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OK, I've waited until I finished ADWD in case there was any explanation there.

Why was Benjen Stark on the Wall? Was there an explanation I have missed?

I appreciate, as a younger brother, he would have had less opportunity than Brandon (or Eddard), and may have been looking for adventure or honour, but the Wall, by the time he would have joined, was hardly at the height of its renown.

Joining the Black wouldn't be, I would have thought, a particularly obvious option for Benjen, if he was simply looking for a title or a role in life to fit the name of Stark.

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    So Spake Martin One day you will get an answer. But it will not be today. – Möoz Dec 13 '15 at 20:18
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    Also, "When did Benjen join the Night's Watch?", to which GRRM repliedPretty much [right after the war against the Targaryens], yes. Probably around about the time Ned returned from the south and Catelyn and Robb and Jon took up residence. – Möoz Dec 13 '15 at 20:20
61

Benjen was the youngest child and third youngest son. In the scenario where all 4 children grow up. . .

  1. Brandon becomes heir of Winterfell. He'll get a very choice match for a wife.
  2. Lyanna is married off to a young capable 1st-son of a powerful house (Robert Baratheon as it turns out).
  3. Ned's situation is more interesting. He is next in line if Brandon dies without producing an heir. He could be used to strengthen an alliance with a northern house, in which case he becomes a bannerman of Brandon. He could also be married off to a lesser house further south. Something below the Tullys (they being a major, local ally of the Martels). Ned is still a somewhat attractive match.
  4. Benjen is a runt. It's tradition in the north for Nth sons (beyond the 2nd, but 2nds might as well for really minor houses/merchant's sons/etc) to take the black. It's a stronger tradition for the Starks, as System Down notes. Benjen's prospects are relatively minor. Perhaps his best alternative is that he could possibly marry into a very minor house and become a bannerman himself.

He might also have had a sense of duty. Or loved someone he couldn't be with, and taken the black because of that. As System Down notes, we don't know the precise reason. Just that it's not uncommon for Nth sons to do so, even in modern times (when the black has lost a lot of its luster).

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    Plus, since it's clear that the class system of Westeros is alive and well at the Wall, it is logical that "runt" sons would have more of a chance of rising to a position of power within the Watch. The series opens with another example of this (Waymar Royce). – Ryan Nov 15 '11 at 21:02
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    I should also add that, while the South feels like taking the Black is fit only for criminals, the North still sees it as an important duty and an honor to serve. – Corwin01 Sep 11 '12 at 16:10
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    Benjen Stark could expect to rise to a position of high authority in the Night's Watch; he was capable, educated, a trained warrior, and being brother of the Lord of Winterfell doesn't hurt. If he hadn't disappeared, he would have been an excellent candidate for Lord Commander. For an ambitious man, it's a better prospect than being (at best) a minor bannerman in his brother's service. – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 21 '14 at 10:26
  • Note that Benjen could have theoretically opted for Maesterhood. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jul 26 '15 at 13:27
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    @einpoklum: "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." --- Lucifer, Paradise Lost – Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 28 '15 at 9:49
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While I appreciate and understand the official explanation theories about Benjen joining the Watch, I've never felt entirely satisfied by them.

Benjen was the "Stark in Winterfell" during the war, and when Ned returned, they were the only two remaining Starks, Brandon, Lyanna, and Lord Rickard all having died in the war.

In peacetime, it would make sense for a 3rd son of a Stark lord to take the black. The Starks take the Night's Watch seriously, meaning for them it is an honourable thing to do, not just a quick fix to get rid of an unneeded sibling. It is also a way to strengthen the bond between Starks and the Watch, thereby strengthening the power and reputation of House Stark.

Although with that said, I do not entirely agree. There is a lot of talk about this being a valid option, but there is also a lot more talk about finding good marriages as a political tool, to strengthen bonds between families. For a minor family, this might be considered a burden, but the Starks are a major house, and I feel confident that Benjen would have been a desirable match for a good many marriage alliances.

