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How Game of Thrones' Gwendoline Christie Went from Lady Knight to a Sci-Fi Star

This modern actress doesn't "subscribe to the traditional archetype"

Hanh Nguyen

Gwendoline Christie, like her Game of Thronescharacter Brienne of Tarth, took a while to really fit into her own skin. But once that happened, the rest of the world started to take notice.

The 6-foot-3 actress and model was a relative unknown when she was cast as Brienne, the highly honorable noblewoman who preferred to be a sword-wielding knight, on HBO's Game of Thrones (Sundays, 9/8c). The role required Christie to cut her hair short, and she said at the time, "I struggled for a long time with my hair, but then I'm grateful for the opportunity to realize that femininity doesn't have to come from hair or any of those traditional female archetypes of appearance."

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Similarly, Hollywood has come to embrace Christie's unique look and abilities. The actress recently landed roles in the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 as Commander Lyme, a former District 2 champion, and in the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Christie is at a loss to explain why these big science-fiction/fantasy projects are seeking her out, but points to Game of Thrones' creation of complex female characters.

"They can be heroes or they can be antiheroes," Christie tells TVGuide.com. "But they are so well drawn ... that it is refreshing in our modern culture to see women represented in these ways. As each season of Game of Thrones rolls by, we see different shades and different textures to these characters. We watch these women develop in front of us.

"I think that I may represent a modern type of actress that doesn't subscribe to the traditional archetype," she continues. "I feel the world is very ready to see women represented in a fresh, modern, dynamic and three-dimensional way."

And indeed, over the course of four seasons, we've seen Brienne on several stages of her journey so far. When we first met her in Season 2, "she wants to be a knight; it's very much aspirational," says Christie. "And at the point of Renly's murder, she becomes a knight and she inhabits it. What I love about the character of Brienne of Tarth is that she ... refuses all conventions of femininity and lives on her own terms, going so far as to say, 'I am no lady.'"

Unfortunately, after her liege lord died, Brienne was adrift until she came into the service of Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), who tasked Brienne with traveling with the jaded knight Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) as her prisoner in order to exchange him for the freedom of Catelyn's two daughters: Arya and Sansa Stark (Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner).

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Although Jaime was delivered to King's Landing as promised, both girls had left the city, which set Brienne on her next quest with squire Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) in tow. They found Arya, but the girl, escaped, preferring to be on her own. "In Season 5 we see [Brienne] ... with her spirit broken because she feels that she failed in her mission: Arya rejected her, and she has to start all over again," Christie says.

Podrick, who's also come into his own more this season, tries to cheer Brienne up, but this angers her even more to the point of trying to dismiss him from service. "She's frustrated with Pod," Christie says. "Her mission, as tough as it is, becomes harder with this person. I think she feels that Pod is an albatross around her neck. She's doing what she can to be honorable to him, but he's kind of getting in the way. I think what he brings out in her is shades of Jaime Lannister with Brienne. She becomes the person doing the needling. I think he brings out a side of herself perhaps if she were to pause and reflect, she wouldn't be very proud of."

Fortunately for Pod and his tender feelings, they soon run into Sansa Stark at an inn. The confrontation doesn't go well and ends with Sansa telling Brienne to leave her alone and with Sansa's mentor/uncle Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) delivering snide comments at her expense. "Because he is something of an operator, he is able to identify with a laser-like clarity that Brienne's vulnerability lies in being falsely accused of the murder of Renly," Christie observes. "And it's that button that he presses that shakes Brienne from her rock-safe demeanor... to disable Brienne's outer superior strength."

But having already lost one Stark daughter, Brienne is not to be deterred. She's settled on her quest for this season, and continues to follow Sansa through Westeros to her unknown destination, come what may. "I think to Brienne, Sansa Stark and Arya represent Catelyn Stark, a noble woman and a woman of strength," Christie says. "Brienne says back in Season 2, 'Not a man's strength, but an honorable strength.' [The Stark girls have] become increasingly self-reliant. When Podrick mentions Sansa Stark, Brienne says she's 'wary of strangers, as she should be.' That's respect from Brienne, that Sansa is developing and looking after herself."

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On a show where scathing condescension and backstabbing are the norm, it's refreshing to see Brienne accept and honor the strength in others, no matter how different they may be from herself. Christie adds, "Throughout Season 5, we see the continuation of this evolution of character, evolution of self ... and perhaps even some of the darker recesses too."

Much like Brienne, it's clear that Christie has benefited from the differences that not only set her apart, but have also made her in demand. Or at least, that's what could have contributed to her recent casting coups. "This probably should be a moment of unabashed self-promotion, shouldn't it?" she says with a self-deprecating laugh. "I don't know, but I really, really like it and long please may it continue."

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released on Nov. 20 and Dec. 18, respectively.

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