Black Crow

Heresy 195 and the Mists of Time

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Welcome to Heresy 195, the latest edition of the quirky thread that takes a slightly different look at the world of Ice and Fire and in particular at the Starks and what's beyond the Wall. If you're a regular or have at least been here before it needs no further introduction. If you're new, this is the premier thread for discussion and answers concerning the Others, the Three-Fingered Tree-Huggers and everything that goers with them, including crows, ravens, the Morrigan and all those other bits of Celtic folklore from the Wild Hunt to Bran the Blessed, which seems to get mixed into the story - and not forgetting Conrad's Heart of Darkness and a rather darker version of Narnia than you may be used to.

It is however a friendly and welcoming thread. Don't be afraid to ask and above all don't be afraid to join in. We have been around for a few years now and are currently working towards our bicentennial with some specially commissioned essays on a variety of topics.

For Heresy 195 we have an excursion into time itself, with a little bit of basic arithmetic as well..

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Timelines

Anent the timeline business, it’s important to distinguish between a timeline and a chronology. The first sets out a sequence of events and the other takes that sequence and applies dates to it. With certain exceptions the issue here is not the timeline but the dates and that issue rests not on the fertile imaginations of those here present, but in what GRRM himself has said and very largely in text at that.

In the beginning we were told that men first came to Westeros 12,000 years ago, that the Pact was concluded 10,000 years ago and that the Wall and the Watch date from 8,000 years ago, while the Andals turned up in the Vale 6,000 years ago. There was also an alternative date of 4,000 years offered for the coming of the Andals but this isn’t necessarily a contradiction because as the World Book makes plain there was no conquest like that enacted by Aegon but rather a succession of different groups at different times and different places.

Then we get Rodrik the Reader and Hoster Blackwood, with the first rather precisely dating their arrival by reference to the last Kingsmoot as just 1,500 years ago, while Hoster rather more moderately explains:

Only no one knows when the Andals crossed the narrow sea. The True History says four thousand years have passed since then, but some masters claim that it was only two. Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend.

So let’s play safe and go for Hoster’s 2,000 years ago. It’s not unreasonable in itself but it does have an immediate impact on the earlier chronology in that it suddenly increases the gap between the supposed date of the Long Night and the arrival of the Andals from 2,000 years to 6,000 years. It’s surely reasonable therefore to infer that the Long Night was also, proportionately nearer in time and indeed we have now have references in the World Book to it occurring 6,000 years rather than 8,000 years ago.

Now there are two immediate points arising from this. Clearly it was not contemporary with the supposed arrival of the Andals in the Vale 6,000 years ago, but if the Andals did in fact turn up 4,000 years ago then the 2,000 year gap is preserved. So far so good, but does that therefore mean that if there is a solid tradition that the Andals came 2,000 years after the Long Night? If so then the Long Night could be as recent as only 4,000 years ago.

Now turn to the Watch. Sam as we know is unhappy about what he finds in the records, and remember once again this passage is important enough to be told from two different POVs:

The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we think we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it. The old histories are full of kings who reigned for hundreds of years, and knights riding around a thousand years before there were knights. You know the tales, Brandon the Builder, Symeon Star-eyes, Knight’s King…we say that you’re the nine-hundred-and-ninety-eighth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but the oldest list I’ve found shows six hundred seventy-four commanders, which suggests that it was written during-“

“Long ago,” Jon broke in…

According to legend the Wall was built 8,000 years ago at the end of the Long Night and has been manned by the Watch ever since. Jon Snow is reckoned to be the 998th Lord Commander which would imply a very reasonable average of 8 years for each of his predecessors. Bring that forward to 6,000 years and the average drops to an average of 6 years apiece, while 4,000 years ago…

But there’s more to it than that. Why was Sam cut off? Because the list was written during what? Evidently something that would invalidate the chronology. Let’s look again at the list. Now the point about any list of Lord Commanders is that depending on how its arranged it will either begin or end with the current incumbent. Once again, although Jon cuts him off, it’s easy to work out that it was only compiled about 324 Lord Commanders ago, or if we apply the 8 year average approximately 2600 years ago.

