Introduced in the show in season 2 as a supporting character, Brienne of Tarth has over time become one of the core components of Game of Thrones.
A lot of that, of course, is down to the writing by novelist George RR Martin and showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss, but perhaps more so down to the woman who has embodied Brienne for seven seasons.
Born and raised in the South of England, Gwendoline Christie is one of Game of Thrones’ breakout stars.
Since the show catapulted her to stardom, the actress has featured in two other blockbuster franchises – Star Wars and The Hunger Games – and become something of a phenomenon in the modelling scene.
As Game of Thrones comes to an end, here are ten things you never knew about Gwendoline Christie.
20. She wanted to be a professional dancer or gymnast
After memorable roles in television (Top of the Lake, Game of Thrones of course) and film (the latest Star Wars trilogy), it seems Gwendoline Christie was born to be an actor.
Acting wasn’t Christie’s first love, however: as a youngster, she “lived and breathed” dancing, learning ballet and tap from the age of 7.
Christie also trained in rhythmic gymnastics, and was heading for a career as a professional gymnast before she caught the acting bug.
19. Her dance dreams were ended by a spinal injury
Christie might never have made an acting career for herself had fate not intervened early in life.
At the age of 11, Christie – “over coached” and “growing really, really fast” – suffered a spinal injury that put paid to any dreams of professional dancing or gymnastics.
At this point, Christie decided she “would be an actress instead. I knew I’d get to wear frocks, dress up, wear make-up, and high-heels, or not… And then the obsession switched to classical works and Shakespeare.”
18. Her acting coaches told her she was too tall
Though Christie made it into the prestigious Drama Centre London, graduating from there in 2005, the teachers there weren’t always so encouraging.
Says Christie: “I was told I was rubbish all day, every day; I wasn’t going to work, I was too tall”.
This constant criticism only spurred Christie on, however. In 2013, she told the Stylist: “that prepares you for the amount of rejection you get on the job.’
17. She was Simon Callow’s assistant (and dog walker!)
Like any struggling artist, Christie’s early days involved her taking the odd mundane job just to make ends meet.
The person who hired Christie to perform said tedious role, however, made the subsequent filing and dog-walking all the more memorable.
While Christie was at the Drama Centre, the legendary British actor Simon Callow called asking if any students would be interested in carrying out some filing for him.
Christie was given the role of research assistant and dog-walker to Callow, after turning up to his home for an interview “pouring with sweat”.
After years as her employer, Callow eventually became a mentor to Christie, even watching her in plays and offering “incredibly near the knuckle” feedback.
Christie now calls Callow “one of the closest and most trusted people in my life.”
16. She considered becoming a nun
At one point, Christie thought her height was so prohibitive that she was considering another profession entirely.
In 2014, Christie told The Times she was tempted to become a nun: “I had a very idealised idea of what silence, daily prayer and harvesting vegetables from a walled garden might be”.
Fortunately for her fans, Christie was deterred from the nunnery by Callow, who assured Christie he could “smell” success was coming for her.
15. She was seriously bullied at school
It’s difficult to see Brienne of Tarth and imagine that the person who embodies her was ever considered a figure of fun.
Still, it’s true: as a youngster, Christie – who was 5’7″ at the age of 12, 6’1″ at 14 – was “bullied terribly” at school for being different.
In 2017, Christie told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I absolutely hated school because I was bullied quite a lot… [I] really enjoyed being in the library, but I didn’t enjoy the other students”.
Defiantly, Christie also added: “I’m really not interested in talking about the bullying; what I am interested in is transcending that”.
14. Watching Tilda Swinton inspired her
For her 11th birthday – the age that her dancing dreams were shattered – Christie received a television as a present, which she subsequently used to watch “strange and unusual films”.
One that sticks out for Christie is 1992’s Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, another Brit actor who made a career despite her unconventional appearance.
“I was very pale – pale skin, pale eyelashes, blond hair down to my hip bones” Christie told Vogue in 2015, “and I remember thinking, “Here’s someone not a million miles away from me in a film version of a book I deeply admire”, and I thought maybe it is possible.
“Things like that genuinely give you the confidence to go ahead.”
13. Marilyn Monroe is her hero
“I remember being transfixed by Monroe’s performance in Bus Stop”, Christie told Vogue in 2015, “reading everything I could get my hands on, which in the countryside wasn’t easy”.
