Castle Black

Castle Black is one of the three out of nineteen castles used by the Watch, the remaining two being Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the Shadow Tower.

The Definitive Glossary for Game of Thrones

Castle Black is the primary stronghold of the men of the Night’s Watch. It is near the center of the Wall between Oakenshield, which resides east, and Queensgate to the west. Castle Black houses the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and oversees the governance of the Black Brothers. On getting to the Wall, Jon meets some boys and gets into an altercation with them. He eventually becomes friends with the boys, Grenn and Pypar. Later, he meets Samwell Tarly and protects him from getting bullied.

Castle Black Details

  • Name: Castle Black.
  • Year Built: Unknown.
  • Number of Men Present: 600.
  • Type of Organization: Sworn Brotherhood, Military Organization.
  • Current Lord Commander: Jon Snow.

Geography

Castle Black is not a proper castle, even though it is called one. It has no walls surrounding it to the south, west, and east and is only protected to the north by the Wall separating the Seven Kingdoms from the northmost parts of Westeros. It has many timber keeps and stone towers, and beneath them is an elaborate number of underground passages connecting all the rooms in the castle. Though the tunnels got abandoned in the summer, they are the only method of moving from one place to another in the winter. 

The primary religion in the Seven Kingdoms is the Faith of the Seven, and a small sept gets run by Septon Cellador within Castle Black. There is no godswood for the Northmen who follow the Old Gods of the Forest. Instead, there is a groove in the Haunted Forest some leagues beyond the Wall, with a circle of nine weirwood heart trees.

Structure

Castle Black has many towers, buildings, tunnels, and a graveyard.

Towers

  • The Lord Commander’s Tower: This is also called Lord Commander’s Keep, and it houses the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
  • The King’s Tower: This tower is one hundred feet tall and has merlons on top. Its door is from oak and iron. It is for honored guests like the King. However, no monarch has resided in the tower for one hundred years.
  • The Tower of the Guards: This is the mightiest tower at Castle Black. It gets used to guard the wooden stair that leads to the top of the Wall.
  • The Lance: This is the tallest tower in the castle. However, it is slim and crumbling from degradation.
  • Harden’s Tower: This tower has a broken battlement. It is slanted and not in use by the Watch.


Tunnels and Lichyard

Beneath Castle Black are a series of tunnels connecting the keeps and towers. They are called wormwalks or wormways and are crucial for navigation in harsh winters as snow reaching forty or fifty feet covers the castle making it impossible to move above ground. Along the tunnels lies the castle’s library. Along the eastern road is a lichyard where the bones of the Black Brothers get put to rest. The yard also contains ancient tombs of long-dead brothers of the Watch.

Buildings

  • The Common Hall: This is where the Black Brothers take their meals.
  • The Armory is where weapons for practice and fighting tools get kept. Donal Noye is the master of the forgery and oversees the operations of this building. 
  • The Rookery: This is where the ravens for messaging get kept. Beneath is a wooden keep where the maesters reside.
  • The Vaults: This houses Castle Black’s library, one of the oldest in the Seven Kingdoms. The library contains records not even the Citadel has and has scrolls from Valyria. It also has books on the language of the Children of the Forest.
  • The Old Flint Barracks: This is where most of the Black Brothers live.
  • The Shield Hall got used when the Night’s Watch had many men. When a knight took on the Black, he would hang his shield and take on a plain black one.


Staff

Castle Black is the seat of the Lord Commander. Beneath him are the First Ranger, the First Builder, and Lord Steward. The men in these positions are Benjen Stark, Othell Yarwyck, and Bowen Marsh. Aemon Targaryen is the maester in charge, and Ser Alliser Thorne is the master at arms responsible for training recruits. Other positions include Three-Finger Hobb, the cook; Bass, the kennelmaster; Yoren, the senior of the wandering crows and Donal Noye, the armorer.

The Wall

Castle Black houses the gates that block the tunnel boring through the Wall. There are three in total, and each has a murder hole above. The castle also houses an iron cage attached to a winch which gets used to ascend or descend from the Wall.

