One of the most well-known figures within the Song of Ice & Fire books would have to be Brienne of Tarth, a woman who abandons convention by trying to live as a true knight within Westeros. With the release of the show, Gwendoline Christie has built up a whole new legion of fans thanks to her portrayal of the character. But what is her book counterpart like? What went into crafting Brienne for the show? Keep reading to learn all about the noble Brienne of Tarth.
While the actress Gwendoline Christie is certainly good-looking, the characters in the books generally think that Brienne of Tarth is a very "homely" maiden. In fact, due to her lack of feminine attire or appearance, Brienne is mockingly called "Brienne the Beauty".
Brienne is the eldest daughter of Lord Selwyn of House Tarth, who also rules Evenfall Hall on the island of Tarth. This island lies off the coast of the Stormlands, and is known as the "Sapphire Isle" for its beauty.
Despite her father’s desire to find her a suitable marriage, Brienne didn’t want to be a conventional lady. To her father’s credit, he didn’t stand in the way of her receiving a knight’s training from Evenfall Hall’s master-at-arms, Ser Goodwin.
Brienne’s initial weapon of choice is a blunt morningstar (which is a spiked mace, in case you’re unaware). Later, of course, she receives the Valyrian steel sword Oathkeeper from Jaime Lannister.
Brienne was allegedly born in 280 AC. This means that during the events of the books, Brienne is around 18 or 20 years old.
George R.R. Martin was once asked to identify just how tall Brienne is supposed to be in his books. According to him, Brienne is definitely over 6 feet tall, but nowhere near 7 feet. In comparison with the other characters, she’s meant to be similar in height to Robert Baratheon, taller than Renly Baratheon and Jaime Lannister, and shorter than Gregor Clegane and Hodor.
We hope that clarifies things for you all!
One of the only men who ever treated Brienne with respect was Renly Baratheon. At the time, his oldest brother, Robert, sat on the Iron Throne as King of Westeros. Renly, on the other hand, was in charge of Storm’s End and was the acting Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. During a visit to Tarth, Renly was kind and courteous to Brienne, and danced with her.
Because of Renly's kindness, Brienne fell deeply in love with the royal lord. Sadly, it was not requited.
After the death of Robert Baratheon, the War of the Five Kings broke out, with three different Baratheons claiming the Iron Throne as their own. Renly Baratheon, you'll remember, was one of those men, and Brienne—still lovesick—travelled to Storm’s End to be with him and support his claim to the throne.
Brienne has broken her nose several times, her hair is brittle and straw-colored, and her teeth are reportedly very crooked. Admittedly, we can’t imagine many people in Westeros having a great smile without professional dentistry. Plus, those nose fractures almost certainly came from Brienne's battle-worn ways.
As the show depicts, Brienne fights her way into a position on Renly Baratheon’s personal guard. In the books, however, the fashion-loving Renly dubs them his "Rainbow Guard," because he has all of his guards (apart from Ser Loras Tyrell) wear a different color of the rainbow. Brienne's color? Well, fitting for a girl from the "Sapphire Isle," she wears blue.
Bryce Caron is one of Brienne's fellow Rainbow Guards, and he happens to be the younger brother of Brienne’s first betrothed. Unlike Brienne, after Renly dies, Caron joins Stannis Baratheon’s forces and fights for him at the Battle of the Blackwater. He is then killed by a knight named Ser Philip Foote, who is awarded all of Bryce’s former lands and titles as a reward.
One of the most beloved romances of Game of Thrones is the one-way affection that the wildling Tormund Giantsbane feels for Brienne. Unfortunately for those shippers (but thankfully for Brienne), the two characters have never interacted in the books. It isn’t too late though, since George R.R. Martin is still hard at work getting the series finished.
Um, we hope.
Ironically, we have the fans to thank for Gwendoline Christie being cast as Brienne. She reportedly didn't even know about A Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones when she first heard from a friend that people on the Internet were wondering if she’d be cast as Brienne of Tarth. This led Christie to doing research and falling in love with not just the series, but also Brienne’s character.
Tearing through the books, she began campaigning for the role in the series.
During the military training of her youth, Brienne's trainer Ser Goodwin considered her too hesitant and compassionate. He was worried that no matter how much martial ability she had, she would be too reluctant to go into battle and kill people. As a result, he sent her to the butcher in Evenfall Hall, where he made her aid said butcher in slaughtering animals.
Sadly, this even included lambs and piglets. If Ser Goodwin hoped this would toughen her up, though, it didn’t work: Brienne was emotionally broken, and burned her bloodstained clothes as soon as she could.