It was following this experience that Christie caught the acting bug, she told People in 2017.
Admitting she thought Monroe was “so incredibly extraordinary” in the film, Christie added: “I didn’t come from an acting background, but I just knew – that’s what I want to to do.”
12. She won the part of Brienne without question
Even before talk of a Game Of Thrones TV show had started, the book series had its own legion of loyal fans.
These fans were obsessed with casting their own actors as the many characters of Westeros, and arguing between themselves about the best Hollywood star to play Jon Snow, Cersei or Daenerys.
However, one character they never argued about was Brienne, since it was pretty obvious to everyone that only one actress had any chance of bringing the unique character to life.
Even among the fan forums, everyone was in agreement that Gwendoline Christie was the best possible choice for the knight-to-be.
Authors don’t always with their fans when it comes to decisions they’ve made about characters, in fact, that kind of agreement is super rare.
However, even George R R Martin admitted that Christie was the perfect pick, when she came in and blew away the casting directors with just one audition.
According to Martin, Christie came in fully made up to look like Brienne, and delivered a stunning audition that they almost hired her on the spot.
When they were going over candidates later on, they all agreed that several actors could play Brienne fine, but only one of them really understood her.
11. She’s dating a fashion designer
Christie has never been the kind of woman to shy away from the spotlight, or to dress or act in a way that would deflect attention away from her.
Therefore, it makes sense that she would date someone with the same larger than life approach as herself.
She found that in Giles Deacon, her partner since 2013 and a famous fashion designer.
He is maybe most famous for designing Pippa Middleton’s wedding dress, when she married Prince William at the first royal wedding in decades.
Deacon has said before that he designs for strong women, and women who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd and be different.
When you think about it that way, it makes sense that he’d be drawn to a woman like Christie.
He has also said that his designs are supposed to play with the idea of what femininity looks like, and to change how people perceive gender.
Christie is the perfect model for this approach, with her tall stature and short hair, and so it’s unsurprising that she’s worn his designs on a number of occasions.
10. She’s played a teenage alien
Christie had her big break when she was cast on Game Of Thrones, and she knew it too, saying that she was terrified during the audition because she knew what a character like Brienne could do for her career.
However, Game Of Thrones was not the first TV show she starred in, or even the first one with a non-realistic setting. Only this time, instead of traditional medieval high fantasy, it was sci-fi.
That’s right, Christie starred in a BBC science fiction show called Wizards vs Aliens, which was written with long-time Doctor Who writer and BBC collaborator Russell T. Davis.
In the show, Christie played an invading alien named Lexi, who came to Earth with evil intent but soon found herself learning lessons she never expected to.
9. And a devil
Before becoming a television actor, Christie mostly worked on the stage, and starred in a variety of theatrical productions.
One of those productions was Faustus, a classic story of a man who makes a deal with a demon in order to gain unlimited knowledge, wealth and success.
The story does not have a happy ending, as Faustus eventually has to have his soul go to hell, as payment for the life he was allowed to need.
This where Christie came in, as she played a delightfully evil Lucifer.
The production was made even more interesting by the fact that Lucifer is a traditionally male part, but was played by Christie instead.
8. And opposite Tom Hiddleston
When Christie first began to consider acting as an alternative to gymnastics and professional dance, she was mostly interested in how glamorous it seemed.
More than the acting itself, she was obsessed with the idea of getting to dress up in costumes and make-up.
Not all acting involves that level of dressing up, and Christie soon found that she loved the other aspects of acting too, but she definitely got her wish as far as extravagant outfits go.
For a start, her work on the Hunger Games allowed her to be around all sorts of extravagant costumes, as did her work on Sat Wars.
That’s because she was cast in a production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, where she got to play the literal queen, and where all the ballgowns her heart desired.
Even better, she got to play the role on the West End opposite Tom Hiddleston, another classically trained British actor who went on to have mainstream and big budget success.
7. She modelled for a series of nude photographs
Though her androgynous looks often made it hard for her to get work in the field of acting, it did make it easier for her to get jobs in another industry: modelling.
High fashion modelling is all about showing the beauty of unusual features, and most models are close to six feet tall. This made it the perfect companion career for Christie.
Christie hasn’t done as much modelling as some of the other Game Of Thrones alumni, but she did agree to pose for a phonebook collection called Bunny, after her unique looks attracted the attention of an up-and-coming photographer.
