According to this answer, Stannis' army sailed north around The Wall.

I've attached the image from the answer below.

Why didn't The Wildlings just sail south around The Wall the same way Stannis sailed north around it?

They lived in / amongst massive forests so they had no shortage of material to construct sips with.

Is it ever explained in canon?

enter image description here

  • 2
    @Daft No, I'm suggesting that you have no evidence to suggest that they're capable of building a large number of ships, because "they have plenty of wood" helps very little.
    – Mike Scott
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:01
  • 2
    @MikeScott I don't know that you need more than wood to build ships. I don't know a huge amount about ship building. Oakum, cordage, these words mean nothing to me. I'll research better next time.
    – Daft
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:04
  • 2
    @Dart There's very little magic in Westeros, and zero evidence of anyone "magicing up" materials.
    – Mike Scott
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:46
  • 4
    While they may well have had the materials to build ships, shipbuilding is very time-intensive. The wildlings were heading south because of the rise of the White Walkers, and wanted to be south of The Wall as a form of protection. They did not want to spend additional months or years building boats while the Night's Watch harried them.
    – Sconibulus
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:47
  • 4
    Stannis himself had to use help from Salladhor Saan to get enough ships for his much smaller army. I imagine 100,000 Wildlings would need MUCH more ships, ship makers (raw materials, etc) and a LOT of crew to navigate it all. The nights watch rangers' probably would have taken notice of all the ship building and could alert East Watch and other coastal cities.
    – RMalke
    Apr 14, 2015 at 20:04

6 Answers 6


The wildlings didn't exactly have much knowledge of what went on south of the wall. Whilst there were people like Mance who used to be a crow, he was very unlikely to be highborn, so wouldn't have much knowledge of the North's war capabilities.

They had no spies in enemy camps to be able to track troop movements, or any idea of the numbers of men other armies may have.

This means they have no idea what they would be sailing into. The northmen could have had fleets of ships to stop them before they got anywhere near land for all they knew. Remember, Jon managed to convince them that 1000 men manned Castle Black, when in reality it was less than 200.

So they would not have risked a small strike force (like the one that Ygritte and Jon were a part of) traveling that way, never mind a full army (hence why they went over the top of the wall).

This is besides the rest of the issues:

  • They had no skilled shipbuilders, sailors, harbour to build ships and get them south of the wall. They can probably build rafts and small vessels, but whilst the wood was lucrative, they wouldn't have had nearly the resources or expertise to make a fleet able to transport the number of troops they had.

  • If they had landed in the North or South in large numbers, the people living there would have fought back (rather than just the Night's Watch).

  • They were unorganized, any decent army could have flattened them in the field (as Stannis proved) and they could have not have laid siege to a castle for very long.

  • After capturing Castle Black, they would have had a half-decent fortification to defend themselves from anyone trying to send them back north of the wall, as well as control of the wall itself.

The only defensive strategy of the wildlings was their sheer numbers. They knew the Night's Watch were not an army, they were glorified guardsmen. Whilst they were more regimented than wildlings, they didn't have any chance of beating the wildlings in open combat.

The wildling's only hope was to oust the Night's Watch from Castle Black and take it for themselves. And it would have worked too, if it wasn't for that meddling Stannis.

  • 1
    Great answer! And nice Scooby Doo reference :D
    – Daft
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:50
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    "You have to remember" -- Why? That's not common knowledge, rather the opposite, Mance Rayder had tons of knowledge of the North, and even went to Winterfell when King Robert was there. How do you know they have no skilled shipbuilders or sailors? And no, castle black is not a good defensive position, because it has no walls. A fact that was repeated often in the books. And no, the Night's Watch had the advantage of discipline, another fact much repeated in the books. There is little to no support for this, and much of it is outright wrong.
    – TLP
    Apr 14, 2015 at 15:16
  • @TLP ok, 'you have to remember' may have been bad wording, but the wildlings have no shipbuilders because they're wildlings, it would hardly be a lucrative business. He might know the north's lands and people, but not their troop movements or resources. The wildlings don't have spies in their camps. And Castle Black is a better defended position than mole's town. The only better alternative is, as I said, to capture a castle, which would be too difficult. And the Watch have discipline, but they do not assault armies, they go out on hunts and raids or defend castles. Apr 14, 2015 at 15:39
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    Wildlings have enough skill to build siege engines, fletch arrows, tan hides, work wood, there is nothing in the books or show that implies that they are ignorant of seafaring. Castle Black is not defensible at all, it's just houses and a few towers. Not enough to harbour 100,000 wildlings. And the wildlings did have spies, we know that they raided and traded in the North. If you want to speculate, then go ahead, but then say that you are speculating.
    – TLP
    Apr 14, 2015 at 16:02

Because they do not have a navy.