And that’s where it really gets interesting, because let’s stick with the World Book date of 6,000 years ago for the Long Night and the foundation of the Wall. That means, allowing for a tolerable degree of inexactitude the list was probably compiled halfway through – at the point when Castle Black and mayhap all the other castles were built.

Now OK you can argue that the arithmetic changes if you try to squeeze a reputed 998 Lord Commanders into 6,000 years rather than 8,000 years but all of this is why Sam is unhappy with the list and why we’re not allowed to know why.

So far so good, but then we are explicitly told that the Nightfort is the oldest castle on the Wall and twice as old as the others. So how old is that? The Black Gate beneath the fort is as old as the Wall itself. We have discussed in the past the possibility that originally there was just the well-house and that the castle came later, but lets keep it simple and work on the proposition that the Nightfort itself in one form or another has existed on that site since the Wall was built – 8,000 years ago.

A quick calculation on the fingers therefore tells us that the other castles were built or started to be built 4,000 years ago. Whatever way you look at it for the first 4,000 years of the Wall’s existence it had no castles apart from the Nightfort and presumably no garrison patrolling those 300-odd miles of ice. The Watch were in effect no more than gatekeepers.

Then 4,000 years ago a programme of castle-building begins, and it comes at an interesting time.

  1. We’re talking about the Andal invasion period and the creation or consolidation of the Seven Kingdoms under Andal rule. Yet against this backdrop massive resources are devoted to building castles along the Wall.

  2. The Andals are incomers who neither experienced the full rigours of the Long Night in its awfulness, nor ran from the blue-eyed lot.

  3. The North beyond the Neck was never conquered by the Andals, so this massive building programme and the men to carry out the work and then populate the castles can only be there with the consent of the Starks of Winterfell.

  4. This consent and oversight is not inconsistent with what we see; a Watch not always commanded but certainly dominated by Starks and castles which serve as barracks but have no defences and cannot form a threat to the Stark kingdom of the North. There is also the business of pledging to play no part in the affairs of the realm, ie; they are allowed to go north for the purpose of manning those castles and the Wall but no other.

So why now, what has changed and why are the Starks of Winterfell co-operating? What are the Andals so afraid of?

And just as final point there’s that list of Lord Commanders discovered by Sam. There are reasonable explanations for his findings, after all he himself complains that he hasn’t had time to look properly and that there might be more as yet undiscovered. Yet that interview with Jon is important. There’s something in there that he says, and we know its important because quite uniquely GRRM tells it twice, first as a Sam POV and then for a second time as a Jon POV.

One of the things Sam talks about is the oldest list of Lord Commanders he’s discovered, with 674 names on it. Now the point about any list of Lord Commanders is that depending on how its arranged it will either begin or end with the current incumbent. Once again, although Jon cuts him off, its easy to work out that it was only compiled about 324 Lord Commanders ago, or if we apply the 8 year average approximately 2600 years ago, which is well within the second phase of the Wall’s existence, but it does beg one more question given that GRRM through Sam draws our attention to it. How reliable is the list and did the compiler use an average of 8 years a pop to reach back to that legendary foundation date?

Again anent the Andals, here’s Lord Rodrik aka Rodrik the reader in A Feast for Crows:

“I have been consulting Haereg’s History of the Ironborn. When last the salt kings and the rock kings met in Kingsmoot, Urron of Orkmont let his axemen loose among them, and Nagga’s ribs turned red with gore. House Greyiron ruled unchosen for a thousand years from that dark day, until the Andals came…

Asha smiled. “And miss the first kingsmoot called in…how long has it been, Nuncle?”

“Four thousand years, if Haereg can be believed. Half that, if you accept Maester Denestan’s arguments in Questions.”

This of course comes back to Hoster Blackwood’s statement that some masters the Andals didn’t turn up until 2,000 years ago. In this case. Haereg is giving the arrival of the Andals as 3,000 years ago with Maester Denestan arguing a more recent date. That there’s not a consensus is probably down to perspective with the Andals landing in the east and not causing problems for the Ironborn until much later.

 

Either way where there is consistency is in bringing the Andal arrival forwards and perhaps much further forwards from that 6,000 years bragged of by the Arryns.

