Season 8 of Game of Thrones was as cruel to Brienne of Tarth as it was kind. In the moments prior to the big Battle of Winterfell, she was knighted by her longtime paramour Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and the pair consummated their relationship, before Jaime abandoned her to run back to his sister, Cersei. But as the dust settled, she was also made Lord Commander of Bran Stark’s Kingsguard, finally fulfilling her seasons-long dreams. Christie’s first Emmy nomination for the role comes as she returns to the London stage in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
There are a total of 10 acting nominations for Game of Thrones’ final season. Emmy night is going to be quite a party…
I know [laughs]. It’s an amazing way to end the show that has changed all of our lives. It’s changed our lives beyond all comprehension, really. I’m delighted that so many of us got nominated.
There was a documentary released about the production of this final season. The footage from that final table read was extremely emotional.
It was. I remember my first point of contact with the show was, in Season 2, at the readthrough. I remember sitting there, and I had watched the first season, and it was sort of bewildering to me to be surrounded by all these people that I recognized. You start to see it come to life. And I had loved that first season. It was wonderful to have everybody together for that final readthrough. Some people—most people—have read all the scripts. A couple of people wait until the day.
Of course. I didn’t stop. I read from the beginning right through to the end, as soon as I got them. It was deeply, deeply emotional. I thought I was doing fine, and then I went up to speak to David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] to say thanks. They said, “How are you?” I went, “I’m fine.” And then I totally broke down. I think the idea of it all ending suddenly hit me.
You really don’t want to get in touch with that feeling, because you know you’ve got 10 months of really hard shooting ahead of you. There was a huge sense of loss, and a deep sadness, but I wasn’t going to indulge in that emotion. I was just going to focus on the fact that we’ve got to do it again, I had a brilliant storyline, and everybody was really thrilled and galvanized to be doing this.
Was that a feeling you were able to successfully tamp down as you shot the season, or did it come back?
I didn’t subscribe to it at all during shooting. I stayed focused on trying to bring something to life. Every moment, to me, felt like an opportunity. It was hard. The conditions were hard. The material was challenging. I was so absorbed in all of that, and I think everyone else was too.
It was only when it got to the last day of the Winterfell shoot, which was my last day of shooting in Belfast, where it bubbled up. It was also the scene in which Jaime and Brienne part for the last time. There was a bit more to do in Spain, but it would be the last time I worked with some of that crew in Belfast. I was very emotional that day; helpfully, as it turned out. It was a lot [laughs]. I allowed myself to be touched by the circumstances.
When we finished shooting, I had a little wander about. But throughout the day, I was feeling incredibly lucky that my last scene in Belfast was going to be that scene. That I was going to be given some great material to work with as I was saying my goodbyes.
Brienne got several standout moments this year. That was one of them, but not long before she had been knighted at Jaime’s insistence. The juxtaposition of the two was brutal. Did you know that was coming?
No. When I read that scene, I felt incredibly upset about it on the character’s behalf. And then I realized I had moved into that space where I feel deeply, deeply protective of this character. I was also thrilled about it as an actor, because it meant getting to use some real acting muscles. It was a brilliant scene. Nikolaj and I had worked on the relationship between Brienne and Jaime for seven years, and I knew we were going to thoroughly enjoy playing that out.
I did feel angry for the character in that moment, but what was brilliant is that she goes straight back to work, and ultimately, she supersedes her ambition. She wanted to be a member of Renly’s Kingsguard, and in the end she becomes Lord Commander of Bran’s Kingsguard. She’s in charge. It’s all about her skill as a knight. Her abilities, her intelligence. I felt, by the end, like she’d stepped into her own power.
I worked very, very hard on those scenes because I was delighted to be given such good, rich material. And I couldn’t have been more delighted with the scene in which Brienne is made a knight. Ser Brienne. It wasn’t about modifying something for her, or her gender. It was about recognizing her qualities as a human being, and elevating her to that status, and her deserving that. I found that incredibly touching.
This is a character that never smiles. It was something that came from the books, and I always wondered when she would be allowed that smile. It was never there, and it was never appropriate. When it came to the last season, I did wonder if that moment was going to come for her. And there it was.
Also, to have that moment in a room full of people I’ve worked with for eight years, who have helped teach me how to act on camera, and David Nutter, who is a brilliant director I worked together with so well. I think he sensed I was really up for the challenge, and he brought great things out of me. The moment where they all applaud in that scene; it touched me. To have been employed as an actor, and to be able to play this part, which I think is truly unique in terms of women’s roles in mainstream television, and everything that’s encompassed… It’s very special.
