The popularity of Game of Thrones is inescapable at conventions: Celebrity guests very often cite it among their favourite shows, and even secondary characters attract strong fan followings. I was blown away by the size of the crowd that packed the room for Gwendoline Christie. I probably should have expected this: In a show full of strong female characters, hers is the only knight and one of the few with what Gwendoline calls an “moral certainty”. She is the knight in shining armour who has sworn herself to the protection of the Stark girls, and who has seen past the Kingslayer’s terrible title. She is also one of the only ones (along with Arya) to completely eschew the title of lady and all that comes with it. These combination of these characteristics make her very captivating, especially to a female audience.
The character seemed a perfect fit for Gwendoline. When a friend told her about the character, she “performed the google-isation” and fell in love with descriptions of the character written in online forums: A character that was: “so maligned by society because of the way that she looks, because she’s not considered to be attractive and she’s humiliated for it. She overcomes it not only with her physical strength and her skill as a swordsperson, but because of her overriding sense of moral good”
While Gwendoline and Brienne share an imposing stature, the main difference between the two is that Brienne of Tarth rejects the idea of being a lady, and all the societal expectations that go along with it, while Gwendoline used to be very feminized: She had long hair, wore high heels all the time. She said she knew “all that had to be stripped away” to play the role, but thought it would be a great challenge, not only as an actress but as a person: “As a woman, to move beyond the things that we feel make us conventionally attractive: [Such as] our very long hair”. She also had to learn how to move: Having started in ballet and gymnastics, she had to learn to be the opposite of graceful.
It was swordmaster, C.C. Smiff, that undertook the job of teaching her to move as Brienne. They trained for eight hours a day, three times a week for three months to teach her to fight. Unlike the rapier-wielding Arya, the female knight doesn’t fight with grace. As Gwendoline put it: “I tried to drag it back to something more balletic, but…” The choreography for the battle on the bridge with The Kingslayer, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, took her 2 weeks to learn. Nikolaj, she said, learned it in forty-five minutes over Skype. She trained for two months on the fight with The Hound, played by Rory McCann (“A brilliant actor. He is also considerably stronger than me”). She first learnt the fight choreography in a stunt tent on a “flat floor”, then having to adapt to the drastically more uneven footing on location: “on top of a mountain in Iceland. There were freak weather conditions: it was boiling hot. And suddenly I realized: ‘Oh I’m running backwards sword-fighting, uphill!’”
At end of season five, Brienne makes a controversial choice. Gwendoline felt that though some viewers might find it disappointing, it was important to humanize her by exposing her flaws. Of storyline changes past and future, she reminded the audience that George R. R. Martin is executive producer, “So you know: Anything that happens, he will have had involvement in”. What was truly remarkable to her was that Mr. Martin has said that he finds he is sometimes influenced by the TV show: It would certainly be something new, to have a series of books inspire a television series, which then may influence the course of events in the series of books . As Gwendoline said, it would be a “cultural figure of eight”
Gwendoline Christie will also appear in the upcoming Hunger Games and Star Wars movies. She can be found on Twitter as @LoveGwendoline