The Night’s Watch is one of the oldest–if not the oldest–orders in the seven kingdoms. After the war with the Others, the people of Westeros banded together and built the Wall and appointed men of the Night’s Watch to man the Wall and protect the people south of it. The men of the Night’s Watch take an oath to hold no lands, take no wife, and father no children. Once they “take the black,” they are expected to spend the rest of their lives living on the Wall and serving the realm. Initially, the Night’s Watch was considered an honorable order, one that men of noble birth aspired to join. Over the years, however, the Night’s Watch fell out of favor with the lords of Westeros. Few men volunteered to take the black, so the realm had to find a new way of manning the Wall, so they offered it as an alternative to imprisonment. Murderers, thieves, and “rapers” can now serve their sentence in the form of a lifetime at the Wall.
But as Jon Snow has discovered, the Wall isn’t every prisoner’s first choice, and there aren’t enough men to guard the realm–and with the White Walkers and their army of wights coming, the seven kingdoms are in deep trouble. We can’t wait for season 7 and for The Winds of Winter to show just what is going to happen to the brothers of the Night’s Watch. While we’re waiting, let’s take a look at some of the Night’s Watch history you probably didn’t know about. Book and TV show spoilers abound, so take care!
15. Battle for the Dawn
The Night’s Watch was founded over 8,000 years before the events of A Game of Thrones at the end of the Long Night. As the legends have it, the Long Night was a winter that lasted so long some were born, grew up, and died all without having seen another season. Maesters have long debated whether or not there was a correlation between the length of this winter and the rise of the white walkers, but one thing seems clear; when the white walkers were defeated, the winter came to an end at last.
According to the legends, a group of brave men (among them, according to the priests of R’hllor, Azor Ahai) and Children of the Forest joined forces. Having discovered that dragonglass was the only thing that could defeat the white walkers, the alliance dubbed themselves the Night’s Watch and rode out against the white walkers with their obsidian blades. The Night’s Watch drove the white walkers up north to “the Lands of Always Winter” and built the Wall to ensure that they would never recreate the terror of the Long Night. Though there is some dispute about when the Wall was built, the general consensus is that it was built directly after the Battle for the Dawn. The Night’s Watch took oaths to man the wall and guard the realms of men.
14. Orders of the Night’s Watch
There are three main categories into which the black brothers fall: stewards, builders, and rangers. The stewards tend to the keep and make it habitable for their fellow brothers. The duties of a steward can range from cooking to cleaning to mending weapons–whatever is needed. Builders are given the task of maintaining the Wall and their respective castles. Because the Wall is at least six thousand years old (possibly more if the legends are true), it needs a lot of looking after, especially in the summers when the ice begins to melt and chip away. Many of the castles of the Night’s Watch have fallen into disrepair; when Jon Snow is made Lord Commander, one of his goals is to rebuild at least a few of the castles and man them with brothers of the Night’s Watch. Rangers typically patrol the area north of the Wall to keep their brothers (and everyone in the seven kingdoms) safe from wildlings and white walkers, but they also occasionally go on specific missions.
Even though the rangers are the most combat-heavy and engage often, every man of the Night’s Watch is trained in combat so that they can defend the Wall (and by default, the seven kingdoms) when necessary.
13. Castles of the Night’s Watch
Believe it or not, Castle Black is not the only castle on the Wall. In the early years of the Night’s Watch, nineteen castles were built along the Wall, but as the popularity of the Night’s Watch declined, so did the castles. By the time the series starts, only three of those castles are in use. Those castles are Castle Black, the Shadow Tower, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The Shadow Tower is the westernmost castle along the Wall and is manned by two hundred brothers, which is four hundred less than Castle Black’s six hundred men. Eastwatch-by-the-Sea is the easternmost castle and sits on the Bay of Seals. Because of its proximity to the narrow sea, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea primarily deals with the Night’s Watch fleet. Among the ships are the Talon, the Blackbird, and the Storm Crow. Eastwatch is manned by less than two hundred men.
The sixteen castles that are currently in disuse are Westwatch-by-the-Bridge, Sentinel Stand, Greyguard, Stonedoor, Hoarfrost Hill, Icemark, Nightfort, Deep Lake, Queensgate, Oakenshield, Woodswatch-by-the-Pool, Sable Hall, Rimegate, Long Barrow, Torches, and Greenguard.
12. Lord Commander
Any man of the Night’s Watch can become the Lord Commander, with the exception of the maester. Seasoned rangers are chosen most often because of their skills and experience, and men of the Night’s Watch tend to elect leaders who may have already held the title of “lord” before coming to the Wall.
There have been some notable Lords Commander in the past. One of these was Osric Stark, who was chosen as Lord Commander when he was only ten years old. Another was Rodrik Flint, who was not only considered one of the worst Lords Commander in history, but also tried to become King-Beyond-the-Wall, an attempt which nearly destroyed the Night’s Watch. Other notable Lords Commander include Tristan Mudd, Mad Marq Rankenfell, and Robin Hill, who all declared themselves Lord Commander at the same time, and Runcel Hightower, who tried to make the position hereditary and pass it to his son. Jack Musgood was called Sleepy Jack because King-Beyond-the-Wall Raymund Redbeard and his wildlings climbed over the wall, and he met the wildling forces too late to be of any use.
