Game of Thrones‘ Brienne of Tarth has had an epic journey thus far. She has fought (and beaten) the Hound, fought (and escaped) a bear, fulfilled a whole bunch of oaths, and bonded with the Kingslayer. We last saw her rowing away from Rivverrun with Pod, bidding Jaime a mournful farewell, after having sworn her service to Sansa Stark.
Portrayed by actress Gwendolyn Christie on the television series, Brienne has overcome numerous obstacles in order to become a Shield-maiden, and she exceeds the job requirements with her fierce loyalty, keen battle instincts, and an unparalleled sense of honor. Her unusual height and athletic build helped to liberate her in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had she been a conventional beauty. If her father married her off successfully, she would be spiritually imprisoned in a castle and corset. But Brienne managed to rise above the limitations of her gender and social standing to make her own destiny.
We’ll be catching up with Brienne in a few short weeks when Season 7 drops on July 16, 2017. In the meantime, here are 15 things you didn’t know about our girl from the Sapphire Isle.
15. She’s Been Thrice Betrothed
Brienne is the last living heir of Lord Selwyn Tarth, which means that for a while, her dad tried to marry her off. Though she resembled wifely material on paper, her physical appearance was often a deal breaker for the shallow schmucks of Westerosi royalty.
Her first engagement came at age 7, to the 10-year-old son of Lord Bryen Caron. Fortunately/unfortunately, he died of an illness two years after their meeting. The second betrothal was to Ser Ronnet Connington, a massive dillhole who called off the engagement seconds after meeting her in person. The third and final engagement came at age 16 to Ser Humfrey Wagstaff, age 65 (yuck). He told her that once they were wed, he would command that she wear only women’s clothes.
14. She Used Combat To Break An Engagement
By the time Brienne was 16-years-old, she was pretty well set in her ways. So she was not having it when 65-year-old Ser Humfrey Wagstaff, her third and final betrothal, set a condition for their engagement. After their wedding (and presumably during), he would insist that she wear women’s clothes exclusively or suffer the consequences. This was a fate worse than death for Brienne.
But she immediately thought up a way to ditch Old Humfrey. She told him she would agree to the terms only if he could defeat her in combat. Spoiler alert: he couldn’t, and he was left with three broken bones and no fiancé. Brienne was likely referring, in part, to Ser Humfrey when she told Jaime Lannister, “All my life, men like you have sneered at me. And all my life, I’ve been knocking men like you into the dust.”
13. She Once Thwarted Enemies With A Boulder
Brienne and Jaime‘s wacky road trip back to King’s Landing is fraught with peril. As Jaime predicts, pretty much everyone they encounter tries to commandeer that sweet Lannister bounty. In A Storm of Swords, one such menace is a galley under the command of Ser Robin Ryger, with orders from Ser Edmure Tully. Jaime fights Robin while Brienne sneaks off their skiff and freebases a nearby cliff. Then she somehow dislodges a large boulder just in time to send it crashing onto Robin’s galley. As it sinks, Brienne swims back to the skiff.
Because this incident occurs early in their journey, Jaime snidely asks Brienne if she expects gratitude for saving his life. As she tells him many times (until it’s obviously no longer true), her only motivation to keep Jaime safe is her sworn duty to Catelyn Stark. If she moves boulders for people she can’t stand, imagine what she’d do for those she loves.
12. She’s Not Afraid To Fight Dirty
Brienne obeys a strict code of honor, but it doesn’t preclude her from winning a fight by any means necessary. She’s equally dangerous with or without a sword. In A Storm of Swords, she stops an attempted rape by biting off Vargo Hoat’s ear. In season 4 of the series, Brienne finally finds Arya with Sandor Clegane, and believing he is holding her captive, she challenges the Hound to a sword fight. But after both lose their weapons, the fight turns primal.
In one of the most intense fight scenes in the series (or any series, really), Brienne holds nothing back, using every part of her body to hit every part of Clegane’s. She gets her Mike Tyson moment from the book when, pinned to the ground, she escapes the hold by chomping off part of Clegane’s ear. Best of all, Brienne wins the fight by subverting the cliché of the hero saving the villain. Instead of grabbing Clegane’s arm at the last second to stop him from falling off a cliff, she punches him clear over the edge and doesn’t give it a second thought.
11. She’s Worse for Wear
As is the case with several characters, Brienne (as portrayed by Gwendoline Christie) looks a bit different than how the book describes her. Book Brienne has crooked teeth, as well as a wonky nose from multiple fractures. Her many battles take a further toll on her appearance.
