Game of Thrones Lore - Free Folk
Also known as the derogatory term “wildings” by people of the Seven Kingdoms, the Free Folk were those who lived Beyond the Wall on the continent of Westeros. Their name made reference to their society as they recognised no inherent or hereditary leader, only following those they chose to. The Free Folk were usually divided into many different rival clans, but occasionally they united behind a single over-chieftain known as the King Beyond the Wall, as they were under Mance Rayder. Although they and the men of the Night’s Watch were bitter enemies, they threw away their hatred towards one another to unite against a common enemy, the White Walkers…
The Free Folk, like the inhabitants of the North, descended from the First Men, and were unlucky enough to find themselves on the wrong side of the Wall when it was constructed around eight millennia before the War of the Five Kings. Aside from their ethnic heritage, the Free Folk and the Northerners also shared many cultural similarities. Just like how those in the North came under some cultural influence from their Andal neighbours, who invaded Southern Westeros around six thousand years before Robert’s Rebellion, the Free Folk lived a very similar lifestyle and adopted many habits of how the First Men lived. Over the ages, those to the South of the Seven Kingdoms largely forgot why the Wall was constructed in the first place, believing it was emplaced to safeguard them from the savage and barbaric wildlings. However, the Night’s Watch never forgot the Wall’s purpose, which was to defend the realm from the return of the near-mythical White Walkers. However, because the race had not made an appearance for almost eight millennia, the Night’s Watch shifted their focus to preventing the wildlings from crossing south of the Wall, sending out patrols into the wilderness every so often to keep track of wildling movements. The shift of focus also reduced the stature of the Night’s Watch, going from a band of honourable warriors to a dumping ground for exiled criminals. Despite the hatred that built between the Free Folk and the organisation, Jon Snow, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, made the much hated decision to allow the wildlings past the Wall so that they wouldn’t fall to the White Walkers, ultimately boosting the near-mythical race’s numbers. Jon Snow was ultimately killed by some members of the Night’s Watch as a result of his “betrayal”. But, after his resurrection, the Free Folk chose to repay his loyalty by marching to Winterfell to fight against those who betrayed Jon’s family, knowing to defeat the White Walkers the North had to be united.
The Free Folk consisted of many different tribes, some of which were reasonably refined, whilst others were savage and hostile. Each faction didn’t share the same cultures and practices as the next, and they even spoke different languages. During the times that they were not unified by a King Beyond the Wall, the different clans spent much of their time fighting one another over petty squabbles, though many became bitter enemies of one another. By the time of the War of the Five Kings, there were around ninety different clans or tribes. Some of the clans or groups were: semi-nomadic hunters from the vast Haunted Forest, White Tree, Craster’s Keep, the Thenn, the communities of the Frozen Shore, the Hornfoots, the Ice-river clans, and the Cave people. The non-human race of giants who lived Beyond the Wall had also rallied with Mance Rayder when he became King Beyond the Wall. As a result, they were loosely considered part of the “wildlings”. Those south of the Wall generally believed giants to be entirely mythical creatures and were unaware they lived north of the Wall.
The Free Folk worshipped the Old Gods of the Forest, just like their distant cousins of the North. Surprisingly, when the Free Folk went on raids south of the Wall, women joined in. Such women were known as spearwives. Because the Free Folk chose to follow who they wanted to, they never kneeled their ruler or referred to them as “your Grace”, and they mocked those south of the Wall for doing just the opposite, referring to them as “kneelers”. But without a central authority, the Free Folk were so free that they never established any laws. A man kept what he could take, and continued to hold what he could defend. Lastly, the Free Folk did not bury their dead, rather burning them instead. The choice was not for religious purposes; it was simply done so to prevent the White Walkers from resurrecting the deceased as wights. But if there was no fire available, the Free Folk would dismember or decapitate the corpse so that it wouldn’t be a very useful wight.
Now it’s time for this week’s question: do you agree with Jon Snow’s decision to bring the Wildlings south of the Wall? Let me know in the comments below.