 

On one level the chronology question is straightforward enough. At the outset we were presented with some impossibly mouldy dates; that the First Men came to Westeros 12,000 years ago; that the Long Night fell 8,000 years ago and the Andals arrived between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago. However we’ve since been told through Rodrik the Reader and Hoster Blackwood that some of these dates are nonsense and that the Andals rather more credibly only tooled up about 2,000 years ago and perhaps as recently as 1,500 years ago. No such correction has yet been offered on the earlier events like the Long Night but it would not be unreasonable to apply a similar discount, Thus, we could see the First Men rather more realistically turning up as recently as 6,000 years ago and the Long Night as recently as 4,000 years ago.

 

But does it go further than that? GRRM himself has gradually revealed the chronology to be wrong, but is it wrong because the historians can’t count, or is it wrong because its false?

 

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1 hour ago, Black Crow said:

Timelines

 

Anent the timeline business, it’s important to distinguish between a timeline and a chronology. The first sets out a sequence of events and the other takes that sequence and applies dates to it. With certain exceptions the issue here is not the timeline but the dates and that issue rests not on the fertile imaginations of those here present, but in what GRRM himself has said and very largely in text at that.

 

In the beginning we were told that men first came to Westeros 12,000 years ago, that the Pact was concluded 10,000 years ago and that the Wall and the Watch date from 8,000 years ago, while the Andals turned up in the Vale 6,000 years ago. There was also an alternative date of 4,000 years offered for the coming of the Andals but this isn’t necessarily a contradiction because as the World Book makes plain there was no conquest like that enacted by Aegon but rather a succession of different groups at different times and different places.

 

Then we get Rodrik the Reader and Hoster Blackwood, with the first rather precisely dating their arrival by reference to the last Kingsmoot as just 1,500 years ago, while Hoster rather more moderately explains:

 

Only no one knows when the Andals crossed the narrow sea. The True History says four thousand years have passed since then, but some masters claim that it was only two. Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend.

 

So let’s play safe and go for Hoster’s 2,000 years ago. It’s not unreasonable in itself but it does have an immediate impact on the earlier chronology in that it suddenly increases the gap between the supposed date of the Long Night and the arrival of the Andals from 2,000 years to 6,000 years. It’s surely reasonable therefore to infer that the Long Night was also, proportionately nearer in time and indeed we have now have references in the World Book to it occurring 6,000 years rather than 8,000 years ago.

 

Now there are two immediate points arising from this. Clearly it was not contemporary with the supposed arrival of the Andals in the Vale 6,000 years ago, but if the Andals did in fact turn up 4,000 years ago then the 2,000 year gap is preserved. So far so good, but does that therefore mean that if there is a solid tradition that the Andals came 2,000 years after the Long Night? If so then the Long Night could be as recent as only 4,000 years ago.

 

Now turn to the Watch. Sam as we know is unhappy about what he finds in the records, and remember once again this passage is important enough to be told from two different POVs:

 

The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we think we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it. The old histories are full of kings who reigned for hundreds of years, and knights riding around a thousand years before there were knights. You know the tales, Brandon the Builder, Symeon Star-eyes, Knight’s King…we say that you’re the nine-hundred-and-ninety-eighth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but the oldest list I’ve found shows six hundred seventy-four commanders, which suggests that it was written during-“

 

“Long ago,” Jon broke in…

 

According to legend the Wall was built 8,000 years ago at the end of the Long Night and has been manned by the Watch ever since. Jon Snow is reckoned to be the 998th Lord Commander which would imply a very reasonable average of 8 years for each of his predecessors. Bring that forward to 6,000 years and the average drops to an average of 6 years apiece, while 4,000 years ago…

 

But there’s more to it than that. Why was Sam cut off? Because the list was written during what? Evidently something that would invalidate the chronology. Let’s look again at the list. Now the point about any list of Lord Commanders is that depending on how its arranged it will either begin or end with the current incumbent. Once again, although Jon cuts him off, it’s easy to work out that it was only compiled about 324 Lord Commanders ago, or if we apply the 8 year average approximately 2600 years ago.

 

And that’s where it really gets interesting, because let’s stick with the World Book date of 6,000 years ago for the Long Night and the foundation of the Wall. That means, allowing for a tolerable degree of inexactitude the list was probably compiled halfway through – at the point when Castle Black and mayhap all the other castles were built.