In A Storm of Swords, The Brave Companions interrupt a tussle between Jaime and Brienne, and in taking them captive, they knock out two of Brienne’s teeth. In A Feast for Crows, Brienne encounters some former Brave Companions, led by Rorge, at an inn and they get into it over the welfare of some orphans. She manages to kill Rorge, but is overpowered by his human lap dog, Biter, a giant with teeth sharpened into points. Biter takes a chunk out of Brienne’s cheek and would have kept chomping were it not for Gendry putting a spear through his head. Both Briennes, however, have eyes like the waters of the Sapphire Isles.
10. She Was Almost Hanged
Following her encounter with Biter in A Feast for Crows, Brienne is severely injured and delirious. Gendry, and his fellow members of the Brotherhood Without Banners, capture her and her companions and bring them before Lady Stoneheart (zombie Catelyn Stark). One of Stoneheart’s followers brings her Oathkeeper, the Valerian Steel sword Jaime gifted Brienne, along with a letter from King Tommen sanctioning her mission to find Sansa. Stoneheart takes this collection of Lannister memorabilia to mean that Brienne is lying about where her loyalties lie, and she gives Brienne an ultimatum: kill Jaime or she and her companions will hang.
Obviously, Brienne refuses to murder her BFF, even after discovering that this vengeful undead monster covered in gaping wounds is the same woman to whom she pledged her service so long ago. Brienne does manage to get out of this hairy situation, but the details of her escape have yet to be written — or at least, read by anyone other than George R.R. Martin.
9. She Trained For Battle On Farm Animals
When Brienne was a girl, she trained for combat under her father’s master-at-arms, Ser Goodwin. He saw that she had great natural fighting ability, but he was concerned that she had too much compassion to ever actually kill anyone. In order to desensitize her to taking life, he sent her to the butcher to help slaughter the animals – and not fully-grown animals either, but lambs and piglets. Goodwin wasn’t sure it worked, because Brienne cried and burned her bloody clothes afterward.
So to drive his point home, he told her a story about a friend of his who would have won a battle, but flinched for a second too long. It was a grave mistake, as it allowed his enemy to get the better of him. Brienne must have taken this story to heart, because these days, she seems to have no problem finishing off an enemy.
8. Brienne Is So Tall (How Tall Is She?)
For some reason, George R.R. Martin — the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which Thrones is based — can’t commit to a precise measurement for Brienne. However, he is quoted as saying she’s, “well over six feet tall, but not close to seven.” He puts her as the 4th tallest person in Westeros, after the big ol’ Clegane Brothers (the taller of whom is called The Mountain), and Lord Jon “Greatjon” Umber. Martin also suspects that Brienne is, “roughly the same height as Robert [Baratheon].” So perhaps she’s only tied at 4th.
Until Martin realizes that he can actually just say any height he wants, we’re left to speculate. We can say with a fair amount of certainty that she is the tallest woman in Westeros. Martin also recently revealed that Brienne is descended from Ser Duncan the Tall, a knight of considerable (yet indeterminable) height, about whom Martin has written several novellas. Actress Gwendoline Christie, who portrays Brienne on the television series, is 6’3” in real life.
7. Renley Was Brienne’s First Love
Brienne has been subject to scorn from men her entire life, so she is well conditioned to expect abuse by the time she meets Renly Baratheon, who was traveling the continent on a coming-of-age tour at the time. She wanted to skip the party, assuming it would be just another mortifying night. But Renly was the picture of chivalry, dancing with her, complimenting her, and generally treating her like a real lady. She was smitten.
Years later, when she pursues a Shield-maiden career, she knows precisely who she wants to serve. After beating his secret boyfriend, Loras, in a tournament, Renly rewards Brienne with a place in his Rainbow Guard. Brienne is thrilled, but soon learns that her romantic love for Renly can never be reciprocated. Nonetheless, she honors him as her dearest friend until his death.
In A Storm of Swords, Loras states that Renly thought Brienne grotesque, but explained that he kept her around because, “all his other knights wanted things of him, castles or honors or riches, but all that Brienne wanted was to die for him.”
6. She Had Siblings
Brienne of Tarth is Lord Selwyn’s oldest daughter and only heir, but she was not always an only child. When she was a girl, she had one older brother, Galladon, who drowned when he was 8 years old. Not much else is known about him. Her birth mother also died when Brienne was too young to retain any memories of her, so there’s no silver lining to be found there.
