The Night's Watch
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 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 probably the oldest order 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, after the period known as 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 built by Brandon the Builder in order to protect the Seven Kingdoms, should the Others ever return. During the Age of Heroes it was also recorded by the Night’s Watch that the children of the forest gave the Night’s Watch a hundred obsidian daggers every year.
But other than the corrupting of the thirteenth Lord Commander named the “Night’s King,” attacks by the Others never came. Instead, the most frequent attacks came from the wildlings, 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 the Seven Kingdoms 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.
At one time the Night’s Watch boasted nineteen castles along the hundred leagues of the Wall, 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, would have gladly taken the black. Now, over 170 years after Aegon’s conquest, only five castles remain in use and the Night’s Watch’s numbers have dwindled to less than a four thousand men. Not only that, but the Night’s Watch is now largely made up of the misfits of the Seven Kingdoms: peasants, debtors, poachers, rapists, thieves, and bastards. Only a few of the noble and knightly houses have members in the Night’s Watch, and most serve because they fought on the wrong side of a war or fell afoul of political machinations.
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.
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 actively defend the Wall and ride out to face the Watch’s enemies, including the lawless wildlings and the mysterious, inhuman Others.
The builders are responsible for maintaining the Wall, the castles, and the equipment. They provide masons, carpenters, miners, and woodsmen.
The stewards are the largest of the three orders. 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. 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.
The majority of the officers and leadership of the Watch pull its men 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. 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 an 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. 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.” In songs they were also known as the “black knights of the Wall.”
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 nights to come.
It’s customary to finish a black brother’s eulogy with the words, “And now his watch is ended”.