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Has anyone ever successfully left the Night's Watch?

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I was thinkinking about Stannis' offer to Jon Snow to become Jon Stark and Lord of Winterfell. My question is, has anything like this ever happened before? Has anyone ever legally left the Night's Watch?

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Posted (edited)

Technically yes.. Brynden Rivers "Bloodraven" was Lord Commander in 239 AC., While he wasn't mentioned as a deserter, he certainly isn't dead and left the Night's Watch for the lands beyond the Wall.

Edited by Malgoth

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4 hours ago, Malgoth said:

Technically yes.. Brynden Rivers "Bloodraven" was Lord Commander in 239 AC., While he wasn't mentioned as a deserter, he certainly isn't dead and left the Night's Watch for the lands beyond the Wall.

We don't know how that happened.  He was likely on a ranging, got hurt, and the Children of the Forest plugged him to the tree.  Maybe they even intentionally caused the injury to make him more open to living in Woodville.  

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Widowmaker 811 said:

He was likely on a ranging, got hurt, and the Children of the Forest plugged him to the tree.  Maybe they even intentionally caused the injury to make him more open to living in Woodville.  

Quite unlikely. We really don't know if that what happened. As a greenseer he could have tell anyone in NW what happened to him. At the very least, he could have directed and led the dogs from the search party to his location 

He most likely, during his work as a Lord Commander, seen some disturbing visions or received some messages from the Children of the forest, which convinced him to simulate death and join them in the cave afterwards.. Maybe he just thought that he can make himself more useful while working with Cotf. Who knows?

 

Anyway, he quite a boring character in the main series ASoIaF, because all his role in the books is to be your typical archetype of a mentor for Bran. I bet my full collections of book series "MythAdventures" of Robert Asprin, that Bloodraven will "heroically" sacrifice himself, after he teach, more or less, his student, which would fully complete his archetype.

Edited by Malgoth

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6 hours ago, Travis said:

I was thinkinking about Stannis' offer to Jon Snow to become Jon Stark and Lord of Winterfell. My question is, has anything like this ever happened before? Has anyone ever legally left the Night's Watch?

Robb’s conversation w/ Cat about naming Jon his heir suggests that there have been precedents, although not as many as there are for legitimising a bastard.

“Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.”
“So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon’s place, I’ll wager they find some way to release him from his vows.”
He is set on this. Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. “A bastard cannot inherit.”
“Not unless he’s legitimized by a royal decree,” said Robb. “There is more precedent for that than for releasing a Sworn Brother from his oath.”

 

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6 hours ago, Malgoth said:

Technically yes.. Brynden Rivers "Bloodraven" was Lord Commander in 239 AC., While he wasn't mentioned as a deserter, he certainly isn't dead and left the Night's Watch for the lands beyond the Wall.

Well, he is presumed dead in public knowledge :)

In terms of someone being dismissed and accepted back into noble society south of the Wall, we have no concrete examples to point to so far.

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If Janos Slynt was Lord Commander he'd definitely jump at a chance to get rid of Jon. Any other Lord Commander would be hard pressed not to take Robb's offer of a 100 men for one. Rules can be changed to suit the moment by those in power. That's always been a thing.

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There is this SSM. While it doesn't give the names and numbers, it at least leaves it open for the rare cases.

Q: The second concerns the oaths of the Night Watch, Maesters, King's Guard, silent sisters, etc. Both Robb and Stannis, and presumably Robb's great lords, thought it was possible that Jon could be released form his oaths. Other than the precedent established by Joffrey with Ser Barristan, is there any other past precedent with any of the other organizations were the members swear poverty, celibacy, etc. to be honorably released from their vows? I ask because if the NW has been around for 8000 years, and many great lords and/or their families may have joined (not entirely willing in some cases), there seems to be a lot of potential for "exceptions" to develop as time went on.

GRRM: Yes, there have been a few other cases, but they have been very rare. Such vows are taken very seriously.

