The Night's Watch
“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 fi re 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 honour to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all nights to come.”
— Oath of the Night’s Watch, A Game of Thrones
The Night’s Watch guard the Wall, a huge fortification built primarily of ice located in the far north of Westeros. The Wall is 300 miles long (100 leagues) and over 700 feet high. It extends from the Frostfangs mountain range in the west to the Bay of Seals in the east. According to Westerosi legend, it was built after the period known as The Long Night by the nearly mythical Brandon the Builder over 8,000 years prior to the present setting, in an attempt to forever shut out the inhabitants of the far north (particularly the Others), who had overrun Westeros during that period, before being turned back by unknown forces. Several mentions in the text suggest that the Wall was much smaller at the time, having been built upon by the Night’s Watch over the centuries to its present size. However, the severely reduced Night’s Watch at the time of the books is limited to irregular maintenance duty. The greatest antagonist to the Watch has been the Others, a race of mystical creatures not seen for thousands of years.
For the vast majority of the Watch’s recent history, they have served as a practical penal colony, filled with petty and violent criminals, political exiles, and vanquished nobility. Although their numbers are dwindling and the title of Brother of the Night’s Watch no longer holds the honor and prestige it once did, the core of the Watch is still composed of capable and dedicated men. These men now serve the Watch and the Realm of Men by helping ensure that the barbaric human settlers of the areas north of the Wall, known as wildlings, are not allowed to raid south of the Wall, with their ancient task all but forgotten by time and mostly replaced by practical, modern concerns.
The “Gift” and the “New Gift”
“The Gift” is a tract of land measuring twenty-five leagues southward from the Wall that the Night’s Watch received from long-dead King Brandon Stark of the North. For years, the Watch farmed the Gift but as the organization dwindled there were fewer hands to plow the fields, tend the bees, and plant the orchards, so the wild reclaimed much of the area. Wishing to restore the Night’s Watch and reward its loyal service in defence of the realm, Queen Alysanne, wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, doubled the extent of the Gift. Towns and villages that were located within the “New Gift” supported the Night’s Watch by their taxes, rendered by goods and labor. In time, the New Gift lost population as people moved south (fleeing wildling raids), further reducing the support structure for the Night’s Watch and the Wall.
The nearest point of civilization to the Wall is Mole’s Town, a subterranean settlement whose brothel is frequently patronized by brothers of the Night’s Watch.