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The Fattest Leech

Night's Watch vows and the truth of history.

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5 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

I'm curious - can you give me any examples where this kind of thing is actually done by the author? A thing where the author hints at a rather complicated fact merely with the choice of words?

Asking other posters to go off topic in a thread is bad manners, LV. And not the cool type of Bad Manners that Buster Bloodvessel would condone. 

 

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7 minutes ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Asking other posters to go off topic in a thread is bad manners, LV. And not the cool type of Bad Manners that Buster Bloodvessel would condone. 

She can always give me such examples via PM.

But if you want you could also give me more concrete hints about your idea that the NW vow did, in fact, change overtime. Or point out concrete hints indicating something like that.

I can be convinced and I do change my mind if things seem to make sense to me.

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11 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

She can always give me such examples via PM.

But if you want you could also give me more concrete hints about your idea that the NW vow did, in fact, change overtime. Or point out concrete hints indicating something like that.

I can be convinced and I do change my mind if things seem to make sense to me.

Still not at my computer to type a longer reply, but I will later. It all comes down to a slow reveal based on the actions we see happening on page. Same with Bran. Same with Dany. 

Lit 101. Show, don’t tell. 

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9 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

I'm curious - can you give me any examples where this kind of thing is actually done by the author? A thing where the author hints at a rather complicated fact merely with the choice of words?

I don't know what you mean by "a rather complicated fact"here, but anyway... Lovely idea *sigh* The choice of words is the main tool a writer (any writer) can use to hint at various things - complicated and simple. I can't believe you require evidence to realize that. 

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In my experience, people usually cite such things as 'evidence' when there is nothing else to be found.

You are also choosing your words carefully to hint at ... things. If by evidence you want to mean something that makes this theory canon, then it's not evidence. But there is a reason why we do not usually discuss hard facts like Catelyn Stark being Sansa Stark's mother. It is explicitly stated in the book, there is nothing to discuss. If, however, you only take in what is explicitly stated in the text, a large part of the joy of reading is probably lost in the case of all the novels that are worth reading. In my opinion. Analysing the subtler layers of the text enriches our understanding of the novel. Reading such analyses is the best thing that I have ever found on these forums. And if you mean that I'm one of those "people" who cite "such things" when there is nothing else to be found, then let me remind you that I only added one more quote that (possibly) points in the same direction as other quotes also cited in this thread.

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The NW vow isn't a text as such. It is oral tradition. Nobody ever reads it from a piece of paper or parchment.

Sorry, an oral text is a text. Having a written version is not a requirement for a sequence of words to be a text. It is oral tradition but not the folklore kind, which changes in use, but a canonized text which must be kept in its official form. (By the way, it is perfectly possible that the vow has a written form somewhere in the CB library, but it is beside the point because it is not the existence of a written version that makes the vow a text.) 

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Since it is a vow it would have always been repeated with utmost respect and accuracy. People would just sit down and carefully change it like scribes might change or rewrite written documents. Such vows might be changed at the ending - it is easier to enlarge something at the end than glue something at the beginning and change that.

This is a rule you have just invented. The NW vow is a short text and it can be changed anywhere, at the end, middle or beginning, once somebody decides to change it. Let me tell you something shocking: it is even possible to remove the original beginning and insert a new one. The decision to change it would be an important one, it would happen for a strong reason, so, as I said above, it would be done with care and attention, and no one would just "glue" something to the original text. Those who want to impose the changes will probably even want to change the text considerably to avoid confusion with the original, lest someone might repeat the original vow by accident or on purpose.  

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Just think how difficult it would be to change the beginning of a well-known song or rhyme. You can add another verse or strophe, but it would be a very radical change to change the beginning.

That would be because of the rhythm, but the NW vow is not written in a strict metrical form, so those difficulties do not apply. (A singer-poet in the NW could probably even do that, but it's not necessary.) 

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And the whole beginning is very powerful and completely in accord with everything we know about the NW. There is no reason to believe that it didn't start always with 'Night gathers and now my Watch begins.' It shows the commitment of the man taking the vow. And of course it makes sense to specify what this commitment means before you go to the part what they actually do.

But that's the question whether the commitment always involved those restrictions or whether there was a time when the goal was everything. In any case, we know there have been major changes in the history of the NW, we know some of its ancient history is lost. The text flows perfectly without the no crowns, no kids, no glory part. 

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Starting with 'I am the sword in the darkness' etc. wouldn't make much sense since that and the other stuff isn't a vow.

I don't necessarily agree that the "I am the sword..." part is not a vow - it is a question whether the vow has to be in the form of a promise or some other indication of obligation also satisfies the criteria. It would be very strange if only the restrictions "I shall take no wife..." counted as a vow proper. The main (original) purpose of the NW is not for its members to give up a number of things that most men would like to have but to defend the realms of men, therefore the "I am the sword..." part must also express obligation and it must be commonly understood as such. The (grammatical) form is not a promise in a future tense but a series of phrases expressing identification in a present tense, which indicates an already completed transformation ('I am the sword etc. at this very moment, as I'm saying the vow'), thus it expresses a strong and immediate obligation.   

But the vow can start with "Night gathers..." anyway. At least the "years and centuries" phrase refers only to the no wives, no kids etc. part.  

Edited by Julia H.

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3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Starting with 'I am the sword in the darkness' etc. wouldn't make much sense since that and the other stuff isn't a vow.

Where did you hear this?

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10 hours ago, Julia H. said:

Excellent thread!

Speaking of the Night's Watch vow, I'm surprised that this quote from ADwD has not been brought up here (or maybe I missed it somehow, but here it is anyway):

With their black hoods and thick black cowls, the six might have been carved from shadow. Their voices rose together, small against the vastness of the night. "Night gathers, and now my watch begins," they said, as thousands had said before them. Satin's voice was sweet as song, Horse's hoarse and halting, Arron's a nervous squeak. "It shall not end until my death."

...

"I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children," the recruits promised, in voices that echoed back through years and centuries. "I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post."

...

"I am the sword in the darkness," said the six, and it seemed to Jon as though their voices were changing, growing stronger, more certain. "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."

The "years and centuries" bit is especially interesting when the vow is supposed to be thousands of years old. Then their voices grow stronger and more certain when they reach the "I am the sword..." part. 

Ok, I'd like to get back to these quotes here, which make so much sense to the point of this thread. These quotes really seem to add the words to the actions we see going on at the wall, many already mentioned by others such as @kissdbyfire @Seams @bemused (and any others I may have accidentally skipped).

  • A Game of Thrones - Jon V

Maester Aemon touched his own collar lightly, his bony, wrinkled finger stroking the heavy metal links. "Go on."