 

Now OK you can argue that the arithmetic changes if you try to squeeze a reputed 998 Lord Commanders into 6,000 years rather than 8,000 years but all of this is why Sam is unhappy with the list and why we’re not allowed to know why.

 

So far so good, but then we are explicitly told that the Nightfort is the oldest castle on the Wall and twice as old as the others. So how old is that? The Black Gate beneath the fort is as old as the Wall itself. We have discussed in the past the possibility that originally there was just the well-house and that the castle came later, but lets keep it simple and work on the proposition that the Nightfort itself in one form or another has existed on that site since the Wall was built – 8,000 years ago.

 

A quick calculation on the fingers therefore tells us that the other castles were built or started to be built 4,000 years ago. Whatever way you look at it for the first 4,000 years of the Wall’s existence it had no castles apart from the Nightfort and presumably no garrison patrolling those 300-odd miles of ice. The Watch were in effect no more than gatekeepers.

 

Then 4,000 years ago a programme of castle-building begins, and it comes at an interesting time.

 

  1. We’re talking about the Andal invasion period and the creation or consolidation of the Seven Kingdoms under Andal rule. Yet against this backdrop massive resources are devoted to building castles along the Wall.

     

  2. The Andals are incomers who neither experienced the full rigours of the Long Night in its awfulness, nor ran from the blue-eyed lot.

     

  3. The North beyond the Neck was never conquered by the Andals, so this massive building programme and the men to carry out the work and then populate the castles can only be there with the consent of the Starks of Winterfell.

     

  4. This consent and oversight is not inconsistent with what we see; a Watch not always commanded but certainly dominated by Starks and castles which serve as barracks but have no defences and cannot form a threat to the Stark kingdom of the North. There is also the business of pledging to play no part in the affairs of the realm, ie; they are allowed to go north for the purpose of manning those castles and the Wall but no other.

     

So why now, what has changed and why are the Starks of Winterfell co-operating? What are the Andals so afraid of?

 

And just as final point there’s that list of Lord Commanders discovered by Sam. There are reasonable explanations for his findings, after all he himself complains that he hasn’t had time to look properly and that there might be more as yet undiscovered. Yet that interview with Jon is important. There’s something in there that he says, and we know its important because quite uniquely GRRM tells it twice, first as a Sam POV and then for a second time as a Jon POV.

 

One of the things Sam talks about is the oldest list of Lord Commanders he’s discovered, with 674 names on it. Now the point about any list of Lord Commanders is that depending on how its arranged it will either begin or end with the current incumbent. Once again, although Jon cuts him off, its easy to work out that it was only compiled about 324 Lord Commanders ago, or if we apply the 8 year average approximately 2600 years ago, which is well within the second phase of the Wall’s existence, but it does beg one more question given that GRRM through Sam draws our attention to it. How reliable is the list and did the compiler use an average of 8 years a pop to reach back to that legendary foundation date?

 

Again anent the Andals, here’s Lord Rodrik aka Rodrik the reader in A Feast for Crows:

 

“I have been consulting Haereg’s History of the Ironborn. When last the salt kings and the rock kings met in Kingsmoot, Urron of Orkmont let his axemen loose among them, and Nagga’s ribs turned red with gore. House Greyiron ruled unchosen for a thousand years from that dark day, until the Andals came…

 

Asha smiled. “And miss the first kingsmoot called in…how long has it been, Nuncle?”

 

“Four thousand years, if Haereg can be believed. Half that, if you accept Maester Denestan’s arguments in Questions.”

 

This of course comes back to Hoster Blackwood’s statement that some masters the Andals didn’t turn up until 2,000 years ago. In this case. Haereg is giving the arrival of the Andals as 3,000 years ago with Maester Denestan arguing a more recent date. That there’s not a consensus is probably down to perspective with the Andals landing in the east and not causing problems for the Ironborn until much later.

 

 

 

Either way where there is consistency is in bringing the Andal arrival forwards and perhaps much further forwards from that 6,000 years bragged of by the Arryns.