 

22 minutes ago, Lord Lannister said:

If Janos Slynt was Lord Commander he'd definitely jump at a chance to get rid of Jon. Any other Lord Commander would be hard pressed not to take Robb's offer of a 100 men for one. Rules can be changed to suit the moment by those in power. That's always been a thing.

Right! There are very few codified laws in Westeros, and those that exist are... malleable.

GRRM is answering here about other laws, but the NW could fall under this general thought process as well, even though the NW is not under the rule of the king. It is a long answer, so here is a bit, more in this link if you want. In general, it often reads as if customs and animistic beliefs are stronger guidelines than actual kingly laws, but :dunno:

Q; [Summary: Maia asks about the Hornwood inheritance, given that Lord Hornwood's sister is not being considered for the lordship but her son is and so is one of his bastards. Given that we have seen female heads of houses (Mormont, Whent, and other examples listed), this doesn't seem to make sense. Moreover, how could Lord Hornwood's wife or a future husband of herself be considered a legitimate holder of her lands over Lord Hornwood's blood relatives. Also, Maia asked about Lady Whent being called the "last of her line" given that a female Whent is listed as married to a Frey, but GRRM did not answer that one.]

GRRM: Well, the short answer is that the laws of inheritance in the Seven Kingdoms are modelled on those in real medieval history... which is to say, they were vague, uncodified, subject to varying interpertations, and often contradictory.

A man's eldest son was his heir. After that the next eldest son. Then the next, etc. Daughters were not considered while there was a living son, except in Dorne, where females had equal right of inheritance according to age.

After the sons, most would say that the eldest daughter is next in line. But there might be an argument from the dead man's brothers, say. Does a male sibling or a female child take precedence? Each side has a "claim."

What if there are no childen, only grandchildren and great grandchildren. Is precedence or proximity the more important principle? Do bastards have any rights? What about bastards who have been legitimized, do they go in at the end after the trueborn kids, or according to birth order? What about widows? And what about the will of the deceased? Can a lord disinherit one son, and name a younger son as heir? Or even a bastard?

There are no clear cut answers, either in Westeros or in real medieval history. Things were often decided on a case by case basis. A case might set a precedent for later cases... but as often as not, the precedents conflicted as much as the claims.

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46 minutes ago, Lord Lannister said:

If Janos Slynt was Lord Commander he'd definitely jump at a chance to get rid of Jon. Any other Lord Commander would be hard pressed not to take Robb's offer of a 100 men for one. Rules can be changed to suit the moment by those in power. That's always been a thing.

You know, I do have to wonder what Jeor would have said to that offer in some scenario where it could reach him. He did seem quite the honorable, dutybound man who took oaths etc. pretty seriously... but with the state the Night's Watch was in, well, there's almost always a price high enough for someone to compromise their morals.

24 minutes ago, The Fattest Leech said:

GRRM: Well, the short answer is that the laws of inheritance in the Seven Kingdoms are modelled on those in real medieval history... which is to say, they were vague, uncodified, subject to varying interpertations, and often contradictory.

Oh, it's definitely possible. Power resides where men believe it resides, and all that. Though we have not heard any cases about someone successfully leaving the Night's Watch in history, at least so far.

Perhaps this is to keep Jon's offer unique and surprising, like Barristan being the first Kingsguard to be dismissed (or at least he was until we got a more detailed look at the Kingsguard long after the publication of AGOT and had examples like Robin Massey).

I am wondering where the opportunity might have been for someone to have left the Night's Watch. It's probably only the pre-Iron Throne kings or very influential lords that could provide enough money/men to bribe the Lord Commander into releasing someone from his oath. You might have a petty lord's family die off, but they can't always provide enough money or men to pay off the Night's Watch into releasing some distant kinsman to inherit.

Plus, according to popular history, the Night's Watch was in a pretty good state more than ~500 years ago, and might not have been so open to accepting such a deal.

