A Song of Ice and Fire
I have tweeted Elio and Linda, the co-authors of The World of Ice and Fire, and they have stated no nets.
@westerosorg Hello! I've found some people claiming that the 581st Lord Commander installed suicide nets on the Wall, though I haven't found any sources backing this up. Do you know if this is the case and if so was it the result of the 581st LC?
@westerosorg It seems I've found the answer to this (they don't) but I'd still appreciate some feedback if I'm wrong in my assessment. Thanks :)
You are quite right. That person claiming the 581st Lord Commander had them installed must have been very confused or was trolling.
However, with that said two canon/semi-canon images I have found of the Wall show no signs of nets. The first one if from the 2011 ASOIAF calander and the second is from The World of Ice and Fire. Both of these images show no nets.
I have found the following quote which would appear to imply there are no nets as the rangers have found fallen corpses.
The Others take them all, thought Jon, as he watched them scramble up the steep slope of the ridge and vanish beneath the trees. It would not be the first time wildlings had scaled the Wall, not even the hundred and first. The patrols stumbled on climbers two or three times a year, and rangers sometimes came on the broken corpses of those who had fallen.
A Storm of Swords, Jon IV
The following quotes also seem to imply there's nothing to stop you from falling to your death.
Donal Noye rounded on him. "Any man here stays his sword, I'll chuck his puckered arse right off this Wall . . . starting with you, Septon. Archers! Do we have any bloody archers?"
A Storm of Swords, Jon VIII
He would make me Lord of Winterfell. The wind was gusting, and Jon felt so light-headed he was half afraid it would blow him off the Wall. "Your Grace," he said, "you forget. I am a Snow, not a Stark."
A Storm of Swords, Jon XI
Three hundred might not be enough. Jon kept that doubt to himself. It was true that climbers were desperately vulnerable whilst on the ascent. Stones and spears and pots of burning pitch could be rained down on them from above, and all they could do was cling desperately to the ice. Sometimes the Wall itself seemed to shake them off, as a dog might shake off fleas. Jon had seen that for himself, when a sheet of ice cracked beneath Val's lover Jarl, sending him to his death.
A Dance with Dragons, Jon II
Game of Thrones
Again no mention is made of nets on the Wall and we do see several images of it at different locations and perspectives and we never see any nets. There are some more views of the Wall in the show but I think that's enough to prove the point.
Castle Black, South of the Wall
Eastwatch, North of the Wall
The team climb the Wall
Eastwatch, South of the Wall
However, there are several reasons as to why the Wall won't have nets:
- It's 700 ft high to successfully stop a suicide it would need more than one row of nets and each would be further out than the last
- Suicide = desertion and desertion is punishable by death (though the watch is undermanned now so there's some leniency e.g. Jon)
- The Wall is 300 miles long so that's a lot of nets to keep and maintain
- The watch is severely undermanned and can't even maintain the trees growing near the Wall or all their castles, the nets are secondary compared to this
- Don't want to protect the wildling climbers
There are also some reasons as to why it would have them:
- Someone falling off accidentally or regretting the jump but unable to stop it
- Someone being pushed off
- They're short on men so someone saved is better than lost