“My love for you is never in doubt / We’ll get a little place in Hardhome and we’ll figure it out.”
Hasn’t it been a long time since Game of Thrones had a couple you could really, truly ship? Thanks to its adherence to the general outline of George R.R. Martin’s books, and the realities of life in a medieval fantasy setting — people either get married right away, die terribly, or, as in the case of Robb and Talis, both — it’s hard for a romantic pairing on Thrones to organically emerge out of chemistry. That’s why a few moments in Sunday night’s episode, “Book of the Stranger,” stood out: As leggy blonde Brienne of Tarth brought Sansa Stark safely to the Wall, she crossed paths with none other than Tormund Giantsbane, the affable wildling with the hair of Alexi Lalas and a beard straight out of Instagram. Eyes met. Breathing stopped. Hearts went boom. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a ship.
Tormund and Brienne haven’t so much as exchanged a word so far, but words aren’t necessary when two people are this perfect for each other. Tormund’s a laid-back guy’s guy; Brienne’s a little more proper. That dynamic’s been making for great TV ever since the days of Sam and Diane. Unlike those two, Tormund and Brienne are both six-foot-tall warrior-hotties who know their way around a longsword — who needs verbal sparring when you can have actual sparring?
Their similarities go beyond the physical (though Thrones being Thrones, the physical will probably come into play sooner rather than later). Brienne and Tormund are each outsiders in their own way: Brienne because of her refusal to perform femininity the way the Westerosi patriarchy requires, Tormund because he’s a wildling raider whose ancestors had the bad luck to be living on the wrong side of a 700-foot-tall magical wall. Both have kind hearts and an ironclad sense of loyalty, though neither of those qualities prevent them from doling out surprisingly brutal violence if they think the situation demands it. And their disparate backgrounds might actually make them work better as a potential couple: Tormund’s from a society where warrior women are a common sight; Brienne’s from southern Westeros, which has much less cause to hate wildlings than the North does. It’s a match made in the seven heavens.
As much as fans can complain about the show’s changes from Martin’s novels, this potential coupling shows the benefits of going off-book. In the original series, Brienne and Tormund are nowhere near each other, and their plots show no signs of intersecting in the future. Now, as in many of the show’s best divergences from Martin’s narrative, they’ve thrown two random characters together just to see what kind of sparks can fly. If people are this excited about a couple that’s shared only a few brief seconds of screen time together, imagine what will happen if they actually talk to each other.
We mustn’t get too ahead of ourselves, of course; as anyone who’s tried to set up their friends knows, too much outside pressure can kill a relationship before it ever has a chance to blossom. It’s possible that Brienne and Tormund might end up hating each other (and not the kind of hating that comes before loving (in pop culture), but the kind that leads to killing); it’s also possible that their lingering eye contact was just a brief gag and their paths will soon diverge once more. But if you want to be optimistic about their chances, it’s worth remembering a scene from the books that hasn’t made it into the series so far:
Midway through A Dance With Dragons, a young woman named Alys Karstark arrives at the Wall. For complicated political reasons, it seems prudent to marry her off to an eligible bachelor, and since nobody in the Night’s Watch is allowed to take a wife, that duty falls to one of the wildlings, a Thenn called Sigorn. (The Thenns are slightly nicer in the books.) Their marriage becomes a symbol of the fragile new world that might be possible after the war, one where wildlings and southerners can live together in peace. When Jon asks her if she’s scared of her new husband, Alys gives one of the book’s best quotes: “Let him be afraid of me.”
Now, I’m not saying that Brienne and Tormund are definitely going to get married and live happily ever after. But can’t you see just Brienne saying something like that, too?