Brienne has been betrothed three times in her life. The first time, she was only seven years old, and intended to marry the 10-year-old son and heir of Lord Bryen Caron. However, the boy succumbed to a sickness before either one of them ever came of age, and they only met once.
This first engagement to the heir of House Caron left a lasting impression upon Brienne, based on her inner thoughts in the books. She thinks of that engagement as a highly significant event in her life, since she would have married the boy as soon as she’d flowered. This would have meant that she would never have gotten the chance to receive military training.
Of course, given that House Caron is one of the marcher lords in the Stormlands, and therefore embedded in a warrior culture, who knows whether she’d have gotten the chance to fight, after all.
In the Song of Ice and Fire books, Brienne becomes one of the characters whose point of view is used to narrate several chapters. Specifically, these chapters are in A Feast for Crows, when she’s traveling across Westeros looking for the daughters of Catelyn Stark.
Believe it or not, Brienne and her squire, Podrick Payne, actually bump into Gendry during their travels in the books. Brienne doesn’t recognize who Gendry is, but he is so similar to Renly Baratheon that she is half-convinced that he is Renly returned. Sadly, we didn’t get such a scene in the show, but then again, the actors who play Gendry and Renly in that show aren’t exactly twins.
When Gwendoline Christie auditioned to play Brienne of Tarth, she was already in character, and was even wearing armor. George R.R. Martin would later remark that it was no contest as to who would play Brienne. We can certainly see why.
Brienne is known to have a knightly dignity, but she is also more than willing to fight dirty to win a scuffle. In the books, she once resorts to savagely biting the ear of Vargo Hoat.
Aside from the Song of Ice and Fire books, George R. R. Martin is also responsible for the Dunk & Egg short stories set in Westeros several decades before the main storylines. One of the main characters in this series is a knight named Ser Duncan the Tall, whose remarkable tale is documented in the short stories.
With the release of one of the novels, Martin announced that he would reveal that one of the main characters was descended from Ser Duncan. This character was revealed to be Brienne of Tarth. She describes a shield that lies in the armory of her castle, which contains the same sigil that Ser Duncan uses in the Dunk & Egg series.
One of the biggest changes that the show made from the books in Brienne’s storyline involves Catelyn Stark, the woman she swears allegiance to after the demise of Renly Baratheon. During the Red Wedding, Catelyn’s throat is cut and her bare body is thrown into the river by members of House Frey. But where this marks her end in the TV show, that's just the beginning for Catelyn in the books.
From there, she is found by the Brotherhood Without Banners, and Beric Dondarrion decides to give up his life for Catelyn. As a result, Catelyn becomes Lady Stoneheart, a zombie-like figure who leads the Brotherhood in a campaign of brutal revenge against House Frey and House Lannister. She can't speak, and she looks to be on the verge of death.
She can, however, wreak havoc.
The last we see of Brienne in the fifth book A Dance with Dragons, she is approaching Jaime Lannister. She urges him to accompany her—alone—to save Sansa Stark from the Hound. Fans attribute her urging to a rather sinister motivation...
In a moment of dark irony, Brienne is captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners soon after her fight with Biter. She is deemed to have broken her oaths to Catelyn, who is in no mood to hear Brienne’s protests, and doesn't believe her anyway. Catelyn orders Brienne to bring her Jaime Lannister, or else she and Podrick Payne will hang.
Given that Brienne is alive in A Dance with Dragons, and that she’s actively trying to recruit Jaime’s help, we can only imagine what will happen in the next book.
Fans might remember that Oathkeeper is actually one of the two swords forged out of the metal that was once Ice, the ancestral Stark sword of Valyrian steel. Tywin Lannister had long wanted a Valyrian steel blade for House Lannister, and he took the Stark sword after Ned died to make two blades. Jaime is given one of these swords, but he gives it to Brienne.
She then swears to use it to protect the daughters of Catelyn Stark.
Before she began filming for the second season of Game of Thrones, Gwendoline Christie underwent a very intense physical and mental regime to prepare for her role. She not only studied the books religiously, but also took sword-fighting, martial arts, and horseback-riding lessons. In between a rigorous new diet and her physical training, Christie gained something like 20 pounds of muscle before filming began.
Although it was a foregone conclusion that Gwendoline Christie would play Brienne of Tarth when she arrived at the audition, we very nearly lost Christie to an entirely different career path. As a child, Christie was firmly involved in rhythmic gymnastics and dance. She even went semi-professional, until a serious strain at age 11 forced her to abandon her previous activities.
Luckily, acting drew her interest as an appealing alternative. The rest is history.
