Game of Thrones season 8 still needs to introduce one more important character: Howland Reed. The HBO fantasy series will end with its upcoming eighth season, where the focus will very much be on killing characters off rather than introducing them. However, even at this stage of its endgame, the show still needs to expand certain elements.
The final season of Game of Thrones will primarily center around the battle between the living and the dead. The Night King and his army are on the march, which will lead to at least one battle - at Winterfell - and perhaps another further South. But amidst of all of this fighting, there’s also the not-so-small matter of Jon Snow’s parentage to resolve, and that’s where Howland Reed could and indeed should come into play.
Reed is a crannogmen of the Neck, the boggy lands the divide the North from the rest of Westeros. He met Ned Stark at the fabled Tourney at Harrenhal - a key event on the road to Robert’s Rebellion - where he was attacked by three squires. He was saved by Lyanna Stark, and the knights the squires served were defeated the next day by a mysterious entrant into the Tourney (known as the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and believed to be Lyanna herself). Howland was introduced to the Starks, and he and Ned went on to become best friends. Prior to that, he had also spent an entire winter on the Isle of Faces, where the pact between the Children of the Forest and First Men was made (this could be important too, since he might've learned some ancient truths, but there's much less time to fit this in now).
As had been theorized for years, and was finally confirmed across seasons 6 & 7 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard. Instead, he’s the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms. The only problem is, Ned’s long dead, and he never told anyone the truth about Jon’s birth, ensuring he kept the promise he made to Lyanna on her deathbed. But Howland was there with Ned at the Tower of Joy. He went with him to Dorne to rescue Lyanna, and they left with a baby boy.
Samwell Tarly (with help from Gilly’s research) can prove that Rhaegar and Lyanna were wed in the eyes of the Gods, but there’s no historical documentation of Jon’s birth to go with that. It’s a much harder thing to prove, given the lack of tangible evidence. The knowledge of Jon’s real parentage comes through Bran, who saw it thanks to his visions as the Three-Eyed Raven. And that might be enough to convince some, but for Westeros as a whole - and for Daenerys, who has spent years believing the Iron Throne is rightfully hers - it’s going to take more second-hand information by way of magic.
Bran, as far as we know, cannot prove his visions. Sure, he’ll have knowledge that surpasses what’s in the history books, but it’s still asking the people of Westeros to trust in a crippled boy who disappeared beyond the Wall, lived in a tree, and was long thought to be dead. Howland Reed, on the other hand, was known to have traveled to the Tower of Joy with Ned. He’s someone who can give a full, trustworthy account of what he saw. His presence is accepted fact, and given that he’s spent 20 years keeping Ned’s secret, not even telling his children of his role in Robert’s Rebellion, he’d have absolutely no reason to lie now.
This is why fans of both the books and show have been expecting Howland Reed's arrival in Game of Thrones for so long. He’s been curiously absent from the story for such a potentially important figure. In the show, we did see a younger version fighting at the Tower alongside Ned. But otherwise, he’s never appeared in the main storyline, instead content to send his children, Jojen and Meera, to Bran’s aid while he stays at home in Greywater Watch, where he’s been ever since the war ended.
As the only person still alive who was there for the legendary Tower of Joy scene where Lyanna died, it would be strange for Howland Reed to have no impact on Westeros' future. Back in 2003, George R.R. Martin said that Howland - along with the likes of Littlefinger and Varys - would never be a point-of-view character because he knows too much, further confirming how game-changing he could be. It would be great to see the Tourney at Harrenhal on screen, but the more pressing issue is the present day. When the fighting is done - and assuming he survives - then Howland Reed can be sent for (or come forth himself) to confirm what Bran and Sam are saying. He can prove that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and the person who should be sitting on the Iron Throne. That makes Howland undoubtedly the most important character yet to be revealed in Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones returns for its final season on April 14 on HBO.