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29 minutes ago, Vaith said:

You know, I do have to wonder what Jeor would have said to that offer in some scenario where it could reach him. He did seem quite the honorable, dutybound man who took oaths etc. pretty seriously... but with the state the Night's Watch was in, well, there's almost always a price high enough for someone to compromise their morals.

Oh, it's definitely possible. Power resides where men believe it resides, and all that. Though we have not heard any cases about someone successfully leaving the Night's Watch in history, at least so far.

Oh yeah, I am totally expecting a huge shift in society on many levels as the story progresses from here. It will be a mix of changes that will be brought about by the re-learning of history and "separting the sheep from the goats" type of idea. I agree that GRRM seems to have left room for that setup of "so far". I happen to think the NW vows have been misremembered and misrecorded since the arrival of the Andals

29 minutes ago, Vaith said:

Perhaps this is to keep Jon's offer unique and surprising, like Barristan being the first Kingsguard to be dismissed (or at least he was until we got a more detailed look at the Kingsguard long after the publication of AGOT and had examples like Robin Massey).

I am wondering where the opportunity might have been for someone to have left the Night's Watch. It's probably only the pre-Iron Throne kings or very influential lords that could provide enough money/men to bribe the Lord Commander into releasing someone from his oath. You might have a petty lord's family die off, but they can't always provide enough money or men to pay off the Night's Watch into releasing some distant kinsman to inherit.

Plus, according to popular history, the Night's Watch was in a pretty good state more than ~500 years ago, and might not have been so open to accepting such a deal.

Exactly my suspicion as well.

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2 hours ago, kissdbyfire said:

Robb’s conversation w/ Cat about naming Jon his heir suggests that there have been precedents, although not as many as there are for legitimising a bastard.

“Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.”
“So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon’s place, I’ll wager they find some way to release him from his vows.”
He is set on this. Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. “A bastard cannot inherit.”
“Not unless he’s legitimized by a royal decree,” said Robb. “There is more precedent for that than for releasing a Sworn Brother from his oath.”

That quote is about sworn brothers in general, not the sworn brothers of the Night's Watch specifically. There are precedents for Kingsguard leaving, and there might be precedents for Warrior's Sons and maesters and septons leaving their orders, but there are no precedents for anyone leaving the NW so far.

If there were, Robb would have named such precedents himself, and wouldn't have vaguely referred to the leadership of the Watch finding a way to release a man from his vows.

1 hour ago, Vaith said:

I am wondering where the opportunity might have been for someone to have left the Night's Watch. It's probably only the pre-Iron Throne kings or very influential lords that could provide enough money/men to bribe the Lord Commander into releasing someone from his oath. You might have a petty lord's family die off, but they can't always provide enough money or men to pay off the Night's Watch into releasing some distant kinsman to inherit.

Plus, according to popular history, the Night's Watch was in a pretty good state more than ~500 years ago, and might not have been so open to accepting such a deal.

That is very unlikely in light of the fact how ancient stories in the North frame the NW vows. The story about Lord Ryswell and the seventy-nine sentinels is pretty definite. If the high and mighty could get out of those vows somehow then quite a few would have gotten out them. But instead we learn that the high and mighty universally condemn their own kin and children to cruel deaths if they break the vows of the NW.

Also, the vows are a religious commitment. You don't swear something to your Lord Commander but to the gods themselves. How could he then get you out of those vows? A king can decide who the hell he suffers as his bodyguard, but a black brother isn't the bodyguard of some lord commander, is he?

Robb completely misunderstands/ignores what the vows of the NW are when he treats Jon like the chattel of the Lord Commander he could buy in exchange for a hundred men he would 'give' the Watch in return.

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10 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

That quote is about sworn brothers in general, not the sworn brothers of the Night's Watch specifically. There are precedents for Kingsguard leaving, and there might be precedents for Warrior's Sons and maesters and septons leaving their orders, but there are no precedents for anyone leaving the NW so far.