 

 

 

On one level the chronology question is straightforward enough. At the outset we were presented with some impossibly mouldy dates; that the First Men came to Westeros 12,000 years ago; that the Long Night fell 8,000 years ago and the Andals arrived between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago. However we’ve since been told through Rodrik the Reader and Hoster Blackwood that some of these dates are nonsense and that the Andals rather more credibly only tooled up about 2,000 years ago and perhaps as recently as 1,500 years ago. No such correction has yet been offered on the earlier events like the Long Night but it would not be unreasonable to apply a similar discount, Thus, we could see the First Men rather more realistically turning up as recently as 6,000 years ago and the Long Night as recently as 4,000 years ago.

 

 

 

But does it go further than that? GRRM himself has gradually revealed the chronology to be wrong, but is it wrong because the historians can’t count, or is it wrong because its false?

 

 

 

Makes you wonder why the Andals  came to Westeros.  I always wonder if they were  fleeing from the Valyrians. I know  the Rhonyar were destroyed about 1000 years ago.  I lent my copy of the world book to a friend. 

Also on the topic of weirwood bows I can't think of anyone besides the ravens teeth using them all the time. I know  we have Brans vision of someone at Winterfell making arrows.  Makes you wonder where Bloodraven got the idea and why no one else used them. 

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This is so murky; I become confused.  I suppose that I think the Wall is much older at 8,000 years and that the first migration from Essos began around that time or before at 12,000 years.  Since there is no written record before the arrival of the Andals; whatever history they write of the 13th Lord Commander could be an abridged version without any preceding records to push the date of the building of the Wall further back in time.  What does stand out for me is the 2,000 year interval and I wonder if this indicates the appearance of a comet marking periodic upheaval.

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I remember attending an Anthropologist's speech were he presented his theory that long ago events on cultures with oral histories were consistently exaggerated by a factor of 6, e.g. something said to have happened 1200 years ago really happened 200 years ago.  His whole point was this factor of 6 was consistent between very different cultures and different places and times in human history. 

I don't know how mainstream his theory is,  but a substantial exaggeration is likely,  we have people who study these cultures and are aware of this,  and GRRM is almost certainly familiar with these sorts of cultural studies.

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We've seen Sam's list of 674 discussed before.   I don't see how the list could possibly include Jon or recent commanders, if it is literally the oldest list they have.  If this includes Jon because they keep a list that gets updated,  this would have been worded differently.  It also can't include the first Lord Commander, unless the timelines are way off, since this was 2000 or so years before writing.   Some of the list could have originally been handed down orally,  but anything that long would be way off if it really was 2000 years of oral history.  So I don't see how the list could mean anything other than the timelines are way off.

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I also wanted to bring up Harren the Black's brother.   He was Lord Commander during the Targaryen conquest.  This is an amazing contrast, 300 years ago, the brother of the most powerful man in Westeros chose to become Lord Commander,  and now the role is only 1 step up from a prison sentence.   Of course Harren could have had a problem with his brother and sent him to the Wall, but if he is there voluntarily,  timelines have to be off.  We'd have 7700 years or so of the Wall being a very important post, and only 300 where it became rapidly less important. 

Another possible explanation is that the Others were still attacking 300 years ago,  and the role of Lord Commander became less as they went away.

Edited by Brad Stark

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I do like Brad Stark's anthropological x6 explanation, but I also think there was a historical event that either was an extinction event or something that the Watch at that time wanted to cover up and forget about. There are a couple events that stand out to me, one being the Nights King, with the second one closer in the timeline: the last Greyjoy kingsmoot. When Orkmont let his axemen loose among them, and Nagga’s ribs turned red with gore, all that blood would have been an offering to Nagga, which I think I'm not alone here in thinking was a greenseer that either was or became the "Drowned God". 

I also don't think I'm the only one that suspects that there were other greenseers in other places that were dug up, drowned, poisoned, or burned...or "chained" for a lifetime inside the Wall.

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The problem with this topic is the usual one.  We have no way to know which of the foundational premises are true and which are not.

For instance, the introductory essay simply states, as if it were a fact, that

9 hours ago, Black Crow said:

The Black Gate beneath the fort is as old as the Wall itself.

Where does this come from?  Sam.   How does Sam know?  Probably, but not for sure, he was told by Coldhands (who introduced him to the existence of the Gate). 

