Night's Watch

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The Wall by Marc Simonetti ©

The Night's Watch is a military order dedicated to holding the Wall, the immense fortification on the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, defending the realms of men from what lies beyond the Wall. The order's foundation dates back to the Age of Heroes, at the time when the Others were pushed back. The men of Night's Watch wear only black, and they are known as black brothers.[1] Recruits who join the Watch are said to take the black.[2]

Organization

Stewards are responsible for an assortment of critical functions
Builders maintaining the Wall
Rangers defend against wildlings and Others

Structure

Main articles: Stewards, Builders, and Rangers

The Night's Watch consists of three orders: rangers, builders, and stewards. All are subject to the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and each of the three orders is led by its own officer, the First Ranger, the First Builder, and the Lord Steward, respectively. These officers are appointed by the lord commander.[3]

  • Stewards are responsible for an assortment of critical functions, providing vital day-to-day services. They hunt and farm, tend horses, gather firewood, cook meals, make clothing, maintain weapons, and bring supplies needed by the Night's Watch from the South.[4] Like other members of the Watch, the stewards must be ready to fight at a moment's notice, and all have received at least basic combat training. Bowen Marsh serves as the Lord Steward or First Steward.
  • Builders are responsible for tending to and maintaining the Wall and its castles. The order provides masons, carpenters, miners, and woodsmen to this end.[4] Othell Yarwyck leads them as the First Builder.

Recruiters for the Night's Watch are called wandering crows.[3] The organization also includes septons, maesters, and, at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, sailors. Because brothers come from throughout the Seven Kingdoms or even Essos, there is an unspoken pact to not discuss politics or former loyalties.[3]

One blast of a sentry's horn represents returning rangers,[5][6] while two are used for wildlings[7] and three for Others.[8] Two long blasts followed by a short one are used as a call to mount horses.[8]

Leadership

The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is the final authority and oversees the entire order. Any man of the Night's Watch can be nominated to be the lord commander. A lord commander serves in office until the day he dies, when a replacement is elected by the men of the Watch.

At Castle Black, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont is advised by First Ranger Benjen Stark, First Builder Othell Yarwyck, and Lord Steward Bowen Marsh. He also entrusts leadership to Ser Jarman Buckwell, Ser Mallador Locke, Ser Jaremy Rykker, Thoren Smallwood, and Ser Ottyn Wythers.[9][10] Ser Denys Mallister is the commander at the Shadow Tower, while Cotter Pyke has command at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Maesters advising the senior leadership are Aemon at Castle Black, Mullin at the Shadow Tower, and Harmune at Eastwatch.[10]

The majority of the officers and leadership of the Watch are pulled from the upper crust of Westerosi society. A noble or knighted man is almost guaranteed a position as an officer in the Watch, but there are several powerful and influential brothers that are of common blood as well, such as the senior rangers Qhorin Halfhand, Blane, and Cotter Pyke, a bastard-born pirate. The Watch, as a meritocracy, is one of the few places in feudal Westeros where a common man can rise high and even gain command over knights and lords, rising as far as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.

Recruitment

New recruits being marched to the Wall - by Tim Truman. © FFG

Once, serving on the Wall was honor and a sign of selfless devotion to duty, with many knights, honorable men, and nobles taking the black voluntarily. The Night's Watch is now often seen only as a way to avoid punishment, suitable less for knights than for the dregs of Westeros. These men are salvaged from dungeons by traveling recruiters known as wandering crows. Disgraced nobles, bastards, and even the unwanted legitimate offspring of nobles are “encouraged” to take the black, making many of today’s Watch a surly and dissatisfied lot.

Those who come voluntarily are free to leave during any time of their training, but no man may leave after he has said vows. Any deserters are sentenced to death. After taking the vows, the men of the Watch cannot own any land, marry, or father children. Men are also encouraged to sever any ties left with their families, if they are lucky enough to have one.

Men of the Night's Watch are garbed all in black, a tradition that earned them the nickname "crows",[11] particularly among the free folk, who often call them "black crows."[12][13] While some use this name derogatorily, many in the Night's Watch have adopted the term for their own use.[14] They are also called the "black brothers",[1] and in song they have been called the "black knights of the Wall."[15]

Vows

I am the sword in the darkness. © FFG

When recruits are considered ready to take the black, they say their vows either in a sept or before a heart tree. The vows are as follows:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.[16]

Brothers of the Night's Watch serve for life.[17] It is customary to finish a black brother's eulogy with the words, "And now his watch is ended."[18] Castle Black contains a lichyard,[19] and knights can be laid to rest in ancient tombs near the lichyard or burned on a pyre.[20]

