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This article is about the military order. For the special feature, see: The Night's Watch

"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 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."
―The Night's Watch oath[src]

Grenn, Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly and Pypar, new recruits to the Watch training at Castle Black.

The Night's Watch is a military order which holds and guards the Wall to keep the wildlings and White Walkers from crossing into the Seven Kingdoms. The order is a shadow of its former strength and its meager forces have been decimated by recent attacks from both wildlings and White Walkers. For the past couple of centuries, the order has been led from Castle Black.

The Night's Watch is organized in three departments: the Rangers, who fight, defend the Wall and patrol the Haunted Forest; the Builders, who maintain the Wall and the castles; and the Stewards, who support and feed the members of the Watch.

Following the Breaching of the Wall, Jon Snow called for the remaining members of the Night's Watch to come to Winterfell to help defend against the Night King and the Army of the Dead, since the Wall no longer serves any defensive purpose.[1] With the extinction of the White Walkers in the Battle of Winterfell, the Watch's purpose has been fulfilled, but continues to serve as a quarantine for the banished, poor and unfortunate.[2]

History

Background

According to legend, the Night's Watch was founded 8,000 years ago, in the last days of the Long Night.[3] Their original purpose was to defend against the White Walkers, but after the demons' disappearance, the order was also tasked with keeping other dangers at bay. They now protect the Seven Kingdoms from threats beyond their northern border, such as wildlings and giants, and, should the need arise, White Walkers. They man, maintain and defend a vast structure known as the Wall, a 700 foot tall and 300-mile long barrier which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the lands to the far north. It is formed mostly from ice with small trenches and wooden fortifications covering the top. The Watch have built nineteen castles along the southern edge of the Wall to house their men. However, the Watch's gradually shrinking numbers meant that all but three of these had to be abandoned. They also control a region south of the Wall known as the Gift, from which they obtain supplies and provisions. The region was donated to them by House Stark, the Kings in the North, thousands of years ago.[4][5]

Members of the Night's Watch swear an oath of duty that prohibits marriage, family, and land ownership which lasts until their death. Recruits renounce all past allegiances and birthrights. Joining the Watch provides absolution for past crimes and immunity from further punishment. Brothers start with a clean slate and can rise within the ranks whatever their origins.[5]

However, even though the Night's Watch vows are meant to be for life, it is possible for one to leave the organization without execution, so long as it is with the ruling monarch's approval. For instance, Stannis Baratheon, a claimant to the Iron Throne and the King in the Narrow Sea, offers Jon a chance to leave the Night's Watch and serve him in exchange for legitimization, though this may partially be due to the fact that the Night's Watch is not taken as seriously by most as it once was, and Stannis was desperate enough to turn to Jon Snow for aid.[6] Another instance is Sam, who was allowed to leave for Oldtown, to become a maester of the Watch by Jon.[7]

They describe one another as "sworn brothers" because of the oath. Men of the Watch dress entirely in black, giving rise to the nickname "crows" - which is what the Free Folk commonly call them - or "black brothers."[4] Members of the Night's Watch are not specifically forbidden from seeing their families, but they cannot leave the Wall without permission. Desertion is punishable by death. First Ranger Benjen Stark would often visit his family at Winterfell while representing the Night's Watch.

Castle Black - largest of the three occupied castles.

The Watch was once highly regarded and their ranks were filled with volunteers from noble houses, as serving was a sign of selfless devotion to the protection of the realm.[8] However, while the Night's Watch still has noble-born sons and noble-blooded illegitimate sons from Great Houses, many recruits are now also criminals avoiding punishment, nobles avoiding scandal, orphans, and other social outcasts. Men known as wandering crows, such as Yoren, travel around the Seven Kingdoms gathering recruits for the Watch, offering them escape on the Wall. For some families, the Wall is a convenient place to exile embarrassing or disgraced family members: Sam was disowned by his own father and ordered to join the Watch on threat of death, while Tywin had plans to exile his own son Tyrion to the Wall so as to avoid executing him for allegedly murdering Joffrey. However, other families, such as House Stark, view the Night's Watch as an honorable and noble calling. Generations of Starks have joined the Night's Watch for the sake of honor.[3]

By the reign of King Robert Baratheon, the institution has fallen into disrepute and is largely ignored by the throne. It is severely undermanned; dwindling numbers have led to all but three of the Wall's nineteen castles being abandoned. The Night's Watch is now led from its stronghold at Castle Black.[4] The Shadow Tower and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea are the only other castles that are still manned. Meanwhile, trouble is stirring beyond the Wall. A large wildling army under a new King-Beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder, is advancing south, and there are rumors that the White Walkers, long since thought to be extinct, have returned. At the time Jon arrives at Castle Black, the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is Jeor Mormont.

