Wights, Wards, and the Wall. What’s Up with that?

Posted: July 4, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , , ,

Season Seven of Game of Thrones is looming on the horizon, like the Wall itself.

I’ll be talking about that Wall, and details from Season Six (and earlier) so if you’re not caught up, you are taking the risk well-warned of spoilers.

In the finale of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Bran Stark’s undead uncle Benjen escorted them from the far northern locale of the deceased Three Eyed Raven, to within site of the Wall. Before placing Bran next to a weirwood tree, Benjen announced that he was leaving.

Benjen: This is where I leave you.
Meera: You’re not coming with us?
Benjen: The Wall’s just not ice and stone. Ancient spells were carved into its foundation. Strong magic to protect men from what lies beyond. While it stands, the dead cannot pass. I cannot pass.

About a month ago, I had a post discussing the Night’s Watch, and assuming the Others are defeated and the Long Night averted, how should the manning of the Wall resume?

After all, the Others might not return for thousands of years. What’s the short term purpose in manning the Wall?

I shared the post on Reddit (I occasionally do that, just to see what happens) and it kicked off a short discussion (it was non-controversial and non-confrontational, sorry) where someone tried to convince me that the Night’s Watch stated purpose was a scam, that the organization existed entirely as a eugenics experiment to remove law-breakers from the populations.

And that the Wall didn’t need to be manned at all. The Wall kept out the Others and their wights all by itself.

Lets…. lets discuss some of this.

The Night’s Watch

Actually, I’m not that interested in discussing both sides of this. I just can’t imagine that for 8000 years, a cabal of Westerosi eugenicists have been keeping alive the idea that society can be molded by exiling their violent non-conformists to a huge icy prison, with the cover story that they’ll be guarding the world from monsters.

I mean, we know that the Others exist. The Wall does seem to have been built to keep them out. So even if men are being forced to serve in the Watch under false pretenses, they actually do serve a legitimate function of defending the Wall, and the realms in the south.

It’s not a really a prank if you send guys out on a snipe hunt and they return with snipes. (If you don’t know what a snipe hunt is, I don’t know if I can adequately explain it.)

Mormont: You ever think we’ve been sent here on some wild goose chase?
Aemon: If I’m expected to chase wild geese, my blindness might prove to be a hindrance.
Mormont: Oh, that’s nothing that some Faceless Men training wouldn’t fix. I’ll send you off to Braavos.
Aemon: I once knew a waif who went to Braavos. Hard pass.

I think there’s sufficient evidence in the books, from Ned, from Yoren, from Maester Aemon, from other honorable men, that the Night’s Watch at one time was an honorable institution, and that its current state of mostly-criminal enrollment is not necessarily the historical average.

But it is kind of irrelevant for the meat of this post that I want to talk about. Regardless if the Wall has been manned since the Age of Heroes by Jon Snows or Rast the Rapers, was manning the Wall even necessary?

Manning the Wall

Let’s assume that the wildlings aren’t planning on surging over this supernaturally stable, clearly artificial glacier (because then there’d be an obvious need to man the Wall.) Would this magical chunk of ice be enough to keep out the Others and their hordes?

I say no.

The Wall, by itself, will not be enough.

Considering evidence from the books and the show, the argument against me is based mostly on Uncle Benjen’s description that the Wall was warded. The dead cannot pass, so that’s it.

If that was true, if it was that simple … the Wall wouldn’t have to be so unbelievably tall. Seven hundred feet high seems rather excessive. That fact that it is so tall implies that the height is there to prevent something from scuttling over. Since the Wall is not infinitely high, it really just sets a high level of difficulty but is not an impassable obstacle.

So, I think the Wall could be scaled by wights, and therefore having manpower to repel them is necessary.

And, if I can pull in some book stuff, Jon Snow sees this happening!

