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So, Jon joined the Night's Watch under the assumption he was the bastard of Ned Stark. This makes sense, since bastards aren't entitled to land or any of the like. But, lets for a second assume that Jon is a Targaryen, the true born son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Is there a precedent that would allow him to leave the Watch and take up his true name?

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    Jon would still be a bastard, just not Ned Stark's. His status would be less than Gendry's (bastard of a King vs bastard of the heir apparent) – Gerry Coll Apr 25 '13 at 7:42
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    Not if Rhaegar and Lyanna were wed. Hence my assumption that he's a true born son. – PiousVenom Apr 25 '13 at 13:09
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    If he were to die and be brought back to life by a Red priest / priestess then he would no longer be bound by his vows, regardless of his parentage... – Nick Apr 25 '13 at 13:11
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    @CL4PTR4P: Rhaegar was already married to Elia Dorne, however IIRC other Targaryens had more than one wife (and married their sisters, so normal rules don't apply) – Gerry Coll Apr 26 '13 at 0:16
  • Might be worth checking this out: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/38859/21267 – Möoz May 12 '14 at 21:46

10 Answers 10

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It doesn't matter under what name men joined the watch, they belong to the watch until they die according to the vow they take:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all nights to come.

see http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Night%E2%80%99s_Watch#Vows

The vow is not tied with a name it is between the person saying the vow and his belief, in case of Jon Snow, the Old Gods as he said his vow before a heart tree.

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    Maester Aemon was raised Targaryean and he joined the Watch so you can't safely assume that at all. – TheMathemagician Apr 24 '13 at 14:50
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    @CL4PTR4P Ned Stark was going to be forced on pain of death to take the black, and there was not even a hint that he might renege on the vow (or be allowed to do so). Likewise with the dishonourable guard captain who Tyrion banishes to the wall. In Westeros (and the medieval Europe it is based on), an oath is an oath, especially one sworn before your gods: modern contract law with provisions for coercion or trickery simply doesn't apply. – evilsoup Apr 24 '13 at 14:58
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    @CL4PTR4P I think that a King can do pretty much what he wants, as is demonstrated when Stannis offers Jon legitimization and Winterfell (and presumably being relieved from Night's Watch duty). Also as demonstrated when Robb names Jon his heir, which he would not do if Jon was bound to his vows. – TLP Apr 24 '13 at 15:04
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    Is there any canon to suggest that there are unspoken conditions on a vow? No. A vow is whatever you state in the vow, so unless the vow states provisions, there are none. On the contrary, people are forced against their will to take up the black, their other choice being death. Those vows still hold weight. – Gorchestopher H Apr 24 '13 at 16:03
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    @CL4PTR4P People can be released from vows, yes, but these are almost universally vows of obedience or obligation to a person or persons. The reason this works is because the person taking the vow agrees to obey commands given them, and then can accept a command that says "I release you from your vow". The Night's Watch vow is different. It isn't one of obedience to a purpose. Its about taking on a duty. Sure, Jon Snow could decide that the vow no longer applied, due to his heritage or otherwise. Other people did that, after all. They were called "deserters". – Beofett Apr 24 '13 at 16:21
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If Jon is indeed a Targaryen, then he would not be the first to join the Night's Watch. Aemon Targaryen joined the Black, and when the crown was to be passed to him after his father died he refused to renege on his vows and passed the crown to his youngest brother Aegon (Later to be known as Aegon V The Unlikely). While not exactly a Targaryen, Brynden Rivers AKA Bloodraven was a legitimized royal bastard who joined the Black and rose to become the Lord Commander of the watch.

There is no precedent for anyone (Targaryen or otherwise) being allowed to leave the Night's Watch once the vows were spoken. Leaving the Watch after the vows is a crime punishable by death throughout Westeros.

The following happens in A Storm of Swords (book 3):

Stannis Baratheon, in a bid to woo the North to him, offers to legitimize Jon Snow, issue a royal decree to unbind him from his Night's Watch vows, and make him Lord of Winterfell and the North. Both Jon and Stannis recognized that this is a serious precedent, but Stannis is so completely invested in his power as a king that he brushes it off as necessary.

14

If you haven't read A Dance with Dragons, STOP READING NOW!!!

The last POV chapter for Jon in ADwD left Jon in an unknown status:

either dead or knocked out. If he is dead and Melisandre revives him (since Thoros who was very unfaithful before the war can do it) Jon literally would have served until his death. If he died he would have fulfilled his vows.

  • Given that the Night's Watch also generally frowns (rather heavily) upon actions like those of the other people in that scene, technicalities like this probably aren't going to be the deciding factor. – user36551 Apr 8 '15 at 3:37
  • Technically no. "It shall not end until my death" is one clause which indicates the end of service. But there is another one "I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all nights to come.". This indicates that A member will be a sworn member of NW until the end of the world. So it is pretty much ambigious – Aegon Sep 2 '16 at 12:20
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He wouldn't be allowed to, but if another King named him as their heir, and assuming men supported that claim, the Night's Watch couldn't stop him. Sure, he would technically be a deserter, but the Night's Watch isn't going to go to start a superfluous civil war over a single deserter. "Power resides where men believe it resides", so if enough men believe Jon is the rightful King in the North, his vows will only be as strong as his sense of duty to his Brothers on the Wall.

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WARNING: A Storm of Swords spoilers ensue...