Although joining the Night's Watch is often a punishment for many, it can also be a positive thing in the long run; the Watch is highly egalitarian compared to the rest of Westeros, and in a rigidly hierarchical society, joining can offer a rare chance at redemption and turning one's life around. At the Wall, every man is given what he earns, no matter their status, and even lowborn or bastard recruits can become high-ranking officers and commanders for their service. However, the Night's Watch is not completely egalitarian; both noble-born sons and illegitimate sons of lords are typically favored for advancement over those with no noble blood,[9] though this may also be for the practical reason that recruits from noble households are generally more familiar with the duties required of the Watch, such as combat skill. This is clearly demonstrated when Jon easily defeats the other recruits in sparring practice, and Tyrion points out that none of the others have had the kind of training Jon received from Ser Rodrik Cassel.

Season 1

Increased wildling activity beyond the Wall leads the Watch to send out several patrols to investigate. Some do not return. A three-man scouting party consisting of Ser Waymar Royce, Gared, and Will is sent out, but only Will returns - then frantically tries to desert the Watch by running south but was caught. He rambles that the legendary White Walkers killed his companions, but he is disbelieved as a madman and beheaded by Eddard Stark for desertion.[10]

When Tyrion makes a visit to the Wall while traveling to Winterfell, he is met at Castle Black by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon. They implore him to bring news to the king that the Night's Watch is severely undermanned and undersupported: they are down to under a thousand members, and barely have the resources to feed and support the few men they still have. Mormont warns Tyrion about disturbing rumors coming from beyond the Wall, about missing scouting parties, and the one man who did survive an attack say it was the White Walkers finally returning, just before he was executed. Aemon warns that they have had a very long summer lasting for years, and that the coming winter may also be long and bitter - and only the gods can help them if they do not do more to prepare for what's coming.[11]

Season 2

Jeor Mormont's Great Ranging travels far beyond the Wall, and sets up a base camp at the Fist of the First Men.[12]

Season 3

The Night's Watch engages in the first open conflict between men and White Walkers in eight millennia when their position is assaulted in the Battle of the Fist of the First Men. They suffer heavy casualties, though a few dozen men led by Mormont manage to fight their way out, and retreat southwards.[13] Mormont himself is then killed by his own men when they mutiny at Craster's Keep.[14]

In response to the Night's Watch's calls for help, Tywin suggests that they allow the wildlings to destroy the Watch and settle in the North, hoping to use Mance Rayder as an ally to help them fight Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy.

Season 4

Alliser Thorne temporarily succeeds Mormont as acting Commander.[15] Their strength now reduced to about 100 men, the remainder of the Watch manage to fend off a wildling attack on Castle Black.[16] Stannis then unexpectedly arrives to relieve them, and defeats the wildling army.[17]

Season 5

Following the defeat of the wildling army and the execution of Mance Rayder, the Night's Watch elects Jon as its new Lord Commander,[6] who attempts to rebuild the Watch and pay more attention to the growing threat of the White Walkers. Jon opts to make peace between the Night's Watch and the wildlings to save them from dying and becoming part of the White Walker army,[18] having come to feel sympathy for them as they are men, women, and children who were born on the other side of the Wall and are also fleeing the White Walkers.[19] Jon, Edd, other Watchmen, and Tormund go on a rescue mission to Hardhome to save the wildlings but the Night King attacks Hardhome.[20] Jon and his party return with the surviving wildlings and bring them south of the Wall. This decision is met with harsh criticism by many of the black brothers, including Alliser Thorne, Othell Yarwyck and Bowen Marsh. Jon is later stabbed by his own brothers in a mutiny and left for dead.[7]