Burning shafts hissed upward, trailing tongues of fire. Scarecrow brothers tumbled down, black cloaks ablaze. “Snow,” an eagle cried, as foemen scuttled up the ice like spiders. Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again. He slew a greybeard and a beardless boy, a giant, a gaunt man with filed teeth, a girl with thick red hair. Too late he recognized Ygritte. She was gone as quick as she’d appeared. (Jon XII – A Dance With Dragons)

Okay, that was actually a dream Jon had, but I tend to give weight to prophetic dreams. But lets discount it for now.

The argument against wights scaling the Wall again falls to Benjen’s quote. Benjen says that he can’t get near the Wall. So if wights can’t get near the Wall, they can’t climb it.

Except that he doesn’t actually say that. He doesn’t say that he can’t get near to the Wall. He just says he can’t pass.

The desiccated wights who try to follow Bran and company into the Three Eyed Raven’s weirwood cave have no problems approaching the cave, but the magic that animates them and holds their ancient bones together  is certainly not up to the crossing of the threshold at the cave’s entrance.

Almost there!

Boom. Magic, yo.

Dead men cannot pass. But dead men can still get near.

So maybe this is a threshold thing, that the pathways carved into the Wall are what’s protected? (Even if Benjen specified the foundation, which seems more inclusive and all-encompassing. But it’s not like he was there 8000 years ago when these wards were put in place! Okay, neither was I.)

There’s some evidence for passageway threshold barriers in the books. Gilly and Sam pass through the Wall and into the Nightfort via the Black Gate, a secret passage barred by a door of black, petrified weirwood. It would admit Sam, but would not allow access to the friendly but undead Coldhands (who is an Uncle Benjen analog in this example.)

Let’s consider that the wights could drill their own passages directly through the ice without exploding, if the magic under discussion is a warded passageway. Or they could still climb. Either activity would need to be stopped by sentinels actively defending the Wall.

But now let’s assume that the Wall’s surface is magical anti-wight Kryptonite. That if they touch it, they’ll blow up. Even in this extreme case, which would preclude climbing and tunneling, they can still get through the Wall unharmed. Because we’ve seen that happen.

In the first season, a dead ranger named Othor was brought through the gate at Castle Black. That night, in Castle Black (which is right next to the Wall, not a mile away like Uncle Benjen was when he dropped off Meera and Bran) Othor rose up as a wight, and went after the Lord Commander.


Wait, I hear some of you say. Othor was probably just dead before. The Night’s Watch brought a regular old mundane corpse through the wards of the Wall, and afterwards the Night’s King raised him from the northern side. (Somehow. We don’t know the range of his necromancy…)

Yeah, no.

Othor was more than just a corpse. The bodies of Othor and Jafer Flowers (who was also raised as a wight in the books, but he was otherwise dealt with) give off a worrisome vibe to their veteran brothers in the Night’s Watch. The horses were spooked by their bodies. The dead men’s eyes were wrong.

Jon remembered Othor; he had been the one bellowing the bawdy song as the rangers rode out. His singing days were done. His flesh was blanched white as milk, everywhere but his hands. His hands were black like Jafer’s. Blossoms of hard cracked blood decorated the mortal wounds that covered him like a rash, breast and groin and throat. Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires.

Dywen sucked at his wooden teeth. “Might be they didn’t die here. Might be someone brought ’em and left ’em for us. A warning, as like.” The old forester peered down suspiciously. “And might be I’m a fool, but I don’t know that Othor never had no blue eyes afore.”

Ser Jaremy looked startled. “Neither did Flowers,” he blurted, turning to stare at the dead man.

Othor and Jafer were wights. But they were dormant, not active.

Othor only pawn in game of undeath.

Whatever state they were in, they managed to be brought in under the magical radar that protected the Wall from dead men. Even though Benjen said that the dead could not pass, these two did.

It’s in everyone’s interests for the Wall to be manned and maintained by either the Night’s Watch or some analogous force of men (or women, I don’t want to be exclusionary) just to prevent dormant wights from being ferried through undefended passageways.

Hold on. Who would be bringing in dormant wights? Other wights? Active wights can’t pass the Wall!