If you need examples: Ramsay Snow forcibly married Lady Hornwood in order to "inherit" their lands. Tyrion was forcibly married to Sansa Stark for the same reasons. Alys Karstark was in the same situation. Heck, even Edmure Tully found a match in one of the Frey's "excess daughters".

There is always things happening, and a son of a marriageable age is a major asset.

After the war, however, this situation is changed. There was only Ned and Benjen left. After Benjen joined the Watch, Ned was the sole Stark left in the world (besides Robb). While it seems reasonable for the youngest out of 4 siblings to join the Watch, while their father is still alive, it seems extreme when the entire house is all but extinct.

I am leaning towards it being a sign of grief. With so many loved ones having been killed, Benjen might have seen the Watch as an easy way out. Something to the effect of: "What is left for me here? Let my brother carry on the Stark house."

There is also the theory that Benjen played a part in the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, helping his sister Lyanna and Howland Reed defeat the three knights, as seen here. The gist of this story is that Lyanna, who was reputedly very fierce, skilled at arms and horseriding, played the part of the mystery knight, was unmasked by Rhaegar, which lead to their love affair, which by extension lead to the death of Lyanna, Brandon and Lord Rickard. In a sense, this could be the very event that started the war.

Even if one does not believe Lyanna was the mystery knight, it is not unlikely that Benjen played some part in what was to come, where Lyanna and Rhaegar disappear and war breaks out.

After the war, when Ned returns home with the news of their sister, I find it plausible that Benjen might join the Watch in grief and guilt.

One some level, it is also reasonable to assume that... (spoiler about Jon's mother)

if indeed Jon is Lyanna's and Rhaegar's son, that Benjen knew, and that him joining the Watch might be a way to open up future possibilities for Jon joining the Watch for his own protection. Although I am not too fond of that particular part.

Either way, I find that the official theory of Benjen's reasons is a bit too thin, and that there are plenty of room for speculation. I also have a feeling that Benjen's fate will be revealed eventually, that he has some part yet to play in the plot. For example, I believe GRRM has confirmed that the identity of Coldhands will be revealed (quotation needed, couldn't find one).

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    Robb would already have been born before Benjen took the Black. With the Stark succession assured there was less justification for him to hang around. – TheMathemagician Jun 4 '13 at 10:44
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    Catelyn was already pregnant when she got to Winterfell, so Benjen could have made that decision even earlier. However, women have miscarriages and infants die all the time, even in modern times. After coming infinitely close to having their house extinguished, it does not make sense for someone to just say "Oh, a baby has been born. The Starks are safe! Now I can try to impress strangers and join the Watch." That's the sort of thing you say when there's peace, the King has not tried to eradicate your house, and you're not the next to last surviving member of your house and the heir. – TLP Jun 4 '13 at 14:15
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There was no direct answer in anything I've read either. But the Starks have always taken the Wall more seriously than the other Great Houses. They are, after all, close enough to the Wall that Wildling raids are a real threat. And I suspect Stark sons were under more pressure (socially) to join up if they had no other prospects.

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    That is true, as the Northern most 'house', it is feasible to believe there may be a 'follow by example' tradition for the Starks concerning the wall. – johnc Sep 29 '11 at 1:13
  • you won't in fact find any indication, as Benjen took the black well before the events portrayed in the books. GRRM would have to write a prequel to give more information than is presented in the telling of memories by people in the story already. – jwenting Apr 12 '13 at 6:06
  • @jwenting - Yeah that's the thing about the POV style of the books that I really like. You're never really sure about anything, especially since GRRM has introduced unreliable narrators. – System Down Apr 12 '13 at 16:51
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The recount of the tournament at Harrenhaal tells us that one of the Starks fell for Ashara Dayne and got her pregnant. It is widely believed that this was Eddard - but the only reason for this seems to be the Eddard/Ashara connection and the rumours of her being John Snow's mother. Such a thing would have been extremely out-of-character for Eddard and Brandon also seems unlikely as, at that point, he was both betrothed to Catelyn and in a tryst with the future Lady Dustin (though this does not rule him out altogether).

