I have only 1 main question:

For non-criminals, apparently serving the night's watch includes the for life + no leave because 'leave' is desertion or whatever + take no wife + father no children + etc, why can't it just be like a regular soldier job with benefits, leave (in case your dad gets executed), allowed to be married and have children, etc? Ostensibly, more people would sign up for the night's watch if they didn't have these requirements.

The following are guide sub-questions to serve main question. They are not necessarily required to be answered:

  1. Like why do Jon Snow or Sam Tarly have to take the oath re night's watch for life, no wife, etc stuff that they require for criminals?

  2. I remember in s2 the night's watch requested people from Cersei. And something like in s2 or s3 Robb Stark intended to trade Jon for more people to join the night's watch. (Or maybe that was a thing in the books that wasn't adapted. I forgot.) Would any of those hypothetical people have to serve the night's watch for life ?

  • 2.1 - My guess here is yes for the Robb and Jon case but no for the Cersei case because the Cersei case sounds like a temporary thing. But if this is indeed what would've been for the Cersei case, then why not just treat all non-criminals similarly like as if they were temporary contractual peeps that get renewed or something?
  • 2
    This seems pretty unfocused to me. The answer to the first question would seem to be "because that's how it is"
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 19:43
  • @Valorum There is only 1 question. The rest are guide sub-questions for the main question.
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 8:15
  • 2
    Well, not "just because"....the answer is "because George R.R. Martin made it that way", and apparently he forgot to ask you how you'd prefer the rules to work. If you find that you can't accept the framework the author has created in their worldbuilding, then it's always your choice not to consume the work. In this case, Martin wanted his Night's Watch to have the rules they have, and have them apply to everyone, complete with the breaking of said rules and the various (perhaps inconsistent) applications of punishment for failure to follow them. Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 15:05
  • 1
    The answer to this question can be found here, if you generalize the question from "why can't they have children?" to "why do the need an oath?"
    – TLP
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 14:10
  • 1
    It seems fairly lazy to try to answer a question about ASOIAF with "because that's how it is", given that GRRM spends so much time world-building, writing hidden background, leaving clues, etc. Having read these books an excessive amount of times, I know that there are tons of nuances and mysteries to ask questions about. This question is not unfocused, it seems perfectly clear to me, but I do believe it can be answered by the question I linked above and hence is a duplicate.
    – TLP
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


Serving in the Night Watch isn't different for criminals and non criminals. It's an organisation that has set rules that everyone must abide by.

The Night Watch of the times of the TV shows and novels is an old organisation and no one really believes it actually has a purpose, and they don't really believe that the white walkers exist.

During Aegon's Conquest, the Night's Watch numbered ten thousand strong. However, by 298 AC, their strength has dwindled to less than a thousand.

Game of Thrones, Chapters 21 and 60

Castle Black alone once quartered five thousand fighting men with all their horses, servants, and equipment

Game of Thrones, Chapter 19

The highborn of the north have traditionally considered it an honor to serve on the Wall. Many younger sons of northern houses, low in the line of succession, gladly took the black. Shields of nobles from the Hundred Kingdoms of Westeros were proudly displayed in the Shieldhall at Castle Black.

A Dance With Dragons, Chapter 69

Over thousands of years the belief in the white walkers has dwindled and as such very few people volunteer for the night watch, but it still has a quota of bodies to fill, and the leaders of the night watch at least believe that there is still a threat. As such it takes criminals as the easiest way to fill it's ranks.

This reduction in stature of the nights watch can be seen by the fact that only 3 out of 19 castles in the wall are manned as well as the significant reduction in men.

While not every man in the Nights Watch is a criminal, every (a lot of ) criminal/s ends up in the Nights Watch.

  • 1 - But why? 2 - I could argue 'as such very few people volunteer for the night watch' because they have the same rules for non-criminals as criminals. What would be wrong with this? 3 - Re everyone does this include the people Cersei would've sent? Or was that a temporary thing? Or like is there no temporary service for the night's watch?
    – BCLC
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 8:15
  • 2
    @BCLC let's say you have an "Ancient order of court Fools". To join the order, you had to swear that you'll always be honest and tell the truth, no matter the personal cost or how ugly that truth was. In the ancient times, a Fool was a very smart person who could tell anyone, king or not, what they think. To execute a Fool was a grave offense and deeply dishonorable thing. Centuries later (and due to certain mishaps and kingly abuses), to call somebody a fool is a horrible insult. Same goes for the Night Watch. The oath is the same, the context changed.
    – jo1storm
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 8:48

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