last line.” (“I think we can all agree that ships take precedence over brothels,” she tells Bron as the king’s advisors set about rebuilding King’s Landing)
Christie felt a strong connection with Brienne since before she was even cast on the show in Season 2. The actress was so compelled to get the role that she spent eight weeks preparing for her audition, binge-reading three of George R.R. Martin’s books and training to get physically fit. While working as a dog walker to her mentor, actor Simon Callow, she spent hours perfecting Brienne’s stride. The actress was driven because she couldn’t believe this character could exist on TV.
“I did everything I possibly could to make it happen,” Christie remembers. “I knew that emotionally I could identify with the character, but where the work had to go was into the differences, which was all of the physical elements and all of the physical strength. I was very scared to go near my androgyny, my masculinity and my physical strength — and the strength with which I felt some of my own opinions, especially some of my opinions about women. It was the opportunity to do something I knew I needed to do, which was to undergo a change and undergo a transformation and get in touch with who I truly was and how I’ve been made physically and who I am as a person.”
She adds, “I felt that even if the show didn’t go anywhere, it didn’t matter, because I would get to do a job and I’d get to investigate that as work. That, to me, is what being an artist meant.”
After she joined the cast, Christie quickly became aware that she wasn’t the only person obsessed with Brienne. Fans gravitated to the character, a noble warrior committed to her duty and to doing what was right. With her grand stature and androgynous sensibility, she didn’t fit into the narrow bounds of women on TV. “I don’t know what plans [the writers] ever had for that character, but I was shocked by how embraced the character was by the audience,” the actress notes. “I didn’t think that would happen. I didn’t think that’s what audiences wanted, because we’ve been told that’s not what audiences want.”
The understanding of Brienne as a strong, unconventional woman might explain some of the backlash in the final season, when the character chooses to sleep with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after the Battle of Winterfell. Some fans were upset that Brienne reveals vulnerable emotions when Jaime leaves to return to his sister, but Christie feels it’s important for us to see a woman in all her colors — not just in the way we’ve grown accustomed to seeing her.
“When you’re about to lose something that has truly meant something to you, it can destroy you, and I don’t think there’s any weakness in that,” Christie reflects. “What I liked was that happens, but then she goes back to work. She doesn't follow him, does she? She stays with Sansa and she does her duty. And she did get her happy ending, and her happy ending wasn’t defined by a man. What completes her as a character and what makes her three dimensional as a character is the fact that she becomes open about her feelings.”
Since leaving “Game of Thrones,” Christie has been exploring what her own happy ending will look like. The day after the series wrapped, Christie left to shoot Armando Iannucci’s upcoming film, “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” a project that was notably “joyful.” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opens June 3, marks Christie’s first time back onstage in eight years. She teases that audiences might be surprised by director Nicholas Hynter’s take on the Shakespeare play, which she calls “untraditional and unconventional.” She doesn’t return as Capt. Phasma in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” although Christie refuses to believe the character, another gender norm-defying role, is dead.