The third season of Game of Thrones kicks off this week, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to call out my favourite new character from the previous season: ‘Brienne of Tarth’, played by Gwendoline Christie. I love the fact that, despite being totally kick-ass, she’s also kind of dorky… she has a chivalrous code of honour that marks her out as quite an odd duck in the show’s morally ambiguous milieu, as well as an achingly sincere, straight-laced devotion to her (sadly deceased) patron, ‘Renly Baratheon’ (Gethin Anthony). I thought the circumstances surrounding her implication in his murder were a bit clumsy, but now that I’ve seen where it was leading, I don’t mind so much… because the idea of her buddying up with ‘Ser Jaime Lannister’ (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is just pure comedy gold, as far as personality-clashes go. She’s already impressed him with her fighting prowess, so I’m sure there’s a grudging respect there… but she’s so fantastically prim and priggish, I’m eager to see what sort of influence she has on the acerbic, child-crippling, Kingslayer.
According to an interview with SFX, Christie (who’s had trouble finding jobs in the past because of her height) took to the role immediately: “I wanted the part so very badly because from reading the books the character was so like elements of myself and the kind you’d always want to play. I’ve not come across a part like this before, whereby the complexities of being an extremely tall woman are explored. So I decided I had to go all out for it.” Which, in this case, required some fairly serious life-style changes: “I wasn’t someone who went to the gym, but a big part of this character is her physicality… She’s not just tall, but big, broad, phenomenally strong… I started working out and lost a stone and a half… We did cardio-vascular exercises and I began to do yoga regularly. I stopped drinking, changed my diet entirely, and when I learnt I had a meeting coming up, I started kickboxing. I couldn’t find any sword-fighting place… but I read all of Brienne’s story throughout the books in detail and started watching the series.” Then, once she’d secured the part: “I worked out with a trainer called Phil Learney, a strength and conditioning expert… I put on over a stone of muscle, working out three or four times a week. He tailored my workout specifically so I’d develop the kind of body structure of someone that rode horses and did sword-fighting. I was given extensive horse-riding lessons, so that not only was I confident on the horse, but I could ride. And a brilliant stunt coordinator called CC Smith taught me how to fight and swordfight. My physicality was altered so I was much heavier in the way I walked, less upright and a lot more masculine.”
Speaking of which, she also had to change the way she dressed: “I deliberately started wearing very unisexual clothing. I’d always been someone that’s had long blonde hair, wore lots of make-up, dressed up and wore high heels, and this part was very far away from that.” Although willing to make such sacrifices for her Art, she was deeply upset when they finally got around to cropping her hair: “I really, really miss it… It’s such a minor thing, but I think women tie-up so much of their femininity in their hair. I certainly did – being six foot three and having that gone and playing such an androgynous character, I felt I’d lost so much of the person I identified as me and who I knew. It felt like a bit of a death.” However, she also recognises the value of portraying an atypical woman like Brienne on-screen: “The character is so brilliant because it draws up so many issues about gender stereotyping, about equality, and about people’s personal prejudice.”
On the subject of gender equality, the second season also saw ‘Theon Greyjoy’ (Alfie Allen) being humiliated by his far more capable and successful older sister, ‘Yara’ (Gemma Whelan)… while flame-haired wildling ‘Ygritte’ (Rose Leslie) out-witted the soft-hearted ‘Jon Snow’ (Kit Harington)… ‘Daenerys Targaryen’ (Emilia Clarke) reclaimed her dragons (eventually) from the wily warlocks of Qarth… and wicked-ace tomboy ‘Arya Stark’ (Maisie Williams) tried to pass herself off as an *actual* boy, before manipulating a faceless assassin into helping her escape the clutches of the clueless ‘Lord Tywin Lannister’ (Charles Dance). Hurrah! Although I think she was an idiot to pass up the opportunity to become an apprentice assassin, Arya’s had some very strong and entertaining storylines so far, and I hope that streak continues into the new season. I still have rather divided loyalties when it comes to who (if anyone) should actually “win” the Iron Throne, should the series ever come to a conclusive end… but if Arya and Brienne ever teamed-up, I’d happily to swear my undying allegiance to them!
[Note: The awesome portrait of Brienne above was drawn by Rory Phillips… and the obligatory photo of Christie hugging Sarah Silverman was taken at the after-party for the official premiere of the third season]