Military Strength

The numbers of the Night's Watch have long been dwindling.[21] During Aegon's Conquest, the Night's Watch numbered ten thousand strong.[22] However, by 298 AC, their strength has dwindled to less than a thousand.[9] Of these thousand, six hundred are stationed at Castle Black, two hundred at the Shadow Tower, and fewer at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.[9]

In late 233 AC, when Ser Brynden Rivers was sent to the Wall, two hundred men went with him. Many of them were archers from Rivers's personal guard, the Raven's Teeth.[23]

Possessions

Castles of the Night's Watch

Abandoned Stronghold of the Night's Watch by Marc Simonetti ©

The Night's Watch raised nineteen castles to guard the hundred leagues of the Wall, although they have never manned more than seventeen at one time.[24] Today only three of them are maintained by an ever dwindling force. The castles themselves are closer to garrisons, composed mostly of barracks, stables, storehouses, towers and out-buildings, as they have no walls of their own (other than the Wall itself). They were purposefully built this way so the Watch could man only the Wall itself and focus on threats from the north. The Night's Watch feared no attack from the south because of their vow not to take part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms.[25][26]

Due to manpower shortages, the Watch only mans the Shadow Tower, Castle Black, and Eastwatch.[9] Patrols between the castles used to be more regular, but as the manpower of the Night's Watch diminished, so did the number of patrols.[27] Now the Watch uses mules to ride atop the Wall, as the paths have not been graveled between the older castles in many years. The mules are bred at Eastwatch and are specially trained for their duties.[27]

Castles along the Wall and the surrounding area

The castles are listed from west to east:

The Gift and the New Gift

The Gift is a tract of land measuring twenty-five leagues southward from the Wall that the Night's Watch received from King Brandon Stark of the north. For years the Watch farmed the Gift, but as their numbers dwindled there were fewer hands to plow the fields, tend the bees and plant the orchards, so the wild reclaimed much of the area. Wishing to restore the Night's Watch and reward its loyal service in defense of the realm, Queen Alysanne Targaryen, wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, doubled the extent of the Gift. Towns and villages that were located within the "New Gift" supported the Night's Watch with their taxes, rendered by goods and labor. In time, the New Gift lost population as people moved south, into the mountains or into the Umber lands east of the kingsroad to avoid wildling raids, further reducing the support structure for the Night's Watch and the Wall.[24]

The nearest point of civilization to Castle Black is Mole's Town, a subterranean settlement whose brothel is frequently patronized by brothers of the Night's Watch.

Ships

The Night's Watch employs a small fleet at Eastwatch. Known ships include Blackbird, Storm Crow, and Talon.[30]

History

The Long Night

The Night's Watch is one of the oldest orders in the Seven Kingdoms, as it survived the fall of the kingdoms of the First Men, the Andal invasion, and Aegon's Conquest. It was founded over eight thousand years ago, at the end of the Long Night. Under cover of an endless night that lasted for a generation, the Others invaded from the Lands of Always Winter, laying waste to much of Westeros. The Others were finally defeated by the Night's Watch at the Battle for the Dawn, which is recalled in "The Night That Ended".[31] The Wall was allegedly built by Bran the Builder in order to protect the Seven Kingdoms,[32] with the brothers of the Night's Watch choosing their own Lord Commander since that time.[33] During the Age of Heroes it was also recorded that the children of the forest gave the Night's Watch a hundred obsidian daggers every year.[19]

Other than the corrupting of the thirteenth Lord Commander, the so-called Night's King, further attacks by the Others never came, however. Instead, the most frequent attacks came from the wildlings, sometimes led by their Kings-Beyond-the-Wall, and their constant attempts at raiding in the north.[21] Little by little, the Night's Watch forgot that its main mission was not the fight against the wildlings, but against the Others.[18]

Hundred Kingdoms

The Night's Watch built nineteen castles along the hundred leagues of the Wall. At the zenith of its power, the Watch had seventeen of the castles manned,[34] with at least ten thousand men between them. Castle Black alone once quartered five thousand fighting men with all their horses, servants, and equipment.[25] The highborn of the north have traditionally considered it an honor to serve on the Wall. Many younger sons of northern houses, low in the line of succession, gladly took the black. Shields of nobles from the Hundred Kingdoms of Westeros were proudly displayed in the Shieldhall at Castle Black.[20]

Six kings were sent to the Wall after Nymeria's War and the unification of Dorne by House Martell.[35]

