Jon Snow’s watch may be ended, but the Night’s Watch still stands as the first line of defense between the White Walkers and the rest of Westeros. A lot has changed since the order was first formed, but the core of the Night’s Watch is still the protection of the realm and the guarding of the wall, as long as that wall should stand.
The brothers in black have been part of Westerosi history for thousands of years, which means that there's a lot to know about the order – some of which is definitely going to come into play in the final two seasons of Game of Thrones. From the founding of the Night’s Watch and the history of the order, to the current state of the brotherhood, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Night’s Watch.
15 The Youngest Lord Commander Was Only Ten
Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is a title given to the group's leader, and he also holds command over the various castles along the wall and the populace of the Gift (the land just south of the Wall, which also belongs to the Night’s Watch). As we’ve seen in the show, the position is an elected one. When one Lord Commander passes, any man of the watch can nominate himself or be nominated, and a vote is taken to decide who will hold office. (This makes the Lord Commander one of the only democratically elected leaders in the series, although the Ironborn also vote on a King.)
Although the position usually goes to an older, well-respected and experienced member of the Watch, it can theoretically go to anyone. This is how Jon Snow was promoted to Lord Commander while still a teenager, but he’s actually not the youngest ever to gain the title. Osric Stark has that honor, as he was voted in to lead the Watch at the tender age of ten, a position he held until his death sixty years later.
14 There Have Been Nearly 1000 Lord Commanders
The Night’s Watch is one of the oldest orders in the Seven Kingdoms, first created by Brandon Stark – a legendary hero who also founded House Stark and built the Wall itself. The first Lord Commander of the Watch is unknown, but since it was founded, there have been 998 men to hold that title. The first Lord Commander that we met, Jeor Mormont, was the 997th, making Jon Snow #998.
Now that Jon Snow has left the Brotherhood (his watch and his term as Lord Commander having technically ended with his death), the position of Lord Commander remains open. Currently, Eddison Tollet (aka Dolorous Edd) is acting Lord Commander, and could be considered to be the 999th to hold the title – which means that we will potentially see the thousandth Lord Commander elected before the end of the series. Although this could potentially be a random co-incidence, it’s far more likely that George R R Martin intentionally set this up, and that something important will happen when that thousandth Lord comes to power.
Perhaps the fall (or rebuild) of the Wall?
13 The Men Of The Night’s Watch Are Divided Into Three Orders
Although all the men of the Watch take the oath, watch on the wall and are ready to fight should occasion arise, they are also split into three orders with different responsibilities. The Stewards are the largest order within the watch, and there is the widest variety of work within their order. Some stewards are used as squires, pages, and attendants to high ranking members of the Watch. Others perform administrative tasks (especially those men of the Watch who can read, write and do math, like Sam), and keep the castle running. Still others deal with supplies, farming, cooking, and maintaining weapons.
The Rangers are the second order – those men who are the best fighters of the Watch. These are the brothers who do most of the travelling and patrolling, and who go North of the Wall. These are also the ones who are sent out to fight Wildlings (before Jon made peace with them, that is), to scout the surrounding area, and to actively defend the Wall and its castles. The third order is rarely mentioned, and they are the Builders. They maintain the Wall, the buildings and towers, and the large equipment for the watch. Each order has its own commander, appointed by the Lord Commander himself.
12 The Night’s Watch Used To Have Ten Thousand Men (And A Good Reputation)
At the start of Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch is a relatively small order, with less than a thousand men to man the entire Wall. However, this was not always the case. It has been recorded that at the time of Aegon’s Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, the order had ten thousand men, and this may not even have been the height of its numbers. We do not know how many were in the Watch when it was first formed, or in the centuries between the building of the Wall and the time Aegon came to Westeros, but it could have been even larger.
The Night’s Watch has lessened in more than size over the years; its reputation and the quality of its recruits has also vastly diminished. In the past, joining the Night’s Watch was a noble calling, and many younger sons of the great houses (those who weren't in line to succeed their father's title) actively chose to travel to the wall. Now, most of the Brothers are criminals or disgraced nobles who chose to take the black rather than face full punishment for their crimes. The rulers of Westeros have forgotten the purpose of the Night’s Watch -- thinking of them primarily as protection against wildlings -- and have been unwilling to send reinforcements or help.
11 Castle Black Isn’t Their Only Castle
Although the majority of the action in Game of Thrones takes place at Castle Black, this is not the only castle belonging to the Night’s Watch. Castle Black is the headquarters of the order, and sits approximately at the mid-point of the Wall at the very Northern end of the Kingsroad, which is why the order is based there. However, the Night’s Watch actually has nineteen castles, and had seventeen of those manned at once at the height of their power.
