The Night’s Watch, Warders and The Citadel
Military Influence on Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones
Military academy influence on parts of A Song of Ice and Fire and Wheel of Time.
“Write what you know.” That classic maxim influences a lot of literary work, giving rise to unique perspectives on both the mundane everyday and the strangest walks of life. It’s why I’m secretly writing a series about a community-radio DJ who goes on strange misadventures involving MLA standardization and experimental cooking (which may or may not involve me stuffing 15 monkfish into a rutabaga).
Pretend I didn’t say that—at least not until the focus group green-lights me.
While it’s possible for an individual to write about a life they’ve never truly known, it makes more sense for someone to use the resources that come to mind first. If you’re a detective, either private or on a police force, it’s going to make sense that you write crime novels if you find yourself behind a typewriter. Wait, did I just seriously say typewriter and not word processor? Wait, did I just seriously say word processor and not pirated copy of Word 97? Wait, did I just seriously say Word 97 and not modern, freeware knockoff? I might need to update my lingo for all you hip, happening kids … and the BSA.
Moving on, there are a lot of people out there with a veritable ton of life experience, not the least of which are military veterans, military spouses, military kids (moving base-to-base), and those who grew up around military bases (think of college towns in how the economy revolves around a single institution, kinda like my little town in Illinois). On the note of military bases, however, I’d be remiss to not mention military academies. Specifically, The Citadel Military Academy of South Carolina. This place of discipline and learning (the very thought of which is giving me a flashback to my days in the J.R.O.T.C. in Mattoon, IL) influenced both George R. R. Martin, and Oliver Rigney. You’d know them as the minds behind A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time, respectively (Rigney wrote The Wheel of Time series under the pen name of Robert Jordan).
Now, these two aren’t the only authors with some military experience or exposure under their belts. J.R.R. Tolkien was a veteran of the Great War, and that colored a lot of what we saw in The Lord of the Rings. I personally like to think Ralph Bakshi’s take on his work took this into account in its own war scenes. Then we have Orson Scott Card. Yes, that guy who made us realize how profound the motto “never meet your heroes” really is. A ton of public-posts-that-won’t-ever-go-away later, he’s still the man who gave us Ender’s Game. He’s also a man who was on a military base long enough to relate the tale of children in military training.
A quick note: Rigney/Jordan actually attended the Citadel. Martin has no military experience per se but is still familiar with the installation and its practices.
Influence in the World of A Song of Ice and Fire
The Night’s Watch is an ancient institution in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) that guards the massive northern wall that separates the seven kingdoms from the mysterious northern lands. The Night’s Watch was supposedly founded 8,000 years ago. To be a member requires an oath renouncing all land ownership, marriage, family, allegiances, and birthrights; taking this oath provides one absolution for all past crimes.
However, in the time that ASOIAF is set, the Night’s Watch has recently fallen into severe disrepair, becoming a shadow of its former glory. They have a scant army of approximately 7,000 and are composed primarily of horrible criminals who took the oath to avoid being killed for their sins. The lesser numbers have led to all but three of the wall’s 19 towers being abandoned, and the wall is woefully unable to protect against the historical enemies that had threatened all of humanity in the distant past [ 1 ].
Regardless, The Night’s Watch has a very strict organizational system and hierarchy that resembles a modern military system such as the Citadel. It’s also known for being a rather patriarchal organization. If one looks at its oath, it’s clearly specifically geared toward men (emphasis mine):
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am 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 [ 1 ].
Its ideology bears some similarity to that of the French Foreign Legion where men, no matter how checkered their pasts, can join and swear allegiance not to France but to the Legion itself and serve until their time is over [ 2 ].
The Citadel of South Carolina defended itself from numerous lawsuits based on gender discrimination, with the first woman only being admitted in 1996, and has had to institute training and instruction designed to prevent hazing and sexual harassment [ 3 ][ 4 ].
