From A Wiki of Ice and Fire
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Rangers: Although all brothers of the Watch stand watch on the Wall, the rangers are the main fighting force, adept at surviving in the wilderness and tasked with scouting and patrolling the Haunted Forest beyond the Wall. They are actively defending the Wall and riding out to face the Watch's enemies, including the lawless wildlings as well as the mysterious, inhuman Others. One blast of a sentry's horn represents returning brothers, while two blasts are used for wildlings and three blasts for Others.
- Builders: The builders are responsible for maintaining the Wall, the castles, and the equipment. They provide masons, carpenters, miners, and woodsmen. 
- Stewards: The stewards are the largest of the three orders. The 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 conduct trade with the south, bringing back to the Wall all of the supplies needed by the Night’s Watch. 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.
Among the stewards, those with skill in sums or reading or writing might be given specialized tasks as well. Few enough are literate, but the Watch has a purpose for every man. Stewards also serve as attendants and squires for the high officers of the Watch, such as the Lord Commander. In short, the entire administration of the Night’s Watch is in the hands of the Stewards.
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.
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."
|“||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.||”|
It is customary to finish a black brother's eulogy with the words, "And now his watch is ended."
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.
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.
Night's Watch castles listed from west to east
Most notable are
- Castle Black, the largest maintained castle, located at the northern end of Kingsroad held by nearly six hundred brothers at the beginning of A Game of Thrones
- The Shadow Tower, most western outpost of the Watch, garrisoned by two hundred men at the beginning of "A Game of Thrones."
- Eastwatch, port town of the Night's Watch with the smallest standing garrison.
- The Nightfort, the oldest and largest castle of the Night's Watch. Houses the "The Black Gate," a secret way through the Wall sealed by a magical ancient door fashioned from weirwood, which only opens to a sworn brother of the Night's Watch.
- Deep Lake, built seven miles east of the Nightfort and meant to replace it. It was paid for by Good Queen Alysanne Targaryen.
- Queensgate, originally called Snowgate, it was renamed after Good Queen Alysanne slept there for one night during her visit to the Wall.
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.
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.
Recent Lords Commander
- Lord Jeor Mormont, 997th Lord Commander of the Watch, known as "The Old Bear." Towards the end of his tenure, he became increasingly worried as more rangers were lost beyond the Wall, including First Ranger Benjen Stark. Also, there were 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 went with him were killed at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men. Following this staggering loss, he was murdered by his own rangers during a mutiny.
- Lord Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
Past Lords Commander
- 'Night's King', 13th Lord Commander who converted the Night's Watch into his own personal army and led it in battle against the King of the North Brandon Stark and Joramun, the King-Beyond-the-Wall.
- Osric Stark, a brother or son of a King in the North. He was chosen Lord Commander when he was 10 making him the youngest Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. He served for 60 years 
- Lord Commander Hoare a brother of Harren the Black, Stayed on the Wall while his brother burned at Harrenhal.
- Rodrik Flint, thought to make himself King-beyond-the-Wall.
- Runcel Hightower, tried to make the position of Lord Commander hereditary and pass the position to his son.
- Tristan Mudd, Mad Marq Rankenfell and Robin Hill; Three Lords Commander who nearly destroyed the Watch when they forgot their vows in favor of their pride and ambition.
- Brynden Rivers, AKA "Bloodraven", Sent to the Wall 233AC by King Aegon V Targaryen, would rise to become Lord Commander 239AC, serving until his disappearance during a ranging beyond the Wall in 252AC.
- Sleepy Jack, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch when Raymun Redbeard crossed the Wall and was late for the Battle of Long Lake.
- Lord Commander Qorgyle, the 996th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch before Lord Jeor Mormont and a member of House Qorgyle. His first name is never given.
- 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 Battle at the Fist of the First Men.
- Bowen Marsh, Lord Steward of the Night's Watch. Led a successful but costly battle against wildling raiders in the Gorge, west of the Shadow Tower.
- Chett, former steward to Maester Aemon until Samwell Tarly was raised to the post. Sent to the pens to take care of the dogs. Later, he conspired to kill Jeor Mormont, but was 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 Greyjoy's Rebellion. He died killing Mag the Mighty, King of the Giants, underneath the Wall during the Battle of Castle Black.
- Eddison Tollett, a steward, called "Dolorous Edd" for his sarcastic and black humor.
- Jarmen Buckwell, a senior ranger. Survived the Battle of the Fist of the First Men and retreated back to Castle Black.
- Ser Denys Mallister, commander at The Shadow Tower.
- Janos Slynt, former commander of the City Watch in King's Landing, later Lord of Harrenhal, and finally a Brother of the Night's Watch. A political lackey of House Lannister, he was exiled to the Wall by Tyrion Lannister, who wanted to rid King's Landing of corruption and himself of Lord Slynt. Tyrion's father Tywin Lannister later tried to make Slynt a tool of House Lannister in the Watch, and nearly turned the election for a new Lord Commander in Slynt's favor. After Jon Snow's election to the post, Slynt's continued insubordination led Snow to execute him.
- Maester Aemon, maester of Castle Black and one of the last Targaryens. Died of old age at sea with Samwell Tarly.
- Ser Mallador Locke, knight and ranger. Killed during the Battle of the Fist of the First Men.
- 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 allowed Jon Snow to kill him so that Snow would be accepted among the wildlings.
- Thoren Smallwood, acting First Ranger after Benjen Stark's disappearance. Killed by a wight bear during the Battle of the Fist of First Men.
- Samwell Tarly, son of renowned battle commander Randyll Tarly. Obese and an admitted coward. Sent by Lord Snow to the Citadel for study after the Battle on the Fist of the First Men.
- Grenn, recruit with Jon who is assigned to the rangers.
- Pypar, more commonly known as Pyp, recruit with Jon, originally with a mummers' troupe.
- Dareon is a recruit in the same "class" as Jon and is named a steward sent to Eastwatch-by-the-sea. He was an apprentice singer in the Reach.
- Todder, more commonly known as Toad, is a recruit in the same "class" as Jon, named a ranger.
- Jeren is a recruit in the same "class" 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 "class" as Jon Snow and is named a builder. Incredibly strong.
- Albett, also known as Pimple, is a recruit in the same "class" as Jon Snow and is named a builder.
- Satin is a recruit of the Night's Watch after Jon.
- 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 was part of a conspiracy to kill Jeor Mormont until the Brothers were attacked at the Fist of the First Men. He saves Samwell Tarly, but was slain by an Other and returned 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 attempted to smuggle Arya Stark to the North, but was killed fighting Lannister men who were searching for the outlaw Beric Dondarrion.
See also List of all known members of the Night's Watch
|“||The Night's Watch is a shadow of what it once was.||”|
|“||Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay.||”|
|“||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.||”|
|“||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 ...||”|
|“||The Night's Watch is a pack of thieves, killers, and baseborn churls.||”|
|“||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.||”|
References and Notes
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 5, Samwell.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones RPG and Resource Book, Guardians of Order
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 32, Tyrion.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 6, Jon.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 41, Jon.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Prologue.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 48, Jon.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 75, Samwell.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 26, Jon.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 40, Bran.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 60, Jon.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 48, Jon.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 4, Eddard.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 66, Theon.
- ↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei.
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