History

Castle Black got built after the first Night’s Watch stronghold, Nightfort. As each castle kept getting abandoned with the dwindling number of the Watch, the Nightfort became too impractical to maintain; this led to the Watch switching its command headquarters to Castle Black. When Lord Commander Lothor Burley hosted Queen Alysanne Targaryen, her dragon Silverwing refused to fly over the Wall.

At the height of its power, Castle Black housed five thousand men. However, the number dwindled until it reached an all-time low of six hundred.

Relevance in A Song of Ice and Fire

A Game of Thrones

After Lord Eddard allows Jon Snow to join the Watch, the young boy travels with Tyrion Lannister to the Wall. Jon and Sam get trained by Ser Alliser Thorne, who mocks them and gives them derogatory nicknames. After their training, Sam follows Jon to the godswood in the Haunted Forest. Together they say their vows. Later, Jafer Flowers and Othor’s bodies get discovered, and after they turn to wights, Jon saves Lord Commander Jeor Mormont by setting the corpses on fire.

A Clash of Kings

With Benjen Stark missing, Lord Mormont takes two hundred men from Castle Black on the Great Ranging. He meets with the remaining men from other castles and stays at Craster’s Keep. Qhorin Halfhand asks to take some men to learn about Mance Rayder, The King-Beyond-the-Wall’s plans for the Night’s Watch.

A Storm of Swords

Jon escapes from the wildling band he joined and travels to Castle Black. He warns the Watch of an attack from the wilding. With the help of Donal Noye, Styr, Magnar of Thenn, gets defeated. Mance Rayder tries to destroy the Wall during the Battle Beneath the Wall. However, he fails. When Janos Slynt and some men accuse Jon of being a deserter, he gets sent to kill Mance. However, Stannis Baratheon arrives and defeats the Free Folk, capturing Mance. With help from Sam, Jon becomes the Lord Commander.

A Dance with Dragons

Stannis Baratheon remains in Castle Black as Jon’s guest. Janos gets executed for insubordination, and Jon realizes the fight between Others and humans. He lets the wildlings cross the Wall into Castle Black, and his action anger some brothers of the Watch. Jon allows some Free Folk to join the Watch and defend the castle. Later, Alys Karstark arrives seeking refuge against her uncle. To allow the Free Folk into the Seven Kingdoms, Jon marries her to Sigorn of Thenn; this leads to further divide among the Black Brothers. When Jon tries to confront Ramsay Bolton, he gets stabbed by Bowen Marsh and other men of the Watch.

Relevance in Adaptations

In HBO’s Game of Thrones, Castle Black was crucial in the fight between humans and the White Walkers. After the Wall got breached, Jon ordered the remaining Black Brothers to abandon the castles and travel to Winterfell. The fight between the Night King and the humans happens, and Arya kills the White Walkers’ leader.

Castle Black: A Lonely Castle

Castle Black is a brutal reminder of the former glory of the Night’s Watch. Once a pride of the Seven Kingdoms, it became an empty castle housing only criminals who did not want to defend the Wall. The castle became a shadow of its former self, a lost glory, and a forgotten relic in the sands of time.

FAQs

Why did the number of men at Castle Black reduce?

When Castle Black and the Night Watch got created, their purpose was to defend the realm of men from the Others. However, as the Others disappeared and the wildlings posed no serious threat, little attention got given to the Watch; this led to a drastic reduction in numbers.

Is Castle Black a castle?

No. Though it got called a castle, it did not have walls guarding it to the West, South, and East; this makes it more of a fortress than a castle.

What happened to Castle Black?

After Lord Mormont and his men left Castle Black, they reached the Fist of the First Men, where wights attacked them. A mutiny occurs at Craster’s Keep, and Lord Mormont gets killed. Meanwhile, Jon returned from the Free Folks’ camp and warned the Watch about an attack. Mance Rayder tries to attack, and the Battle Beneath the Wall begins. Mance loses and retreats.

Is Castle Black the biggest of the Night’s Watch’s castles?

No, it is not. Nightfort is the largest castle of the Night’s Watch. It is older than Castle Black and served as the headquarters for the Watch. However, due to its size, it got abandoned.

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