11. The Night’s King
The Night’s King is a legendary figure of whom we know very little. He may have been a Bolton, a Magnar, an Umber, a Flint, a Norrey, or a Woodfoot, but Old Nan believes he was a Stark named Brandon. He was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and during this time he fell in love with a woman “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars”. Sound familiar? According to the songs, he chased her and loved her even though her “skin was as cold as ice,” and when he gave her his seed he gave her his soul. The Night’s King brought her back to the Nightfort and declared himself the Night’s King and made her his Night’s Queen. They ruled the Night’s Watch for thirteen years and made sacrifices to the white walkers. Finally, Brandon the Breaker, King of Winterfell, and Joramun, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, combined forces and deposed the Night’s King and his corpse-like queen. All records of the Night’s King were then destroyed and his name was forbidden. Because of this, we know very little of him–we don’t even know if was executed or if he was allowed to live. If he was allowed to walk free, did he possibly join the white walkers in the Lands of Always Winter? There are many who believe his wife may have been a white walker based on her description, so it’s possible he may have joined her and her icy kin.
10. Horn of Joramun
Joramun was a legendary King-Beyond-the-Wall not only because he helped defeat the Night’s King, but also because he possessed the Horn of Winter. The Horn of Joramun was made by magic, and according to the legends, when Joramun blew it, he woke giants from the earth. When Joramun died, the horn was buried with him. Many people now believe that if the horn is blown again, it will tear down the Wall.
Though Mance claims to have the horn, after his death Tormund reveals that Mance was only bluffing–he never found the real horn. Jon wonders what will happen if the real horn is ever found and whether or not the wildlings will ever blow it (as Mance threatened to if the Night’s Watch did not let them through the gate). On the one hand, the Wall is the only thing that is keeping the wildlings fromcoming, but on the other, once the Wall comes down, there is nothing to stop the white walkers and their army of wights from reaching the seven kingdoms.
9. Brave Danny Flint
The Night’s King is not the only reason the Nightfort has a bad reputation and was one of the first castles to be abandoned. Danny Flint was a girl from House Flint who disguised herself as a man in order to join the Night’s Watch. When the men of the Nightfort discovered that she was actually a girl, they raped and murdered her as punishment for deceiving them. According to the songs, her ghost still haunts the Nightfort. Bran remembers this story when he and the Reed siblings stay at the Nightfort.
When Ramsay Bolton marries “Arya Stark” (really Sansa’s childhood friend Jeyne Poole in disguise), Wyman Manderly asks for the song “Brave Danny Flint” to be played at the wedding. The song horrifically foreshadows what happens to those who pretend to be what they are not; just as Danny Flint was raped and murdered for pretending to be a man, Jeyne Poole would also be raped and abused while pretending to be Arya Stark.
8. The Gift
Before Aegon’s Conquest, when there were thousands of men in the Night’s Watch, the black brothers were routinely succoured and supplied by the seven kingdoms. Whether it was white walkers or wildlings, the people of Westeros were afraid of what lay beyond the Wall. As a result, they gave generously to the Night’s Watch, hoping that their generosity would be rewarded by protection from the black brothers. One such generous gesture was the Gift, twenty-five leagues of land immediately south of the Wall. This land originally belonged to the Starks, but according to legends, Bran the Builder, the founder of House Stark, gave this land to the Night’s Watch. The land, called Brandon’s Gift and later simply the Gift, was used as farmland for the Watch. Over the years as the Watch dwindled and wildlings began invading the Gift, the Night’s Watch abandoned the land and the farmers who lived there moved south. By the time Jon Snow joined the Night’s Watch, the Gift was all but an empty, useless plot of land.
7. Good Queen Alysanne
Prior to Aegon’s Conquest, the Night’s Watch was seen as a valiant order that noblemen voluntarily joined. After the conquest, however, the Night’s Watch fell out of favor with the nobles of Westeros and was rarely acknowledged. One of the only members of royalty to not only acknowledge but also aid the Night’s Watch was Queen Alysanne, often called “Good Queen Alysanne.” She was, as many Targaryen queens were, married to her brother, Jahaerys I. The royal couple went to visit the Wall, and when they did Alysanne rode her dragon Silverwing. She was so impressed with the bravery of the Night’s Watch that she asked her husband to double the size of Brandon’s Gift. This addition was called the New Gift. The Starks were resentful at this land being taken from them without their permission and (correctly) predicted that the Night’s Watch would neglect the area. When the Night’s Watch and northern farmers abandoned the Gift, so too did they abandon the New Gift.
Of all the brothers of the Night’s Watch, Brynden Rivers is by far one of the most infamous. Brynden was the bastard son of Aegon IV, and it was Aegon’s dying wish that Brynden be legitimized. Because of the red crow-shaped birthmark on his face, he was often called Bloodraven. Brynden served as Hand of the King to his nephew, Aerys I, and thanks to his dedicated network of spies he was able to keep his nephew protected at all times. Because of this and the fact that Brynden lost an eye defending his nephew during the Blackfyre Rebellions, when asked, “How many eyes does Bloodraven have?” the correct answer was, “A thousand eyes, and one.”