He is talking about vows in general, but the NW vows are mentioned specifically since those are the vows at the core of that conversation. It’s right there in the quote I posted. 

Also, you’re cute saying there’s no precedent when the author tells us that there are as you can see in the SSM below that TFL posted. :kiss:

1 hour ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Q: The second concerns the oaths of the Night Watch, Maesters, King's Guard, silent sisters, etc. Both Robb and Stannis, and presumably Robb's great lords, thought it was possible that Jon could be released form his oaths. Other than the precedent established by Joffrey with Ser Barristan, is there any other past precedent with any of the other organizations were the members swear poverty, celibacy, etc. to be honorably released from their vows? I ask because if the NW has been around for 8000 years, and many great lords and/or their families may have joined (not entirely willing in some cases), there seems to be a lot of potential for "exceptions" to develop as time went on.

GRRM: Yes, there have been a few other cases, but they have been very rare. Such vows are taken very seriously.

 

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14 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

That is very unlikely in light of the fact how ancient stories in the North frame the NW vows. The story about Lord Ryswell and the seventy-nine sentinels is pretty definite. If the high and mighty could get out of those vows somehow then quite a few would have gotten out them. But instead we learn that the high and mighty universally condemn their own kin and children to cruel deaths if they break the vows of the NW.

Yes, it does show that deserters are pretty much despised. But deserter is a different situation than possibly the Lord Commander and some rich lord or king working out a deal where a possible successor is discharged for some sum of money or men. Though I do admit this is unlikely during the time period where the Night's Watch was rather well-off and had a good number of brothers, it is not impossible.

Barristan being honorably dismissed is different than what people would think of him if he abandoned his king and tried to go home to Harvest Hall in the middle of a war. Context is everything. 

Plus, an aesop about desertion makes sense to become a cultural legend rather than some boring account of someone that got honorably discharged to take up their house's seat some hundreds of years ago.

22 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Also, the vows are a religious commitment. You don't swear something to your Lord Commander but to the gods themselves. How could he then get you out of those vows? A king can decide who the hell he suffers as his bodyguard, but a black brother isn't the bodyguard of some lord commander, is he?

Robb completely misunderstands/ignores what the vows of the NW are when he treats Jon like the chattel of the Lord Commander he could buy in exchange for a hundred men he would 'give' the Watch in return.

Legally, Robb's offer is pretty weak. In this vein, Melisandre has probably given the best argument so far as to how someone can get out of the Watch: any gods apart from R'hllor are false, so vows you made to them don't count.

But practically? Like I said, I'm not sure if Jeor would have said yes, as he is an honorable man. But with the crisis the Watch was in, well, it's not impossible. If the Lord Commander and lord/king in question making this deal come to the agreement that the man should no longer be in the Watch, then he would no longer be in it. It might not be a popular decision with the other black brothers or people in the realms south of the Wall, but it would still be a decision.

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4 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

He is talking about vows in general, but the NW vows are mentioned specifically since those are the vows at the core of that conversation. It’s right there in the quote I posted. 

Robb references the sworn brothers of the Kingsguard whose precedents he himself mentioned when he references general sworn brothers at the end of your quote.

4 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

Also, you’re cute saying there’s no precedent when the author tells us that there are as you can see in the SSM below that TFL posted. :kiss:

That is no proof whatsoever. The person wants to inquire about Jon Snow leaving the NW, but George dumps that question and generally answers that people swearing solemn vows did get out of them over the years.

But this doesn't confirm those precedents George is talking about were black brothers and not just, say, silent sisters and maesters.

They just asked George whether any NW, Kingsguard, maesters, silent sisters, etc. got out of their vows and George answered that with 'yes'. But that isn't really an answer to the question, is it?

1 hour ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Oh yeah, I am totally expecting a huge shift in society on many levels as the story progresses from here. It will be a mix of changes that will be brought about by the re-learning of history and "separting the sheep from the goats" type of idea. I agree that GRRM seems to have left room for that setup of "so far". I happen to think the NW vows have been misremembered and misrecorded since the arrival of the Andals

Exactly my suspicion as well.