"He told me that a maester's collar is made of chain to remind him that he is sworn to serve," Jon said, remembering. "I asked why each link was a different metal. A silver chain would look much finer with his grey robes, I said. Maester Luwin laughed. A maester forges his chain with study, he told me. The different metals are each a different kind of learning, gold for the study of money and accounts, silver for healing, iron for warcraft. And he said there were other meanings as well. The collar is supposed to remind a maester of the realm he serves, isn't that so? Lords are gold and knights steel, but two links can't make a chain. You also need silver and iron and lead, tin and copper and bronze and all the rest, and those are farmers and smiths and merchants and the like. A chain needs all sorts of metals, and a land needs all sorts of people."

Maester Aemon smiled. "And so?"

Basically, the Watch is coming alive again as it did when it was built. This includes a variety of peoples and all for a common cause against a common foe. Why? Why is the Watch coming alive again after all of this time and a great decline? It seems to me that once again in the story we see history repeating... but with a twist. The Watch does not need the (speculated) new additions to the vows. This is why there is an echo back through time and it is paired with the voices growing stronger. Again, the Watch is coming back to life.

  • A Clash of Kings - Jon VIII

    Ghost ate well that day, and Qhorin insisted that the rangers mix some of the garron's blood with their oats, to give them strength. The taste of that foul porridge almost choked Jon, but he forced it down. They each cut a dozen strips of raw stringy meat from the carcass to chew on as they rode, and left the rest for the shadowcats.

    There was no question of riding double. Stonesnake offered to lay in wait for the pursuit and surprise them when they came. Perhaps he could take a few of them with him down to hell. Qhorin refused. "If any man in the Night's Watch can make it through the Frostfangs alone and afoot, it is you, brother. You can go over mountains that a horse must go around. Make for the Fist. Tell Mormont what Jon saw, and how. Tell him that the old powers are waking, that he faces giants and wargs and worse. Tell him that the trees have eyes again."

  • A Feast for Crows - The Kraken's Daughter

    "You must lend me Haereg's book, Nuncle." She would need to learn all she could of kingsmoots before she reached Old Wyk.

    "You may read it here. It is old and fragile." He studied her, frowning. "Archmaester Rigney once wrote that history is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging. What has happened before will perforce happen again, he said.

  • A Storm of Swords - Arya VIII

    "Nay," said the dwarf. "You're not. The black fish holds the rivers now. If it's the mother you want, seek her at the Twins. For there's to be a wedding." She cackled again. "Look in your fires, pink priest, and you will see. Not now, though, not here, you'll see nothing here. This place belongs to the old gods still . . . they linger here as I do, shrunken and feeble but not yet dead. Nor do they love the flames. For the oak recalls the acorn, the acorn dreams the oak, the stump lives in them both. And they remember when the First Men came with fire in their fists." She drank the last of the wine in four long swallows, flung the skin aside, and pointed her stick at Lord Beric. "I'll have my payment now. I'll have the song you promised me."

  • A Dance with Dragons - Bran III

    "A man must know how to look before he can hope to see," said Lord Brynden. "Those were shadows of days past that you saw, Bran. You were looking through the eyes of the heart tree in your godswood. Time is different for a tree than for a man. Sun and soil and water, these are the things a weirwood understands, not days and years and centuries. For men, time is a river. We are trapped in its flow, hurtling from past to present, always in the same direction. The lives of trees are different. They root and grow and die in one place, and that river does not move them. The oak is the acorn, the acorn is the oak. And the weirwood … a thousand human years are a moment to a weirwood, and through such gates you and I may gaze into the past."

Sidenote: I am still convinced that the Andals played a part in the addition/restrictions imposed on the Night's Watch. The Andals/Faith of 7 did the same thing down south to other rulers, and even the Targs when they tried to rule. The Faith of 7 basically gave an ultimatum, a choice to either let them "in" or they will not only not support you, but might make moves against you. Again, the Faith of 7 was based on some rather radical/militant religions in real life.

We see this a few ways played out on page in a few scenes, going back to basics in ways that seem to undo what has been added.

  • Jon acting as a king/father and arranging the marriage of Alys Karstark, effectively creating a new Westerosi house.
  • Jon mentioning how the Watch seemed to come "alive" with the lights and human activity going on, as Kissdbyfire mentioned earlier in the thread. Post #17 here.
    • By the way, something mentioned in that post #17 quote that I never noticed before is the proper name of the "old Flint Barracks". Why do the Flints have a Castle Black barracks named after them?
  • Samwell taking a wife in Gilly by cloaking her at Craster's and then consummating that marriage while on a boat (yes, this does include vows before a "tree" and even an exchange of mother's milk)
  • Jon suggest Samwell take baby Aemon Steelsong as his own, which implies brother's maybe once had children in the past. Additionally, there is no fear the Sam will be punished for this "crime" by Maester Aemon or even Randyll Tarly.
  • Jon undoing the travesty to the Watch that Queen Alysanne caused when she gave away lands that were then abandoned. Jon plans on and agrees to repopulating them... with "wildlings" none the less. Queen Alysanne (and Jaehaerys;)) had a Septon for a hand, sooo?
  • There were once people/villages on both sides of the wall, along the length of the wall. It seems the north was not so desolate back in them olden days. Time and rumors seems to have killed the land.
  • Parts of the Night's Watch history has been erased, but we have Jon setting the most literate man in the land, Samwell Tarly, to task in order to find this history and report back.
  • Jon is even encouraging the knowledge of the old ways but manning the castles with First Men and bringing back the Old Tongue.
    • A Dance with Dragons - Jon VIII

      "Leathers is savage," Jon agreed mildly. "I can attest to that. I've tried him in the practice yard. He's as dangerous with a stone axe as most knights are with castle-forged steel. I grant you, he is not as patient as I'd like, and some of the boys are terrified of him … but that's not all for the bad. One day they'll find themselves in a real fight, and a certain familiarity with terror will serve them well."

      "He's a wildling."

      "He was, until he said the words. Now he is our brother. One who can teach the boys more than swordcraft. It would not hurt them to learn a few words of the Old Tongue and something of the ways of the free folk."

  • And a few more that the quoter keeps eating, or I am forgetting at this now late, late hour.

Back to the why the watch is coming alive again: common foes that endanger the realms of men. The Others? The Great Other (are they the same?).The fabled Night's King being replayed? I will say that the vows being a reflection of any doings of the fabled Night's King, and the Night's Watch essentially being "reset" adds up. It is quite possible that we have a new character acting in the style of the mythical Night's King, and that is Ramsay.

Edited by The Fattest Leech
quoter keeps eating my updates---AGAIN!

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I love this thread. Great Job, @The Fattest Leech, @Julia H., @kissdbyfire, @Seams , et al !

7 hours ago, Julia H. said:

The text flows perfectly without the no crowns, no kids, no glory part. 

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Starting with 'I am the sword in the darkness' etc. wouldn't make much sense since that and the other stuff isn't a vow.

I don't necessarily agree that the "I am the sword..." part is not a vow - it is a question whether the vow has to be in the form of a promise or some other indication of obligation also satisfies the criteria.  

But the vow can start with "Night gathers..." anyway..