House Targaryen

The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were invaded by the Targaryens during Aegon's Conquest. Although Lord Commander Hoare was the brother of King Harren the Black, the lord commander maintained the neutrality of the ten thousand black brothers under his command, even when Harren died during the burning of Harrenhal.[22] King Aegon I Targaryen became Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and ruled from the Iron Throne in King's Landing. Queen Visenya Targaryen modeled the vows of the newly-created Kingsguard on those of the Night's Watch.[36]

In the aftermath of the Dance of the Dragons, twenty-two men were arrested by Lord Cregan Stark for the death for King Aegon II Targaryen. During this Hour of the Wolf, nineteen of them, led by Ser Perkin the Flea, were sent to the Wall by Cregan, with only Lord Corlys Velaryon being spared and Ser Gyles Belgrave and Lord Larys Strong instead choosing death.[37]

Guilty of treason after the Third Blackfyre Rebellion, Ser Aegor Rivers was commanded by King Aerys I Targaryen to take the black. Bittersteel was freed en route to the Wall, however, and he fled to the Free Cities.[38] Bittersteel's rival, Lord Brynden Rivers, was sent to the Wall by King Aegon V Targaryen after the murder of Aenys Blackfyre.[23] Bloodraven, many of his Raven's Teeth, and prisoners from the dungeons formed the two hundred men who accompanied Maester Aemon, Aegon's elder brother, to the Wall.[39][23]

The manpower of the Night's Watch has decreased more and more, a process begun before the Conquest.[21] Most of Westeros neglects the Wall. Only the north, particularly the Starks, have the memory of the old days, but even they believe the Others are no more than vague figures in stories told to frighten children.[32] The Starks resented King Jaehaerys I Targaryen granting the New Gift to the Watch.[40] The black brothers arrived late at Long Lake, where the King-Beyond-the-Wall Raymun Redbeard was defeated by the Starks and Umbers.[41]

House Targaryen fell during Robert's Rebellion. Following the Sack of King's Landing, Lord Tywin Lannister gave loyalists such as Ser Alliser Thorne and Ser Jaremy Rykker the options of execution or taking the black.[9]

House Baratheon

By the reign of King Robert I Baratheon, only three castles remain in use—Castle Black, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and the Shadow Tower—and the Night's Watch's numbers have dwindled to fewer than a thousand men.[9] The Night's Watch is now largely made up of the misfits of the Seven Kingdoms: bastards, debtors, killers, outlaws, peasants, poachers, rapers, thieves, etc.[42][16] Only a few of the noble and knightly houses south of the Neck have members in the Night's Watch, and most serve because they fell afoul of political machinations or fought on the wrong side of a war. However, there have been fewer wars since Aegon's Conquest.[43]

The Warden of the North, Lord Eddard Stark, and the First Ranger, Eddard's brother Benjen, have discussed settling new lords in abandoned holdfasts of the Gift if the lord commander, Jeor Mormont, approves.[28][44] Skeptical of the Night's Watch, some wise men have suggested that the lords of the north should be granted the lands beyond the Wall and tasked with defending against wildlings.[21]

According to Grand Maester Pycelle the Wall is a world apart, and news oft reaches them late.[45] Stories of the Night's Watch are collected in Archmaester Harmune's Watchers on the Wall.[46]

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

While ranging in the haunted forest, Ser Waymar Royce is slain by Others. After rising as a wight, Waymar's body slays Will.[1] Gared flees south of the Wall but is executed for desertion by Lord Eddard Stark, the Warden of the North.[47]

Jon Snow[25] and Samwell Tarly[48] join the Night's Watch as stewards,[16] while First Ranger Benjen Stark, Jon's uncle and Eddard's younger brother, disappears beyond the Wall.[48] The lord commander, Jeor Mormont, asks Tyrion Lannister for aid from the Iron Throne.[9] Two slain brothers, Othor and Jafer Flowers, rise as wights at Castle Black, but Jon saves Jeor during the night.[5] Jeor rewards Jon with a Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw.[22]

Jon's father, Eddard, is imprisoned in the dungeons of the Red Keep after the death of King Robert I Baratheon.[49] If Eddard admits to treason, Lord Varys and Queen Regent Cersei Lannister agree that Eddard can join the Night's Watch.[50] King Joffrey I Baratheon surprises the small council, however, by instead ordering Eddard's execution at the Great Sept of Baelor.[50] Eddard's bannermen respond by proclaiming his heir, Robb Stark, as King in the North.[51]

Jon attempts to desert so he can aid his brother Robb in the south, but his friends in the Watch convince him to return to Castle Black.[52] A great ranging is planned north of the Wall to search for Benjen, deal with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder, and learn about the Others.[52]