But how good is Coldhands' information on this subject?  That's extremely hard to say since we don't know who he is or what his own background in the area might be.

Then we have

9 hours ago, Black Crow said:

we are explicitly told that the Nightfort is the oldest castle on the Wall and twice as old as the others

But the truth is only that we're told it's twice as old as Castle Black:

 
Quote

"This seems an old place," Jojen said as they walked down a gallery where the sunlight fell in dusty shafts through empty windows.

"Twice as old as Castle Black," Bran said, remembering. "It was the first castle on the Wall, and the largest."
 
...which doesn't mean much since we don't know when either the Nightfort or Castle Black were built.
 
The list of LCs is however somewhat more useful.   Let me suggest a relatively simple interpretation: 674 LCs is a truly huge number, suggesting thousands of years in which the Watch has existed.  Note that since William the Conqueror, nearly a thousand years ago, there haven't even been fifty English monarchs.
 
It's also obvious that if Sam has to calculate when this oldest list was created... then clearly, none of the names on it have any certain historical meaning to him.  Because if they did, he would know when the list was made, because he could use them as a guideline. 
 
For instance, if the last name was Jack Musgood, Sam would know this "oldest list" was perhaps 200 years old.   Or if the tenth name from the top was Osric Stark, Sam would say "Aha, I know he lived seven hundred years ago," because of this:
Quote

My lord, when I was looking through the annals I came on another boy commander. Four hundred years before the Conquest. Osric Stark was ten when he was chosen, but he served for sixty years.

...and then it would be easier to estimate when the list was written.

The reason Sam does not apply this kind of reasoning is because he can't, because not one name on it tracks to a known timeframe from history.   Not one, of all 674.

So this, too, suggests that the Watch is an incredibly old organization. 

I would also point out that "runes on rocks" in our world frequently include proper names.  Most likely, the ones left by the First Men did as well, and this would easily explain how a list of LCs could have been created and extended, so as to accurately preserve such information long before the coming of the Andals.   Runes on rocks last a long, long time.
 
The list, in short, appears to me largely to confirm the premise that the Watch is as traditionally ancient as the canon has always told us... and so too, very likely, is the Wall and therefore so too was the Long Night.

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Even if Sam was familiar with the most recent 500 LCs on the list, he'd still have to calculate when the first commander lived.  If he's speculating when the last commander lived, he'd still have to calculate unless he was familiar with that commander.  If he wasn't familiar with a single commander on the list, he couldn't calculate anything. 

What is interesting about the wording is Sam seems to be speculating on when the list itself was made, not the time of the first commander listed.  This suggests Jon and the recent commanders aren't part of the 674.

Edited by Brad Stark

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16 minutes ago, Brad Stark said:

Even if Sam was familiar with the most recent 500 LCs on the list, he'd still have to calculate when the first commander lived.  If he's speculating when the last commander lived, he'd still have to calculate unless he was familiar with that commander.  If he wasn't familiar with a single commander on the list, he couldn't calculate anything. 

What is interesting about the wording is Sam seems to be speculating on when the list itself was made, not the time of the first commander listed.  This suggests Jon and the recent commanders aren't part of the 674.

Of course they're not. Sam identifies it as the oldest not the longest list. Depending on which way it runs, it will either start with the original lord commander and work its way down to the man in post when it was written, or start off with him and work backwards. If we say for the sake of argument that it started with the first and worked its way down to the lord commander who was around when it was written, then any newer lists would comprise all those names in the oldest list, plus those holding office since that that list was compiled. I'll come back to this later on but the immediate problem is that the writing of the oldest list Sam can find is still 674 lord commanders away from the reputed foundation of the watch with an awful lot of forgotten history in between.

Edited by Black Crow

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Does Sam's list start at Lord Commander #674, which implies they are missing more than 2/3rds of the entire list?  Or does Sam's list actually have 674 different names (the way I read it), meaning they have almost the entire list?

Edited by Brad Stark

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Sam's wording,  "the oldest list I've found " implies this is not a single official record,  and also that few people,  if any other than Sam, are interested.

Sam also implies the list is in some way unusual,  which doesn't fit with the idea it is just an ordinary list from 325 LCs ago.