I think it probably did start off ... Night gathers, and now my watch begins. ... continuing with... 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 the nights to come.

The first line would be an opening declaration, made before (variously) the gods, whoever is administering the oath, and those assembled.

In the pre-Andal days, when the oath would always have been sworn before a heart tree, whether or not the tree could speak, I can't  help but think of the Black Gate, and "Who are you?".. so the question is implied, to me and perhaps equally to the earliest NW brothers. Each man replies with the list of roles and ideals he promises to embody and ends with the simple but profound.. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

"For all the nights to come" is forever , as long as I live. So, "It shall not end until my death" and "I shall live and die at my post." are redundant. That there are two repetitions of the idea seems a bit heavy handed and doom laden. They're both stated in very forbidding terms compared to the earnest and idealistic "I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch for this night and all the nights to come." ... Maybe the repetitions were deemed to be necessary as the quota of prisoners making up the Watch gradually increased over the years.

I think having all the additions - holding no lands , fathering no children, etc- baked into the oath was a bad idea (though it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, to some). It made it inevitable that eventually some Lords would cease to hold up their end of the bargain ... and if it worked for some , others would follow... after all, they would suffer no consequences for their lack of support.

Without all that stuff, the oath is poetic, like stories and myths that have been passed down orally, and very FM. I am the sword, the horn the shield, etc., for me, resonates with Tormund's many honorifics... again, very FM, and I believe,in some cases, tied to the old gods.

Aside: Jon letting Tormund's people through made me think of the people who flock to WF and it's winter town in harsh times... same thing but on a bigger scale? (Recalling that the other forts once had gates and people once remembered the Others better, was this once standard practice, come winter ?)

5 hours ago, The Fattest Leech said:

It is quite possible that we have a new character acting in the style of the mythical Night's King, and that is Ramsay.

I like this, but Ramsay or Roose? It's possible Roose killed Domeric (I'm still in the process of updating a thread that touches onthis, in part) .... or that Roose sacrificed Dom to Ramsay ... or that Ramsay sacrificed Dom, thus earning Roose's blessing. :ack: ...I suspect bad things regarding Dom's dead brothers under the Dreadfort.... Roose would have killed Ramsay but for his eyes...  Roose projects Ramsay will kill Walda's babies (but Roose likes to deflect blame).

In any case, it creeped me out when, at fArya's wedding...

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Ramsay Bolton stood beneath them, clad in high boots of soft grey leather and a black velvet doublet slashed with pink silk and glittering with garnet teardrops. A smile danced across his face. "Who comes?" His lips were moist, his neck red above his collar. "Who comes before the god?"... ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell

God, singular ? Not the way a northman should speak, methinks....  what can it mean?:o.. Maybe it's because it's one weirwood, one heart tree, one god (I kinda doubt it) ...  I think it should still be the gods, or the old gods.

Do I need talking down ?

Edited by bemused

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1 hour ago, bemused said:

God, singular ? Not the way a northman should speak, methinks....  what can it mean?:o.. Maybe it's because it's one weirwood, one heart tree, one god (I kinda doubt it) ...  I think it should still be the gods, or the old gods.

Do I need talking down ?

Nope. I've always wondered about this too... and super late now but the WB mentions other gods beyond the Wall... "dark gods beneath the ground in the Frostfangs, gods of snow and ice on the Frozen Shore, or crab gods at Storrold's Point". Then there's Craster's claim of being a "godly man". All this meandering to say I think there's a good chance there are other gods beside the OG in the north. 

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11 hours ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Still not at my computer to type a longer reply, but I will later. It all comes down to a slow reveal based on the actions we see happening on page. Same with Bran. Same with Dany. 

Lit 101. Show, don’t tell. 

But is it really his modus operandi to hint at things in a most subtle manner without giving us any real clues that something might be strange? I mean, you have a very detailed picture about what's actually going on there, and most of that can't be found in the books. There are no traces about celibacy being something the Andals invented, or that the First Men wouldn't separate men from their families to fulfill a deed necessary for the good of all, etc.

There isn't even a reason to assume the Andals would enforce celibacy, etc. on the NW, nor is there any indication they could have done that. The North was never andalized, so if the Northern NW men originally lived with their families at the Wall, why did they not continued to do so, after the Andal kingdoms changed things? The Andal kings and the Faith would have had no power to change the practices of the Northern NW men. The Kings in the North could even have threatened the Lord Commanders when they were planning to implement such ridiculous changes.

And one assumes that nobody would have accepted those ridiculous changes if the men at the Watch would have seen that some of their brothers still lived with their families.

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

I don't know what you mean by "a rather complicated fact"here, but anyway... Lovely idea *sigh* The choice of words is the main tool a writer (any writer) can use to hint at various things - complicated and simple. I can't believe you require evidence to realize that.

See above. I'd say if George wanted to hint at a change in the vows of the NW he would actually hint at that in a clearly recognizable way, the way he does it with many of the actual mysteries in the books. Is there a complex mystery which is first hinted only at with 'the choice of words'?

And just to be clear - one can use such methods to interpret texts, of course. But it is one thing to interpret, and quite another to use that as predicting future plot lines and revelations - because that presupposes intent on the side of the author. The author can only hint at things if he actually intentionally puts clues to things in the books he actually thinks about.

In that sense - if you have a theory about future plot lines and the like, you should look, in my opinion, for clear hints pointing in that direction, not search for quotes which may support your view if read in a certain manner.

Things like that could be fun when we actually know the entire story and can go back look whether there are lines which unintentionally happen to support/hint at certain ideas we now know came true.

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

You are also choosing your words carefully to hint at ... things. If by evidence you want to mean something that makes this theory canon, then it's not evidence. But there is a reason why we do not usually discuss hard facts like Catelyn Stark being Sansa Stark's mother. It is explicitly stated in the book, there is nothing to discuss. If, however, you only take in what is explicitly stated in the text, a large part of the joy of reading is probably lost in the case of all the novels that are worth reading. In my opinion. Analysing the subtler layers of the text enriches our understanding of the novel. Reading such analyses is the best thing that I have ever found on these forums. And if you mean that I'm one of those "people" who cite "such things" when there is nothing else to be found, then let me remind you that I only added one more quote that (possibly) points in the same direction as other quotes also cited in this thread.

There are subtle clues to a lot of things in the books, of course. To illustrate what I mean one can look at the mystery of Jon Arryn's murder. There are clues towards the real culprit there in the first book already. They are there because the author put them there, because he knew what truly happened when he wrote that novel. Or take the clues hinting at the possible true parentage of Prince Aegon. They are there, too. They are not confirmation but they are there, and pretty much nobody doubts that they are there - the opinions just differ whether those hints confirm things or could not possibly be seen in a different light if we have more information, etc.

If there were such clues about the NW vow changing in the books I'd be first to acknowledge this.

