By James Hibberd
March 28, 2019 at 12:53 PM EDT

Gwendoline Christie kept asking for the scripts.

It was October 2017, and the Game of Thrones star had been wondering along with the rest of the cast when the six scripts for the final season would arrive. Christie was at a hotel in Vancouver at the time, filming the Robert Zemeckis drama Welcome to Marwen. It was only a few more days until the big cast table read in Belfast and she was eager to find out the fate of her character, the noble warrior Brienne of Tarth, who she’s played on the HBO hit since season 2.

“They came through at 4:30 a.m.” Christie recalls. “I woke at half past 5 and read them all.”

She did not, unlike a couple of her cast mates, skip to the end first. “I always read, as part of my training, from beginning to end,” she says. “This is something I do partially because I’m a fan of the show. I want to know what’s going on with the other characters.”

And her reaction?

Helen Sloan/HBO

“Every couple of pages I thought I was dead,” the 40-year-old says of her character’s intense journey. “If you’re lucky enough to get to season 8, you expect to die on the first page. That’s the worst case scenario. The very worst case scenario is dying off screen. At one point while reading I said to my partner, ‘I think I died and nobody said anything.'”

Once she finished reading, Christie did the exact same thing her costar Emilia Clarke was doing across the wide sea in London after finishing reading about Daenerys Targaryen.

“I had to go for a very long walk,” Christie says. “A long walk and I did not stop. I had lots of questions. If there’s a character you care about and you feel like they go through some sort of hell you feel protective toward them.”

Yet Christie added that the final season storyline is also hugely satisfying. “There’s something about this story that’s compulsive and essential,” she says. “What [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have done in terms of this being the final season is masterful. I don’t think there’s any way people aren’t going to want more.”

At the start of the season, Brienne is at Winterfell where she’s the sworn sword to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and the castle prepares for the Army of the Dead. As revealed in the trailer, Brienne takes part in the season’s massive battle episode where the living face off against the Night King, which — as EW detailed in a recent cover story — was brutally difficult for the cast and crew.

Marc Hom for EW

“I put my heart and soul into this project and thrown myself into it physically as well, which has been incredibly challenging this year,” she says. “We get to see Brienne going full throttle doing what we all love to watch her do. It’s the crew I feel for. They’re the ones who are truly the face of brutal suffering when it comes to the relentlessness of the schedule and I deeply admire them for that. But the storyline is so great. I have the skills now where when I’m told there’s going to be a fight and it’s nine moves with 30 men running at you that I can do it. And the Winterfell set is huge, it’s enormous. I’ve worked on big things and this is enormous.”

Christie adds that Brienne continues to evolve the more reserved side of her personality and has plenty to do during the series endgame. “This season we see more of Brienne than ever before,” she says. “I’m more involved this season and I’m delighted the character has been learning from everyone she’s been around. There’s been a timidness and a tense vulnerability that was the opposite of her physical strength. It’s been interesting to watch her embrace her intellect and humor and step forward in life and make decisions. I think this is a season where Brienne’s gender is really no longer an issue. She’s treated as an equal by all and that’s very pleasing.”

And how does Brienne get along with Daenerys?

“Brienne’s allegiance is to Sansa,” Christie says crisply.

Then she adds with a laugh: “I do think she’d like a go on her dragon!”

GoT returns April 14. Listen to our GoT podcast. EW.com will have daily GoT coverage until the end of Game of Thrones, including post-episode recaps and interviews. Follow @jameshibberd for GoT scoop. Bookmark our Game of Thrones content hub.

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