Brienne of Tarth, Knight of Westeros, Queen of Memes

When Ser Brienne of Tarth was made the first lady knight in the history of Westeros, it was among the few undisputed cheer-worthy moments for “Game of Thrones” fans, and the internet meme factory responded accordingly.

But it was a much quieter moment in the series finale that signaled she had truly broken the glass ceiling: writing Jaime Lannister’s entry in the Book of Brothers, which meant she had been made Lord Commander of King Bran’s Kingsguard. It also meant more memes.

“I thought it was truly fantastic that we see a woman be made Commander of the Kingsguard,” said Gwendoline Christie, who played Brienne. “I was delighted at the alternative to gender norms, about what that said.”

[Read our recap of the series finale.]

During a brief phone call from London, where she was rehearsing a stage production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Christie spoke on Thursday about the heartbreak her character endured and about the fan response. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Brienne had one of the most satisfying character arcs this season. While there was heartbreak, there were also moments of pure joy, such as the knighting ceremony. Brienne’s smile was priceless.

I was very aware that Brienne hadn’t smiled throughout the series. And in the books, she doesn’t smile. I took that as a note, but I also wondered, When does she smile? Because whenever it does happen, it would be incredibly significant. So I monitored that each season. By the time we got to the final season, I wondered if this would be the season that this moment would occur? And it did.

It exists on different levels for me, because Brienne’s receiving something she wanted but that she was prepared to never get. She was prepared to live a life without that, so she existed as a knight on her own terms. It was an impossible dream. So I was delighted for this character, this unconventional woman achieving her dreams, and you know, also overcoming the patriarchy. And [the director David Nutter] got the crew to applaud during that scene, as well. I felt really surrounded and supported by friends, and it felt like a personal achievement for me as an actor as well. It felt like acceptance for me, too.

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Regarding the dismantling of the patriarchy, it’s interesting that the finale episode — which features so much language about choice — aired in a week when women’s reproductive rights were curtailed in places like Alabama and Georgia.

What “Game of Thrones” has done so effectively is hold a mirror up to life, showing us the structures that are very familiar within our power systems. I think it’s essential that we see those kinds of things in our entertainment because in my opinion, we live in a developing world. And as humans, hopefully we live in an evolving state, whereby we will have freedom of choice, we will have autonomy, and hopefully there will be a balance between the sexes, there will be equality. These things still don’t exist in our world, and I can’t see any reason for them not to.

Fans debated Brienne’s story line this season because some people thought it diminished her to pine over a guy. But if she’s going to be a fully fleshed out character, shouldn’t she have both a career path and a love life?

I agree wholeheartedly with that. What I loved about Brienne’s story line this season, she not only gains some acknowledgment of her achievements, but she also manages to have a life as a human being. She manages to explore her own emotions and enter a new world. She never had a sexual experience before, and she chooses that. It’s clear in the scene that it’s her choice because there is a pause and then she chooses to initiate. Her consent is very clear.

I was pleased that we’ve seen her this way, and it was interesting to get to play that arc. She has physical strength, she has moral strength, and those two things are fantastic, but what we really want to see is a representation of a human, of a woman. And people want to love. They want to feel love. And that can often end not the way you want it to.

David Nutter mentioned that when you were shooting the rejection scene, he instructed Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime, to say something that wasn’t scripted, “I don’t love you anymore,” in order to surprise you.

I prepared for that scene from the second I received the scripts. I went for a long walk after I read the script because I was so incredibly upset by the scene where Jaime leaves, because of the hurt I knew Brienne would feel. As cliché or as soppy as it sounds, you want the best for your character. You don’t like to see them in pain. And I knew how important it would be to inhabit that emotion, and more important, to inhabit that relationship in that moment.

So I prepared lots of different possible outcomes and worked with David Nutter on that, too. He got Nikolaj to say a lot of different things to me, and he got me to say a lot of different things to Nikolaj, so I’m not sure exactly which unscripted comment triggered that reaction. But I think the way I processed it was, the stakes are that Brienne has chosen this sexual experience, and from that, she feels a very deep love. She’s exposed herself, she’s made herself as vulnerable as she possibly could do, and that’s all dissolved. She feels destroyed.

She has probably never experienced that specific kind of rejection before.

It’s extreme, as it is for any of us, the first time we experience rejection from someone we love. And it’s not just that. It’s the dissolving of a relationship that has gone on for years. They’ve seen parts of each other that no one else ever has. So all of that is like a building crushing her down in that moment. It was never just about the sex or the love. It was about the entirety of the relationship being ripped away in that moment.

That was also my last day filming in Belfast on the Winterfell set, and that was deeply emotional as I looked around at the crew. People that I wouldn’t get to see every day anymore. It was painful for me, too. I’ve been incredibly lucky to play this part, and it’s been deeply emotional to come to the end of this journey with a character who has transformed my life. I have thoroughly enjoyed having seven years to explore who a character is, and it’s just quite overwhelming to realize that these are the final throes of your character, and also to see a different side of your character. It’s delightful. It’s surprising. And you’re aware that you need to play the arc incredibly well.

Have you had a much of a chance to see the reaction to Brienne’s final scene? There’s this meme regarding Brienne writing Jaime’s entry in the Kingsguard’s Book of Brothers, and fans have been coming up with alternative versions for what she writes.

I was extremely surprised! My friend [and stylist] Mel Ottenberg has been sending me a few, and another friend has been sending them as well, so I’ve been getting a steady stream of them. I have to admit, I found it a real hoot! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them, particularly people who feel quite a strong reaction in those memes about Jaime Lannister! Especially because I didn’t expect anyone to pay any attention to that scene whatsoever.

And I’m delighted that it’s inspired people to be quite so creative, and to be angry on Brienne’s behalf. I sent one of the memes to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and he said, “You made that up yourself.” [Laughs]

Which one?

One of the slightly rude ones. Something like, “We talked about his ex all night. Weird guy.” I just thought that was so truly hilarious! Even if Brienne was able to reach a different stage to write what she did, people are still angry on her behalf. It just shows how much people have taken that character to heart, how invested they became in her. As an actor, you really can’t ask for more.




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