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Height Comparison of the Wall from Game of Thrones

I'm reading A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'd love to know why The Wall is so damned tall. It's not like the White Walkers are giants, after all. (Although I've read further now, and there is talk of giants, but they're no taller than 14 feet.) Is there something bigger lurking behind it? Why is it so big? (And additionally, how?)

Has this been answered in the books? And if there is some surprising reveal, please mark your answer with spoiler markdown, thanks!

  • I won't get into bricklaying 101 here since it's not relevant, but once the Wall is bounded on each end by ocean, it can only grow taller. – John O Oct 21 '12 at 2:56
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    so they can't throw anything over? – ratchet freak Oct 21 '12 at 13:02
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    1. The wall would need an enormous amount of water to build (consider its length - it's several hundreds pyramids) 2. The wall wouldn't support it's own weight and would collapse 3. Any small increase of temperature over 0 C (summer) would destroy it completely 4. Ice is fragile - enormous blocks of ice would rutinely break from the top and fall down. 5. Such a wall is impossible to defend. From the top you can't effectively attack enyone by the wall. Using fires close to the wall will create an easy tunnel for attackers and after a while it's impossible to spot from the top. – Sulthan Jul 22 '14 at 15:20
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    You know how these government construction projects are. Somebody's cousin got the contract, and they were probably paid by the cubic foot of ice. – Doug Warren Jan 26 '16 at 18:40
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    @Sulthan wall is raised by magick not hand and powerful magick protects it. So it comes to usual fantasy explanation for stuff that don't have sense : a mage did it. – kifli May 25 '16 at 14:22
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I finally found an answer from Martin himself:

BHW: Why is the wall so tall?

Martin: To keep out bad things.

Hadrian's Wall was an inspiration. In fantasy, everything is bigger. A friend of mine, Lisa Tuttle (we wrote Windhaven together), had just moved to Scotland and was giving me a tour. We were driving in her car and got to Hadrian's Wall at the end of the day. The tour buses were leaving. We walked along the top of the wall just as the sun was going down. It was the fall. I stood there and looked out over the hills of Scotland and wondered what it would be like to be a Roman centurion from Italy , Greece , or even Africa , covered in furs and not knowing what would be coming out of the north at you. I wanted to capture that feeling.

Hadrian's Wall is impressive, but it's not really tall. A good ladder would be all you need to scramble right on over it. When you're doing fantasy, it has to be bigger than in real life. The castles are grander. Fantasy is painted in larger scale and brighter colors.

Source: George R.R. Martin Talks Ice and Fire, A Book Help Web Exclusive Interview (Archived: 2007, 2014)

So it seems the answer is not much more than "because that's how things are in fantasy books"!

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    Can you get a citation for this? I'd love to read the complete interview. – Nemo Oct 21 '12 at 11:59
  • +1 Nice, had not heard the actual story behind Hadrian's wall. Though its not the interview I referred to. I am thinking its a clip I've seen somewhere. – TLP Oct 21 '12 at 15:30
  • @Capt.Nemo Added link for you. – Django Reinhardt Oct 21 '12 at 20:40
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    Hadrian's Wall was mostly to keep down smuggling and raids. Sure you can climb over, but can your horse? Or loot? – Oldcat Jul 21 '14 at 23:21
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    And, reading between the lines, because they don’t really know what might come out of the north to attack them. The Lands of Always Winter are uncharted and unknown. – Paul D. Waite Jan 26 '16 at 16:29
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I believe that GRRM has once mentioned that he did not realize exactly how tall he'd made the wall, but he only realized it when starting with the Game of Thrones TV-series visualisations.

As for exactly why he picked that specific number, I am not sure. It is mentioned in the books that the Night's Watch has been adding to the wall, and also that the wall was or may have been built by Brandon the Builder, using some form of magic. In ADWD there are several references to magic lingering in the Wall.