Season 6

The mutiny against Jon creates further tension between those loyal to Jon and the mutineers. Following a brief scuffle, Edd summons the wildlings back to Castle Black and with their support places the mutineers under arrest for their betrayal.[21] Jon is later revived from the dead by Melisandre,[22] and after publicly executing the mutineers, Jon leaves the Night's Watch, giving the command to Edd Tollett, as his death, though temporary, marked the end of his watch (although Edd tries to argue otherwise).[23]

As of the third episode of Season 6, Jon is no longer part of the Night's Watch as he has resigned after his assassination, his death marking the end of his watch.[22] At the end of Season 6, the Northern lords declare him King in the North,[24] though Jon's primary focus is the coming White Walker invasion. He intends to rally as much of Westeros as he can, which will aid the Night's Watch in the imminent battle against the army of the dead.

Season 7

Acting Lord Commander of the Night's Watch Eddison Tollett and several other watchmen allow Meera Reed and Bran Stark through the Wall and into Castle Black, after proving their identities through Bran's knowledge on Edd's whereabouts beyond the Wall.[25]

Season 8

After the Breaching of the Wall, the Night's Watch abandon their castles and travel south towards Winterfell to aid in its defense.[1]

Many of the defenders, among them members of the Watch, perish in the Battle of Winterfell. With the extinction of the White Walkers, the purpose of the Night's Watch has been served.[26] However, as Tyrion mentions, the Night's Watch continues to serve as a quarantine to the poor, banished, and unfortunate. The surviving members returned to the castles along with the wildlings after the battle.

Following the Battle of King's Landing, Jon assassinates Daenerys. In order to avoid a war between the Unsullied and Jon's supporters, Tyrion, as his position as Hand of the King to Bran, regretfully informs him that Bran has banished him to the Night's Watch again, which Jon accepts.

After reaching Castle Black, Jon reunites with Tormund, Ghost and all the remaining Free Folk. He leaves along with the Free Folk for the lands beyond the Wall, looking forlornly when the gate of the keep closes behind him.[2] It is unknown how he is allowed to leave with the wildlings, whether his reason to leave is just to escort them, or to permanently leave for lands beyond the Wall.

Organization

Structure

Men of the Night's Watch are divided between three different orders: the Rangers, the Builders, and the Stewards. Each order is led by its own officer, each appointed by the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch: the First Ranger, First Builder, and First Steward (who is sometimes interchangeably called Lord Steward).

  • Rangers - the true warriors of the Night's Watch. While all black brothers are expected to have some basic arms training and to take up a sword in defense of the Wall itself, the Rangers are the ones who are sent on dangerous scouting expeditions beyond the Wall, to track wildlings movements. When the Watch was more numerous in past centuries they formed the core fighting group sent to destroy large wildling warbands who attempted to pass south of the Wall.
  • Builders - who physically maintain the structures of the Night's Watch, and repair the Wall itself. Miners, masons, foresters, carpenters and other such roles are part of the Builders.
  • Stewards - who provide for the day-to-day needs of the Watch: gathering, cooking, and serving food, repairing clothes and equipment, tending to the horses and messenger-ravens, and gathering firewood. Due to its catering, technical and quartermaster functions, the Stewards are by far the largest of the three orders.

Each castle of the Night's Watch also has a maester assigned to it. These maesters take the oath of the Night's Watch and are considered full black brothers, but are not considered part of the three orders, nor are they their own 'order'. Given that there were never more than nineteen castles along the Wall, there were never more than nineteen maesters in the Night's Watch at any one time. Since there are only three active castles on the Wall in modern times, there are now presumably only three maesters in the Night's Watch at a time.

Leadership

The leader of the Night's Watch is the Lord Commander. Each Lord Commander serves for life, and a new Lord Commander is democratically elected from any black brother by all other members of the Night's Watch in a choosing.

It is unknown if there is any formal procedure to depose a Lord Commander and elect a new one, in cases where the current Lord Commander violates his oaths or is deemed medically unfit to lead, etc.