Audiences really rooted for this character. When Jaime runs off after consummating their relationship, people were hurt on her behalf. Did you understand where they were coming from?
Yeah. But I liked that Brienne elects to have that experience. It was a very deliberate moment where she chose to activate the sexual experience. She takes control of the situation, and she takes responsibility for it. I think it was good for her to allow herself to be emotional. She allows herself to display it. It doesn’t make her any weaker just because she is capable of feeling great pain. I’ve actually always felt that Brienne lives in a rich and sensitive emotional world. That coupled with this incredible physical strength, and moral strength, is what makes her so interesting and human.
Nikolaj was your first call on Emmy nominations day, right?
He rang me, and he was with his family. They were all cheering down the phone. I said to him, “I cannot, cannot, cannot believe it.” And he said, “I can.” I was pretty certain he would be nominated, but I hadn’t told anyone that I’d submitted myself other than my partner and my team. But he was always really encouraging about nominations. I would say, “You know, that’d be nice, but it’s not going to happen, and I’m not going to let myself be disappointed.” But Nikolaj was always encouraging.
We’ve just worked so hard together for so many years. We’ve both been really invested in our characters. Part of the pleasure of playing those scenes together was that we were really engaged, and we really wanted them to come to life. We just loved the story, and we both wanted to push each other to try and be better. It has been thrilling to play, and an incredibly satisfying relationship to have had. So mercurial, so undefinable. Brienne and Jaime just have this really captivating relationship.
We twitch about how wonderful it will be that we’ll all be there, and we’ll have our families with us, and we can all celebrate together. It will be such a great way to say thank you and goodbye to this thing that changed our lives beyond all comprehension.
Have you ever let your mind wander to what might become of Brienne in years to come? She has achieved something, but Westeros is a cruel place. Is she going to live an easier life?
I don’t think Brienne cares about things being easy. I think she cares about things being just and fair. She wants to live in a world of equality and respect, but I think she acknowledges that her role in life is to work for that. That’s why her very last line in the series is, “I think that ships take precedence over brothels.” I think we see an acknowledgement there, that she will carry on fighting for what is right.
You, meanwhile, have taken to the London stage with a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Nicholas Hytner. I came last night. The atmosphere was electric. It’s a production full of energy, and it turned into a giant party.
That kind of response you got last night is every single night. It’s truly extraordinary. Nick Hytner said he’s never known anything like it. He’s never had a response like that. The audience just doesn’t leave at the end. They want to stay there and keep on celebrating. It becomes a complete party in the end, it really does. I’ve never been involved in a live production that has prompted that kind of response from an audience, ever. It’s electrifying to be a part of.
You really are a part of it. The action happens around standing audience members who are moved to accommodate the production, and you’re moving through them to exit and enter. What were you expecting about how that would work as you rehearsed?
Initially it was intimidating, because I’ve never done anything like that before. It’s been nine years since I was last on stage, and that was all proscenium arch-style. The audience are very separate.
But I think that there is something very smart about changing the way in which it’s viewed as an audience, because the way in which we are viewing our entertainment has also changed. The way in which we’re consuming our drama—our films and our television—has rapidly changed. It’s really exciting that you watch this theater production alter in a way that seems very modern with it being immersive. But also, it’s incredibly ancient, because that’s probably more like how it would have been when it was originally performed.
It can take on a vaudevillian atmosphere, at times, because people become galvanized by the experience en masse. It unites the audience, and that’s something that’s really interesting compared against film and television because that has become much more of an individual experience lately. I think Game of Thrones was probably one of the last shows on television where, en masse, people were watching the same thing at the same time.
But this was an excellent acting challenge for me, because there’s nowhere to hide. Two things happen. One is that you become extremely sensitized to people’s energies. You start to respond according to the energy you get from that audience. And then, you’re also forced to become extremely disciplined in another sense. Things are moving all the time, people are talking and walking around. It’s very good for re-establishing your attention of what’s going on, and what you give your focus to. It’s been a huge, huge challenge, and really tough at times, but always rewarding.
Does it multiply the feeling that the audience changes a play every time it’s performed? Do you have to stay on your toes as that different energy comes through every night?
Every night is entirely different. And by the end of it I feel quite exhausted, because you are theirs. It is up to you to communicate the play in that moment, and it’s up to you to serve the audience, and to recognize the kind of energies that are there. Some nights, my performance might be geared towards eliciting more laughs than others, judging by what it is they’re responding to.
You find that, that great classical plays can be actually extremely flexible. And so, some nights it becomes intensely emotional, and other nights it becomes extremely light. And there are variations between that, that change, and shift, and morph. It has been one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve had for years, in terms of overall performance. It has been a real shock to the system and a huge challenge.