However, if we consider the only other character who knew the situation well - Barristan Selmy, who was in love with Ashara - he dismisses the notion of Ashara being John Snow's mother; saying her child was a stillborn girl - the grief over which drove Ashara to suicide. He also (as Meera did) avoids naming the father - referring to him simply as "Stark".

If it was not Eddard but Benjen who impregnated Ashara at Harrenhaal, this would provide a far greater reason for him to take the black - his daughter died at birth and the woman he loved killed herself with the grief of it.

Furthermore, if other theories (already noted in previous comments above) about John Snow's parentage are correct - and if Eddard knew of Benjen and Ashara's child - then this theory also explains why Eddard went to Starfall under the pretence of returning Arthur Dayne's sword (surely, given the circumstances, that could have waited a few weeks?) - he knew a Stark bastard was due to be born there and perhaps hoped to pass the infant Jon off as a twin or even replace Ashara's child with Jon.

  • @batpigandme Which parts exactly? Most of it is theory and guesswork, none of it's actually canon from the books. – Anthony Grist Jun 15 '13 at 20:06
  • @AnthonyGrist ok- redacted (I was thinking more for those who havent read the books that certain questions re. parentage might be spoiler-y in and of themselves, but I don't know how to spoiler tag in comments, so I won't say more...) – batpigandme Jun 15 '13 at 20:33
7

I think he joined the Night's Watch precisely because it has lost its lustre - nobody else was ready to join it, so he felt that he had to step up and fill the void. Also, as a Stark he owed responsibility to the North which was directly protected by the Wall.

It's probably a similar reason with Mormont who had just one son, who was childless to boot.

1

I seems the way inheritance works is that the first son gets everything unless removed in some way. Sam taking the black so Dicken could inherit or Jaime joining the Kingsguard leaving Tyrion to theoretically inherit.

So Benjen had no lands and no titles. If he was a female, it would have made sense for him to marry into another house to cement an alliance, but any marriage he would enter into would create a household for Benjen with no assets.

He would have no lands or titles with his new wife unless she brought them into the marriage. Any children he did have would then be competitors for Winterfell with Eddard's children. He may have bowed out of having children to secure the line for his brother's children.

He could have married someone like

Sansa or Lady Hornwood, a last female heir,

in order to take the lands of another house, but that situation may not have been present.

Benjen also could have been a Warg which may have made he feel like he shouldn't have children or that he fit more on the wall.

1

We Do Not Know

...and George R. R. Martin has refused to answer this at least twice. Although the other answers make good assumptions this is what the author had to say (or what he didn't say rather).

[Why did Benjen join the Night's Watch?]
Good question. One day you will get an answer. But it will not be today.
So Spake Martin, Asshai.com Forum Chat

When, specifically, did Benjen join the NW? Was it a couple of years after Ned returned, or immediately?
It was within a few months of Ned's returning. The reason being that there always was a Stark at Winterfell, so he had to stay there until Ned returned. GRRM refused to say the reason why Benjen had to join the NW.
So Spake Martin, Conquest (Kansas City, MO; May 27-29)

0

As I understand the world - and I have only watched the TV show - Benjen was the younger brother to Ned? In the real world, right up to the present day in aristocratic or noble families in countries where such still exist like Britain it is the eldest son's duty to inherit, the second-born goes into the army and the rest either marry for position or go in to the church. Going in to business in the City is also accepted these days but I doubt that was an option in Westeross!!!

I took it that Benjen 'took the black' in much the same way a second-son might join a cavalry regiment; it was a very honourable choice and gave him a chance of advancement which with Ned in the way he wouldn't get at home. Also the Starks are portrayed as ultimately honourable men, pegging a lot of their stature in the world on that honour. To Benjen it no doubt seemed extremely honourable to spend his life in worthy service - defending both his home in the north and the whole country as well. That was actually probably an extension of his role as a stark anyway - warden of the north.

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