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

Sorry, an oral text is a text. Having a written version is not a requirement for a sequence of words to be a text. It is oral tradition but not the folklore kind, which changes in use, but a canonized text which must be kept in its official form. (By the way, it is perfectly possible that the vow has a written form somewhere in the CB library, but it is beside the point because it is not the existence of a written version that makes the vow a text.) 

We don't really have to discuss the meaning of the word 'text'. The important part about the vows is that they are spoken, not read or written down.

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

This is a rule you have just invented. The NW vow is a short text and it can be changed anywhere, at the end, middle or beginning, once somebody decides to change it. Let me tell you something shocking: it is even possible to remove the original beginning and insert a new one. The decision to change it would be an important one, it would happen for a strong reason, so, as I said above, it would be done with care and attention, and no one would just "glue" something to the original text. Those who want to impose the changes will probably even want to change the text considerably to avoid confusion with the original, lest someone might repeat the original vow by accident or on purpose.  

That would be because of the rhythm, but the NW vow is not written in a strict metrical form, so those difficulties do not apply. (A singer-poet in the NW could probably even do that, but it's not necessary.) 

The point is that those are words they are spoken all the time exactly the way they were said always. What right would a Lord Commander of the NW have to change the vows so that something different was said by the new recruits than when he and his peers took the black?

There is no indication that the Watch was ever defunct for a generation or so, allowing it be effectively reestablished under new and somewhat changed rules.

Of course, this would technically be possible, but nothing in the text indicates anything of that sort. Instead, then NW is repeatedly shown to be an institution with a long and unchanged tradition, an institution that preserves and keeps ancient knowledge, even if the men there can no longer make use of it - there are books and records at CB that are older than the books anywhere else, and they also have forbidden/banned books like Barth's Unnatural History.

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

But that's the question whether the commitment always involved those restrictions or whether there was a time when the goal was everything. In any case, we know there have been major changes in the history of the NW, we know some of its ancient history is lost. The text flows perfectly without the no crowns, no kids, no glory part. 

There are no hints about 'major changes', actually. They never changed their *true purpose* as such, the wildlings just become another part of their mission once they started to raid the Gifts and the lands south of them. That they effectively became the only purpose the Seven Kingdoms believe they have is no fault of the Watch - rather it is because the Others never showed their faces in thousands of years (or at least not in a manner that the NW could recognize as such).

9 hours ago, Julia H. said:

I don't necessarily agree that the "I am the sword..." part is not a vow - it is a question whether the vow has to be in the form of a promise or some other indication of obligation also satisfies the criteria. It would be very strange if only the restrictions "I shall take no wife..." counted as a vow proper. The main (original) purpose of the NW is not for its members to give up a number of things that most men would like to have but to defend the realms of men, therefore the "I am the sword..." part must also express obligation and it must be commonly understood as such. The (grammatical) form is not a promise in a future tense but a series of phrases expressing identification in a present tense, which indicates an already completed transformation ('I am the sword etc. at this very moment, as I'm saying the vow'), thus it expresses a strong and immediate obligation.

But as such the whole phrase starting with 'I am the sword...' doesn't really commit themselves to do anything besides guarding and fighting and caring about people. As such it is nothing we would see as a vow if we didn't know already it was supposed to be a vow.

And by the way - I'm entirely willing to entertain the idea that this part goes, perhaps, back into the days of the War for the Dawn before the NW proper was founded (the hint given in TWoIaF implies the men around the Last Hero defeating the Others were the founding members of the NW). But at this time the Watch wouldn't have been an order caring for the Wall, but indeed men manning multiple walls protecting whatever ringforts and keeps men had left in those days.

And I think I've also laid out elsewhere my idea that the founding members of the Watch were indeed effectively the rulers of the First Men after the Long Night was over - which would explain why they could enforce this NW order idea on a culture that was technically split up in a Hundred Kingdoms. In fact, it might be that Last Hero and his men might have been able to rule over a united Westeros after they had beaten back the Others - but chose not to do this and instead focus on preparing for the day when the Others came back.

I've also advocated for the idea that the Watch would have been the most powerful military force in all of Westeros for thousands of years - while there were a Hundred Kingdoms which individually could never rival the power of the NW.

All that would reflect positively on the prestige and power the NW must have had for a very long time.

But there is really no reason to believe that the Andal element somehow changed crucial parts of the NW vows. In fact, the whole story that the Andals changed a lot doesn't hold much water anymore. The Andals adopted as many First Men customs as the First Men adopted Andal customs, and the culture afterwards is an amalgamation of Andal and First Men culture that works very fine - people don't make a clear cut like our historical narratives do with 'heathen culture' and 'Christian culture', etc. but things go back to back and one can be proud of his First Men lineage and ancestry just as much as one can be proud of one's Andal lineage. One even can invent fake First Men Arryn heroes or remake First Men heroes into knights.

This shows a much greater scope of tolerance and acceptance than we originally thought.

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18 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

But is it really his modus operandi to hint at things in a most subtle manner without giving us any real clues that something might be strange? I mean, you have a very detailed picture about what's actually going on there, and most of that can't be found in the books. There are no traces about celibacy being something the Andals invented, or that the First Men wouldn't separate men from their families to fulfill a deed necessary for the good of all, etc.

I did, but it’s upthread. I can require later. It mostly has to do with how the negative aspect of bastards was introduced. 

Quote

There isn't even a reason to assume the Andals would enforce celibacy, etc. on the NW, nor is there any indication they could have done that. The North was never andalized, so if the Northern NW men originally lived with their families at the Wall, why did they not continued to do so, after the Andal kingdoms changed things? The Andal kings and the Faith would have had no power to change the practices of the Northern NW men. The Kings in the North could even have threatened the Lord Commanders when they were planning to implement such ridiculous changes.

Again, I posted some quotes upthread that shows a Faith of 7 influence when people like Janos Slynt arrive and then even Bowen Marsh encouraging the men to take oaths in a sept rather than at a weirwood, and people being “ungodly”. 

The First Men seem to be more open to different religions and rites (and languages) as they are not just one “race” but flows of several types, whereas the Faith of 7 is more specific. That can often cause those who are more open to be taken advantage of (in certain situations). 

And the Andals don’t have to move up in families. I never implied that and maybe I should have been more clear. But as we see with Slynt and Marsh and their specific quotes, trying to infiltrate doesn’t always require a family in tow. One can have “friends” in other places ready at call, as an example. 

Edited by The Fattest Leech

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8 hours ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Ok, I'd like to get back to these quotes here, which make so much sense to the point of this thread. These quotes really seem to add the words to the actions we see going on at the wall, many already mentioned by others such as @kissdbyfire @Seams @bemused (and any others I may have accidentally skipped).

Basically, the Watch is coming alive again as it did when it was built. This includes a variety of peoples and all for a common cause against a common foe. Why? Why is the Watch coming alive again after all of this time and a great decline? It seems to me that once again in the story we see history repeating... but with a twist. The Watch does not need the (speculated) new additions to the vows. This is why there is an echo back through time and it is paired with the voices growing stronger. Again, the Watch is coming back to life.

