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.

Contents

History

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, following the Andal invasion, and the War of Conquest. It was founded over 8,000 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, until the Others were finally defeated by the Night's Watch at the Battle for the Dawn. After having pushed back the threat, the Wall was allegedly built by Bran the Builder in order to protect the Seven Kingdoms, should the Others ever return. 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.[1]

Other than the corrupting of the thirteenth Lord Commander, the "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, and their constant attempts at raiding in the North. Little by little, the Night's Watch began to forget that its main mission was not the fight against the wildlings, but against the Others. As the years came and went, the purpose of the Watch became less and less obvious, and its manpower decreased more and more, with most of Westeros neglecting 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.

The Night's Watch has built nineteen castles along the hundred leagues of the Wall. At the zenith of its power, the Watch had seventeen of the castles manned, with over ten thousand men-at-arms between them. Castle Black alone quartered five thousand fighting men with all their horses, servants, and equipment. 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 were proudly displayed in the Shieldhall at Castle Black. By 297AC, however, only three castles remain in use and the Night's Watch's numbers have dwindled to fewer than a thousand men. The Night's Watch is now largely made up of the misfits of the Seven Kingdoms: peasants, debtors, poachers, rapers, thieves, and bastards. 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 War of Conquest and the subjugation of the Seven Kingdoms to the Iron Throne.[2]

According to Maester Pycelle the Wall is a world apart, and news oft reaches them late.[3]

Organization

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

Structure

The Night's Watch consists of three orders: Rangers, Builders, and Stewards. All of them are subject to the Lord Commander and each of the three orders is led by its own officer, called First Ranger, First Builder, and First Steward, respectively. These officers are appointed by the Lord Commander.[4]

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 new Lord Commander is elected by the men of the Watch. It is strongly suggested that the Lord Commander is usually a ranger. This may be gainsaid by a passage in A Game of Thrones, in which Jon Snow is appointed a steward and not, to his disappointment, a ranger, and assigned as the personal steward of the current Lord Commander. His peers take it for granted that this means Snow is being groomed for leadership. A combination of these two theories may indicate a "fast track," where suitable candidates for Lord Commander may be placed to give them experience in each of the three disciplines, regardless of which they are initially placed. Ultimately though, the position of Lord Commander is filled by an election, so no one, even fast-tracked, can be guaranteed it.

The majority of the officers and leadership of the Watch are pulled from the upper crust of Westerosi society. An aristocratic 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 the Half-Hand, Blane, and Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and 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. Today, the Night’s Watch is beginning to be seen as only a way to avoid punishment; suitable less for knights now than for the dregs of Westeros, salvaged from dungeons by traveling recruiters. 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're lucky enough to have one.

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

Vows

I am the sword in the darkness. © FFG

When the 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.[7]

It is customary to finish a black brother's eulogy with the words, "And now his watch is ended."

Military Strength

During the time of Aegon's conquest, the Watch is stated to have about ten thousand men. Around year 298AC, the Watch has dwindled to less than a thousand men, and the quality of recruits has declined as well. During the beginning of year 300AC, when the Watch chooses a new Lord Commander, a total of 588 votes are cast, indicating that after the losses during the great ranging, the Watch numbers just six hundred men.[8]

Possessions

Abandoned Stronghold of the Night's Watch by Marc Simonetti ©
Castles along the wall and the surrounding area

Castles of the Night's Watch

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. Today only few 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.

Presently, due to manpower shortages, the Watch only mans the Shadow Tower, Castle Black and Eastwatch, although there are plans to re-garrison Nightfort and many of the other castles. The question of who will be responsible for the remanned castles is a point of tension between the Lord Commander Jon Snow and King Stannis. 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. 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.[9]

Night's Watch castles listed from west to east

Westwatch-by-the-Bridge · Shadow Tower · Sentinel Stand · Greyguard · Stonedoor · Hoarfrost Hill · Icemark · Nightfort · Deep Lake · Queensgate· Castle Black · Oakenshield · Woodswatch-by-the-Pool · Sable Hall · Rimegate · Long Barrow · Torches · Greenguard · Eastwatch-by-the-Sea

Most notable are

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, 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.[10]

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 Night's Watch ships include the Blackbird, the Storm Crow, and the Talon.

Notable Members

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

Recent Lords Commander

Past Lords Commander

Brothers

See also List of all known members of the Night's Watch

Quotes

The Night's Watch is a shadow of what it once was. [13]
- Lord Eddard Stark, to King Robert Baratheon


Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay. [14]

- Robb Stark


The Night's Watch is a pack of theieves, killers, and baseborn churls. [3]
- Tywin Lannister


Men are always welcome at the Wall.
- Ser Desmond Grell


“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,” he said softly. “Oh, yes. Choosing . . . it has always hurt. And always will. I know.”
- Maester Aemon

References and Notes

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original content was at Night's Watch. The list of authors can be seen in the page history of Night's Watch. As with A Wiki of Ice and Fire, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

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