***FOR CLARIFICATION: If you have seen the show none of this will really be a spoiler, since all the things here have been discussed in some form or another.*** This article will give a general rundown of creatures north of the Wall as well as a little more history on the Night’s Watch themselves. The reason I gave this article a semi-spoilers tag is due to the creatures it will be discussing. Some things you don’t find out about until later on so I feel it’s toeing the line by talking about them. That being said, if you want to know what’s north of the Wall then continue. If you don’t want the surprise to be spoiled STOP RIGHT NOW!
Chapter 1: The Others
The Others are known in HBO’s TV adaptation as White Walkers. I thought it is good to start off by clarifying this and giving the reasons behind the change from book to show.
Although the first draft of the show still had them being referred to as the Others, producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss explained that the change was made to avoid confusion that may arise between references to the race known as the Others and “others” meaning other groups or people within the show.
According to legend the Others first appeared around 8,300 years ago. They are said to have white skin and blue eyes “deeper and bluer than human eyes, burning like ice, as bright as blue stars, and as cold.” Though they tend to be thought of as dead-like creatures, GRRM has described them differently, specifically in e-mails with comic-book artist Tommy Patterson, “The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.”
The Others are superior swordsmen, their weapons thin swords made of ice said to be so cold they shatter any object they touch. Martin describes them as, “Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.” Their armor is said to be reflective and work as a sort of camouflage. They are able to leave no prints or markings as they pass through snow. There are tales of them riding dead animals like bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, and even giant ice spiders.
They only emerge at night, though some stories speculate that their coming is what brings the night. The appearance of the Others during a time known as the Long Night spurred a war to drive them back into the north. This was known as the War for the Dawn, the fight that finally tipped the scales in the humans’ favor being the Battle for the Dawn.
Chapter 2: Wights
The Others should not be confused with wights. Wights are dead men and creatures raised by the Others to fight alongside them. The appearance of a wight depends on the level of decay the corpse was in before it was raised. Some appear very lifelike while others are badly rotten, but any process of decay is halted once a wight has risen. It is said that anyone who falls against the Others must be burned or else they will rise again as a wight. This is why wildlings burn their dead.
Wights are supposedly attracted to warm blood and have surprising strength but are considered slow and clumsy, unlike their creators. They feel no pain and thus can continue fighting regardless of injuries suffered; their limbs still able to function despite being detached from the rest of their bodies. One can tell they’ve destroyed a wight by its eyes, the blue disappearing from them if vanquished. The one sure way to defeat a wight is to set it ablaze.
Chapter 3: Giants
Giants are humanoid creatures that live in the extreme northern part of Westeros. They are 10-12 feet tall and extremely strong. They’re covered by a shaggy pelt of fur that is thicker below the waist than above, and the older a giant is the more gray and white the hair becomes. They have a poor sense of sight and smell but are extremely well adapted to the cold. Their steeds are mammoths and they speak the Old Tongue of the First Men.
Chapter 4: Skinchangers
A skinchanger is a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control it. A skinchanger able to enter the mind of a wolf or dog is known as a warg. It is much easier for them to take control of their animal counterpart if there is a bond between the creature and the human itself, though both parties’ minds will be influenced by the other. An animal’s instincts can negatively affect the human if not fought. An untrained skinchanger may unconsciously enter the mind of an animal host while sleeping if a bond exists.
If an animal dies while a human is in its mind it can be extremely traumatic to the skinchanger, but if a human is killed while inhabiting the mind of an animal host a part of their consciousness will remain in the animal. Many mistakenly believe skinchangers to be shapeshifters. One in 1,000 people are skinchangers, though many live their entire lives completely unaware of their gift.
Chapter 5: The Night’s Watch
The Night’s Watch is one of the oldest orders in the Seven Kingdoms, surviving through First Men, the Andal Invasion, and the War of Conquest. It was founded over 8,000 years ago at the end of the Long Night. The Night’s Watch guard the Wall that separates the far north from the rest of Westeros, protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the threats that loom in the Land of Always Winter. The Wall was allegedly built by Bran The Builder, the supposed founder of House Stark.
The only noted point where the Others have come in contact with humans south of the Wall since the Long Night happened when the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch fell in love with a woman who fit the description of the Others. It happened not long after the Wall’s completion (for reference, at the start of the series the Night’s Watch is under the command of its 997th Lord Commander).
The 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch proclaimed himself the Night’s King and his lover the Night’s Queen and ruled from the castle along the Wall known as the Nightfort. It is said that when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well. They ruled for 13 years and under their reign committed horrific atrocities, including human sacrifices to the Others. The King in the North (rumored to be the Night’s King’s brother), and the King Beyond the Wall teamed up to overthrow the Night’s King and his Queen. Upon their victory all records of the Night’s King were destroyed and the mention of his real name was forbidden.
