The Seven Kingdoms are becoming even more massive and sprawling in season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Several important “players” join “the game” next year, but perhaps the most pivotal (certainly, one of the more powerful) character roles has remained unfilled – that of Mance Rayder, leader of the Free Folk north of the Wall, and self-proclaimed “King-Beyond-the-Wall.”

Reports are in that Rayder’s throne will be occupied by Irish character actor Ciarán Hinds, who previously appeared on HBO’s Rome TV series as Gaius Julius Caesar. Hinds has more recently shown up in supporting capacity in such films as The Debt, The Rite, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Woman in Black, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and John Carter (as Tardos Mors, the “Red King of Mars”).

EW confirms that Hinds has secured the role of Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones Season 3. The actor joins fellow Rome alum Tobias Menzies, along with numerous other series newcomers who were introduced via a video montage during the Game of Thrones Comic-Con 2012 panel (click on that link to watch said clip).

The character, Mance Rayder, was born a Wildling before he was handed over and raised by the Night Watch as a child. He eventually become an admired ranger, but grew tired of the Order’s customs and traditions – leading him to abandon his post and seek refuge with the Wildlings beyond the Wall. Many years later, Rayder re-emerged as a heralded warrior who had successfully united most of the Wildling tribes under his command, despite being an ordinary-looking man with a broad chest and long, greying hair (as described by series creator, George R.R. Martin).

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR GAME OF THRONES SEASON 2!!!

Game of Thrones viewers may recall numerous off-hand references to Mance throughout the first two seasons, from such characters as Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) and Osha (Natalia Tena). The most overt mention of his name was during the season two finale, with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) being escorted to meet the Wildlings’ king – after convincing his captors that he is a traitor to the Watch’s cause by slaying his fellow prisoner/comrade Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong).

Jon Snow meets the 'King-Beyond-the-Wall' in 'Game of Thrones' S3

Rumors about who would portray Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones S3 have been circulating for a while, with fans pushing for such actors as James Purefoy (another Rome alum), Ray Stevenson (Thor), and Tony Curran (The Pillars of the Earth) – in addition to Hinds and Mads Mikkelsen, the latter of which headlines this fall’s new Hannibal TV series. Most of these stars already have other projects taking up their time, but that didn’t stop die-hard GoT followers from showing their support.

Hinds is arguably the weakest physical-fit for the role out of that list of fan-backed candidates (though, there are surely others); not to mention, he has more experience at portraying regal figures who favor brains-over-brawn, whereas Rayder is someone who calls for equal amounts of the two qualities. Nonetheless, Hinds has excellent dramatic chops – and, as it turns out, there’s long been a significant (if small) portion of the GoT fanbase pushing for him to snag the role.

Do you like the casting of Hinds as Mance Rayder? Let us know in the comments section.

Games of Thrones Season 3 begins airing on HBO on March 31st, 2013.

Source: EW