That’s right. I’m not expecting wights to be carrying in their quiescent comrades. The danger is from living humans bringing in the dormant wights. There’s always the danger that there are wildlings who have sided with the Others. Like Craster and his wives. Not all of the Free Folk worship the weirwoods, at least according to the World of Ice and Fire:

some accounts say that there are those who worship different gods: dark gods beneath the ground in the Frostfangs, gods of snow and ice on the Frozen Shore

If there was no Night’s Watch to guard the Wall, quisling wildlings in service to the Others would be able to open a passage and ferry in an army of wights. And I’m not so sure that the Others couldn’t get past the Wall.

The story of the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch features his seduction by a cold as ice, blue-eyed sorceress whom he brought back with him into the Nightfort. He then declared himself the Night King, her the Night Queen, and forced obedience and worship from the black brothers. (The Starks dealt with him soon enough. I think that’s when the “wear no crown, take no wives” clause entered the Night’s Watch oath.)

But she might not have been actually an Other though. She might have just been a chilly witch with blue eyes.

So maybe an army of wights could get across, but not necessarily the Others. That doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe the North would be okay, keeping an eye on shambling monsters if their dread commanders could not pass the Wall.

But the Wall should still be manned. And Benjen’s quote underscores why.

While it stands, the dead cannot pass.

Don’t assume the Wall will always be there. It might fall, or be breached so dramatically that the army of undead wights, and the White Walkers, can pass through. In that case, you’d want to have first responders at the point of the breach. First responders who have some kind of training for just this event.

The current Night’s Watch don’t seem to be well trained for this type of warfare. For too many centuries, or millennia, the enemy has shifted away from being the Others to being the wildlings. (Maybe we see the role that Craster and wildlings like him played to facilitate this. There might have been a time in the earliest years of the Night’s Watch where Free Folk would support the rangers of the Watch, by reporting activities of the Others who had not gone dormant after the end of the Long Night. But over time, that changed.)

But unprepared or not, the Night’s Watch is the first line of defense if the Wall proves not up to the challenge posed by the Others. And so they need to be supported as an institution, and supported into the future, regardless if the Wall remains intact or not.

Okay, we’re something like ten days away from a new season. Will the Wall remain intact for Season Eight? We’ll soon find out.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)

I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. I think it would be cool in the books if they got The Wall back to its former glory. All the castles manned and a huge wight army on the other side. They still have a lot of work to do, but I believe Jon’s dream will become reality at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! My super nerdy wish is that the Wall is restored, and manned, with a friendly army of the dead on guard north of the Wall, controlled by Witch-King in the North Bran Stark. (I can accept just rebuilt Wall, though…)

      Thanks for reading my post and for your comment. I doff my cap to you.


    • To do that, I think that the defeat of The Others shouldnt be definitive. There has to remain at least the fear of them comming back, plus all the major families (the wheel, if it isnt broken) must witness the true, so there will be register of this in Antigua for the prosperity ot time

      Liked by 1 person

  2. IMO, at least in the show, The Wall will be destroyed, and we book readers, will be dissapointed on the how. Im surprise you didnt mention Bran crossing The Wall and breaking the spell like in the 3eyeRaven crib

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t going to get into that so much, but it was in my mind when I considered the quote from Benjen “as long as the Wall stands, the dead cannot pass” – if Bran breaks the wards (or if Meera does by dragging a warging Bran through the gate) – then the Wall by itself would not be a barrier, per se. (I mean, maybe they’d have to climb it…) and reinforces the need for the Wall to be manned.

      But of course, you are correct to mention that Bran being marked by the Night’s King and how that subverted the wards in the cave will probably play out traumatically at the Wall.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How do you think Bran being touched by the Night King will factor in to all this? Will it at all? That seemed to lift the protection seen in Bloodraven’s cave

    Liked by 1 person

    • My speculation is this: Meera will bring Bran through the Wall while he’s in a warging trance … unless Bran just forgets the Night’s King mark and he goes through the Wall without thinking about it.