This seems to be me a weird way to reinterpret the original purpose of the NW. The NW was founded as an order of men protecting a defensible tract of land against the Others, a tract of land that is also defended by a magical wall they care for.

The land might need every type of person, but the Watch clearly does not. It does not need cravens and weaklings, for one. Fighting the Others isn't something everybody can do, nor is it something everybody should be doing. Else people would have never founded the Watch but simply told everybody to protect their own walls and see to their own defenses. Or they would have told them that everybody should join the NW and the primary duty of every man and woman would henceforth be to protect the realms of men.

But they did not do that. They outsourced that duty to the men who took the black.

The Rigney quote is nod to Robert Jordan and his series, not a sentence that is supposed to tell us a metaphysical truth about Martinworld. In George's world time is not a wheel, and people don't do the same stuff their previous incarnations did.

8 hours ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Sidenote: I am still convinced that the Andals played a part in the addition/restrictions imposed on the Night's Watch. The Andals/Faith of 7 did the same thing down south to other rulers, and even the Targs when they tried to rule. The Faith of 7 basically gave an ultimatum, a choice to either let them "in" or they will not only not support you, but might make moves against you. Again, the Faith of 7 was based on some rather radical/militant religions in real life.

The lords and kings converted to the Faith, it was not forced down their throat. And it didn't change all that much. Just their religion. They didn't even burn down their godswoods. They did not break with their roots in a very literal manner.

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The Rigney quote is nod to Robert Jordan and his series, not a sentence that is supposed to tell us a metaphysical truth about Martinworld. In George's world time is not a wheel, and people don't do the same stuff their previous incarnations did.

You are telling me that Martin put random words in his story as page filler? No, of course the quote isn’t literal, but they are words that work within Martins story. This is an odd nitpick. 

What you are asking for is the ending of the book when everything will be laid out (yes! Many minor mysteries will remain). I get that. We all want the ending but we don’t have it. What we do have is the current story and the past which is telling/hinting at future events (in broad strokes). That is what we are discussing. 

 

Edited by The Fattest Leech

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28 minutes ago, The Fattest Leech said:

You are telling me that Martin put random words in his story as page filler? No, of course the quote isn’t literal, but they are words that work within Martins story. This is an odd nitpick. 

I don't see any indications that history repeats itself in any meaningful way in Martinworld. Similar things do happen, but that's because of the mechanics of the medieval framework, not because of metaphysical principles.

George even goes to great lengths to show that there are not 'evil family lines' and the like. There was a good Bolton in Domeric, historically there was a very noble and brave Frey in Forrest Frey during the Dance, etc. It is the same with Barth, really. You misunderstand George and the complexity of the people he presents if you see him as part of some 'evil/negative Faith bloc' against 'the good First Men'. There are good and bad people in any group George has invented, and he goes to great lengths to actually show this. There are dogmatic, block-headed, and fanatical members of the Faith - but Barth is not one such, just as Meribald isn't, or the Elder Brother from Quiet Isle.

One also assumes that the new Long Night is going to be similar but no identical to the first one, nor is the way the Others were defeated the last time going to be the way they will be defeated this time - if that was the case then we would know the ending of the story as soon as Bran sees how the Others were defeated the last time.

And of course there are many in-jokes and nods to various authors, people, and other works in those books. Hints the man is never going to elaborate on. The Velociraptors (or rather Deinonychuses) are not going to show up again in a meaningful way. Nor are Josua and Elias from Osten Ard (who were marching with Renly). Sesame Street is there, too, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and according to George we also have the Three Stooges there (although I've never found those - has anyone?).

The way I see it one is mistaken when one looks to the past for real clues about the future of the series. There might be certain parallels there, but not really in a manner that allows us to really guess at future plot lines or even spoil crucial points in the story.

I mean, George even changed Bittersteel losing a hand in his duel with Bloodraven to prevent it from looking to closely like Jaime. And past events of the history that we know never actually closely resemble the story of the main series.

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So much I could unpack in this post of yours. 

The first is that you are twisting words. Big time. And this is why discussion can never progress. Threads always get derailed into a defense of meaning and intent on the previous post. Always living in the past, metaphorically speaking, of course. This situation goes round and round like a wheel. 

The second is that I never claimed all the First Men were good guys. I’m the one on the board that always refers back to Val’s quote about parting the sheep from the goats. The Free Folk have the same integrity variations as those in the south... because they are all human. Part of the pint of the Jon arc. 

13 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

I mean, George even changed Bittersteel losing a hand in his duel with Bloodraven to prevent it from looking to closely like Jaime. And past events of the history that we know never actually closely resemble the story of the main series.

That’s because the two scenarios have nothing in common. Zollo is not in any way shape or form a Bloodraven parallel. Simple as that. 

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Ah! I knew I forgot a history “repeat” scene that shows the reader what is gong on. (Damn quoter last night was giving me major fits) 

Ghost leading Jon to the chache, but more specifically Jon arming his brothers with the weapons he made of obsidian. Yes, that scene was just a small start to the bigger plot point that increasingly grows and develops in the books. Kinda like the voices growing stronger ;)

A Feast for Crows - Samwell I

"Long ago," Jon broke in. "What about the Others?"

"I found mention of dragonglass. The children of the forest used to give the Night's Watch a hundred obsidian daggers every year, during the Age of Heroes. The Others come when it is cold, most of the tales agree. Or else it gets cold when they come. Sometimes they appear during snowstorms and melt away when the skies clear. They hide from the light of the sun and emerge by night . . . or else night falls when they emerge. Some stories speak of them riding the corpses of dead animals. Bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, it makes no matter, so long as the beast is dead. The one that killed Small Paul was riding a dead horse, so that part's plainly true. Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don't know what those are. Men who fall in battle against the Others must be burned, or else the dead will rise again as their thralls."

"We knew all this. The question is, how do we fight them?"

Edited by The Fattest Leech
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25 minutes ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Ah! I knew I forgot a history “repeat” scene that shows the reader what is gong on. (Damn quoter last night was giving me major fits) 

Ghost leading Jon to the cache, but more specifically Jon arming his brothers with the weapons he made of obsidian. Yes, that scene was just a small start to the bigger plot point that increasingly grows and develops in the books. Kinda like the voices growing stronger ;)

I was going to bring up Jon's journey to the fist - it is preceded by ritualistic details and it shares elements with arcs of other major characters when they make important transitions.

First, Mormont seems in a big hurry to get to their camp site at the old ring fort. My surmise was that this had to be accomplished in order to get Jon Snow and Ghost into position during a full moon but while the comet is still visible in the sky. I think there is a specific magical moment when Jon can find that bundle at the Fist, like the old Celtic idea that the barrier between this world and the underworld is thinnest on one night of the year (Samhain). Ghost had been unable or unwilling to enter the campground of the ranging party but suddenly Jon finds the wolf at this side and urging him to follow on what turns out to be the path to the cache.