A Clash of Kings

Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, personally leads the great ranging of two hundred men from Castle Black, which is joined by a hundred men from the Shadow Tower.[3] After visiting Whitetree[53] and Craster's Keep,[13] they fortify the Fist of the First Men within the haunted forest as their base.[54] Jon Snow is part of a ranging party attacked by wildlings, and Qhorin Halfhand convinces Jon to kill him and thereby infiltrate the wildlings.[55][56]

The wandering crow Yoren leads a party of recruits, including a disguised Arya Stark, from King's Landing. Most are slain near the Gods Eye, however.[11]

Ser Alliser Thorne is sent to King's Landing with the hand of a wight,[57][58] but the hand rots and Tyrion, the acting Hand of the King, ridicules Alliser's story.[59]

A Storm of Swords

Jon Snow is spared by Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall,[60] and the youth begins sleeping with a wildling, Ygritte.[61]

Chett conspires against Lord Commander Mormont at the Fist.[6] An army of wights overwhelm the Watch in the fight at the Fist, and the survivors retreat to Craster's Keep.[6][8] Jeor and Craster are slain during the mutiny at Craster's Keep, however.[18] Of three hundred men sent on the great ranging, only fourteen survive and return to the Wall.[62]

Jon escapes the wildling raiding party and informs the small number of brothers at Castle Black of Mance's plan to attack the Wall.[62] Jon and Donal Noye defend against the attack on Castle Black by Styr's Thenns,[26] while Bowen Marsh commands in a fight at the Bridge of Skulls.[63] The Watch and Stannis Baratheon join forces to defeat the wildlings in the battle beneath the Wall.[64]

When the Watch chooses a new lord commander to replace the late Jeor Mormont, a total of 588 votes are cast, indicating that after the losses during the great ranging and the defense of the Wall, the Watch numbers less than six hundred men.[63] Jon Snow is chosen after several rounds of voting.[65]

A Feast for Crows

Jon sends Maester Aemon to Oldtown to protect him from Melisandre, and the lord commander instructs Sam to learn at the Citadel.[19] Jon names Dareon a wandering crow to replace the missing Yoren.[39] Dareon deserts in Braavos, however, and is murdered by Arya Stark.[66]

A Dance with Dragons

There are plans to re-garrison the Nightfort and many of the other castles. The question of who will be responsible for the remanned castles is a point of tension between Jon and King Stannis Baratheon.[67] Jon beheads Janos Slynt for insubordination.[68]

Many of the brothers are disconcerted by Jon allowing wildlings to pass through the Wall and garrison the empty castles.[69][70][71][72] Jon arranges the marriage of Alys Karstark to Sigorn of the Thenns.[7] The lord commander sends Cotter Pyke on a dangerous mission to rescue wildlings at Hardhome.[73] Jon asks for volunteers to march on Winterfell after receiving a threatening letter from Ramsay Bolton, but the lord commander is then stabbed by brothers in the mutiny at Castle Black.[20]

Notable Members

Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander - by Marc Fishman ©

Recent Lords Commander

  • Lord Jeor Mormont, 997th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, known as "the Old Bear." Towards the end of his tenure, he becomes increasingly worried as more rangers are lost beyond the Wall, including First Ranger Benjen Stark. Also, there are more reports coming in of wildlings either fleeing south or gathering in large numbers to escape or meet some threat. After an attempt to investigate in force, most of the brothers who go with him are killed at the fight at the Fist. Following this staggering loss, jeor is murdered by his own rangers during the mutiny at Craster's Keep.
  • Lord Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.

