According to legend, the Night’s Watch was founded 8,000 years ago. They now protect the Seven Kingdoms from threats beyond their northern border, such as White Walkers, wildlings and giants. They man a vast structure known as the Wall, a 700 foot tall and 300 mile long barrier which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the lands to its north. It is formed mostly from ice. The Watch have built several castles along the southern edge of the Wall to house their men. They also control a region south of the Wall known as the Gift, from which they obtain supplies and provisions. The region was donated to them by House Stark, the Kings in the North, at the time.
Members of the Night’s Watch swear an oath of duty that prohibits marriage, family, and land ownership. Recruits renounce all past allegiances and birthrights. Joining the Watch provides absolution for past crimes and immunity from further punishment. Brothers start with a clean slate and can rise within the ranks whatever their origins. However, even though the Night’s Watch vows are meant to be for life, it is possible for one to leave the organization without execution, so long as it is with the ruling monarch’s approval. For instance, Stannis Baratheon, a claimant to the Iron Throne and the King in the Narrow Sea, offers Jon Snow a chance to leave the Night’s Watch and serve him in exchange for legitimization, though this may partially be due to the fact that the Night’s Watch is not taken as seriously by most as it once was, and Stannis was desperate enough to turn to Jon Snow for aid.
They describe one another as “sworn brothers” because of the oath. Men of the Watch dress entirely in black, giving rise to the nickname “crows” – which is what the Free Folk commonly call them – or “black brothers.” Members of the Night’s Watch are not specifically forbidden from seeing their families, but they cannot leave the Wall without permission. Desertion is punishable by death. First Ranger Benjen Stark would often visit his family at Winterfell while representing the Night’s Watch.
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