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In the episode Breaker of Chains (Season 4, Episode 3) of Game of Thrones, one of the Night's Watch men mentions "ninth-born son" when listing the crimes of his new recruits.

"Raper. Horse thief. Ninth-born son. Raper. Thief. Thief and raper."

What is a ninth-born son? and is it a crime? If so, why?

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It's not a crime, it just means what it says: a ninth born son. Therefore, a son from a large family will inherit nothing. No opportunities, even if the son is from a noble house. And if it's a son from commoners, it's possible that they have no choice, as there isn't enough food. Keep in mind that (at least in the North), taking the black by yourself is seen as an honorable career choice.

  • I wonder at what "number" a son would be considered a "ninth born son" (assuming it's not literally at 9 and after it's hard to inherit)... – BruceWayne Jan 19 '18 at 2:28
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    @BruceWayne Maybe this particular guy was, in fact, ninth-born, rather than it being a turn of phrase. – Rawling Jan 19 '18 at 7:52
  • @BruceWayne I would guess it depends on the family; Walder Frey doesn't seem to have much problems with his 21 sons... – Arnaud D. Jan 19 '18 at 9:43
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    @ArnaudD. the only problem he has is keeping them apart :p – Jungkook Jan 19 '18 at 13:27
  • @ArnaudD. The sons may disagree. None of them look very happy. – Studoku Jan 19 '18 at 17:52
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What is a ninth-born son?

Exactly what it says on the tin the ninth born son of someone. They are most likely from some noble House instead of low born but the quote doesn't really give anything away either way.

Is it a crime?

No, only the first born son in a House in Westeros will inherit and become Lord, the others must find something else to do. This related question discusses it in more detail but in short the options are.

  • Night's Watch
  • Maester
  • Septon
  • Knight
  • Kingsguard

So out of those options why would someone choose the Night's Watch? @Aegon has a good answer for that here so I won't repeat too much. Another reason though is it was once seen as an honourable choice to serve in the Watch, it's only really in recent years that's changed though some people like Jon Snow and some other high born sons still think it's an honourable thing to do.

  • Has the Night's Watch always been a 'punishment'? They are hurting for men, so it seems people just send up criminals that were taking up space in their prisons, at least when we come into the story. If that is a more recent thing, that would probably indicate why it is seen as more a punishment than an honor nowadays. – Tyler Dahle Jan 18 '18 at 17:24
  • @TylerDahle No, however, people aren't sent to the Watch anymore wandering crows go around for recruits and more often than not only find them in the dungeons nowadays. – TheLethalCarrot Jan 18 '18 at 17:31
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    Oh right, they get the option of die/rot in jail or join instead of being forcibly sent I suppose. But I'd imagine since the Watch is pretty much full of criminals now and a place criminals go... it isn't looked at as such an honorable choice anymore, which means less people go so they need more criminals :P – Tyler Dahle Jan 18 '18 at 17:34
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    @TylerDahle That's basically it yes though there are those in the North that still find it honourable – TheLethalCarrot Jan 18 '18 at 20:10
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    @TylerDahle Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, gave up the Lordship of his house to join the Night's Watch, out of honour to the service. – Edlothiad Jan 19 '18 at 11:22

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