Then there are weird details such as Jon preparing mulled wine to Mormonts exacting specifications. Jon is hungry but he gives his bowl of stew to Grenn. (I believe Grenn is a manifestation of some aspect of Jon. Probably his "inner warrior." So maybe Jon is fortifying his inner warrior for the mission on which he is about to embark. Or maybe the idea is that Jon cannot eat the root vegetables in the stew - roots associated with the underworld - but his doppelganger can.) I have these out of order, I know, but there is also a strangely disembodied conversation with Sam Tarly in which Sam indirectly says, "Farewell" to Jon. I don't know what all of these details mean, but they are clearly very deliberate. Maybe Sam has an extra special role in opening doors - we see it again at the Black Gate with Bran and his traveling companions - and he is bestowing some magic on Jon at this moment.

Jon's "escape" to the cache site is also very specific. The old fort is a ring. Jon pretends he is going to find water, but he carries no bucket. There is a single guard and the guard is tricked in some way into allowing passage. I think there is quiet nickering from tethered horses. Jon has to slip sideways through a gap in the stones around the ring fort. Many of these details are similar or identical to Brienne entering the ruin at the Whispers (instead of a single guard there, I think there is a door overgrown with blackberries, which are associated with Bran); with Tyrion escaping from slavery with Penny and Jorah to join the Second Sons; and with Arya escaping from Harrenhal with Gendry and Hot Pie. It may also echo some of the details in Merrett Frey's entry into Oldstones and with Qhorin launching Jon into the wildlings after passing through the mountain tunnel. Some of these parallels are closer fits than others, but I think the pattern is clear and I think the larger point is that these characters are able to enter the Otherworld if they complete certain rituals.

Escaping these stone rings (or entering rings that had been closed off) seems to fit with the metaphor of the maester's chains you have already linked to this exploration of the Night's Watch. Jon persuading Maester Aemon that chains need all kinds of metals (and that the Night's Watch needs all kinds of members) may have been one of the signs of a prophecy being fulfilled; Aemon could see that Jon understood the nature and purpose of both forging and breaking chains. If the Night's Watch leadership had been waiting for a prophesied brother who could retrieve the obsidian cache, I bet that was one sign. As for parallels, in Tyrion's case, he is literally escaping the chains that have held him in slavery.

If the passing in and out of old stone ring forts is like the forging or breaking of a link in a chain, this would connect to that suggestion I brought up earlier in the thread, that people who take these vows seem to be able to open doors or pass through "gates" that others cannot. The more I think about this, the more I believe it is correct. The original chain-makers, Maesters, are strongly linked to places - Pycelle is described as sitting in place as others arrive for the small council; Maester Cressen finds Maester Pylos in his place at the table. We may find that the death or departure of a maester is closely linked to the downfall or overthrow of a castle - Luwin at Winterfell being a good example. Maybe there is another Tyrion parallel here: he decides he cannot teach Penny how to play the "Come Into My Castle" children's game (as she is not highborn and won't know the heraldry needed to play properly). Only certain, select people can pass through these portals / break these chains.

But the vows, how does this relate to the vows?

"We're sorry about your father," Grenn said, "but it doesn't matter. Once you say the words, you can't leave, no matter what."

"I have to," Jon said fervently.

"You said the words," Pyp reminded him. "Now my watch begins, you said it. It shall not end until my death."

"I shall live and die at my post," Grenn added, nodding.

"You don't have to tell me the words, I know them as well as you do." He was angry now. Why couldn't they let him go in peace, They were only making it harder.

"I am the sword in the darkness," Halder intoned.

"The watcher on the walls," piped Toad.

Jon cursed them all to their faces. They took no notice. Pyp spurred his horse closer, reciting, "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."

"Stay back," Jon warned him, brandishing his sword. "I mean it, Pyp." They weren't even wearing armor, he could cut them all to pieces if he had to.

Matthar had circled behind him. He joined the chorus. "I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch."

Jon kicked his mare, spinning her in a circle. The boys were all around him now, closing from every side.

"For this night . . . " Halder trotted in form the left.

". . . and all the nights to come," finished Pyp. He reached over for Jon's reins. "So here are your choices. Kill me, or come back with me."

(AGoT, Jon IX, Chap. 70)

No "night gathers." Nothing about a wife, lands, children, crowns or glory. This may be the original core of the Night's Watch vows.

The symbolism I see here is that these are all people Jon met at the Wall. Like him, they embody the Wall (credit, once again, to @bemused for this idea). I believe they also embody aspects of Jon himself. In this scene, they are a barrier that is preventing him from deserting, surrounding him. So the metaphor of the Maester's chain applies here, as well. Jon can break certain links, it seems (when he goes to find the cache) but he can't leave altogether. The chain binds him. The vow opens certain doors, but closes others. As we know, Jon adds to his inner circle as his arc progresses - Satin and Leathers, for instance. He will also eventually send away Sam and Maester Aemon and then start to send his friends and other brothers to other castles along the Wall, which might foreshadow his intention to try to go to Winterfell to save fArya (he is disassembling the Wall so he can make another jail break) or might be a sign that he is strengthening the Wall by investing himself (= his friends) in it.

Footnote on the other possible parallel I mentioned earlier: Jaime's horses are called Honor and Glory. Sometimes he rides one, sometimes the other. Sometimes he wears his Lannister armor, sometimes his Kingsguard armor. I think the horses are symbolic of the parallel King's Guard vows that allow Jaime to pass through certain portals in a way similar to Jon's or Sam's ability to open and/or pass through some gates or doors. "Honor" would be associated with the King's Guard, while "Glory" is a sign that Jaime is having trouble with some of his vows.

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7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

See above. I'd say if George wanted to hint at a change in the vows of the NW he would actually hint at that in a clearly recognizable way, the way he does it with many of the actual mysteries in the books. Is there a complex mystery which is first hinted only at with 'the choice of words'?

And just to be clear - one can use such methods to interpret texts, of course. But it is one thing to interpret, and quite another to use that as predicting future plot lines and revelations - because that presupposes intent on the side of the author. The author can only hint at things if he actually intentionally puts clues to things in the books he actually thinks about.

In that sense - if you have a theory about future plot lines and the like, you should look, in my opinion, for clear hints pointing in that direction, not search for quotes which may support your view if read in a certain manner.

Things like that could be fun when we actually know the entire story and can go back look whether there are lines which unintentionally happen to support/hint at certain ideas we now know came true.

There are subtle clues to a lot of things in the books, of course. To illustrate what I mean one can look at the mystery of Jon Arryn's murder. There are clues towards the real culprit there in the first book already. They are there because the author put them there, because he knew what truly happened when he wrote that novel. Or take the clues hinting at the possible true parentage of Prince Aegon. They are there, too. They are not confirmation but they are there, and pretty much nobody doubts that they are there - the opinions just differ whether those hints confirm things or could not possibly be seen in a different light if we have more information, etc.