It is interesting to note that the Wall is based on Hadrian's Wall, which is an actual ancient wall in northern England that the Romans built. The wikipedia page for Hadrian's Wall also notes this connection to GRRM. This may in some way be what inspired him to write ASOIAF.

  • You're kidding! Man, I'd love to see that interview if you could find it. As for Hadrian's Wall - yep! I visited that on a school trip once :) – Django Reinhardt Oct 21 '12 at 8:58
  • I'm afraid I don't know where I read it. Might have been his Not A Blog. – TLP Oct 21 '12 at 9:08
  • I can't find any reference to him saying that anywhere :( – Django Reinhardt Oct 26 '12 at 12:30
  • I think it might have been a video about the production of the first season of GoT. – TLP Oct 26 '12 at 12:54
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    Subsequent Night's Watches adding to the wall is a good point. We don't know exactly how tall Bran the Builder built the wall, but if it has been continually built upon and increased in size since then (the Wall was originally built 8000 years ago) then it would be significantly bigger than originally. The Night's Watch could have built it that high on auto-pilot, following tradition, without ever really stopping to consider whether increasing the height was necessary. – Moogle Jun 18 '15 at 12:55
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The wall was not built only for the White Walkers, but for all the dangerous creatures that were beyond it.

No, the walkers are not giants, but there were actual giants and huge creatures like mammoths.

Secondly, a tall wall is not only made to keep away tall foes, it's also harder to scale and therefore conquer.

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    Actually, I think you'll find that the true purpose of the wall is only the White Walkers and their minions. I believe Jeor "The old Bear" Mormont said "You don't build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women." A giant or a mammoth would not be better equipped to scale a wall because of their size, rather the opposite, IMO. Ever see an elephant climb a wall? – TLP Oct 20 '12 at 20:16
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    It's not about climbing, it's simply about being able to go over it or escalate it. Do you think a huge mammoth, like those in the book, could not go over a 10 feet wall? – BBog Oct 21 '12 at 9:06
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    Although I have Martin's answer, I prefer yours! :) – Django Reinhardt Oct 21 '12 at 9:46
  • "...but for all the dangerous creatures that were beyond it." - Yes, like the giant spiders... – RobertF Jun 18 '15 at 13:26
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Spoilers, but not very serious ones:

As of the end of A Dance With Dragons, we know that the people of the north are running away from something, but we don't yet know exactly what it is. Perhaps when we do know, we'll know why the Wall has to be so high.

  • That's a nice thought. I was thinking the same thing just now, actually. – TLP Oct 20 '12 at 20:21
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    I thought we did know, it's the Others and their wights – childcat15 Dec 10 '13 at 16:17
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It has to be tall enough so when someone tries to scale it in random spots, they have time to spot them and bring some force over to that section. A 700 foot wall takes a long time to climb over, hence gives plenty of time to move defensive forces to wherever they are spotted.

There are various defensive measures built into the Wall, like that scythe we saw in Season 4. But they are usually only as good as having Nights Watch forces above to use them.

  • Especially with so few guards for such a long wall, this makes sense. The taller the wall is, the longer time you have to spot an incursion, the fewer patrols you need to send, the fewer men you need to have, the better your wall is. – Wolfie Inu Oct 21 '15 at 6:15
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    The Wall wasn't designed to have so few guards. There were 21 castles rather than three (although I think only 19 at most were manned at once), and the Nights Watch had many thousands of men. It has decayed over the millennia to the state in which we see it in the books and TV series. – Mike Scott Dec 7 '15 at 15:38
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Westeros and the wall have been around for 8000+ years, and with people constantly building on top of the wall, it would make sense that the Wall grew to be as tall as it is presently.

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The wall didn't start 700 feet tall. The wall that was originally constructed was much smaller, however after 8000 years of snowfall and ice, the wall has gotten increasingly higher and wider. I don't know of any indication of exactly how tall the wall was when it was first made though.

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