Brynden famously killed Aenys Blackfyre after promising him safe passage, and when Aegon V was made king, he sent Brynden to the Wall as punishment for killing Aenys on false pretenses. Brynden was made Lord Commander; however, not long after this, he disappeared while ranging north of the Wall. As it turns out, Bloodraven has been alive for a very long time, dwelling with the children of the forest, where Bran Stark later finds him.
5. Aemon Targaryen
There have been many Aemon Targaryens, but our favorite is the same Aemon who became the maester at Castle Black. Aemon was the third son of Daeron II’s fourth son, so it seemed unlikely that he would ever become king. Because of this, Maekar sent his son to the Citadel to become a maester; he believed that it could be dangerous to have too many Targaryen heirs running around. However, an illness not unlike the Black Plague killed many of the Targaryens, and suddenly Aemon was next in line for the throne. The small council quietly asked Aemon if he wanted to abandon his maester’s chain and succeed his father, Maekar I, a move that others supported, but Aemon refused and instead gave his support to his younger brother, Aegon. Aegon accepted the crown and became Aegon V, and Aemon became a maester of the Night’s Watch so that there was definitely no danger of his becoming king.
Over the years, people gradually forgot about the Targaryen who lived at the Wall, and by the time Robert’s Rebellion killed almost all of the Targaryens, no one even remembered him. He died at the age of 102, one of the last Targaryens in the world.
When we first meet Craster, he’s a bitter old man with a chip on his shoulder about the Night’s Watch. It turns out he had good reason. Craster’s father was a man of the Night’s Watch who lay with a wildling woman from the village of Whitetree. Not much is known about their relationship–perhaps it was consensual, perhaps it was not. Whatever the case, Craster’s father did not intend to forsake his vows and raise a son. After giving birth, Craster’s mother took her son to Castle Black, but she was chased off by members of the Night’s Watch.
Even though Craster is not as openly hostile to the Night’s Watch as most other wildlings, he still has a great deal of bitterness when interacting with them and routinely mocks members of the Night’s Watch, asking if they are jealous of his home and his nineteen wives. While this behavior may seem irrational, it makes sense when you consider that men of the Night’s Watch got a bastard on his mother and then refused to help her.
3. Alliser Thorne
Alliser Thorne is one of those bad guys we love to hate; like many men of the Night’s Watch, he took the black as an alternative to execution. During Robert’s Rebellion, House Throne remained loyal to the Targaryens. Alliser himself was on the battlements of King’s Landing when Lannister forces entered the city. After destroying the Targaryens and their forces, Tywin Lannister gave Alliser Thorne (and knights like him) a choice: execution or the Night’s Watch. Ser Alliser chose the Night’s Watch. It makes sense, then, that Ser Alliser is so bitter in comparison to Lord Commander Mormont and Maester Aemon, both of whom voluntarily chose to take the black. This may also be why the normally rough Ser Alliser is so deferential to Maester Aemon; Aemon is one of the last Targaryens, the family for whom Ser Alliser lost everything.
2. Mance Rayder
You know Mance Rayder as the King-Beyond-the-Wall, but before he became a king, he was a brother of the Night’s Watch. Like Craster, Mance was born a wildling; unlike Craster, the men of the Night’s Watch welcomed the young Mance into their ranks. When Mance was a child, he was part of a group of wildling raiders who were put to the sword by men of the Night’s Watch. Taking pity on the child, the brothers brought Mance back to the Shadow Tower and gave him the surname “Rayder” as a nod to his wildling origin. Mance was dedicated to the Night’s Watch, even accompanying Lord Commander Qorgyle to Winterfell to meet Ned Stark and his sons, Robb and Jon.
When he became a grown man, Mance officially took the black and resided at the Shadow Tower. He was out ranging one day when he was attacked by a shadowcat. A wildling woman nursed him back to health and even mended his black cloak with red ribbon, something that was considered precious and rare to those who lived north of the Wall. When Mance returned to the Shadow Tower, he was commanded to destroy the cloak because of the red ribbon, because it was not black. Mance was so furious that he left the Night’s Watch and joined the wildlings, where he became King-Beyond-the-Wall.
1. Benjen Stark and Jeor Mormont
Fans were introduced to Benjen Stark and Jeor Mormont almost as soon as the series began. Both brothers of the Night’s Watch were men from noble houses who voluntarily left their homes, titles, and families to take the black.
While it was common for noble lords to join the Night’s Watch in the years preceding Aegon’s Conquest, very few have done it after. It’s true that Jeor Mormont had a grown son and heir when he took the black, and Benjen Stark was a younger brother whose older brother had a son, so they did not need to stay at their respective homes. But it’s still strange that when most of the Night’s Watch joins as an alternative to prison or execution, these two men with comfortable lives left everything they knew to live at the cold and miserable Wall. And maybe that’s all there is to it–but maybe there’s more than we’ve been led to believe. Unfortunately both men are dead–or, undead–so they can’t tell us for themselves, but maybe we’ll find out more next season.