Have you any idea how such an idea could make sense in light of the fact that the North was never conquered by the Andals? How could the Andals change the tradition of the NW if the NW are neighbors of the North and the North lived as they did since the Long Night?

This entire thing breaks down if you actually keep in mind that the North never cut their ties with their old roots the way, you assume, the southern kingdoms did.

And considering the fact that the North and the Watch are neighbors it also stands to reason the North always dominated the NW culturally and economically. Most volunteers would have been Northmen, and if the Watch did something the Northmen and especially the Starks didn't like, Winterfell would pressure on them so that they behaved again ... like the Starks did when they created those boy Lord Commanders who were close relations of Stark kings.

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2 minutes ago, Vaith said:

Yes, it does show that deserters are pretty much despised. But deserter is a different situation than possibly the Lord Commander and some rich lord or king working out a deal where a possible successor is discharged for some sum of money or men. Though I do admit this is unlikely during the time period where the Night's Watch was rather well-off and had a good number of brothers, it is not impossible.

Barristan being honorably dismissed is different than what people would think of him if he abandoned his king and tried to go home to Harvest Hall in the middle of a war. Context is everything. 

Plus, an aesop about desertion makes sense to become a cultural legend rather than some boring account of someone that got honorably discharged to take up their house's seat some hundreds of years ago.

Well, if such things did happen then we could reasonably expect there to be such precedents mentioned in stories and songs and legends. But that isn't the case. And it is not that people didn't think about this already. Robb thought about freeing Jon from his vows yet couldn't cite a precedent, Jon thought about accepting Stannis' offer but didn't think of a precedent, Jon deserted the Watch back in AGoT and didn't think about a precedent where something like that went well, etc.

2 minutes ago, Vaith said:

Legally, Robb's offer is pretty weak. In this vein, Melisandre has probably given the best argument so far as to how someone can get out of the Watch: any gods apart from R'hllor are false, so vows you made to them don't count.

But practically? Like I said, I'm not sure if Jeor would have said yes, as he is an honorable man. But with the crisis the Watch was in, well, it's not impossible. If the Lord Commander and lord/king in question making this deal come to the agreement that the man should no longer be in the Watch, then he would no longer be in it. It might not be a popular decision with the other black brothers or people in the realms south of the Wall, but it would still be a decision.

If such a deal involving payment - being it in men or gold or anything - had happened previously the vows of the Watch wouldn't be as strong as they are right now. It wouldn't be mandatory that you execute a deserter on sight as it is right now. Instead, the vows would be less binding, with sort of the general guideline being that they are to be upheld but there being a number of ways to wiggle out of them - sort of like you can get a marriage annulled.

There is clearly a hierarchy of vows in this world - it seems the vows of maesters and perhaps even septons are not as strong as those of men of the Night's Watch - since Aemon Targaryen felt compelled to take the black in addition to his maester's vows to prevent to be used as a figurehead pretender against his own brother. That only makes sense if people saw getting out of a maester's vows as an easier thing than getting out of the NW vows.

With the Kingsguard it was the same up until Selmy's dismissal. But thanks to him and Boros Blount the KG vows simply aren't what they once were. They have been cheapened. And this doesn't seem to be the case for the NW.

I mean, just think about Jon's fear when he deserts. He isn't sure whether Robb is going to welcome him. If there were precedents to get out of his vows he should feel much better because as the brother of a great lord he would have every reason to believe Robb's power could ensure that such a precedent would be used to justify his actions as well. But we don't hear about any such things.