If there were such clues about the NW vow changing in the books I'd be first to acknowledge this.

We aren't talking about one of the mysteries of the present story, like the Jon Arryn murder. This is a mystery of the distant past, and the distant past is intentionally presented to us by the author as something hardly known by the characters, presented to us through fragments of information, through legends and stories, through vague hints and guesses. On the other hand, there are clear indications in the books that the NW vow is more than just an average text, that it has a history, it has multiple functions, it is magical, and some parts of it are apparently more important (more often used, referred to in different ways than other parts etc.) than others. Specific quotes to support this are listed throughout this thread. The idea that the NW vow wasn't always the same as it is today is worth examining - it is not at all unrealistic (a lot can happen in eight thousand years), and it can explain certain things that are present in the story (for example, why only a part of it is recited at the Gate in a clearly magical function) and also the stylistic discrepancy that @bemused called our attention to.

So there are clues that may very well support this idea. (See them upthread.) On the other hand, there may also be hints - like the choice of words in specific places. We do know that GRRM uses subtle hints that may not even seem to be hints at the time when they appear, apparently just for the beauty of it, like this:

Sometimes she felt as though her heart had turned to stone; six brave men had died to bring her this far, and she could not even find it in her to weep for them. Even their names were fading. (Catelyn in AGoT)

I suppose you understand that it's not a clue like the clues of a murder mystery, yet the choice of words is not accidental. Such hints may be and probably are used to hint at the events of the distant past as well. The possibilities are worth examining. 

How much of the events and mysteries of the distant past will ever be explicitly explained in the book? No one knows. Once again, they are not something like the Jon Arryn murder, which needed to be fully explained plotwise, and the vague and contradicting information about the distant past, which cannot be fully known, is part of the atmosphere of this world (a realistic and beautiful touch). Yet, there are characters who are looking for information, and it is a safe bet that they will discover something. Another safe bet is that whatever they will discover and let us know will be less than what GRRM knows about the historical background, and he is writing these books with all that background knowledge in mind. In this sense, we don't even need intentional hints, it is enough if the author doesn't lie, according to his own background knowledge of this world. 

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

We don't really have to discuss the meaning of the word 'text'. The important part about the vows is that they are spoken, not read or written down.

I don't mind discussing what counts as text, but it was you who said the NW vow is not a text, which was just factually incorrect.

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The point is that those are words they are spoken all the time exactly the way they were said always. What right would a Lord Commander of the NW have to change the vows so that something different was said by the new recruits than when he and his peers took the black?

The right of (perceived or real) necessity, perhaps? Changing the words of the vow would come with other, radical changes, probably. We must face the fact that it is impossible for an institution to operate in exactly the same way, under exactly the same rules for several millennia, because times change, circumstances change, because what worked once may not work any more, and because different people and events will have different influences on any organization. This is what Jon sees right now, while others don't. The inevitability of change is a major point in the current historical moment of the Watch, and it can't be the first time. 

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

There is no indication that the Watch was ever defunct for a generation or so, allowing it be effectively reestablished under new and somewhat changed rules.

We know only moments of its history. But we actually see that it can be reestablished under new (or maybe old?) rules. 

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Of course, this would technically be possible, but nothing in the text indicates anything of that sort. Instead, then NW is repeatedly shown to be an institution with a long and unchanged tradition, an institution that preserves and keeps ancient knowledge, even if the men there can no longer make use of it - there are books and records at CB that are older than the books anywhere else, and they also have forbidden/banned books like Barth's Unnatural History.

There are no hints about 'major changes', actually. They never changed their *true purpose* as such, the wildlings just become another part of their mission once they started to raid the Gifts and the lands south of them. That they effectively became the only purpose the Seven Kingdoms believe they have is no fault of the Watch - rather it is because the Others never showed their faces in thousands of years (or at least not in a manner that the NW could recognize as such).

Oh, OK, I see it now. We are talking about different books. 

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

But as such the whole phrase starting with 'I am the sword...' doesn't really commit themselves to do anything besides guarding and fighting and caring about people. As such it is nothing we would see as a vow if we didn't know already it was supposed to be a vow.

Well, I am the sword, so I fight, the shield, so I protect etc. Then there is the final part "I pledge my life and honor..." That is definitely a promise, and a very strong one, which everyone would instantly recognize as a vow.

7 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

But there is really no reason to believe that the Andal element somehow changed crucial parts of the NW vows. In fact, the whole story that the Andals changed a lot doesn't hold much water anymore. The Andals adopted as many First Men customs as the First Men adopted Andal customs, and the culture afterwards is an amalgamation of Andal and First Men culture that works very fine - people don't make a clear cut like our historical narratives do with 'heathen culture' and 'Christian culture', etc. but things go back to back and one can be proud of his First Men lineage and ancestry just as much as one can be proud of one's Andal lineage. One even can invent fake First Men Arryn heroes or remake First Men heroes into knights.

This shows a much greater scope of tolerance and acceptance than we originally thought.

There are also instances of prejudice against First Men ways and traditions surfacing in the Watch, even today. There may well have been a time when it was worse. Something must have been going on, the NW somehow transformed from an honorable vocation into a place of punishment (if this change was reflected in the vow, it would be a realistic element). The explanations offered here are intriguing and well supported by quotes. 

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2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

We aren't talking about one of the mysteries of the present story, like the Jon Arryn murder. This is a mystery of the distant past, and the distant past is intentionally presented to us by the author as something hardly known by the characters, presented to us through fragments of information, through legends and stories, through vague hints and guesses.

There is no issue with that. However, we are not actually given a picture about the past of the NW or many things of the past. We just don't know much about any of that. There is no wrong view of history or a distorted image when we actually don't have an image yet. 

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

On the other hand, there are clear indications in the books that the NW vow is more than just an average text, that it has a history, it has multiple functions, it is magical, and some parts of it are apparently more important (more often used, referred to in different ways than other parts etc.) than others. Specific quotes to support this are listed throughout this thread. The idea that the NW vow wasn't always the same as it is today is worth examining - it is not at all unrealistic (a lot can happen in eight thousand years), and it can explain certain things that are present in the story (for example, why only a part of it is recited at the Gate in a clearly magical function) and also the stylistic discrepancy that @bemused called our attention to.

The Black Gate is magical, not the words. They just serve as a password. One should ask why such a gate can talk, not why the words make it open its mouth. There is no mystery about the thing at the gate - the gate asks who Sam is, and then answers with those parts of the vow which explain what he is as a man of the Watch. That night also gathers and that the watch of Sam is not ending before his death doesn't really fit when you are asked who are you, or does it?

