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It is often considered a punishment to send thieves, rapists, bastards etc. to the Wall for serving in the Night's Watch. Also there is a list of rules to follow like not fathering children, etc. Apart from that there is a danger of ranging in the wild (e.g. wilding attacks, the Others, other creatures, etc.). In spite of this there are some people who deliberately take the Black.

My question is: What are, if any, the positive benefits of joining the Night's Watch?

(Other than getting away from a society that treats you unfairly if you are a bastard)

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I came here thinking it was a Babylon 5 question. :( –  James Sheridan Apr 6 at 3:39
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@JamesSheridan And I thought it was a Terry Pratchett question –  user20310 Apr 6 at 12:22
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@RichardTingle So this is why my question only got 1/6 views of this question! –  TLP Apr 6 at 14:58
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4 Answers 4

People join the Night's Watch because it is an honourable thing to do. Such people include Benjen Stark and Waymar Royce. The Starks have a long tradition of members in the watch.

As in the case of Waymar Royce, it is also a way for sons with no family inheritance to choose an honourable future that does not drain the resources of their family. Although this excuse has always seemed feeble to me, as children in age to be married mostly seem to be considered valuable, a way to strengthen the bonds between houses.

Lord Commander Jeor "The Old Bear" Mormont chose to join the watch so that his son Jorah could become lord of Bear Island. Similarly, Maester Aemon Targaryen joined the watch to forsake any claims to the throne, which then passed to his brother, Aegon V, the notable Egg, of the Dunk & Egg novellas.

The blacksmith Donal Noye of Storm's End joined the watch after losing an arm.

Ser Alliser Thorne joined the watch to escape execution for supporting the Targaryens in Robert's rebellion.

Mostly, one could say, it is a matter of honour, and of forsaking responsibilities or family commitments in an honourable way. In some ways, it is an option to death or suicide, to forever forsake life as a regular member of the realm.

As for benefits beyond that, you get food, clothes, work and a place to live, which may appeal to the poor.

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Don't forget brotherhood. It may not be the best community, but we do see friendship in the night's watch. So it's also a way to be part of a community again, with a comparatively clean slate to start from. –  LarissaGodzilla Apr 9 at 7:31
    
I've never heard it mentioned that this is a reason why people join, but it may be a reason they enjoy staying. –  TLP Apr 9 at 8:04
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You may also want to mention that it's effectively a "clean slate" - at least as far as the law is concerned - and therefore a type of amnesty. You could be the most vile, evil, wanted S.O.B. in all of Westeros but if you take the black, no one can touch you (well, not legally, anyway). –  Omegacron Jun 30 at 17:15
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In addition to TLP's answer, the Watch is also an alternative to execution. A noble or knight who loses at the "game of thrones" (or any similar struggle) can be given the option of taking the black instead of execution. This is because a man who joins the Night's Watch pledges not to take part in the realm's power plays, therefore ceasing to be a threat to his enemies.

Here the advantage would be "not being executed".

It seems to me that even for common prisoners, the Watch is a preferable alternative to rotting in a dark dungeon, or execution.

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You might say this was included in the "punishment" part of the question's premises.. :) Though it is of course a valid point. Ser Alliser Thorne joined the watch for this reason, after supporting the Targaryens in Robert's rebellion. –  TLP Apr 5 at 18:51
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Generally, the Night's Watch plays a similar societal role to the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church in medieval Europe. So, I think you could probably find as many reasons to join the Night's Watch as you could find real world reasons why people joined the clergy in that time period. I think the celibacy requirement clearly sets up the Night's Watch to fill the role of somewhere for second/third/etc sons. If you are noble and an heir, your brothers are not a threat (and their is no threat from their non-existent children) if they take the Black. Variations of these same inheritance issues would also exist for lower classes, such as a first born son being heir to the family farm and his brothers (depending on the situation) not having a means to support themselves or otherwise contribute to the family. While it may not seem like a benefit from the point of view of the second/third/etc. son, it is preferable to being killed or pushed out of the family by a first-born brother who views you as a threat. In addition, there are all the less practical reasons - duty, honor, finding purpose, looking good in black, and all the rest.

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+1 for "looking good in black" because, come on, who doesn't look good in black. –  Monty129 Apr 16 at 19:08
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Really not much. That is why most people were forced to join the Night's Watch. Thorne wouldn't have joined the watch if he wasn't on the losing side of RR. Jon Snow probably only joined because he felt unwelcome at Winterfell due to his bastard status.

The whole honourable sales pitch is really just to lure people to the Watch, you don't see people putting the alleged "honourable" watchmen with people like Barristan or other knights.

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The reason not many people choose to join the Night's Watch isn't that there aren't many benefits, it's that the price of those benefits is really high. Stuck there for life, little freedom, never have a woman nor a family. There are benefits, but they are far outweighed by the cons. –  Moogle Apr 16 at 17:30
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