Night gathers, and so do the brave brothers of Game of Thrones' Night’s Watch. From the moment they take their sacred vows until their death, they swear to take no wives, hold no lands, father no children, wear no crowns, and win no glory.
They are the watchers on the Wall, the swords in the darkness, the shield that guards the realms of men. They pledge their lives and honor to the sacred order of anonymous heroes who live and die to protect the Seven Kingdoms... for this night and all the nights to come.
However, they are far more than a band of nameless soldiers. The Night’s Watch was formed thousands of years ago, when mankind needed them most. They have their own rules, and a history worthy of study by the wisest maesters.
Now, as the White Walkers threaten once more to bring the darkness of the Long Night, the brothers in black are needed more than ever. This is why you need to know about the long, complicated past and present struggles of the men who take the black.
Here are the 16 Reasons To Swear An Oath To The Night’s Watch.
16 The book version of the Three-Eyed Crow was a famous former Lord Commander
HBO refers to Bran’s mentor as the Three-Eyed Raven. While we know little about his past life, he told Bran he had been waiting for him for a thousand years. However, in Georgre R.R. Martin’s novels, the man in the tree is known as the Three-Eyed Crow, and much is known about his past life.
He was Brynden Rivers, known as Lord Bloodraven, an uncle of Maester Aemon. Rivers was a former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who went missing beyond the Wall during a ranging. Before he came to the Night’s Watch, though, he was a famous Targaryen bastard who stayed loyal to the crown during the great Targaryen civil war, known as the Blackfyre rebellions.
It was said Lord Bloodraven used dark magic and could spy on people by seeing through weirwood trees. "How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have?” was from a popular riddle. “A thousand eyes, and one."
The Three-Eyed Crow long outlived his mortal years, but nothing like the show’s version of the character claims that he lived under the ground in a tree.
15 The youngest Lord Commander ever was a 10-year-old Stark
Serving in the Night’s Watch requires a lifetime of sacrifice, with its members giving up their family name and titles, as well as any promise of a normal life.
The Lord Commander is entrusted with incredible responsibility, burdened with leading a wide swath of men, many whose Houses often warred with one another before they came to the Wall. Despite all of that, a child was once elected to lead the entire order.
Osric Stark, who is believed to either have been a brother or a son of a King in the North, was ten years old when his brothers voted him as their Lord Commander. His election took place around 400 years before Aegon's Conquest.
How or why someone so young was handed such a position is unknown, but House Stark has long been one of the Night’s Watch greatest sources of support and members. Whatever the reason why he was elected, Osric Stark served in the role for 60 years.
14 During Aegon’s Conquest there were over 10 thousand brothers in black
When Aegon Targaryen invaded the Seven Kingdoms with his two sisters and their three dragons, the Night’s Watch was still a renowned and respected force. It counted more than ten thousand men in its ranks. Half of those brothers were stationed at castle Black, making it one of the fiercest fighting forces in Westeros.
Aegon didn’t have to worry about conquering them though, as the Night’s Watch swears to take no sides in any wars or to serve any king. They serve the realm itself. That’s why the Lord Commander of the time, a brother of Harren the Black, stayed neutral even after Aegon killed Harren.
However, in the nearly 300 years since Aegon landed, the Night’s Watch’s numbers have dwindled to under a thousand, requiring the desertion of most of its castles. The Night’s Watch has never been smaller and more vulnerable, and it couldn’t come at a worse time with the return of the White Walkers.
13 The 13th Lord Commander is known as the Night’s King
Legends say that during the Age of Heroes six to eight thousand years ago, shortly after the first Long Night ended and the Wall was built, a fearless warrior was elected Lord Commander.
However, one day he spotted beyond the Wall a woman “with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars.” He fell in love with her and pursued, and it is said when he lay with her he gave her his soul. The two then ruled as king and queen for 13 years from the Night’s Watch castle now known as the Nightfort.
Unspeakable atrocities were said to happen during their time there. They were only stopped when the Stark king united with the wildling king to defeat them, freeing the Night’s Watch. All records of the Lord Commander were then destroyed.
Whether this is just a legend, or if this man is the same Night King who threatens Westeros today, no one knows, but the 13th Lord Commander is the most notorious member to ever serve in the Night’s Watch.
12 The Nightfort is legendary for many other dark tales, including the Rat Cook
The Nightfort is the oldest castle of the Night’s Watch, twice as old as Castle Black. While most infamous for the reign of the Night’s King, it is also known for numerous other dark, twisted stories. Most famous among them is the one Bran Stark told about the Rat Cook.
Legend says he was turned into a giant white rat by the gods as punishment for breaking guest’s rights after he killed a visiting king’s son and served him to his father in a pie. There are those who say the Rat Cook still haunts the castle to this day.