Past Lords Commander

Brothers

See also: Members of the Night's Watch, for a complete list
  • Benjen Stark, First Ranger and younger brother to Lord Eddard Stark. Missing beyond the Wall and thought dead.
  • Blane, a senior ranger of common blood, scout and second to Qhorin Halfhand. Killed while in command of the Shadow Tower Men during the fight at the Fist.
  • Bowen Marsh, Lord Steward of the Night's Watch. Leads a successful but costly defense in the fight at the Bridge of Skulls.
  • Chett, former steward to Maester Aemon until Samwell Tarly is raised to the post. Sent to the pens to take care of the dogs. He conspires to kill Jeor Mormont at the Fist of the First Men, but is slain and turned into a wight.
  • Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
  • Donal Noye, one-armed blacksmith at Castle Black. He was personal blacksmith to House Baratheon and made Robert's warhammer before losing an arm during the siege of Storm's End. He dies killing Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg in the tunnel underneath the Wall during the attack on Castle Black.
  • Eddison Tollett, a steward, called "Dolorous Edd" for his sarcastic and black humor.
  • Jarmen Buckwell, a senior ranger. Survives the fight at the Fist and retreats back to Castle Black.[62]
  • Ser Denys Mallister, commander at the Shadow Tower.
  • Janos Slynt, former commander of the City Watch of King's Landing, later Lord of Harrenhal, and finally a brother of the Night's Watch. A political lackey of House Lannister, he is exiled to the Wall by Tyrion Lannister, who wants to rid King's Landing of corruption and himself of Lord Slynt. Tyrion's father, Lord Tywin Lannister, later tries to make Janos a tool of House Lannister in the Watch, and nearly turns the election for a new lord commander in Janos's favor. After Jon Snow's election to the post, Janos's continued insubordination leads Jon to behead him.
  • Maester Aemon, maester of Castle Black and one of the last Targaryens. Dies of old age at sea with Samwell Tarly.
  • Ser Mallador Locke, knight and ranger. Killed during the fight at the Fist.
  • Othell Yarwyck, First Builder of the Night's Watch.
  • Qhorin Halfhand, second-in-command at the Shadow Tower and a ranger of much repute. He allows Jon Snow to kill him so that Jon will be accepted among the wildlings.
  • Thoren Smallwood, acting First Ranger after Benjen Stark's disappearance. Killed by a wight bear during the fight at the Fist.
  • Samwell Tarly, son of renowned battle commander Randyll Tarly. Obese and an admitted coward. Sent by Lord Commander Jon Snow to the Citadel for study.
  • Grenn, a recruit with Jon who is assigned to the rangers.
  • Pypar, more commonly known as Pyp, recruit with Jon, originally with a mummers' troupe.
  • Dareon, a recruit in the same group as Jon and is named a steward sent to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. He was an apprentice singer in the Reach. While in Braavos he deserts but is killed by Arya Stark.
  • Todder, more commonly known as Toad, is a recruit in the same group as Jon, named a ranger.
  • Jeren is a recruit in the same group as Jon Snow and is named a steward. He was the bastard son of a septon.
  • Halder, also known as Stoney, is a recruit in the same group as Jon Snow and is named a builder. Incredibly strong.
  • Albett, also known as Pimple, is a recruit in the same group as Jon Snow and is named a builder.
  • Satin is a recruit of the Night's Watch after Jon. He becomes Jon's steward and squire.
  • Ser Jaremy Rykker, a senior ranger and knight. Killed by a wight at Castle Black.
  • Ser Waymar Royce, novice ranger and knight, slain by an Other.
  • Ser Wynton Stout, an elderly ranger.
  • Small Paul, a simple-minded brother. He is part of a conspiracy to kill Jeor Mormont until the brothers are attacked at the Fist of the First Men. He saves Samwell Tarly, but is slain and returns as a wight.
  • Stonesnake, ranger from the Shadow Tower. Companion to Qhorin Half-Hand and the most accomplished mountain climber in the Watch. Missing and presumed dead after trying to cross the Frostfangs alone and on foot.
  • Ulmer, a grey-bearded outlaw, once part of the Kingswood Brotherhood. Skilled with a bow.
  • Yoren, senior "wandering crow" or recruiter for the Watch. He attempts to smuggle Arya Stark to the north, but is killed at the Gods Eye fighting Lannister men under Amory Lorch who are searching for the outlaw Beric Dondarrion.

Quotes

The Night's Watch is a shadow of what it once was.[74]


On the Wall, a man gets only what he earns.[25]


Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay.[32]

Robb Stark to Yoren and his Sworn Brothers


The men who formed the Night’s Watch knew that only their courage shielded the realm from the darkness to the north ... We all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor. Yet soon or late in every man’s life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose ... It hurts, boy.Oh, yes. Choosing ... it has always hurt. And always will. I know.[22]


I could rise high in the Watch—chief of rangers, likely even Lord Commander ... If I served at Eastwatch, I could command my own ship, and there's fine hunting beyond the Wall. As for women, what wildling woman wouldn't want a prince in her bed? A black cloak can't be turned. I'd be as good as any man ...[75]

—thoughts of Theon Greyjoy


The Night's Watch is a pack of thieves, killers, and baseborn churls.[45]


This castle's been my home for forty years. You say I'm free to go, but where? I'm too old and too stout to make a hedge knight. But men are always welcome at the Wall.[76]


The Night's Watch needed leaders with the wisdom of Maester Aemon, the learning of Samwell Tarly, the courage of Qhorin Halfhand, the stubborn strength of the Old Bear, the compassion of Donal Noye.[20]

—thoughts of Jon Snow

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  74. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 4, Eddard I.
  75. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 66, Theon VI.
  76. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei V.

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