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Free folk

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Free folk or the wildlings as some call them
A motley gang of wildlings rushes into battle in the frozen northern tundra. - by Tomasz Jedruszek. © Fantasy Flight Games

The free folk are a race of people who live beyond the Wall. They are more commonly referred to as "wildlings" everywhere south of the Wall.

There are tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of free folk split into hundreds of cultures, tribes, clans, villages and raiding parties, some reasonably cultured, others savage and hostile. The free folk refer to themselves in that way to difference themselves from the "kneelers," the people south of the Wall, subject to lords and kings. The free folk view the "kneelers" as lacking freedom, whereas the people of the Seven Kingdoms to the south view the "wildlings" as lawless and primitive killers, rapists and thieves.

Contents

Culture

A free folk encampment - by Marc Simonetti ©

The Wall which separates the free folk from the rest of the Westeros in many ways defines them. Due to their isolation, they remain a free people, free of states, free of nobles, kings, and laws but those of their own choosing, following whatever leader they please.[1] They believe that the gods made the earth for all men to share and when the kings came with their crowns and their steel swords, they stole it - by claiming it was all theirs and theirs alone.[2]

Society

Their society is made of many tribes and clans, spread across hundreds of small villages, each with their own peculiarities and customs; some recognize chieftains, and others exist in a perpetual state of conflict, warring against each other and themselves. The free folk place importance in a man keeping his word. [3]

Technology

Most free folk have never made any considerable technological advancements. They are harsh people who live in harsh lands, although some are reasonably cultured, such as the Thenn people who live in tightly knit communities in the far north, or the people of Hardhome, which is the closest place the free folk have to a city. Some are semi-nomadic loners, held down only by their own needs. Raiders from the Frozen Shore or the more savage clans of the ice-river feed on the flesh of other men. There are even cave dwellers that dye their faces blue, purple and green.[1]

Laws

There is very little in the way of law or property rights in the lands of the free folk. They take what they can and keep what they can defend and have little interest in marriage.[1]

Languages

The free folk keep to the ways of the First Men, and though there are many languages beyond the Wall the Old Tongue of the First Men is the most common one.[4]

Enmities

The free folk do not hate northmen as much as they hate the "crows" of the Night's Watch, who represent the gate keepers holding them beyond the Wall. The free folk do not spare brothers of the Night's Watch, unless they break their oaths and prove it.[5] However, the two groups are not beyond some form of cooperation, as lost brothers have been aided by free folk and the Watch is not beyond taking free folk children and raising them to be members of the Watch.

Customs

Spearwives

In keeping with the spirit of free folk independence, women are welcome to take up arms and fight alongside men. Such women are called spearwives, and are known to be every bit as skilled and ferocious as their male counterparts.[6]

Marriage

In marriage, the men are expected to be quite forceful with women, going so far as stealing them from their home or clan. The women, in turn, are expected to put up a fight every step of the way.[1] It is believed that a true man will steal a woman from afar to strengthen the clan. Men must steal daughters, but not wives of other men. When the red wanderer is within the Moonmaid, it is considered a propitious time for a man to steal a woman.[7]

While "stealing" may be very different from the idealized courtly love of Westeros, at its core it establishes a male's strength and determination, as well as a female's independence and ability to defend herself.

Naming of a Child

Because infant mortality is common in the harsh environment Beyond the Wall, it is believed to be bad luck to name a child before he or she reaches two years of age. [8] A temporary milk name or nickname can be given to a child prior to the official naming.

Taboos

Women who wed brothers, fathers, or clan kin are believed to offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children.

Raiding

Free folk raiders scale the Wall. © FFG
Free Folk Raider by Mike S Miller ©
The Wildling Horde. © FFG

Raiding south of the Wall is a large part of free folk culture. Raiders start at a young age, as little as twelve years.[7] Raiders either climb the Wall or use little boats to cross the Bay of Seals around it. Climbing the height of the Wall is an exercise that can take most of a day and rangers often find the broken bodies of those who have fallen.[9]

To climb the Wall, the free folk use the aid of huge ladders of woven hemp, boots of supple doeskin spiked with iron, bronze, or jagged bone, small stone-headed hammers, stakes of iron and bone and horn, and antlers with sharpened tines bound to wooden hafts with strips of hide serving as ice axes.[9]

Over the decades, with the weakening of the Night's Watch, the free folk have found it much easier to either climb the Wall or paddle small boats through the Bay of Seals, growing bolder they raid as far as the Umber lands, the northern mountain clans or even Bear Island, instead of the usual villages and holdfasts in the Gift.

Raiders cross the Wall to steal swords and axes, spices, silks, furs, and any valuables they can find. They are known to take women in any season to carry them off beyond the Wall.[2]

Armament

See also: Armament

Most free folk warriors still wield weaponry forged of stone, wood, and bronze, such as stone axes and flails, fire-hardened spears and lances, and bows of wood and horn. Their bows are outranged by the yew longbows of the south, but can seemingly shoot an arrow as high as seven hundred feet.[10][4]

The free folk do not mine nor smelt and there are few smiths and fewer forges north of the Wall; the only metal armor that they wear are bits and pieces looted from dead rangers. Most will wear boiled leather or sewn sheepskins and use crude round shields of skin stretched over wicker, painting them with figures such as skulls and bones, serpents, bear claws, twisted demonic faces, and severed heads.[5][10][11]

The Thenns are more well-armed and armored than most free folk, with bronze helms, axes, short stabbing spears with leaf-shaped heads, shirts sewn with bronze discs, and plain unadorned shields of black boiled leather with bronze rims and bosses.

Free folk horses are surefooted, but scarce.

Recent Events

See also: Conflict Beyond the Wall

The free folk tribes have been unified under Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall, a former member of the Night's Watch who fled the Wall, betraying his sworn brothers. Mance gathered all the free folk around him and set them all on the move south to the Wall, fleeing from the Others.

Upon reaching the Wall the free folk attempt to breach the gates at Castle Black and are defeated, in what is later known as Battle of Castle Black, by the Night's Watch and the surprise appearance of Stannis Baratheon's army. Though many fighting men were lost, a large part of the host regathers around Tormund Giantsbane. Eventually, the free folk are allowed to pass through the Wall and settle in the Gift by the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow.

Notable Free Folk

Famous warlords styled King-beyond-the-Wall

Others

Quotes

These are a free folk indeed.[12]
- Jon Snow


“These are wildlings. Savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man.”
- Bowen Marsh


Now, a dog can heard a flock of sheep, but free folk, well, some are shadowcats and some are stones. One kind prowls where they please and will tear your dogs to pieces. The other will not move at all unless you kick them.[13]
Mance Rayder


Free folk and kneelers are more like than not, Jon Snow. Men are men and women women, no matter which side of the Wall we were born on. Good men and bad, heroes and villains, men of honor, liars, cravens, brutes ... we have plenty, as do you.[13]
- Val

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