"The History of the Night's Watch" is part of the Complete Guide to Westeros, a special feature from Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season. It is narrated by James Cosmo as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, Donald Sumpter as Maester Luwin, and Charles Dance as Lord Tywin Lannister.
Luwin details the steady decline that the Night's Watch has suffered with the passage of time.
Tywin Lannister mocks the faded glory of the Night's Watch and questions the need for the order.
Jeor Mormont's perspective
Jeor Mormont: "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 Wall. 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."
Legend tells of a winter that lasted a generation, and of a vast and terrible darkness that fell across the land. It came to be known as the Long Night. In the midst of this darkness, the White Walkers emerged from the Far North. With their armies of the dead, they waged war against the living; laying waste to villages and holdfasts; leaving terror and destruction in their wake. After years of brutal conflict and unbearable loss, an alliance of the First Men and the Children of the Forest managed to drive the Walkers and their minions back into the frigid northern wastelands from whence they came.
To prevent another invasion, the First Men erected the Wall, a massive fortification 700 feet in height, stretching from the Frostfang Mountains, in the west, to the Bay of Seals, in the east. It was a structure unlike any ever built. Indeed, some maintain it could only have been completed with the aid of giants, or using the powerful magic of the ancient Children of the Forest.
Men were required to guard and maintain it, and thus the Night's Watch was born - a sworn brotherhood tasked with defending the realms of men against the dark forces that lay beyond. Upon taking his vows, a Brother of the Night's Watch serves for life. It is a life of hardship and great sacrifice, so the oath must not be taken lightly. The punishment for desertion is death.
The Night's Watch is divided into three vital branches: the Rangers, the Builders and the Stewards. While all Black Brothers are expected to take up steel should the need arise, the rangers are the true warriors of the Watch. Centuries come and gone, and although the white walkers have yet to return, another threat has emerged: barbarian tribes known as "wildlings". The Rangers are charged with defending the realm against these lawless savages. The Builders are carpenters, masons, miners and woodsmen, tasked with maintaining the Wall, as well as its various keeps, towers and structures, which have fallen into disrepair over the years. The Stewards serve as cooks, butchers and hunters. They tend to the horses and messenger ravens, sew clothing, gather firewood, and bring supplies up from the South.
The Night's Watch is a... diverse group. Proud volunteers from noble houses stand side by side with petty thieves conscripted from dungeons. Class distinctions are left behind, as are... past misdeeds. A man gets what he earns on the Wall; and even the lowliest guttersnipe can rise up in rank if he proves himself worthy.
For thousands of years, the Brothers of the Night's Watch have stood their lonely vigil. As the seasons changed, as brutal wars raged in the south, as dynasties rose and fell, the Night's Watch endured.
We are the swords in the darkness. We are the watchers on the Wall. We are the shields that guard the realms of men.
- Beyond the Wall
- The North
- Lands of Always Winter (indirectly mentioned)
Maester Luwin: Joining the Night's Watch, or "taking the black", is a singular honor for any northerner. For it was in the North, some 8,000 years ago, that the First Men drove back the White Walkers, erected the Wall, and established the sworn brotherhood that would guard the realm and its people from the dangers beyond.
Regrettably, the Night's Watch no longer commands the widespread respect and admiration it once did. While House Stark and other houses in the northern regions continue to recognize its vital importance to the safety and stability of the realm, this view is not shared by the powerful houses of the southern kingdoms, or their subjects. Most regard the Watch as a misguided, obsolete order made up of useless outcasts.
Admittedly, the current Night's Watch is a shadow of its former glory. Their numbers have dwindled to less than a thousand. Of the nineteen castles along the Wall, only three are functional: the Shadow Tower, Castle Black, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. And the Watch's mandate of adding to the Wall has been abandoned entirely. There are barely enough resources to maintain it.
Recruiting officers - known as wandering crows - scour the dungeons and slums of the realm in hope of finding men to fill the ranks. While there is still the occasional high-born volunteer, the newest recruits are almost entirely made up of lowly criminals - thieves, rapists and murderers - sentenced to the Wall as punishment for their crimes.
The decline of this once-fabled order is troubling, as the danger it guards against is all too real. While the White Walkers haven't been seen or heard from in ages, and may very well be the stuff of myth, barbarian tribes that dwell beyond the Wall - known as "wildlings" - have been a menace to the North and its people for generations.
At certain points in history, the disparate wildling tribes have united behind a single leader - a King-Beyond-the-Wall - and attempted large-scale attacks against the Realm. But, thanks to the resourceful and courageous men of the Night's Watch, these so-called kings were soundly defeated.
While many have lost faith in the Night's Watch, the people of the North are steadfast in their belief that the Black Brothers will answer the call of duty. But with winter coming, diminished numbers, and a lack of widespread support, will they be ready?
- The North
- Beyond the Wall
Tywin Lannister's perspective
Tywin Lannister: Long ago, in the wintry North, an army of demons emerged from beneath the icy ground and spread darkness and despair across the land. Astride their monstrous spiders, flanked by giants, they wreaked havoc on the innocent, slaughtering thousands.
All hope was lost until the fearless warriors of the first Night's Watch drove them back into the wintry mountains and built a magic wall to keep them from ever invading again. These stalwart Brothers in black continue to protect us even to this day from the evils that lurk in the shadows.
An absurd lie, a fairy tale, spun by many a wetnurse in the North. To be sure, a giant wall does exist - a triumph of engineering, perhaps, but not of "magic". As for the Night's Watch, there may have been a time, centuries ago, when there was prestige and honor in the miserable, monastic life of a Black Brother.
But now the Wall has become a glorified penal colony, full of outcasts, criminals and assorted ne’er-do-wells. Today, a typical man of the Night’s Watch most likely started out a lowly beggar, or a rapist, or a village idiot. As for the few highborn watchmen, they either fought on the losing side of a war, or were disowned by their parents for one reason or another.
Those who persist in defending the Night's Watch will claim the Seven Kingdoms need protection from the wildling tribes of the Far North. But there's little to fear from those primitives. They’re a nuisance, but not sophisticated or powerful enough to be a significant threat to the realm. And any talk of "White Walkers" returning with their armies of the dead and their giant spiders and their snarks, is just that: Talk.