Assuming they had a single boat they would be able to ship a small group south of the wall who could get picked off. They would have to be people you trust so they don't just run off.

Maintaining a navy is a very different proposition to maintaining an army. You need shipyards to build them, trained sailors and regular maintenance on the boats. You would also need powerful ships to avoid the pirates (not least of which Greyjoy fleets) otherwise you could lose half your forces.

With an army you just need men who can swing an axe. The wildlings are barely hanging on north of the wall and do not have the skills or resources to maintain a large navy.

  • 4
    (1) IIRC the Night's Watch has a small navy of its own. If the wildlings tried constructing a fleet, they would have to contend with seaborne raids from the NW. (2) Shipbuilding requires skills and tools which the wildlings do not have -- for the most part they don't even have iron weapons. Apr 14, 2015 at 12:56
  • i also believe they mentioned the seas are treacherous in that area, honestly with the man power they had if the land barriers wernt to huge a fleet of rafts would have been ideal, not actual boats.
    – Himarm
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:26

In addition to the fact that they had no navy or any skilled ship builders as the other answers have pointed out.

Wildlings did use ships to bypass the Wall. We never find out in the books how Osha and her raiding party that met Rob and Theon that day, but in the TV Series she says she used a boat to get around the Wall.

The question "Why didn't the army mance raider sail south..." suggests this might be the easy / obvious solution. But actually assaulting the gates at the wall is the easier solution. If it weren't for a series lucky circumstances for the Nights Watch the army would have walked through the gates without any big delays.

If their raiding party made it over the wall and taken the watch by surprised they could have entered without even a fight. Even after the watch beat back the first assault there was little hope of holding out until Stanis Arrived (Which no one could have predicted)

There's also the Horn of Joramun, whether or not they actually had it / it worked / whoever commanded the Nights Watch believed it worked. It'd be another reason to try the gate rather than start working on ships.

I believe they considered the ocean while building the army and choose the simpler and safer path, then had a long streak of bad luck (Mainly thanks to Jon Snow)

  • 1
    I'm actually picturing a Monty Python style scene where they're all furiously hammering away making planks for ships when someone sticks their head up "Does anyone remember why we didn't give that giant horn a go?" Apr 14, 2015 at 15:45

One thing that has not been mentioned yet is that metal is hard to come by north of the Wall. Craster demands an ax as payment for letting the rangers stay in his keep. Lord of Bones wears an "armor" made of bones. In addition to the lack of knowledge of ship building and navigation, the lack of metal tools is another reason why the wildlings could not build a large fleet and sail south of the Wall.

  • I think the amount of metal required to build a coaster is severely overestimated. Right up to the Age of Sail, there was very little metal actually build into the ships, and you can do almost everything with stone or bone tools as well. Granted, metal tools make things very much easier, but there.
    – DevSolar
    Apr 15, 2015 at 13:19
  • @DevSolar, I was mainly talking about metal tools. Think about how many trees you need to cut down to build enough ships to transport tens of thousands of people. That would be very hard to do when each metal ax is a prized possession that people kill for.
    – Dima
    Apr 15, 2015 at 13:42
  • What I wanted to point out that you can work pine wood easily with stone or bone tools. You can even work pine with wood tools. You can work it better with metal tools, but it's by no means a requirement. (I've been involved in a couple of "experimental archaeology" events, and they can be quite the eye-opener regarding the effectiveness of "primitive" construction.) Those "ships" don't have to cross the Atlantic or survive for any extend of time. You could build rafts for the purpose of getting behind the wall...
    – DevSolar
    Apr 15, 2015 at 13:50
  • @DevSolar, I realize that it is possible to build a ship without metal parts or metal tools. I am saying that it is next to impossible to build enough ships for this many people before they are all killed by the others. Also, I doubt that rafts will work. The northern seas are rough, and water is really cold.
    – Dima
    Apr 15, 2015 at 16:41

In order for the wildlings to build the ships they have to:

  • Have mines where they can extract ore from
  • smeltries to refine the ore
  • blacksmiths to shape the metals into tools
  • men that can read and write
  • master Carpenters
  • knowladge of seafairing
  • docks
  • shipyards


Well in order to build a "viking longship" you have to use specialised tools. and to have the tools you have to have an existing infrastructure that can support it all. I havent been able to find a place where i can say exactly how long it takes to make 1 ship but there are a few replica shipbuilders in Northern europe that have done so in a span of a year ( dont know if it was full time or weekend Work or whatever).