Brienne’s final betrothal was to Ser Humfrey Wagstaff, the castellan serving House Grandison. As if it wasn’t bad enough that she was 16 and he was 65, Humphrey also made it clear that Brienne would only be allowed to wear women’s clothes as his wife, and would need to act like a lady at all time. Brienne, however, thought of a fitting way to end the engagement.
She told Humfrey that she’d agree to that deal if he could defeat her in combat. Three broken bones later on his part, their engagement was called off.
In the novel A Storm of Swords, Ser Loras explains just why Renly Baratheon, his former lover, chose to keep Brienne at his side. According to Loras, Renly appreciated the fact that Brienne was utterly devoted to him, and while "all his other knights wanted things of him…all that Brienne wanted was to die for him".
During A Feast for Crows, Brienne travels across the Westerosi countryside looking for Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, whom she heard was traveling in the company of one of the Stark girls. While she might find him in the books, she doesn’t fight him like she does in the show. In fact, the Hound isn’t even identified.
By that point, he is either departed or, one fan theory states, crippled from a fight that nearly killed him, and Arya has abandoned him. When Brienne sees him, fans theorize, he is living in anonymity on the Quiet Isle, working as a gravedigger.
Speaking of that encounter with Gendry in A Feast for Crows, this incident happens at the inn at the crossroads where so many other events in the book happen. While she’s at the inn, Brienne is confronted by several members of the Brave Companions, the same men who captured her and Jaime in A Storm of Swords and took them to Harrenhal.
During this fight, she is nearly killed by the savage figure whose only name is Biter, and only an intervention by Gendry saves her life.
Despite surviving her encounter with Biter, Brienne does not emerge unscathed from the fight. Living up to his name, Biter chews flesh off of Brienne’s face, leaving her permanently scarred. We can’t imagine the kind of makeup that would have been required if they’d included this scene in the show.
The second time that Brienne was engaged in her life was to "Red" Ronnet Connington, the Knight of Griffin’s Roost. Though he was six years older than her, they were already the same height. When they first met, Ronnet gave her a rose, and Brienne was so shy that she couldn’t even say the words of welcome that she’d practiced.
However, Ronnet announced that the rose would be all she’d ever have from him, as he found her far too ugly.
Speaking of that horrible meeting with Ronnet Connington, the memory of that awful experience is what initially warms Brienne to her new squire, Podrick Payne. When Podrick can’t even look her in the eye or pronounce her name properly, Brienne remembers when she herself was in a similar position and starts forging a bond with him.
Though he never appears in the show, Ronnet Connington is a minor supporting character in the books. Brienne gets her revenge on her former betrothed in A Clash of Kings. He is one of her opponents in the melee to determine who will serve in King Renly’s Rainbow Guard, and Brienne makes sure to beat the ever-loving snot out of him during the brawl.
Good for you, Brienne.
But Connington doesn't stop there. In A Feast for Crows, he hangs out with Jaime, gleefully making fun of Brienne without realizing Jaime’s feelings for her. Jaime enlightens him by punching Ronnet in the face with his false hand. Good on you too, Jaime.
Contrary to what the show might have you believe, Brienne was not an only child. She had an older brother named Galladon, but he drowned when she was four years old. Two younger sisters named Alysanne and Arianne also sadly died when they were still infants, leaving her the sole heir.
During production of Game of Thrones, Gwendoline Christie was once the victim of a rather clever prank by the showrunners. On one occasion, they showed her an article from the New York Times that branded her as a spoiled and snobbish brat for refusing to provide a fan with her autograph. The joke, of course, was that the article was a forgery, and no such incident had ever happened.
We’d have loved to see Christie’s face when they finally said "Gotcha!"
When Gwendoline Christie was 14 years old, she had almost reached her full adult height of 6 feet and 3 inches. Her doctors even offered the young girl growth inhibitors, but Christie refused to take them, and decided to embrace who she was. We'd like to think Brienne would have done the same.
While Renly Baratheon is holding court with his huge army in the book A Clash of Kings, Brienne is the victim of a very cruel prank. To her surprise, all the young noblemen and knights are incredibly courteous to her when she joins the camp, and she receives much respect and even gifts. However, these kindnesses turned out to be entirely selfish.
As it turns out, the men at the camp made a bet about who could claim Brienne’s maidenhead. When Randyll Tarly (Samwell Tarly's father) found out about it, he quickly quashed the wager.
Don’t feel too respectful of Randyll Tarly for stopping that cruel wager, though. In the books, he firmly blames Brienne for inspiring such wagers in the first place. He declares that a woman’s place isn’t on the battlefield, and it’s when someone tries to break the conventions that men are provoked into harassing women.
Suddenly, we’re not so sad that Randyll is no longer alive…
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