Recruitment

"Raper, raper, horse thief, ninth-born son, raper, thief, thief AND raper..."
―An officer at Castle Black reviewing a line of new recruits who are joining the Night's Watch.[src]

Recruiters commonly known as "wandering crows" travel to the cities of southern Westeros to gather up new recruits to join the Night's Watch. In recent years, most of these tend to be criminals, murderers, rapers, and thieves taken from the dungeons of major cities and towns. A few also join because they are desperately poor and have no other better options. Once in a great while a younger son or bastard son of a major noble House will decide to join the Night's Watch, but they can often afford to travel to the Night's Watch on their own initiative - such as Jon Snow (a bastard) and Waymar Royce (a third-born son).

Recruiters are few in number, and they are not considered a separate order in the Night's Watch. Instead, they are drawn from trusted members of the three orders, often those who can no longer fight well due to injuries but who can still travel.

Military strength

Late in the reign of King Robert Baratheon, the Night's Watch has dwindled to under one thousand members - many of them composed of old men, untrained boys, and convicted felons. While there are nineteen castles along the Wall, the Watch only has enough men to continue to man three of them: their headquarters Castle Black in the middle, the Shadow Tower at the western end, and their port Eastwatch-by-the-Sea at the eastern end. Furthermore, with the breakout of The War of the Five Kings, recruitment for the Watch has drastically decreased.

The Watch takes severe losses in Jeor Mormont's disastrous expedition beyond the Wall, losing nearly three hundred men as a result. Combined with heavy losses during the Battle of Castle Black, as well as losses from other wildling attacks, by the time that King Stannis Baratheon arrives at the Wall, the entire organization had only around six members left. After becoming Lord Commander, Jon convinces a few minor houses (Houses Ashford, Caulfield, Smallwood, Mazin, and Wibberley) to send men to the Night's Watch. The Watch suffers further losses after the Massacre at Hardhome and the Mutiny at Castle Black, leading Jon to order the surviving wildlings to help garrison the remaining castles, likely raising their numbers by a few hundreds. However, much of this new strength is lost at the breaching of the Wall, with only a dozen left alive from Eastwatch.

Possessions

Castles along the Wall

The Wall seen from the south, with Castle Black in the center.

There are nineteen castles spread out along the southern face of the Wall as bases for the Night's Watch. Patrols from these castles would travel along the top of the Wall watching for threats from the north, or repairing damage to the Wall. Each castle also contained a tunnel cut under the Wall, through which scouting parties would travel to the north to track wildling movements.

As the Night's Watch dwindled over the centuries, however, most of these castles were abandoned, and their tunnels sealed with ice. By the end of the reign of King Robert Baratheon, only three major castles along the Wall are still manned: Castle Black, the Shadow Tower, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. In Season 3 also appears the ruin of was was once the Nightfort.

The Gift

Mole's Town in the Gift, with the Wall in the distance.

The Gift is a region to the south of the Wall under the direct control of the Night's Watch. It lies at the northern edge of the region known as the North. It was donated to the Night's Watch by House Stark when the order was founded thousands of years ago, in order to support the Night's Watch with food and provisions. The Gift is officially not subject to the authority of Winterfell, and is technically not part of "The North", but is a special administrative zone directly ruled by the Night's Watch.

The Gift is sparsely populated by only a handful of smallfolk, as most have relocated to the south over the generations while the Night's Watch dwindled and wildling raiding parties over or around the Wall increased in frequency. The northern areas closer to the Wall are almost completely empty. The closest significant settlement near the Wall is Mole's Town, located a few miles down the Kingsroad from Castle Black.

Notable members

Recent Lords Commander

Jeor Mormont - the late former Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.

Lord Commander Jeor Mormont's forces marching North of the Wall.

Past Lords Commander

The original headquarters of the Night's Watch was the Nightfort, the first castle built at the Wall, and thus for thousands of years, it was where the Lord Commander of the Watch resided. A little over two hundred years before the War of the Five Kings, during the reign of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, the Night's Watch abandoned the Nightfort because they could no longer maintain it with their dwindling resources. Instead, they relocated their headquarters to Castle Black, where all subsequent Lords Commander were based.

