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.
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. 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.
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. 
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.  A temporary milk name or nickname can be given to a child prior to the official naming.
Women who wed brothers, fathers, or clan kin are believed to offend the gods, and are cursed with weak and sickly children.
Raiding south of the Wall is a large part of free folk culture. Raiders start at a young age, as little as twelve years. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Raymun Redbeard
- Bael the Bard
- the Horned King
- the brothers Gendel and Gorne
- the legendary Joramun
- Mance Rayder, captured after the Battle of Castle Black and allegedly burned at the stake by Stannis Baratheon.
- Craster, held a keep near the Wall and gave begrudging aid to rangers. Murdered along with Lord Commander Jeor Mormont by rangers after the Battle of the Fist of the First Men.
- Dalla, wife of Mance Rayder. Died in childbirth during the Battle of Castle Black.
- Harma, called "Dogshead", an infamous female raider and cynophobe. Killed during the Battle of Castle Black.
- The Lord of Bones, mocked by rangers (and some free folk) as "Rattleshirt", a sadistic raider who wears armor made of bone. Captured after the Battle of Castle Black.
- Orell, a raider and skinchanger. He was killed by Jon Snow while his mind inhabited an eagle. A part of his consciousness became permanently trapped in the eagle, causing it to hate Jon Snow.
- Osha, free folk woman taken captive by forces of House Stark south of the Wall. Spared execution in exchange for service, she became a guardian and companion to Rickon Stark.
- Styr, the Magnar of Thenn, chieftain of the Thenns, a warlike free folk tribe. Killed during the Battle of Castle Black.
- Tormund, known as "Giantsbane", among many other things, a raider prone to tall tales.
- Val, sister of Dalla. Imprisoned after the Battle of Castle Black. Became known as the "Wildling Princess" due to her regal beauty.
- Varamyr "Sixskins", a diminutive skinchanger who is accompanied by three wolves, a snowbear and a shadowcat. After Orell's death, Varamyr took control of his eagle and used it to scout during the battle of Castle Black. Melisandre killed the eagle while Varamyr inhabited it, causing him to go mad.
- Ygritte, red-haired lover to Jon Snow. Killed in the Battle of Castle Black.
- The Weeper, an infamous wildling raider.
These are a free folk indeed.
- Jon Snow
“These are wildlings. Savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man.”
References and Notes
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 15, Jon II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 41, Jon V.
- SSM:WILDLINGS IN THE NORTH (April 23, 2001)
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 64, Jon VIII.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 68, Jon VIII.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 51, Jon VI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 26, Jon III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 46, Samwell III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 30, Jon IV.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 55, Jon VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 7, Jon I, p 75.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 21, Jon V.