But Selwyn eventually remarried. His new wife gave birth to two more daughters, Arianne, and then Alysanne. Tragically, both girls died in the cradle. Perhaps if one of her other siblings had survived, Brienne never would have been subjected to her three disastrous and humiliating betrothals. To say Brienne had a rough childhood would be an understatement.
5. Gwendoline Christie Almost Had A Different Career
At age 7, actress Gwendoline Christie took up competitive rhythmic gymnastics. She made it to a semi-professional level, and for a while, she thought she might pursue a full-time career in the sport. She also added ballet and tap dancing into the mix. She lived a strict and pastoral existence at the time, and used those physical activities as a means of self-expression.
But when she was 11, she sustained a serious muscle strain in her spine. It was partly due to over-training and partly because she was having a growth spurt. Doctors said she would never dance again (cue the Wham!) and she was forced to seek out another passion. It was then that she decided to give acting a whirl. With a great love for films (particularly Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop), and Shakespeare, the seeds were already planted. Plus, her athletic background seems to translate well to the physicality of her current job.
4. Gwen Was Born For The Role
At 6’3” with blonde hair and an athletic build, Gwendoline Christie seems like a no brainer for the role of Brienne of Tarth. But you can’t give all the credit to the casting director, as the actress campaigned for the role herself. After her brief role in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, fans of the ASOIAF novels had caught wind of production for the show and brought her up on Internet forums as an ideal choice. When a friend of Gwen’s alerted her to the discussion, she got curious and picked up the book series.
She immediately fell in love with the character and began to slowly transform into Brienne, documenting her progress on social media, in order to attract the casting director’s attention. She gained 14 pounds of pure muscle, cropped her hair short, and even dressed the part. The casting director then caught Gwen in a production of Great Expectations at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the rest is history.
3. What’s Her Age Again?
Brienne’s real-life counterpart, Gwendoline Christie, is famous for claiming that she doesn’t know her true age. She also says that asking her mother won’t help. Apparently, no one in her family kept track of her birthday. IMDb lists her birthday as October 28th, 1978, which would make her 38 years old. In the Thrones-verse, her age at press time isn’t expressly stated, but we can do a rough calculation based on the timeline.
In the books, Brienne is 18 when she participates in the Tournament at Bitterbridge (depicted in season 2 of the series). Game of Thrones Wiki puts season 2 in the fictional year 299 AL. Each season covers a year, meaning the upcoming season takes place 6 years later, in 304 AL. Therefore, Brienne should be about 23 at the start of season 7. Of course, many of the actors on the show are playing much older than their book counterparts; so on the show at least, Brienne’s age remains a mystery.
2. Brienne Got She’s All That-ed
In A Feast for Crows, Brienne recounts her experience upon first joining Renley’s Rainbow Guard. She prepares herself for the same awful misogyny she’s received her entire life, but she is taken aback when the other guards seem not only tolerant, but also exceedingly accommodating. She soon learns the sadistic motive behind their unexpected kindness.
In a plot straight out of a teen movie, Dickon Tarley overhears four of the guards discussing the terms of a bet — a competition to take Brienne’s virginity. Dickon runs to tell his daddy, Randyll, who puts a stop to the whole business before anyone can give her a makeover or take her to prom. Of course, Randyll doesn’t intervene out of concern for Brienne’s welfare. Instead, he blames the whole thing on her, because what else can one expect when a woman tries to do a man’s job? The other guards aren’t so nice to Brienne after that.
1. Jaime Truly Loves Brienne
Brienne and Jaime have been playing will they/won’t they for quite some time now. Some see their relationship as platonic, stemming from mutual respect. But actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime, says that he was playing their intense scene in the tent at Riverrun as a sort of declaration of love. “She fulfilled her oath and the job was done, and she hands [Oathkeeper] to him and he says, ‘it’s yours—it will always be yours,’ and it’s his way of saying, ‘You’ll have my heart—you’ll always have it’… I think it’s one of the purest forms of love that Jaime’s experienced.”
Coster-Waldau doesn’t think the affection is one sided either. He believes that when Jaime spilled his guts to her in the bathtub at Harrenhal (metaphorically – on GoT, it’s important to specify), she realized that she had feelings for him too. Says Nikolaj, “For her to embrace him after that was, as I see it, an act of love.”
What else should fans know about Brienne of Tarth? Let us know in the comments.
Season seven of Game of Thrones premieres on HBO on Sunday, July 16th.
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