The Wall is a massive barrier of mostly ice stretching across the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, separating it from the wild lands beyond. The Wall is one hundred leagues long (three hundred miles) and reaches over seven hundred feet at his highest point, although some foundation blocks in hilly regions, such as near Greyguard, send it nine hundred feet in the air.
One of Lomas Longstrider's nine Wonders Made by Man, the Wall is defended and held by the Sworn Brothers of the Night's Watch, who patrol and guard nineteen castles from the Frostfangs mountain range in the west to the Bay of Seals in the east. Only the Shadow Tower, Castle Black, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea are garrisoned at the start of A Song of Ice and Fire. Those who join the Watch in order to avoid another punishment can be referred to as sent to the Wall.
- See also: Images of the Wall
The Wall stretches for three hundred miles and is approximately seven hundred feet tall. It is made of solid ice, stone, and earth, and can be seen for miles round. It appears grey or blue depending on the weather and time of day. The top is wide enough for a dozen mounted knights to ride abreast and it is thicker at the base. The top is wider in man places than the kingsroad, and crushed stone is spread on walkways to aid with footing. According to myth, there are old spells woven into the Wall, to strengthen it and keep creatures of a magical nature such as the Others from passing it.
The Wall is straight like a sword from Castle Black to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, but runs like a snake between Castle Black and the Shadow Tower. Led by Othell Yarwyck, the First Builder, the builders of the Watch monitor and repair the Wall.
Windblown dirt covers the Wall like film, and it often appears pale grey or dull white. The Wall shines blue and crystalline in sunlight, glimmers palely in moonlight, and glows pink and purple at dawn. The Wall sparkles from melting ice on sunny days, with rivulets of water being compared to weeping.
Tunnels have been cut through the Wall at each castle of the Night's Watch. They are sealed with ice and stone wherever castles have been abandoned or in times of danger. Cells chiseled from the ice at the foot of the Wall are used as storerooms or prisons.
While Benjen Stark, the First Ranger, believes the Wall is the largest structure built by man, others say the Hightower in Oldtown is even taller, and that the Wall can allegedly be seen from the tower's top.
The Night's Watch raised nineteen castles to guard the hundred leagues of the Wall, although they never manned more than seventeen at one time. Over the last three hundred years, as the manpower of the Watch has dropped, most of these castles have been abandoned; Old Nan refers to them as "ghost castles". The Nightfort was the first to be abandoned, in the reign of King Jaehaerys I Targaryen.
Only three castles currently remain in use, though sometimes a larger force is sent to one of the abandoned castles for a fortnight or a moon's turn. The manned castles are Castle Black, the largest-maintained castle, located at the northern end of the kingsroad and held by nearly six hundred Brothers, the Shadow Tower, the westernmost of the occupied castles, garrisoned by two hundred men of the Night's Watch, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the port of the Night's Watch with the smallest garrison, located at the eastern end of the Wall.
The nineteen castles on the Wall, listed from west to east, are:
- The Shadow Tower, commanded by Ser Denys Mallister
- Sentinel Stand
- Hoarfrost Hill
- The Nightfort
- Deep Lake
- Castle Black, commanded by Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch
- Sable Hall
- Long Barrow
- The Torches
- Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, commanded by Cotter Pyke
The builders of the Night's Watch permit the forest to come no closer than half a mile to the Wall. However, over time forest has crept back closer to abandoned castles. Rangers patrol the lands beyond the Wall.
The top of the wall is studded with catapults, cranes, and trebuchets, but they are immobile. Additionally, some catapults and trebuchets have been dismantled for repair and never reassembled after being frozen in ice. The Night's Watch can reach the top of the Wall from the southern side via ramps of earth and gravel, winch-drawn cages, and steps of ice, stone, or wood.
The twisting tunnel through the Wall at Castle Black is secured by a thick oaken door and three grates with heavy iron bars, massive chains that must be unlocked, and murder holes, while the gate at the Nightfort had an iron portcullis. All tunnels have been sealed except for those at Castle Black, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and the Shadow Tower, however.
The galleys of Eastwatch patrol the Bay of Seals in part to catch smugglers who bypass the Wall through the sea and trade weapons to wildlings. In the west the southern Frostfangs and the Gorge make the terrain impassable for all but small groups of raiders.