The Citadel also resembles Westeros’ specifically in the emphasis of its focus. The Citadel states clearly that it is absolutely not for everyone, and that a Citadel education takes students out of their comfort zone and pushes them to excel. Citadel cadets are expected to learn teamwork, accept challenge, take responsibility for their actions, develop leadership skills and pursue excellence [ 5 ]. These principles are similar to those that The Westeros Citadel seeks to teach young would-be Maesters, who are meant to have knowledge in any relevant field need to be of service to a lord but also the promotion of learning and academics [ 6 ].
Another more subtle point is the idea of some golden age, where the Night’s Watch did serve their proper role and weren’t in terrible state they are now. This corresponds well to the idea of the iconic ancient “golden age” of the military, which is a prevailing idea of military history with past generations of soldiers being venerated.
Influence in the World of Wheel of Time
In the world of A Wheel of Time, Asha’man and Warders are both roles for men that involve powered individuals who exist in some level of organization.
The Asha’man are described by Rand Al’ Thor, the founder, as “a man who defended truth and justice and right for everyone. A guardian who would not yield even when hope was gone” [ 7 ]. They are heavily militaristic, with the lowest of the three ranks being called a “soldier” who, both in terms of battlefield tactics and battle order as well as general division of labors and jobs, resembles a member of a modern military academy hierarchy [ 8 ].
Warders act as warrior guardians for the Aes Sedai, the female equivalent of the Asha’man. They act as a physical component to the Aes Sedai’s magical component and both sides gain a number of advantages. The former gain greater capacity to battle non-physical threats while the Aes Sedai gain bodyguards who will protect them from physical threats [ 8 ].
Both of these roles place large importance on the interdependence of the members of the group, with a strict social hierarchy and usage of keywords and terminology in the form of slogans and chants that emphasize an in-culture and strength in unity and cohesion as opposed to individual agency. This mirrors The Citadel’s strong emphasis on the importance of unity between the ranks of soldiers and between various soldiers working in unison.
Likewise, both of them, along with the world in general, had an ancient military golden age in the past—the so named “Age of Legends,” where channelers, which form the Asha’man and Aes Sedai ranks, were far more common. They also had powers stronger than the “modern” times in the context of the story. This was also before the Time of Madness and the Breaking of the World leading to the dark state of the world at the beginning of the story arc. This age is described as essentially an Arcadian world, where people are accredited on the basis of their contribution to all of humanity. Material wealth meant almost nothing and all channelers were held accountable to the Hall of Servants, though Rand Al’ Thor suggests that the society actually did have problems festering underneath the surface
In many ways, these examples reinforce the tendency for men to be cast in roles of soldiers. While much can be said that a proclivity for violence may be a masculine trait, soldiers are also cast in the role of protectors as well. What is it that makes men risk their lives for the good of others? There is a biological component; in the wild many male animals often challenge other males to prove their worthiness to the females in order to mate with them. This violence, towards an evolutionary goal, has been a recurring thread to this day; many sports end in violent riots. Hockey, football, soccer, basketball, even baseball can end in violence, sometimes perpetrated by fans of the winning team. This isn’t something that only humans are guilty of. We can see it readily in some of our genetic relatives such as baboons. Few other members of the primate family are as aggressive and destructive to as these cousins who even turn to cannibalism when the opportunity strikes.
You don’t have to look far in history to see the violence played out over the years. Yet our peek into the past goes much further back than the 20th century—we are going to look at the dawn of civilization. Ancient man had just started building permanent settlements along the banks of rivers and lakes to facilitate the gathering of livestock and the irrigation of crops. When out of the north would come raiders, they would steal the food they wanted and sometimes the women too. Very shortly thereafter walls were erected to keep raiders out and better protect the villages. Sometimes these walls couldn’t keep out the threat and the raiders would break in, so another level of defense was often used. A citadel is a fortified core of a city that would often come under siege. In case of a breach the populace would run towards the core and defend themselves from the attackers. One would often wonder what the Citadel these two writers would see numerous times in their lives would be defending.
