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Cregan Karstark is the eldest son of Arnolf Karstark. He has a younger brother, Arthor Karstark. Cregan has been married twice before, and Alys Karstark suspects he killed both his wives. Though he was a cousin, the children of his first cousin Lord Rickard Karstark, such as Alys, call him uncle.
After Rickard Karstark's execution by Robb Stark for murder and treason, Rickard's only surviving son Harrion Karstark becomes Lord of Karhold. However, they are a captive of the Lannisters. The heir to Karhold is Rickard's daughter Alys Karstark. Rickard's uncle Arnolf Karstark has been left as castellan of Karhold and believes he is its lord.
When Stannis Baratheon arrives in the North, he sends out messages to the Northern lords for support. The only "lord" to declare for him is Arnolf Karstark. However, Arnolf hopes that when news of this reaches the Lannisters his great-nephew Harrion will be executed. He plots to force Alys to marry Cregan, enabling his branch of the family to take over Karhold. Arnolf is working with the Boltons and plans to betray Stannis.
Alys finds out about her "uncle's'" plans and rides to the Wall to seek hope from Ned Stark's last surviving son, Jon Snow. She thinks once she has been forcibly married to Cregan and bears their child, he will kill her. Cregan pursues her with four mounted men-at-arms, a dog trainer, and a pack of hounds. Alys arrives at the Wall and reveals the Karstark plot, begging Jon to help her. Jon shelters her at Castle Black and arranges a new marriage to protect Alys, which Alys agrees to. This marriage is to the Sigorn, the new Magnar of Thenn, and protects Alys from being married to Cregan, will give her the forces she needs to retake her home, and aids in integrating the wildlings in the North. Alys and Sigorn willingly marry one another, forming the new house, House Thenn. Later, Cregan travels to Castle Black armed and with men so they can force Alys to come back with them against her will. However, he is met by Jon Snow and some of his rangers at Mole Town before Cregan can reach the Wall and claim guest right. One of the men loses a crossbow bolt and dies for it, the rest of Cregan's men surrender. Cregan and the four remaining men are imprisoned in ice cells.
Jon sends a letter to Stannis reporting the Karstark treachery. Cregan complains to Jon of guest right being violated, but Jon tells him they aren't guests, having come armed to Castle Black to take away Alys against her will and force her into marriage. Cregan claims she was promised to him but Jon says Arnolf is only a castellan, not a lord, and as such, has no right to make marriage pacts. Cregan accuses Jon of being a kinslayer, like his half-brother Robb, as Starks and Karstarks are kin. Jon gives Cregan the option of taking the Black to escape death, or wait for Stannis, who will likely hang him for his treachery. Cregan becomes more unstable over time, throwing his feces at the men. Due to snow burying the doors to the ice cells, Jon has the men moved out and imprisoned in the Lord Commander's tower so they do not freeze.
Stannis receives the warning and arrests Arnolf and the Karstarks with him, telling them they will die.