The Wall provides a tremendous tactical advantage to its defenders, enabling a small group to hold off a much larger force. Defenders are generally beyond the range of bow shot or catapult and in turn rely on archery, catapult, and dropped objects to deter an assault. In particular, barrels containing rocks frozen in ice are effective in dispersing a mass charge.
Attackers must rely on one of two tactics: a direct assault on one of the few well-defended gates, or scaling the Wall in small groups and attacking a gate from the rear. The gates have been designed with features such as murder holes and limited access that make them difficult to force. In an extreme case, gates can be filled with rock and ice, thus becoming as impervious as any other part of the wall.
Scaling the Wall involves similar difficulties. Wildlings climb the northern side of the Wall with hempen rope, stone hammers, ice axes, and spiked boots. A team of determined climbers can reach the top, but only if undetected by defenders, who can easily knock them off with dropped objects or archery. The Wall is thought to "defend itself", disgorging sheets of its own ice.
The Wall was made to defend the realms of the First Men, and the men of the Night's Watch have reportedly defended the Wall against Others and other monsters for eight thousand years since the end of the Long Night.
According to legend, the Wall was built by Brandon the Builder with the assistance of children of the forest and giants, and it is protected with ancient spells and sorcery. Supposedly, Brandon placed foundations along heights wherever possible. Also according to legend, the Wall is vulnerable to the Horn of Joramun.
Maesters dispute if the base of the Wall was made of stone, but they generally believe builders of the Watch used sledges to transport ice cut from frozen lakes in the haunted forest. However, the severely-reduced Night's Watch at the present time is limited to maintenance duty.
Some Kings-Beyond-the-Wall have led hosts of free folk south, but all have been broken at the Wall by the Night's Watch or, if they managed to evade the Watch and pass south, by House Stark of Winterfell.
A Game of Thrones
When Jon Snow joins the Night's Watch, Tyrion Lannister accompanies him north to see the Wall. Tyrion spends several weeks riding the Wall and conversing with the officers. After taking the winch cage to the top, Tyrion walks the Wall with Jon, who has drawn night guard, and the youth's direwolf, Ghost. Samwell Tarly is afraid of taking the cage to the top. After having a nightmare of the crypt of Winterfell, Jon climbs the Wall and walks until sunrise.
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
After the mutiny at Craster's Keep, Samwell and Gilly flee south and pass through the Wall via the Black Gate below the Nightfort. Sam informs Bran Stark and his companions how to pass north of the Wall.
Mance sends his chiefs and captains to attack various places along the Wall, spreading the Night's Watch thin. Styr leads the attack on Castle Black, the defense of which is led by Jon and Donal Noye. Mance's wildling host then attacks the Wall from the north with giants and mammoths, and Jon takes command of the defense after Donal's death. During a parley, Mance displays a giant horn to Jon but is reluctant to use it, as he hopes to lead the free folk through the Wall and seek refuge from Others. The wildlings are then defeated by King Stannis Baratheon and the Watch in the battle beneath the Wall.
Following the battle, Jon and Melisandre ascend the Wall to meet Stannis, who offers to name Jon as Lord of Winterfell. Jon declines, however, and ends up being chosen as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
A Dance with Dragons
Free folk who submit to Stannis are allowed to pass through the Wall. Bowen Marsh objects, preferring instead to seal the gates. Some of the free folk accept Jon's offer to help man the Wall. Jon sends Val to find Tormund Giantsbane in the haunted forest, and Tormund eventually agrees to pass through the Wall.
Lord Commander Snow puts plans in motion to man most of the castles. These include:
- Westwatch-by-the-Bridge, garrisoned by a small company from the Night's Watch.
- Sentinel Stand, garrisoned by a small company from the Watch.
- Greyguard, garrisoned by an unnamed steward from the Shadow Tower.
- Stonedoor, given to Soren Shieldbreaker to settle and garrison. Borroq is to join him.
- Hoarfrost Hill, still empty as Jon has not yet named a commander.
- Icemark, garrisoned with thirty men under the command of Bedwyck, twenty from the Night's Watch and ten of Stannis's men.
- Nightfort, given to Stannis as his seat, but it will take time for the builders to make it suitable for habitation.
- Deep Lake, garrisoned with free folk, possibly by Halleck.
- Queensgate, given to Morna White Mask to settle and garrison.