      Honestly, Meera should also know about the mark…

      Anyway, this will nullify the anti-wight defenses, and the North had better prepare for wights scuttling over.

      Benjen: As the long as the Wall stands, the dead cannot pass.

      *wights begin to World War Z over the Wall*

      Benjen: Whoa. Wasn’t expecting that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. joanna says:

    I’ve completely forgotten what I was going to say the other day. And I’m not feeling very literary or intelligent at the moment. Oh well.

    So, I’ve re-read the post a few times. And enjoyed it each time.

    I’ve been puzzling forever and a day about how the Army of the Dead passes the Wall. Because pass it will – somehow. We discussed this couple of years ago if you remember. About the spells, the dead cannot pass etc. And yet, as you rightly say, under certain circumstances it seems they can.

    Jon said “I hope they don’t learn how to climb the wall”. Could this be a clue? Or nothing at all.

    The way I see it, there are a few possible scenarios:

    – Bran [and Meera] inadvertently [of course] break the spell when passing through the tunnel
    – Wights climb up and over. But I can’t imagine the Others climbing. It seems undignified
    – The Wall collapses under the weight of Wights. But seriously, boney Wights, how much do they weigh? It would need a billion trillion frozen scarecrows to down that monster ice cube
    – The Wall melts and crumbles. This could only mean Dragons. A battle? Accidental? Ice Dragon? Something with dragons

    But then of course it could be none of those things. Because we’ve all hypothesized a zillion times. And Dan, Dave and GRR Martin know it. And they are cleverer than us. And like to mess with our minds.

    And we all go ‘whaaaattt?!!!’ in episode ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is conceivable that the Wights climb over and open up doors for the Others to walk through the tunnels… That way their dignity remains intact.

      But I assume some counter-magic would have to happen first.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joanna says:

        Yes, I’d thought of that. But, in this scenario, Others cannot pass through the tunnel because of the spell. And do we think that Wights are intelligent enough to use the mechanism / lever which raises the gate?

        Liked by 1 person

        • The wights are there to clear out the defenders. Then wildling sympathizers open the gates.

          We don’t really know if the spells work against the Others. They might just be reluctant to journey into warded spaces without their undead shock troops.

          BOOK STUFF: Let me bring up the legend of the cold as ice, blue eyed sorceress that the 13th Lord Commander brought with him from the far north past the Wall to the Nightfort, she became his queen. He declared himself the Nightking, and the Night’s Watch obeyed and did human sacrifices until a Stark alliance with the King Beyond the Wall ended that.

          But we don’t know if she was actually an Other…

          Liked by 1 person

          • joanna says:

            I’m aware of the book stuff [13th commander, his queen, Nightfort etc]. So, perhaps it will go down that way. Perhaps. However we haven’t seen fresh evidence re: additional [living] wildling sympathizers. And if they still exist where have they been hiding? North of the Wall? South of the Wall?

            Mystery upon mystery 🙂

            Thought For the Day: Craster was an ugly bugger. Craster had 99 sons. All were donated to the Others. Can you imagine 99 Craster lookalike Walker lieutenants all in a row?

            Liked by 1 person

  5. jennnanigans says:

    Heck, the Others could just catapult the wights over the wall.

    On a more serious note, I always pictured the wights piling up like fire ants to breach the wall. Coldhands/Benjen couldn’t pass through a doorway in the wall, but it was underground, and the door might have had its own spells on it. As you point out, why is the Night’s Watch manning the wall at all if it’s impermeable?

    OR – what if the Others’ legendary giant ice spiders finally come into play? Why else have a giant spider if not to climb over something?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Catapulting wights sounds like quite a dramatic moment. Now I really want to see that.

      I also imagined the wight army World War Z-ing up the Wall, making a ramp of undead. Rampires.

      I’m 100% invested in giant ice spiders. Or giant ice crabs. That would be cool too.

      Liked by 1 person

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