In fact, until the opposite is proven I think we should assume that the societal consensus is that anyone trying to free a man from his NW vows - or justify the desertion of a sworn brother of the NW - is despicable and about as depraved as the oathbreaker himself. Especially in the North. Robb is pretty much an autocratic king when he makes his declaration about wanting to free his brother from the NW. He does as he pleases and no longer listens to anyone, not even his own mother, meaning it isn't surprising that nobody openly question his intention there. But if he had actually gone through with that plan one can expect Jon being as popular in the North as the Kingslayer is with Westeros at large ... or as popular as Dareon was with Arya of House Stark. And speaking about that - the murder of Dareon is another confirmation that wiggling out of your NW vows isn't something the average Northman/Westerosi condones.

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15 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Robb references the sworn brothers of the Kingsguard whose precedents he himself mentioned when he references general sworn brothers at the end of your quote.

That is no proof whatsoever. The person wants to inquire about Jon Snow leaving the NW, but George dumps that question and generally answers that people swearing solemn vows did get out of them over the years.

But this doesn't confirm those precedents George is talking about were black brothers and not just, say, silent sisters and maesters.

They just asked George whether any NW, Kingsguard, maesters, silent sisters, etc. got out of their vows and George answered that with 'yes'. But that isn't really an answer to the question, is it?

Have you any idea how such an idea could make sense in light of the fact that the North was never conquered by the Andals? How could the Andals change the tradition of the NW if the NW are neighbors of the North and the North lived as they did since the Long Night?

This entire thing breaks down if you actually keep in mind that the North never cut their ties with their old roots the way, you assume, the southern kingdoms did.

And considering the fact that the North and the Watch are neighbors it also stands to reason the North always dominated the NW culturally and economically. Most volunteers would have been Northmen, and if the Watch did something the Northmen and especially the Starks didn't like, Winterfell would pressure on them so that they behaved again ... like the Starks did when they created those boy Lord Commanders who were close relations of Stark kings.

Yes, I do. Thanks for asking.

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4 minutes ago, The Fattest Leech said:

Yes, I do. Thanks for asking.

Well, and can you elaborate on that?

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Posted (edited)

Transcript of Chat with George R. R. Martin on March 18, 1999

Granny: Is there any chance that Jon could be released from his oaths of the nightwatch?

George_RR_Martin: The great council would have released Aemon from his maester's oath, so I suppose it would be possible. With an appropriate authority.

Edited by Mithras

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1 hour ago, Mithras said:

Transcript of Chat with George R. R. Martin on March 18, 1999

Granny: Is there any chance that Jon could be released from his oaths of the nightwatch?

George_RR_Martin: The great council would have released Aemon from his maester's oath, so I suppose it would be possible. With an appropriate authority.

That is the equivalent of saying 'is something a crime when the society decides it is not'. Of course, if people in Westeros collectively forgot what vows are and that they are supposed to be kept, then breaking them won't matter anymore.

That statement would also indicate that at this time George didn't have any notion that there is a precedent for a black brother leaving the NW. Because a Great Council is a thing of the Targaryen era.

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10 hours ago, Widowmaker 811 said:

We don't know how that happened.  He was likely on a ranging, got hurt, and the Children of the Forest plugged him to the tree.  Maybe they even intentionally caused the injury to make him more open to living in Woodville.  

 

9 hours ago, Malgoth said:

Quite unlikely. We really don't know if that what happened. As a greenseer he could have tell anyone in NW what happened to him. At the very least, he could have directed and led the dogs from the search party to his location 

He most likely, during his work as a Lord Commander, seen some disturbing visions or received some messages from the Children of the forest, which convinced him to simulate death and join them in the cave afterwards.. Maybe he just thought that he can make himself more useful while working with Cotf. Who knows?

 

Anyway, he quite a boring character in the main series ASoIaF, because all his role in the books is to be your typical archetype of a mentor for Bran. I bet my full collections of book series "MythAdventures" of Robert Asprin, that Bloodraven will "heroically" sacrifice himself, after he teach, more or less, his student, which would fully complete his archetype.

He was getting old and nearing the end of the normal lifespan.  He found the children and stayed in the cave to prolong his life.

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