Aside from that singular incident, the only attacks on the Wall came at the hands of wildlings, sometimes led by their kings, under constant attempts to raid the north. Little by little the main mission of the Night’s Watch became forgotten, and it morphed into nothing more than a battle against wildlings. As years passed their purpose and necessity became less obvious, and as a result the manpower along the Wall steadily decreased. One by one, all but 3 of the 19 manned castles were abandoned and left to disrepair. Eventually only the north believed in its importance, though even they believed the Others to be little more than a story to frighten children.
At its peak the Watch had 17 of the 19 castles manned with over 10,000 men at arms scattered between them. The highborn of the North considered it an honor to serve on the Wall, and many younger sons of noble houses would willingly take the black. Castle Black’s Shieldhall proudly displayed the shields of noble houses that had served in the Night’s Watch over the centuries. By the start of the series fewer than 1,000 men served, largely made up of misfits and lawbreakers.
The Night’s Watch consists of 3 orders: Rangers, Builders, and Stewards. Each of them is led by its own officer respectively, called First Ranger, First Builder, and First Steward but all are subject to the Lord Commander. Rangers are considered the main fighting force. These men are adept at surviving the harsh wilderness north of the Wall and tasked with scouting and patrolling the Haunted Forest. They actively ride out to face the Watch’s enemies and defend the Wall.
Builders are responsible for maintaining the Wall, the castles, and equipment used. They are made up of masons, carpenters, miners, and woodsmen. Stewards are the largest of the 3 orders and responsible for critical functions vital for day-to-day services. They hunt, farm, tend horses, gather firewood, cook meals, make clothing, maintain weapons, and conduct trade with the south to bring back needed supplies. Stewards receive basic combat training and are required to be ready to fight at a moments’ notice like their Ranger counterparts.
Those who come to the Night’s Watch voluntarily are free to leave at any time during their training but must remain once they have said their vows; any deserters are sentenced to death. After taking his vows, the men of the Watch cannot own land, marry, or have children and are encouraged to sever any ties with family that might still remain. Their traditional black garb earned them the nickname “crows”, particularly among wildlings. While some consider it derogatory, others have embraced the nickname for their own use. They have also been known as “the black brothers” and the “black knights of the Wall.”
When a recruit is ready to take the black they must say their vows either before a sept or before a heart tree, depending on their religious preference. The vows are as follows:
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.
Chapter 6: Wildlings
Wildlings, also known as Free Folk, are a race of people who live beyond the Wall. The more popular term of “wildling” is generally used to refer to them south of the Wall. There are many thousands of wildlings spread out over the land north of the Wall split into hundreds of tribes, cultures, clans, villages and raiding parties. Some are considered reasonably cultured while others are considered hostile savages. Wildlings call themselves Free Folk due to their view of people south of the Wall being “kneelers”, saying that they lack freedom.
The Wall that separates them from the rest of Westeros in many ways defines who they are. Due to their isolation they have no states, nobles, kings, and live by custom rather than law. They follow whatever leader they please and said leadership is not passed down by blood but rather earned by strength and power. Free Folk place great importance on a man keeping his word.
There are very few laws and property rights amongst them. Wildlings take what they can, keep what they can defend, and have little interest in things like marriage. Though there are many languages north of the Wall, the most common is the language of the First Men, called the Old Tongue.
Most have never made any significant technological advances and although some are reasonably cultured, they don’t really inhabit cities to speak of. Some are semi-nomadic loners while others are raiders. There are even wildlings who practice cannibalism and feed on the flesh of other men and cave-dwellers who dye their faces blue, purple, and green.
Wildlings hate the Night’s Watch because of the fact that they are the gate keepers holding them beyond the Wall. They don’t spare brothers of the Night’s Watch unless the man breaks his oath to prove loyalty to them. However, it is not unheard of for both of the groups to cooperate if the circumstance is right.
Raiding south of the Wall is a large part of wildling culture and raiders can be as young as 12. They either climb the Wall or use boats to cross the Bay of Seals to get around it. Climbing the Wall is an all-day feat that leaves many bodies at its base for rangers to find. Over the decades of weakening of the Night’s Watch, wildlings have found it easier to pass south of the Wall undetected. Raiders steal weapons, spices, silks, furs, and any other valuables they can find, and are even known to take women to carry them off beyond the Wall.
UP NEXT: House Greyjoy
WHAT IS DEAD MAY NEVER DIE!