  • The "Night's King" - one of the early Lords Commander who, according to legend, lived eight thousand years ago. The legends say that he was seduced by a female White Walker, declared himself king of the Night's Watch, and conducted human sacrifices at the Nightfort. It took an alliance between the Stark King in the North and the wildling King-Beyond-the-Wall Joramun to overthrow him, and restore the Night's Watch.
  • Brynden Rivers - held the position during the reign of King Aegon V Targaryen.

Based at Castle Black

Based at the Shadow Tower

Based at Eastwatch

Recruiters

Oath

When joining the Night's Watch, all members must swear the following oath, either in a sept if they are of the Faith of the Seven, or before a heart tree if they follow the Old Gods of the Forest.

Hear my words and bear witness to my vow. 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 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.

Quotes

"The Night's Watch is the only thing standing between the realm and what lies beyond and it has become an army of undisciplined boys and tired old men. There are less than a thousand of us now. We can't man the other castles on the Wall. We can't properly patrol the wilderness. We have barely enough resources to keep our lads armed and fed."
Maester Aemon to Tyrion Lannister[src]
"We've been guarding the Kingdoms for eight thousand years."
Jon Snow to Ser Jaime Lannister[src]
"There's great honor serving in the Night's Watch. The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years. And you are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood."
Eddard Stark to Jon Snow[src]
"Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it."
Benjen Stark to Jon Snow[src]
"You came to us as outlaws, poachers, rapers, killers, thieves. You came alone, in chains, without friends or honor. You came to us rich and you came to us poor. Some of you bear the names of proud Houses, others only bastard names or no names at all. It does not matter. All that is in the past. Here on the Wall, we are all one House."
Jeor Mormont to the recruits[src]
"You knelt as boys; rise now, as men of the Night's Watch"
Othell Yarwyck to Samwell Tarly and Jon Snow after taking their vows.[src]
"Don't go home. Join the Night's Watch. Once a man has taken the black, he is beyond reach of the law. All his past crimes are forgiven."
―Maester Luwin advises Theon Greyjoy to join the Night's Watch.[src]
Jon Snow: "Do you intend to execute me or am I free to go?"
Aemon: "None of us are free. We are men of the Night's Watch."
Aemon to Jon Snow[src]

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the First Ranger is Benjen Stark, while the Lord Commander is Jeor Mormont, the father of Jorah Mormont. The Night's Watch is grievously under-strength by the beginning of the book series, having fallen from ten thousand when Aegon the Conqueror invaded to less than one thousand, divided into three garrisons at Castle Black (six hundred soldiers), the Shadow Tower (two hundred soldiers) and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea (less than two hundred soldiers).

Of these thousand men, almost three hundred are killed in the Great Ranging, due to the disastrous Battle of the Fist of the First Men and subsequent Mutiny at Craster's Keep. This further reduced the Night's Watch ranks to only seven hundred men; moreover, most of their senior officers and best warriors, including Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, were killed. The expedition force consisted of one hundred men from the Shadow Tower and two hundred men from Castle Black.

After the Battle of Castle Black, the Night's Watch takes a headcount: their entire manpower (including the garrisons at Eastwatch and the Shadow Tower) has been reduced to 589 brothers. Most of the losses are taken at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men, and more at the following Battle of the Bridge of Skulls and the Battle of Castle Black.

The oath used in the show leaves out one line from the oath in the books:

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.

The Night's Watch has no heraldic symbol, to emphasize its sworn duty to be removed from petty politics of one lordly House or another, but to defend the lands of men as a whole. Thus, the Night's Watch uses solid black on its banner and shields, which symbolize the erasure of any allegiance to noble Houses. Even the "uniform" of the Night's Watch is to wear solid black clothing; members from wealthier families often buy all-black clothing before leaving for the Wall, while poor conscripts have their clothing simply dyed black when they reach the Wall (clothing which isn't always well-suited for cold weather). Solid black specifically denotes the rejection of heraldry, and is therefore strictly speaking not a "symbol" in and of itself, but the absence of a symbol.

The solid black color scheme also applies to their armor. Even when they cross the Wall on extended tours of duty, the Watch uses black tents.

See also

References

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