However, the Nightfort is home to many more mysterious, evil stories. Its history is one of murder, betrayal, and curses. Did the Night King doom the castle, or are these just tall tales of history? Either way, probably anywhere else would be a safer, less terrifying place to spend a night.
11 The abandoned Nightfort castle has a secret passageway
If you are unlucky enough to end up at the Nightfort, it does contain one magical feature that could come in handy if a giant white rat starts chasing you. Though, unfortunately, you will need to have a brother of the Night’s Watch with you to use it.
That’s because deep below the castle is a hidden passageway which contains a giant glowing white weirwood door that leads out beyond the Wall.
When someone approaches the carved face of the door, known as the Black Gate, it will open its eyes and ask “who are you?” If a member of the Night’s Watch repeats his sacred vows, the gate’s mouth will open until the door disappears entirely.
It is a magical door said to be as old as the Wall itself, and since it will only open for the brothers in black, it can come in handy when fleeing enemies from the north. Especially the cold ones with the blue eyes.
10 They have 19 castles along the Wall, but only three are manned
Currently the Night’s Watch only uses three of its 19 castles along the Wall. Castle Black is the order’s center, where the Lord Commander and largest force is stationed.
Eastwatch-by-the-Sea stands along the coast of the Bay of Seals, and houses the Nights Watch’s small fleet of ships. The Shadow Tower protects the western side of the Wall. Both Eastwatch and the Shadow Tower have their own commanders, who only answer to the Lord Commander.
The 16 other castles stand empty, many in partial ruin, because there aren’t enough men to fill them. However, even when the Night’s Watch was at its peak it never filled all 19 at once. The most ever in use at the same time was 17.
Not all of them were ever intended to be used, since the Nightfort was abandoned because it cost too much in upkeep, and Deep Lake seven miles east was built to replace it.
With so many empty castles, the Wall is much harder for the Night’s Watch to patrol. That’s why wildlings are often able to scale it and raid the North. Those abandoned strongholds are a major weakness in the Night’s Watch’s quest to protect the realm.
9 There are three orders: Stewards, Rangers, and Builders
Men who join the Night’s Watch are assigned into one of three groups after taking their vows. Each one is led by an officer named to his position by the Lord Commander.
Stewards take care of every day functions, like hunting, cooking, making clothes, and collecting firewood. The highest ranking member of this group is known as the Lord Steward. Despite his fighting skills, Jon Snow was named a steward by Jeor Mormont, who hoped to train him to lead one day.
Builders are the masons, carpenters, and woodworkers of the order, responsible for maintaining both the upkeep of the Wall and the castles. Their officer is referred to as the First Builder.
Rangers make up the primary fighting force. They handle patrols and often go beyond the Wall to deal with wildling threats. Their lead officer is the First Ranger.
Although the Rangers main job is to serve as the order’s military branch, all brothers train for battle and can be called into a fight at any time.
8 Recruiters are called wandering crows, and they mostly return with criminals
The once proud Night’s Watch was historically made up of sons and knights from the great houses of Westeros. Serving on the Wall was a great honor, but as the order’s prestige has waned over, the centuries and nobles have stopped enlisting, so it has had to turn to men of a much lower statuses to fill its ranks.
These new recruits, who are often the worst kinds of criminals, are found by brothers known as “wandering crows.” These traveling men of the order frequently search the dungeons of Westeros for able-bodied men. No matter their offense-- including rape or murder-- any man who swears allegiance to the Night’s Watch is forgiven for his crimes.
That’s why many often accept a lifetime of service in the cold. Freezing is better than losing a hand for theft, or worse for more heinous crimes. However, that’s also why the Night’s Watch is not as fierce a fighting force as it used to be.
7 Jon was the 998th Lord Commander in history
The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is elected by his fellow brothers, with each member getting a vote. Any man can put himself up for the position, whether he is noble born or of common birth.
A nominee needs two-thirds of support to win, and until someone gets the required vote total, the election continues. Multiple votes are not uncommon, and once it took over two years and 700 votes to pick a new Lord Commander.
Jon Snow didn’t need anywhere near that long to be named the 998th man to hold the title, though his election was made possible as part of an agreement with two other candidates.
Since the position and order far predate written records, it is unknown how accurate that number is, but like with the Night’s Watch vows themselves, it has always been a lifetime position.
Does that mean a resurrected Jon Snow is free from his service and command, or has he betrayed his sacred oath by abandoning his position? It’s unclear, since someone coming back from the dead was an impossible hypothetical to imagine.
6 Queensgate castle was renamed for a Targaryen queen who visited the Night’s Watch
One of the 19 castles belonging to the Night’s Watch along the Wall was once known as the Snowgate, but was renamed Queensgate after a royal visit. Good Queen Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, visited the Wall by riding her dragon Silverwing there.