The collection is a series of photographs that focus on her tall height and strong stature, and most of the portraits are nude.
Christie has said in interview that she thought doing it was important – as the process allowed her to gain more confidence in herself, and she knew seeing the photos would allow more people to have confidence in themselves too.
However, she has said that considering how shy and uncomfortable about her body she used to be, she’s amazed that she had the courage to show it off in such a vulnerable way.
6. Cutting her hair was the hardest part of becoming Brienne
Actors have to transform for parts all the time, and some have undergone pretty drastic changes in order to convincingly play a part they love.
Christie already had the height of Brienne, and was training every day to get the correct muscle and posture, but there was just one more step.
Given that Brienne was a fighter who wore her helmet almost every day, Christie had to cut her hair down to a cropped bob for the part.
Even though she was thrilled to be playing the role, she said cutting her hair was the hardest thing she had to do.
This is because she had struggled with her femininity growing up, given her height and her broad statue. Her long blonde hair was something she had clung to in order to make herself feel feminine, and taking it away took its toll.
She eventually recovered, and even went to all her training, fighting and horse-riding commitments that day, but once she had finished she locked herself in her trailer and wept for two whole hours.
5. She almost had a really gross accident on the GoT set
The red carpet premieres and designer dresses might be glamorous, but that doesn’t mean every part of being on a successful TV show is that easy.
From rainy sets and fake mud to just long shooting days, parts of being on Game Of Thrones were anything but glitzy.
Actors are expected to grin and bear it even when ice cold and covered in mud, or even smothered in fake blood and ash from a dragon attack.
As far as Game Of Thones actors go, Christie was one of the most at risk, since almost all of her on screen time was taken up by either swordplay or straight up fighting.
However, Christie ended up at risk for a much sillier, but thankfully less dangerous, thing.
Essentially, Christie had gone to the toilet while on break from shooting in the middle of nowhere, which meant using a port-a-potty.
She was in full armour and chainmail as well as texting at the same time, and she leant on the port-a-potty door, almost bringing the entire thing down on top of her. Gross.
4. She’s obsessed with Madonna
The cast of Game Of Thrones have all become serious celebrities over the course of the show, and have had their fair share of meeting fans who were nervous, embarrassed or excited to interact with them.
From their calmness and kindness in these situations, it might seem like the cast are above ever being flustered by another celebrity.
It turns out that everyone has their weakness.
For Gwendoline Christie, that person is Madonna.
Christie is obsessed with Madonna, to the point where she became friends with her tour manager through sheer power of fangirling.
Thankfully that fangirling paid off, since not only did she get to go see Madonna on her world tour in Australia, she also got to get up on stage with her and perform too!
3. She has no idea how old she is
It’s impolite to ask a woman her age and, if you do, common knowledge is that they’re allowed to refuse to answer you, or even pretend that they don’t know themselves.
Not only that, but the history of actresses lying about their age in order to be eligible for parts either far older or far younger than themselves, is a tradition that probably isn’t going to die out any time soon.
With that said, in Gwendoline Christie’s case, she genuinely wouldn’t be able to answer the question. That’s because her mother has lost her birth certificate, and can’t even remember the year she was born.
Not only that, but nobody else in the house can remember either! A quick trip down to the registrations office would probably sort out the confusion, but Christie has said that she quite enjoys not knowing.
2. She had to change dramatically to fit Brienne’s part
When Christie landed the part of Brienne of Tarth of Game of Thrones, a part she knew could be her big break, the actress fully committed.
In addition to reading the books and watching the series as research, Christie trained hard – she lost a stone and a half in weight, then added a stone of muscle working out – as well as changed her diet “entirely”, quit drinking and took up yoga.
The commitment didn’t stop there: Christie also changed what she wore in her personal life to more “unisexual clothing”, in order to better get into the Brienne mindset.
1. She was once asked for a selfie on the toilet
Game of Thrones fans are numerous, dedicated and, just every so often, a little bit on the crazed side.
Gwendoline Christie found this out a couple of years ago when a GoT superfan followed Christie into the bathroom at a restaurant.
“As I sat down in the stall”, Christie told Graham Norton in 2017, a hand with a phone came under the door and a disembodied voice said, ‘Selfie'”.
The hilarious story led many other actors to commiserate, sharing their stories of overeager fans accosting them for pictures at inappropriate times.