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12 minutes ago, Brad Stark said:

Sam's wording,  "the oldest list I've found " implies this is not a single official record,  and also that few people,  if any other than Sam, are interested.

Sam also implies the list is in some way unusual,  which doesn't fit with the idea it is just an ordinary list from 325 LCs ago.

Not at all; the oldest list is exactly what he says. Its also, by definition, the shortest list. The problem, from Sam's point of view is that in terms of the reputed antiquity of the Watch its really not very old at all and he therefore has serious doubts as to its accuracy.

Here's the passage in full:

The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we think we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it. The old histories are full of kings who reigned for hundreds of years, and knights riding around a thousand years before there were knights. You know the tales, Brandon the Builder, Symeon Star-eyes, Knight’s King…we say that you’re the nine-hundred-and-ninety-eighth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but the oldest list I’ve found shows six hundred seventy-four commanders, which suggests that it was written during-“

“Long ago,” Jon broke in…

But not long ago enough

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33 minutes ago, Brad Stark said:

Does Sam's list start at Lord Commander #674, which implies they are missing more than 2/3rds of the entire list?  Or does Sam's list actually have 674 different names (the way I read it), meaning they have almost the entire list?

The implication is that it lists the lords commanders 1-674. Any subsequent lists will have those same names plus no. 675 onwards, to say, 720; with the next list containing lords commander nos. 1-720 plus no.721 onwards

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1 hour ago, JNR said:

The problem with this topic is the usual one.  We have no way to know which of the foundational premises are true and which are not.

For instance, the introductory essay simply states, as if it were a fact, that

The Black Gate beneath the fort is as old as the Wall itself.

Where does this come from?  Sam.   How does Sam know?  Probably, but not for sure, he was told by Coldhands (who introduced him to the existence of the Gate). 

But how good is Coldhands' information on this subject?  That's extremely hard to say since we don't know who he is or what his own background in the area might be.

But the truth is only that we're told it's twice as old as Castle Black:

"Twice as old as Castle Black," Bran said, remembering. "It was the first castle on the Wall, and the largest."

...which doesn't mean much since we don't know when either the Nightfort or Castle Black were built.
 

Its what we're told in the text.

If you don't like it, pray cite any text contradicting it

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1 hour ago, Black Crow said:

The implication is that it lists the lords commanders 1-674. Any subsequent lists will have those same names plus no. 675 onwards, to say, 720; with the next list containing lords commander nos. 1-720 plus no.721 onwards

We could have a series of lists, the oldest listing 1-674, and each newer listing more. 

I interpreted it as a list, perhaps 173-847, with other list of various length floating around,  such as 212-872, 649-950, etc.

"the oldest list I've found " implies Sam is searching alone.   Otherwise it would be "the oldest list we have".  Aemon may have found an older list, for example.  It also implies an older list might be found. 

Edited by Brad Stark

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18 minutes ago, Brad Stark said:

We could have a series of lists, the oldest listing 1-674, and each newer listing more. 

I interpreted it as a list, perhaps 173-847, with other list of various length floating around,  such as 212-872, 649-950, etc.

"the oldest list I've found " implies Sam is searching alone.   Otherwise it would be "the oldest list we have".  Aemon may have found an older list, for example.  It also implies an older list might be found. 

That depends on each lord commander having a number against his name. Read in the context of the rest of the passage Sam's problem is that the oldest list is not very old - only 324 lords commander ago - so he doubts the authenticity of a long list going back into that historically dodgy age of heroes when kings ruled for hundreds of years and so on.

Yes he [and we] would be a lot happier if an older and therefore shorter list was found, but he hasn't managed to find one - yet.

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At 8 years per commander, 325 lcs ago is 2592 years old.  Not much paper survives that long.  Sam's reaction seems to imply the list is newer than he'd expect. 

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Its consistent with the revised dates for the arrival of the Andals, but on the other hand that 8 year average is based on close on a thousand lord commanders in 8,000 years, yet as we've seen the World Book has also put the Long Night at just [!] 6,000 years ago, which screws that up. There's no doubt that the Watch believe they have been guarding the Wall for 8,000 years and have presumably constructed their mythology accordingly, but it aint necessarily so.

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