By the time of the events in Game of Thrones, only two castles other than Castle Black are manned: Shadow Tower and Eastwatch (the western and eastern-most castles). Several more have come into play during the events of the series, and Jon Snow has sent men to many of the previously abandoned towers in an attempt to strengthen the wall, disperse the wildlings, and remove some of his enemies from Castle Black. Stannis also demanded a castle in return for his help against the wildling attack, and is granted the Nightfort, where Queen Selyse now resides in the books – although in the show she hanged herself after the death of her daughter.
10 The Nightfort Has A Magic Door
The Nightfort is the oldest and largest of the castles along the wall, and was the first base of the Night’s Watch – however, it is now left unused, surrounded by stories. Most of these are tales of murder and magic, including a story about a girl who disguised herself as a boy to serve in the Watch, but was discovered, raped, and murdered. Another story tells that the King of the Andals visited, and there his son was murdered, baked into a pie and served to him. The gods took revenge on the cook, turning him into a rat for betraying guest right. (Arya Stark has clearly heard that story!) Yet another tells of a brother gone mad, who killed several of his friends with an ax. It it said that brothers who deserted the fort were caught, sent back, and buried alive in the walls.
Most of these are ghost stories, but one tale in particular is true: there's a secret tunnel through the wall in the Nightfort, and the door at its end can only be opened by a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch. Samwell opened this door in both the books and the show, to allow him and Gilly through, and also (conveniently) to allow Bran and Meera North of the Wall. This is known as the Black Gate, and was created with the same magic that built the rest of the wall. There are tales that say that the greatest secret of the Night’s Watch rests in the Nightfort – something that might just serve some importance before the series' end.
9 The Watch Uses Mules To Travel The Wall Between Castles
Although the majority of communication between castles is accomplished by raven (as it is everywhere else in Westeros), it is possible to travel from castle to castle along the top of the Wall. In the past, when most of the castles were in use and the length of the Wall was regularly patrolled, the top of the wall was maintained and graveled to make a road. Nowadays, the Wall has started to fall into disrepair, and it is no longer safe for the men of the Watch to walk from one castle to the other.
They do, however, use mules to ride along the top of the wall – animals that can cope with the rougher terrain, even in the cold and wind. The mules are specially trained for this, and are bred and reared at Eastwatch for this purpose. However, even this has become rarer and rarer, as there is little reason to ride the top of the wall , and most of the black brothers patrol only the portion of the Wall closest to Castle Black, with some occasionally riding across the land to get to the other castles.
8 The Night's Watch Also Has A Fleet Of Ships
In season 5 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow “borrowed” the part of the Royal Fleet that belonged to Stannis Baratheon in order to travel to Hardhome. He needed the ships to try and rescue the wildlings trapped there, hoping to convince them to follow him to the wall (where he'd let them pass through to settle further down South) rather than fall victim to the coming army of undead.
However, he shouldn’t really have needed Stannis’s ships at all, as in the books, the Night’s Watch has their own fleet. Based in Eastwatch, the fleet is small, but it is big enough for the expedition to Hardhome. There's also a ship (the Blackbird) from this fleet that carries Samwell, Gilly and Maester Aemon to Braavos and the Citadel. Two other ships are named in the books, the Storm Crow and the Talon. Both of these ships are described as smaller vessels with the rowers sitting on open decks, and are taken to Hardhome. However, of the fleet of eleven ships that makes the journey, five are lost in storms on the way, and more may not survive the return journey.
7 The Night’s Watch Was Given Their Land By The Starks
Although the Watch is based at Castle Black, and at the other castles that can be found along the wall, they are also responsible for the Gift – a tract of land just south of the Wall. This land provides the Watch with farmable land for food, as well as taxes from the towns on it (and taverns for the brothers to visit!). This Gift was originally given to the Watch by a Stark – the same Brandon Stark who founded the order and built the Wall (aka Bran the Builder). This is why the Gift is technically under the protection of both the Watch and Winterfell, even though it is very sparsely settled.
The Gift was later expanded by Good Queen Alysanne, who doubled the size of the land in an attempt to revitalize the Watch. She also paid to have a new castle built for the Watch, Deep Lake. However, her “New Gift” came at a cost – the resentment of the Starks, who were forced to give up the lands to the Night’s Watch.
6 Only A King (Or Death) Can Release A Man Of The Night’s Watch
When a man joins the Night’s Watch, he spends some time as a recruit being trained in the duties and traditions of the Watch. If he is a volunteer, he may leave at any time during training, although if he is a criminal who chose the watch over death, leaving the Watch equates to a death sentence. Once the training is complete, the recruit takes a vow (either in a Sept or at a Heart Tree) and becomes a sworn brother. As a sworn brother, that man can never leave the Watch, and the vow includes the words “now my watch begins, it shall not end until my death.” Jon Snow, of course, managed to find a loophole in his vows when he was killed by his fellow brothers and then being brought back to life by Melisandre. Although he is now alive again, he did technically die, so his watch technically ended. Obviously, this isn’t a common occurrence.