- Oakenshield, given to Tormund to settle and garrison.
- Woodswatch-by-the-Pool, garrisoned by a small company from the Watch.
- Sable Hall, garrisoned with free folk, possibly by Halleck.
- Rimegate, still empty as Jon has not yet named a commander.
- Long Barrow, garrisoned with spearwives under the command of Iron Emmett and Eddison Tollett.
- The Torches, garrisoned by a small company from the Watch.
- Greenguard, given to Devyn Sealskinner to settle and garrison.
Builders begin construction on a new switchback stair to replace the ruined one at Castle Black. Jon intends for a series of beacon towers to be built atop the Wall. Jon decides to hang Janos Slynt from the Wall for insubordination, but he changes his mind and instead beheads Janos with Longclaw.
Melisandre thinks she is stronger than she has ever been while at the Wall. She burns what is claimed to be the Horn of Winter, but Tormund later explains to Jon that Mance never found the horn which could bring down the Wall. Jon has a nightmare of defending the top of the Wall from the dead, including wildlings, Night's Watch, and his half brother, Robb Stark. The Lord Commander is eventually betrayed in the mutiny at Castle Black.
Behind the scenes
You could see it from miles off, a pale blue line across the northern horizon, stretching away to the east and west and vanishing in the far distance, immense and unbroken. This is the end of the world, it seemed to say.
Almost seven hundred feet high it stood, three times the height of the tallest tower in the stronghold it sheltered. His uncle said the top was wide enough for a dozen armored knights to ride abreast. The gaunt outlines of huge catapults and monstrous wooden cranes stood sentry up there, like the skeletons of great birds, and among them walked men in black as small as ants.
Jon: I hate it here. It's too ... it's cold.
Donal: Yes. Cold and hard and mean, that's the Wall, and the men who walk it. Not like the stories your wet nurse told you. Well, piss on the stories and piss on your wet nurse. This is the way it is, and you're here for life, same as the rest of us.
He looked off to the east and west, at the Wall stretching before him, a vast white road with no beginning and no end and a dark abyss on either side.—thoughts of Tyrion Lannister
Sometimes it seemed to Jon almost a living thing, with moods of its own. The color of the ice was wont to change with every shift of the light. Now it was the deep blue of frozen rivers, now the dirty white of old snow, and when a cloud passed before the sun it darkened to the pale grey of pitted stone. The Wall stretched east and west as far as the eye could see, so huge that it shrunk the timbered keeps and stone towers of the castle to insignificance. It was the end of the world.
If the Wall should ever fall, all the fires will go out.
The Wall can stop an army, but not a man alone.
And they've built a great wall through my valleys, and fished all the fish from my rills.—excerpt from "The Last of the Giants"
Ygritte: I hate this Wall. Can you feel how cold it is?
Jon: It's made of ice.
Ygritte: You know nothing, Jon Snow. This wall is made o' blood.
The Night's Watch has forgotten its true purpose, Tarly. You don't build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women. The Wall was made to guard the realms of men ... and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it. Too many years, Tarly, too many hundreds and thousands of years. We lost sight of the true enemy.
Mance: Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I've come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall. If I sound the Horn of Winter, the Wall will fall. Or so the songs would have me believe. There are those among my people who want nothing more ...
Dalla: But once the Wall is fallen, what will stop the Others?
Jon Snow glanced up at the Wall, towering over them like a cliff of ice. A hundred leagues from end to end, and seven hundred feet high. The strength of the Wall was its height; the length of the Wall was its weakness. Jon remembered something his father had said once. A wall is only as strong as the men who stand behind it. The men of the Night's Watch were brave enough, but they were far too few for the task that confronted them.
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- A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
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- A FIRE & BLOOD Excerpt just for YOU! 27 September 2018
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 13, Tyrion II.
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- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 7, Jon I.
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- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 79, Jon XII.
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- George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Westwatch-by-the-Bridge.
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- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 7, Jon II.
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- George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Woodswatch-by-the-Pool.
- George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Long Barrow.
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- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 31, Melisandre I.
- RollingStone.com: George R.R. Martin: The Rolling Stone Interview, April 23, 2014
- NPR.org: George R.R. Martin Really Does Know You Want Him To Write Faster, October 19, 2019
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 6, Jon I.
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- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 33, Samwell II.