Released from the Night's Watch

Jon Snow would have to first be released from the Night's Watch; since a member of the Night's Watch cannot simply leave, "it is known"...

As per Robb and Catelyn Stark's discussion when they are making their way from Riverrun to the Twins for Edmure's wedding to the Frey girl:

[Catelyn]: “If Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.”

[Robb]:“So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon’s place, I’ll wager they find some way to release him from his vows.”

-A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Pt 2 - Blood and Gold (Catelyn).

A Bastard Cannot Inherit

Now comes the question of legitimacy and inheritance; Jon would not be able to succeed anyone regardless of being freed from the Night's Watch.

He is set on this. Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. “A bastard cannot inherit.”

“Not unless he’s legitimized by a royal decree,” said Robb. “There is more precedent for that than for releasing a Sworn Brother from his oath.”

“Precedent,” she said bitterly. “Yes, Aegon the Fourth legitimized all his bastards on his deathbed. ...

-A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Pt 2 - Blood and Gold (Catelyn).

So Robb has given this much thought and knows that there is a way to have Jon Snow released from the watch, and then also legitimised so that Jon can succeed Robb.

Robb later on does write a document; in which I believe he decrees that Jon Snow should be legitimised:

Robb stood, and as quick as that, her fate was settled. He picked up a sheet of parchment. “One more matter. Lord Balon has left chaos in his wake, we hope. I would not do the same. Yet I have no son as yet, my brothers Bran and Rickon are dead, and my sister is wed to a Lannister. I’ve thought long and hard about who might follow me. I command you now as my true and loyal lords to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision.”

-A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Pt 2 - Blood and Gold (Catelyn).

Note that Stannis tries to do the exact thing for Jon in Castle Black as well.

The Great Council

The Great Council could be convened to release Jon from his vows and recognise him as the Heir Apparent. To shamelessly steal from my other answer:

[Interviewer] Is there any chance that Jon could be released from his oaths of the nightwatch?
[George_RR_Martin] The great council would have released Aemon from his maester's oath, so I suppose it would be possible. With an appropriate authority. http://web.archive.org/web/20001005212114/eventhorizon.com/sfzine/chats/transcripts/031899.html

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Being "allowed" to leave the watch is somewhat of a fuzzy subject.

As far as we've been told, there's no provision in the Night's Watch oath or "code of conduct" that allows someone to quit/resign/retire/etc. It is repeated many times during the course of the novels, that a Brother of the Night's Watch gives up their old names, titles, lands, etc. and becomes just one more member of the Watch. As far as the Watch is concerned, they don't care what Jon's reasons for joining were, or about the circumstances surrounding that decision.

However, just because the Night's Watch has no rule that would let Jon officially surrender his oath, that doesn't mean he can't just break it anyway. There's a huge difference between the Watch "allowing" Jon to leave vs. the Watch "having any way to stop him" from leaving.

Note that they're already hard-pressed to stop tunrcloaks like Mance from running off; they rely on the Warden of the North to catch and execute deserters that make it down into Winterfell. If Jon were to become anyone of significant power in Westeros (remember, at the very least Robb has already legitimized him and named him heir to Winterfell), it's unlikely that the Watch would have much say in what he does.

If whoever ends up King of Westeros when this is all over with decides to grant him "permission" to leave the Watch, and forbids any of his subserviant lords from arresting Jon for desertion, then presumably Jon just has to avoid going near the Wall for the rest of his life and he'll be fine.


All of that, of course, presumes that there's still a Night's Watch when the series ends. There's a pretty strong subtext that the situation with the Others is about to change quite dramatically; if they were out of the picture, the purpose of the Watch itself would change, if not disappear, and the whole question might be moot.

  • He doesn't need permission-he already died. – King of NES Sep 2 '16 at 12:56
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I Guess that, if he were a Targaryan and choose to leave the Night's Watch, it would only be allowed with the consent of a king.

(If Aegon or Daenerys conquer the Iron Throne, and find out that Jon is their brother, certainly would allow)

His name could be changed, as Stannis proposed that he take the Stark name when Winterfell and Val were offered for him, and he refused.

Sorry for my english.

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Often legality is just a simple matter of having enough power and then retroactively declaring your actions to be legal (for example Robert killed the royal Targaryens, and then became King, implicity pardonning his crimes of treason).

So certainly if Jon has some outside support he could most certainly leave the Nights Watch.

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The Night's Watch has men whose duties are south of the Wall -- for example Yoren, who travels Westeros recruiting new men. So I don't see why Jon couldn't remain a member of the Night's Watch in good standing but be posted to King's Landing by the Lord Commander to serve as the king, on the grounds that he could do most good for the Watch in that way.

  • But the Watch doesn't get involved in matters of the realm. – curiousdannii Jan 12 '14 at 4:04
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Would he even have to? While it seems clear that he is indeed one of the 3 Heads of the Dragon who will ultimately triumph, that doesn't necessarily mean that he will ever sit the Iron Throne. I can envision the prophesy being fulfilled with Daenerys on the throne, Tyrion as Hand, and Jon defending the realm as Lord commander of the Wall. There's a lot in that sentence that isn't relevant to this discussion, so I won't elaborate; my point is-- I don't think Jon can or will leave the Watch, but I don't think it is necessary for him to do so in order to fulfill his destiny.

  • Welcome to the site. Interesting opinion but what you offer does not answer the question. – Stan Sep 13 '13 at 19:00

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