A much easier way to leave the Night’s Watch is to be released from the oath by the King. Stannis offered to do this for Jon Snow (and to legitimize him at the same time), and for disgraced nobles, a King’s Pardon can allow them to leave the watch should they so choose.
5 The Night’s King Was Once A Man of the Watch
According to legend, the Night’s King (the leader of the White Walkers that's known as the Night King in the TV series) was once a living man -- and the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The 13th commander, the man fell in love with a woman with snow-white skin and blue eyes that he'd glimpsed from atop the wall whilst on duty. He brought her to the Nightfort, and ruled with her at his side, abandoning the tradition of the Watch and declaring himself King of the Nightfort. He was a cruel and terrible King who committed atrocities and made sacrifices to the Others, and was eventually brought down when the King of Winter and the King Beyond the Wall joined forces to attack him. It is not known what happened to him once his reign was ended, as his name was struck from history.
In the show, the Night King was revealed to be a creation of the Children of the Forest, who turned a human man into the horrifying creature that we have seen. While it is possible that these two origins will connect, it is somewhat unlikely, given that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to battle the First Men – events that happened around 12,000 years ago, while the Night’s Watch was not formed until around 8,000 years ago. However, this timeline could always be altered for the show.
4 The Watch Was Formed At The Battle For The Dawn…
The history of Westeros is long and complicated, and the Night’s Watch was formed over 8,000 years ago, in the Age of Heroes. This time was after the First Men had come to Westeros, and when they had made peace with the Children of the Forest who lived there. During this age, Westeros suffered through the Long Night – a time of darkness and winter that was colder than any other, and which lasted a generation.
It was during this time that the Others first came to Westeros, and nearly wiped out those living there. However, the First Men and the Children of the Forest won the day at the Battle of the Dawn, when the first ever men of the Night’s Watch used dragonglass to push them back into the frozen North. The brave deeds of these first Black Brothers are still told in the song “The Night That Ended”, which is referenced in the books.
3 …And Was Created To Protect The Realm Against The Others
The men of that first Night’s Watch were brought together by Brandon Stark, the King of Winter, who founded the order. (He may also have been the first Lord Commander, although that is not officially recorded in history.) The order was created to stand watch, lest the Others ever return (spoiler alert – that time is now!). As well as founding the Night’s Watch, Brandon also built the wall, with the help of the giants and the Children of the Forest. He also built the Nightfort to house the Night’s Watch.
Both structures were built with magic, with spells woven into them in order to prevent the Others from ever crossing the Wall if they did return. (There is, however, a legend that the Horn of Joramun can bring down the Wall.) Although the Watch was created to protect the realms against the Others, when they didn’t return, the focus of the Watch shifted. Over the years, the Others became mere legend, and the Night’s Watch became chiefly concerned with keeping Wildling raiders out of the Gift and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
2 The Watch Once Stockpiled Dragonglass
By this time in Westeros, the Children of the Forest are no more than fairy tales – and sadly, are now (presumably) all dead after the White Walkers attacked Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. When the Night’s Watch was first formed, however, the Children of the Forest were allies of the Watch and the First Men. Every year, they would send the Watch one hundred obsidian daggers, to aid them in their fight against teh Others, should they ever return and need to be fought back again.
Obsidian (aka Dragonglass) is one of the only ways to kill a wight, and will presumably be a vital part of the final seasons/books. The Children of the Forest have obviously not sent this gift to the Watch in many years, but there may still be stockpiles of these weapons in some of the castles (perhaps this is one of the secrets of the Nightfort?). We have also seen Jon and Sam find a cache of dragonglass weapons at the Fist of the First Men, and Stannis told Jon that there is more dragonglass at Dragonstone.
In the very near future, Westeros will be needing all the dragonglass they can get their hands on.
1 The Wall Can Be A Dangerous Place To Film
In the series, the Wall is not impassible, and Wildings scale it to raid among the lands and towns of the Gift. However, doing so is a dangerous mission, one only undertaken by the bravest and strongest Wildlings (and Jon Snow, of course). It seems that even filming the Wall can be dangerous! The Castle Black scenes are filmed at Magheramorne Quarry in Northern Ireland – a rock quarry with a functional castle at its base. During filming for Season 6, heavy rain caused a serious rockfall, nearly injuring the cast who were there at the time.
Owen Teale (who plays Ser Alliser Thorne) is quoted as saying that “a piece of rock the size of a London townhouse just fell.” Sounds scary, but luckily, everyone got out of the way quickly and none of the actors were hurt. However, it did cause some problems for the production team, who had to rearrange their filming schedule to allow the quarry to be declared safe once more.
Any other fun facts about the Black Brothers that fans should know? Let us know in the comments!