To say people are excited about the return of Game of Thrones is an understatement. More viewers are tuning in to watch the HBO series than ever before. The promise of another colorful wedding is only part of the appeal; the furthering of unexpected relationships and the welcome presence of characters both old and new give the season an interesting kickoff. I'm a fan of both the A Song of Ice and Fire books and the television series, so the chance to interview the actors behind two of the series' most interesting characters was sent from whatever heaven in which a good portion of the Stark clan now rests.
Those characters are Brienne of Tarth and Oberyn Martell, better known as the Red Viper. Stepping out of their roles and elaborate costumes, Gwendoline Christie and Pedro Pascal prove to be infinitely more delightful than their characters. That fact made it a whole lot easier to spend some time nerding out with them.
"All I did was nerd out until I realized I had to concentrate and play a part," admits Pascal, who joined the show this season. Long before he joined the cast, right after Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion was released in 1995, Pascal approached Peter Dinklage on the street.
"I can tell you exactly what street it was -- it's so creepy," he laughs. "I told him how much I loved his performance in that, and years later, now I get to act with him." Pascal still hasn't revealed that story to his costar.
Also an immense fan of the show, Christie was especially in love with the books.
"It surpassed all my expectations, and I thought they were some of the most unconventional narratives I'd ever come across," she says. She was most interested in the women of the novels, especially that of her character, Brienne. Asked how often a role like that comes along, she says, "I wish I could say regularly. It's rare, but it's encouraging to me that a part like this, that so many of the female characters on the show, have proved to be so popular."
They're not only popular but also defiant to gender stereotypes. But where many viewers see Brienne as a mere knight, Christie sees far more.
"There's something about that combination of physical strength and beautiful inner vulnerability, as well as the glorious optimism and romance," she says. Those qualities inspire her to consider female archetypes and make her proud to play such an impactful role.
Hand in hand with gender discussion comes that of sexuality. Merely implied in A Storm of Swords, the Red Viper's bisexuality was thrust upon the audience during the fourth season's premiere.
"It's really just an element that is the richness of this person's character," Pascal says. "He's a person who does what he wants, when he wants, and he doesn't think about consequence. He's also somebody who refuses to limit himself of experience. It doesn't make sense to him to not grab at the opportunity to experience something beautiful no matter what shape it comes in."
That mindset makes Oberyn such an appealing, and unpredictable, character. Pascal has chosen to keep the show's future as unpredictable as possible. He sidesteps what fate someone with a hefty revengenda (a term lovingingly stolen from ABC's Revenge) might meet in Westeros.
"They always find a way to surprise the audience," Pascal says. "If you've read the books, you know that events are honored and well-told, but they still find a way to mix things up." That, along with other things, should keep fans of both the book and the show watching on a weekly basis.
As interesting as these characters are, they'd be nothing without fascinating interactions. For Pascal, a lot of that shows in the way Oberyn "just wedges himself in the center of King's Landing. He doesn't waste any time telling anyone why he's there, so it opens up a lot of possibilities of who he may interact with."
That results in the opportunity for intimate, one-on-one scenes, and not just of the sexual or violent kind, although Pascal assures he's spent plenty of time combat-training for upcoming scenes.
"There are scenes that have the same kind of dramatic tension as an enormous battle," he says. "Sometimes, it was pretty intimidating to go up against people I've admired as much as I have over the years."
In that same vein, Christie finds what's coming for Brienne this season to be just as interesting. She never expected to see Brienne placed into situations with Olenna or Margaery, but she believes it stays true to developing her character.
"We've already seen Brienne being placed in these situations that she doesn't know how to navigate," she says. "What I love is that we see the development of a woman with a sense of innocence developing reflective thought and being shaped by experience." Christie assures some pretty out-there experiences occurring in the fourth season.
One of her favorite moments, both in the books and the show, was the bathtub scene between Jaime Lannister and her character.
"The reason I found it beautiful was that they get into this emotional world together, and he reveals the man that he shields from everybody. For Brienne, the moment she stands up to him and says, 'Do not mock me,' to me, it was kind of like a birth for the character."
That scene rings true to her sentiments on the character and that hidden femininity under the hard exterior. It's one of the things that makes her character so fascinating.
"She embraces her womanhood," Christie says. "She isn't wearing her armor; she isn't protected by a metal suit of armor. She's just herself, and she stands up to him in that moment."
As that scene, and many others, show, it's clear that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (as well as executive producer and author George R.R. Martin) know exactly what they're doing.
"Whatever happens, you know it's in good hands," Christie says.
As for the fans and whether the actors are prepared to deal with their intensity, Pascal welcomes them with open arms.
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"It's so exciting to be a part of this, and I really respect the fans. If they approach me with kindness, that would mean a job well done, which would make me really happy."