(Caution: SPOILERS below)
In A Dance with Dragons, there’s a subplot that thus far hasn’t been adapted for the show: While he’s Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow meets Alys Karstark, the daughter of Lord Rickard Karstark. (Remember that Robb executed Lord Rickard for killing Lannister prisoners in A Storm of Swords/season 3). With Alys’ father dead and her brother Harrion held captive by the Lannisters, Alys has an excellent claim to Karhold, House Karstark’s ancestral seat. She arrives at Castle Black fleeing her cousin Cregan, who wants to marry her so he can lay claim to the castle. She asks Jon for help.
At the time, Jon is having trouble managing tensions between the Night’s Watchmen and the wildling refugees staying at Castle Black. So he, Alys, and Melisandre come up with a solution to multiple problems: Jon marries Alys to the Magnar of Thenn, a wildling chieftain, creating a new House of Thenn. That way, the wildlings are legitimized somewhat in the eyes of xenophobic Northerners and Cregan can’t try to marry Alys, since she already has a husband.
A couple of weeks ago, it was confirmed that Alys Karstark will be appearing on Game of Thrones for the first time in season 7, played by actress Megan Parkinson. That raises the question: will her role on the show be the same as in the books? Will she marry a prominent wildling and formally bind the Northerners to their cousins from beyond the Wall?
— Winter is Coming (@WiCnet) October 25, 2016
The Magnar of Thenn doesn’t exist on the show. (Well, not the version from A Dance with Dragons, anyway.) So if Alys is going to fulfill her book role, she’ll have to marry a different prominent wildling. But who? Knowing the show’s habit of using established characters to fill the roles of minor ones from the books (e.g. Bronn becoming commander of the City Watch rather than Ser Jacelyn Bywater, or Jorah contracting greyscale rather than Ser Jon Connington), we have someone in mind: Tormund Giantsbane.
A threshold question: is Tormund single? He’s talked about his daughters on the show, remarking in “Hardhome” that Jon is prettier than all of them, but has yet to mention a wife. We aren’t even sure wildling law forbids a second marriage. In any case, without information to the contrary, we can assume that Tormund is an eligible bachelor. If he is married, his wife would surely have something to say about those looks he cast at Brienne during season 6.
Based on the information available, Alys’ position at this point in the story is largely the same as it was when she arrived at Castle Black in A Dance with Dragons. She is the heir to Karhold. In fact, her position is less ambiguous onscreen. On the page, Alys’ brother Harrion is still alive, but in Lannister captivity. On the show, Harrion died fighting for Robb early in the show’s going.
However, the show introduced a new character in season 6: Harald Karstark, another of Alys’ brothers. He joined up with Ramsay to fight Jon Snow. But Harald likely perished in the Battle of the Bastards, or if he didn’t, will probably be executed or dispossessed as punishment for joining the Boltons. That leaves Alys as the heir to her House, whether the show introduces her scheming extended family or not.
A marriage between Tormund and Alys could help integrate the wildlings into Northern society. There’s also the matter of remuneration. Throughout seasons 5 and 6, Tormund emerged as one of Jon Snow’s most ardent supporters. Now that he’s King in the North, Jon may see fit to reward Tormund in the way Westerosi victors traditionally reward their allies: with lands, titles and advantageous marriages.
If Tormund becomes the head of a new house with Karhold as its seat, it would also give the wildlings somewhere to settle. The Karstark lands lie far to the northeast, relatively isolated from the rest of the North. Keeping a healthy distance between the new wildling transplants and the rest of the Northerners may be best for everybody, and would keep violence between the groups to a minimum. Additionally, the Karstark lands are relatively close to the Wall, at least moreso than Winterfell. Jon and Tormund are well aware of the dangers lurking north of the Wall, and should the need arise, it would be useful for Tormund to have his forces nearby.
We hate to break the collective hearts of the fans, but a marriage between Tormund and Alys Karstark seems far more likely than one between him and Brienne. Jon needs to unify the North, integrate the wildlings into Northern society and reward his supporters for their loyalty. A union between Tormund and Alys accomplishes all of these things.