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

So there are clues that may very well support this idea. (See them upthread.) On the other hand, there may also be hints - like the choice of words in specific places. We do know that GRRM uses subtle hints that may not even seem to be hints at the time when they appear, apparently just for the beauty of it, like this:

Sometimes she felt as though her heart had turned to stone; six brave men had died to bring her this far, and she could not even find it in her to weep for them. Even their names were fading. (Catelyn in AGoT)

I suppose you understand that it's not a clue like the clues of a murder mystery, yet the choice of words is not accidental. Such hints may be and probably are used to hint at the events of the distant past as well. The possibilities are worth examining. 

Sure, but is the line up there actually proof that George knew he would make Cat into an undead nicknamed Lady Stoneheart, or did he remember that line when he created the name Lady Stoneheart? We don't know.

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

How much of the events and mysteries of the distant past will ever be explicitly explained in the book? No one knows. Once again, they are not something like the Jon Arryn murder, which needed to be fully explained plotwise, and the vague and contradicting information about the distant past, which cannot be fully known, is part of the atmosphere of this world (a realistic and beautiful touch). Yet, there are characters who are looking for information, and it is a safe bet that they will discover something. Another safe bet is that whatever they will discover and let us know will be less than what GRRM knows about the historical background, and he is writing these books with all that background knowledge in mind. In this sense, we don't even need intentional hints, it is enough if the author doesn't lie, according to his own background knowledge of this world. 

I don't see much plot relevance to a potential change in the NW vows. But there certainly are things like the Others, the War for the Dawn, and the founding of the NW that are likely going to be explained. I don't expect much revelations and twists in the latter, though. Interesting story-telling and details, sure, but I actually do expect that the Watch always wore black and that guarded the Wall from the very day they started building it.

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

I don't mind discussing what counts as text, but it was you who said the NW vow is not a text, which was just factually incorrect.

There are definitions of text that emphasize that it is a written text. But then, I'm not a native speaker and I do not always pick the proper terms.

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

The right of (perceived or real) necessity, perhaps? Changing the words of the vow would come with other, radical changes, probably. We must face the fact that it is impossible for an institution to operate in exactly the same way, under exactly the same rules for several millennia, because times change, circumstances change, because what worked once may not work any more, and because different people and events will have different influences on any organization. This is what Jon sees right now, while others don't. The inevitability of change is a major point in the current historical moment of the Watch, and it can't be the first time. 

Considering that the Watch operates at the edge of the known world and does stuff nobody but the Watch gives a rat's ass about, it is actually not that unlikely that they didn't change all that much. I mean, why would they change? And in what way? They started protecting the Wall, and continue to do so till this day. And they never truly forgot the Others. They still remember what three horn blows mean.

And Jon does only join some cosmetic things about the Watch. The Others were always their true enemy, and it is not true that the wildlings weren't their enemy in the recent time. The great Mance tried to kill them all - for pretty much no reason. Nobody ever asked the question why Mance never approached Mormont or even Ned/Robert about the Others when he knew about them and tried to find a way to keep his people safe.

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

Well, I am the sword, so I fight, the shield, so I protect etc. Then there is the final part "I pledge my life and honor..." That is definitely a promise, and a very strong one, which everyone would instantly recognize as a vow.

That seems to be a summary of the other stuff, if you ask me. Life and honor can't be split up between multiple spheres, can they? If the life and honor of a watchman belongs to the Watch, then this could be seen as entailing the whole part about wives and children, no glory and no crowns.

Not to mention that 'honor' has a strong Andalish/modern vibe to it if you ask me. The wildlings don't care about honor all that much, do they?

2 hours ago, Julia H. said:

There are also instances of prejudice against First Men ways and traditions surfacing in the Watch, even today. There may well have been a time when it was worse. Something must have been going on, the NW somehow transformed from an honorable vocation into a place of punishment (if this change was reflected in the vow, it would be a realistic element). The explanations offered here are intriguing and well supported by quotes. 

The Watch isn't a place of punishment. The lords and kings of the Seven Kingdoms use it as such, but that has nothing to do with the Watch itself. More with how the institution is seen by the outsiders who support it.

The fact that criminals are sent to the Wall is in no way reflected by the vows. And that's something that's done by both the North and the Andal kingdoms. The North supports the Watch with provisions and such much more than any other kingdom, but their men don't fall over each other in an effort to take the black.

And in customs and traditions there are only cosmetic differences between the Northmen and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms whereas it is quite clear that the Northmen and the wildlings have no common customs aside from their gods - never mind that they are all First Men by blood (everybody has First Men ancestors in Westeros).

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

There is no issue with that. However, we are not actually given a picture about the past of the NW or many things of the past. We just don't know much about any of that. There is no wrong view of history or a distorted image when we actually don't have an image yet. 

When you compare the legends the maesters write about, and how they are deliberately incorrect, omitted, or exaggerated, and even what Old Nan tries to scare Bran with, with what we are being shown on page through the actions of the characters, the reader should be able to see what's going on (even if the answer is not fully revealed yet).

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The Black Gate is magical, not the words. They just serve as a password. One should ask why such a gate can talk, not why the words make it open its mouth. There is no mystery about the thing at the gate - the gate asks who Sam is, and then answers with those parts of the vow which explain what he is as a man of the Watch. That night also gathers and that the watch of Sam is not ending before his death doesn't really fit when you are asked who are you, or does it?

The words are a key. Why?

The why is the gate only asking/curious/testing about who the person is? Not just anyone can pass. And as mentioned earlier in the thread, the fact that these words were said in front of someone like Bran, Meera, Jojen, Hodor (who may need them later), and a rather large character theme in the story is to remember who you are, and the wall being the largest mirror on the planet. This is story telling, not just ink on a page.

Why is the black gate not asking," what is your mission?", "What have you sworn?", "Are you a sworn brother?", "Do you have a "creed"? Tell me then." (and so on)

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Sure, but is the line up there actually proof that George knew he would make Cat into an undead nicknamed Lady Stoneheart, or did he remember that line when he created the name Lady Stoneheart? We don't know.

We do know, per the author.

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Not to mention that 'honor' has a strong Andalish/modern vibe to it if you ask me. The wildlings don't care about honor all that much, do they?

Yes, they do.

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And in customs and traditions there are only cosmetic differences between the Northmen and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms whereas it is quite clear that the Northmen and the wildlings have no common customs aside from their gods - never mind that they are all First Men by blood (everybody has First Men ancestors in Westeros).

Weirwoods, anti-incest, guest right, the "stubborn desire to rule themselves", etc... Just as the First Men in the Mountains of the Moon were repressed and pushed back by the Andals.

And the Free Folk/First Men in the North, especially those north of the wall, are the ones with almost no Andal blood, whereas down in the southron kingdoms- minus most of Dorne- it is very mixed.

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On 8/21/2018 at 6:23 PM, Lord Varys said:

I'd read that as a bunch of young people being uncertain/timid about making as serious a pledge as the NW vows and then getting more and more confident while they are doing this. Just like some children get more confident when they sing a song after they have gotten beyond a certain point (when it no longer appears to be silly).

That is IT! You got it. Totally correct.

 

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