A large contingent of the royal court had traveled to Winterfell, but the beloved queen grew bored. So, to pass the time, she started visiting locales in the North upon her dragon. One of her stops brought her to the Wall.
She was the one who suggested that the Nightfort was too expensive to maintain, and suggested that, instead, the Night’s Watch should build a smaller castle nearby in the east. King Jaehaerys eventually sent men to build it after she financed the project with her own jewels.
As part of their gratitude the Night’s Watch changed the Snowgate to the Queensgate, a lasting tribute to her famous visit and kind generosity.
5 Queen Alysanne doubled the Night’s Watch land south of the Wall known as the Gift
The Night’s Watch had even more reason to be grateful to Queen Alysanne beyond just a visit and a new castle. That’s because she was so moved by the bravery of the men who served the realm that she doubled their lands, known as the Gift-- the area they control south of the Wall.
The original Gift, which legend says was bestowed thousands of years to the Night’s Watch by Brandon the Builder, was given to them to farm and sustain themselves. Alysanne ordered it doubled, and stated that taxes paid by those who lived there should go to the Night’s Watch.
That caused some problems with House Stark, since it was a forced donation, but eventually Lord Stark relented. As angry as he was though, the Night’s Watch was more than happy to accept the extra 25 leagues of land.
However, with their modern numbers being so low and the Night’s Watch unable to utilize it, Jon Snow planned to give it to the wildlings who marched with him across the Wall.
4 Brothers often break their vows by traveling to the brothel in Mole’s Town
Despite their sacred vows about fathering no children and taking no wives, which would indicate a life of celibacy, men of the Night’s Watch have been known to visit the brothel in the nearest village of Mole’s Town. However, all that anyone cares about is discretion when they do.
Whether the laissez-faire attitude of the Night’s Watch leadership is due to desperation caused by the low enlistment numbers of the order, or if this is a long-standing practice, is unclear, but it is a practice that is overlooked out of necessity. As Maester Aemon has said, “if we beheaded every ranger who lay with a girl, the Wall would be manned by headless men.”
Technically, being with a woman might not even be a violation of their oath. The Night’s Watch vows don’t say that its members must be celibate, just that they can’t marry or reproduce.
Sam uses the ambiguity of the words to justify his relationship with Gilly.
3 Brothers are executed for desertion and insubordination
Just because a brother in black can visit a brothel without fear of losing his head, doesn’t mean that they can break their other vows without fatal results. During training, any man can leave (though criminals would have to return to face their punishment). However, once they swear their sacred oath, they are bound for life to the Night’s Watch.
Any man who deserts his post is punished with death. Ned Stark executed a deserter of the Night’s Watch in the first episode of Game of Thrones. (In fairness to him though, who wouldn’t run far away after seeing a White Walker?)
However, insubordination is also grounds for death, as Janos Slynt found out when he disobeyed Lord Commander Snow’s orders. The Night’s Watch can survive a quick romp to Mole’s Town, but it can’t survive its members abandoning their duty or questioning its leadership.
2 It was founded 8,000 years ago during the Long Night, before the Wall was built
The exact timeline of events in Westeros is as much guesswork as fact, because no written records were kept until the Andal invasion. However, a millennia ago, during the Age of Heroes, the White Walkers first came to Westeros, and with them came the Long Night. Darkness overtook the land for a generation, as the dead marched on the living.
It was during this time that the Night’s Watch was formed, and eventually they were able to push back the White Walkers. Their victory and subsequent defense of the Seven Kingdoms was aided by a yearly gift of dragonglass from the Children of the Forest.
It was only after their great victory that the Wall was built. Since then, they have manned it in their castles, selecting their own Lord Commander. However, over the thousands of years their mission of guarding against the White Walkers eventually became a tall tale, and their role changed to guarding against wildling attacks.
1 The Night’s Watch ultimate victory over the White Walkers came at the Battle for the Dawn
The song “The Night That Ended” tells about the final battle waged during the Long Night, known as the Battle for the Dawn. Legend says that, after finally stopping the White Walker invasion that had pushed them further south, the Night’s Watch stood alongside Azor Ahai to finally repel the blue-eyed ice demons back to the snowy lands far north.
Azor Ahai, sometimes called the last hero, was said to wield the burning sword known as Lightbringer as he led the Night’s Watch to victory.
Does that mean Azor Ahai was a member of the Night’s Watch? Or that, if he is/has been reborn to once again lead the living against the dead, he will be found among the black brothers? Or will an outsider need to stand with the brothers in black once more?
The answers to these questions remain to be seen, but no matter what happens, the Night’s Watch will again be called upon to fulfill their ancient oath to stand as the swords in the darkness.
Do you know any other interesting facts about Game of Thrones' Night's Watch? Let us know in the comments!