By James Hibberd
July 15, 2017 at 10:09 AM EDT

War and winter may be coming to Game of Thrones season 7, but that doesn’t mean Tormund’s fandom-favorite crush on Brienne of Tarth is easing anytime soon.

Expect at least one reference to the oddly charming (if kind of stalker-y) romantic non-romance in Sunday’s premiere episode, with possibly more to come in the season.

“Tormund definitely thinks he has a shot,” says actor Kristofer Hivju, who plays the red-headed Wildling leader. “It’s the way the Wildlings are. The women are so strong. They’re equals. They all fight. Like with Ygritte, she has to fight as well as everybody else. When a Wildling is rejected that means ‘thumbs up.'”

Teases Brienne actress Gwendoline Christie: “That relationship keeps evolving.”

Hivju marvels at fans’ reaction to “Briemund” from the previous slight teases to his crush. “It was was crazy,” he says. “It’s like that Leonard Cohen quote, ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ When everything is heavy and serious and then somebody falls in love with somebody you didn’t expect, you give the audience a bit of candy and you’re all, ‘Yeah! We got a soap opera!'”

As we previously reported, showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff did not precisely script the previous beats between Brienne and Tormund and credit their actors for bringing the relationship to life.

“That scene last season when Tormund was eating and lasciviously staring at Brienne was one of our favorites,” Benioff said. “Usually, when we really love something there are a few other people who like it as well. It’s great because there was no dialogue written for that, or major stage direction, there was just a line like, ‘He stares at Brienne because he’s never seen a woman like that before.’ And then we let the actors do what they do.”

“There was the episode where they’re all leaving Castle Black together and there’s a shot — it wasn’t scripted at all — of two of them on horseback and she looks at him and he smiles at her,” Weiss said. “It’s not something you could ever write. It’s just this moment where this guy is creeping out on her and he smiles in a way that makes her very uncomfortable and she just looks away. I saw it 150 times and every time it made me laugh; it’s purely the two of them.”

“It inspires us because we need to kill one of them now because there can’t be a happy ending or any romantic connection on the show,” Benioff added dryly. “But we’re not going to tell you which one.”

When we last saw Brienne and Tormund, they were with their newly declared King in the North Jon Snow at Winterfell. That once-rocky relationship, Hivju notes, is now rock solid. “It’s no longer a debate if he’s with Jon or not, they’re now a team,” he says. “His arc from meeting Jon Show in that tent for the first time, Tormund’s been through a lot. Now it’s all about saving humanity, kind of.”

After the premiere, will have a deep-dive recap, an interview, and a new episode of our GoT discussion podcast with Darren Franich and myself. Subscribe to our GoT newsletter for breaking news alerts.

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Game of Thrones airs Sunday night.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

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