If by some magic they have all of the above mentioned stuff North of the wall actually Building ships to take 100.000 people, animals, food etc. South of the wall would take considerable time. Even Building for half that many people and then shuttling them would take an ungodly abount of resources and time. Time is one thing that the wildlings DO NOT have.

so lets say they have a master shipbuilder and a crew of skilled Carpenters.

They can build 1 ship every 3-6 months. every ship can take 30-60 people on board.

you do the math needed for every single wilding.

The ONLY reason wildlings have United is the White Walkers. And sitting Down to make hundreds of ships is NOT an option!

  • 1
    While I appreciate all the CAPS LOCK, all these points have been covered in previous answers.
    – Daft
    Apr 15, 2015 at 8:37
  • Except the Viking ship building times, but the Wildlings have giants to do the heavy lifting so who knows how long it would have actually taken them if they had the right materials.
    – Daft
    Apr 15, 2015 at 8:38
  • @Daft its not about heavy lifting at all dude. almost none of the actual Building requires any cranes or nothing like that. it is all ove the above that they just do not have. and even having giants do all the lifting it would still take almost the same time because it just takes long time to drill holes, measure stuff, cut it to lenght, make it waterproof, etc, etc. unless you now want to suggest that they have children of the forest helping with the fine and detail Work by using magis and wielding 20 hammers and chissels at the same time to make it faster.
    – Cherubel
    Apr 15, 2015 at 9:49
  • Ok, heavy lifting aside, you're answer has still been covered in previous answers.
    – Daft
    Apr 15, 2015 at 9:59
  • 1
    Same comment here I made on Dima's answer -- while metal tools help, they are hardly required to build a ship. And some of the requirements you're listing are somewhat on the ridiculous side. Literacy? Docks? Tell that to the Inuit, or the Polynesians, who did historically build ships to brave open seas while not fulfilling half of your list. Oh, and the Vikings did that as well. You're right on the lack of time and unity, though.
    – DevSolar
    Apr 15, 2015 at 13:23

Wildlings do sometimes sail around the Wall and it is mentioned a few times in the text itself.

Hother wanted ships. "There's wildlings stealing down from the north, more than I've ever seen before. They cross the Bay of Seals in little boats and wash up on our shores. The crows in Eastwatch are too few to stop them, and they go to ground quick as weasels. It's longships we need, aye, and strong men to sail them. The Greatjon took too many. Half our harvest is gone to seed for want of arms to swing the scythes."
A Clash of Kings, Bran II

The Others take them all, thought Jon, as he watched them scramble up the steep slope of the ridge and vanish beneath the trees. It would not be the first time wildlings had scaled the Wall, not even the hundred and first. The patrols stumbled on climbers two or three times a year, and rangers sometimes came on the broken corpses of those who had fallen. Along the east coast the raiders most often built boats to slip across the Bay of Seals. In the west they would descend into the black depths of the Gorge to make their way around the Shadow Tower.
A Storm of Swords, Jon IV

This tactic only seems successful though because the Watch has no ships themselves to stop the boats from getting across and because only a handful go at a time so they can disappear. Also note that they are referred to as little boats so probably on the scale of canoes and rafts, not enough to haul an army.

So let's assume they had planned to sail around the Wall, how would they do it? Boat building is a skill and one that the wildlings likely don't possess as they have no need for it. So then let's assume they have lots of small boats/rafts to sail across. An armada of that size would be spotted a mile off and the Watch would just need to man the shores and fight as they come ashore, an easy enough task as they would only arrive in small numbers at a time and be at the disadvantage of being in a boat sat down not stood on dry land.

Basically it wouldn't have worked because they would have just made themselves sitting ducks. Also how big of a boat do you need to ship 100's of giants and their mammoths?

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