First and foremost, The Citadel would keep military traditions, and those no longer used would not be forgotten. It would keep an ideology alive and safe from harm. It would enable the creation of the kind of men that would be lauded on the battlefield for decades to come in an environment of masculinity and isolation. “Alas,” not all citadels can go on without being breached. In August 1995, a young woman became the first woman to be inducted into the halls of The Citadel, escorted in by U.S. Marshals much like Ruby Bridges when she breached the citadel of racist intolerance in Louisiana [ 4 ]. In wartime, the first man through the breach is often killed; the mere threat of the murder of her family drove Shannon Faulkner from The Citadel. Although she didn’t make it to graduation, the breach she created allowed women who followed to make names for themselves in one of the toughest military academies in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the cadets and the leaders of The Citadel, who doubtlessly saw her presence as an attack, cheered when she left at the end of her first week [ 4 ].
Imagine how that would look to our two authors, one a graduate of the school, the other a longtime member of the local community. Would they have seen it as an attack on a bastion of history by those who did not belong? Would they have thought that the very idea would probably sully the nature of the school itself? Despite not being wanted there, many more women applied to The Citadel; by December 2009, 205 women had graduated from one of the toughest schools of its kind.
In an interview during the Lords of Chaos signing tour, Jordan called Shannon Faulkner a liar, continuing that she had not been honest on her application to The Citadel, claiming that the school “has an honor code that views lying as a very serious offense” [ 9 ]. (Faulkner had omitted to specify her gender in her original application.) Jordan further opined that military roles are more suited to men than women due to the physical requirements, and derided West Point for, in his opinion, going too easy on their female students [ 9 ]. However, despite his personal dislike for Shannon Faulkner, Jordan spent a lot of time pursuing the goal of rich, well-thought-out female characters that are both strong as well as human. This ability to depict female characters in his books of women as they should be represented, not a tired clichéd stereotype, seems strangely at odds with his opinion of Faulkner.
Meanwhile, George R.R. Martin’s view of femininity and feminism is conflicted as well. In an interview with The Telegraph, he said:
“There was a period in my life when I would have called myself a feminist, back in the seventies, when the feminist movement was really getting going and growing out of the counter culture of the ’60s,” he says. “But the feminist movement has changed. Sometime in the ’80s and ’90s I read some pieces by women saying that no man can ever be a feminist and you shouldn’t call yourself that because it’s hypocritical, so I backed off. I thought if the current crop of feminists believes that no man can be a feminist, then I guess I’m not one” [ 10 ].
Despite some negative press and some wayward words about the authors and The Citadel that they both find hurtful, Martin and Jordan advocate for women in their own ways, typically through the pages of their work and the structure of the worlds these characters live in. These authors, are at least on paper, show in startling detail that they believe women are every bit as rich and well developed as characters as men. Not every author would say that and many that do don’t live it.
Training Antediluvian Misogynists
Once again, we look toward The Citadel and wonder just what is going on in there. As time progresses things change, and one has to wonder when those changes started, who started them, and why didn’t they get reported. The very real truth of the matter is that there have had numerous hazing incidences at The Citadel. Considering the nature of hazing and colleges in general, we can assume that the hazing started decades ago and is one of those traditions that were kept by the male cadets for generations. However, when the women started going to The Citadel, many of them were intolerant of this hazing, and the authorities were called in. Although the instances of hazing affected more female student, there was ample evidence to show that other males had been hazed in the past. It stands to reason that a school in the American South that is tied to honor and military excellence may have ties to ideologies that are more present in the South than in other places in the country. Whenever the words “tradition” and “southern” come together in a sentence, organizations like the KKK often lurk in the background, trying to prove that they weren’t the monster that history has shown them to be.
Meanwhile, most people realize that traditions are often handed down from father to son. Be it a great fishing spot, how to tie a fly, or who to talk to about a Klan membership, traditions like racism and violence towards minorities are also passed down in those halls. Several scandals have come to light, with hazing just being the tip of the iceberg; the attempts of a not-so-secret white brotherhood within its walls to try to drive out the first Black cadet are also well-known [ 11 ]. In the South, any Black man with talent equal to or better than a white man can expect to be attacked by the locals, and The Citadel is no exception. As this has been happening since the 1970s, it is unlikely that Jordan or Martin could have missed it, and it’s highly likely that Jordan either saw it personally or even possibly participated. While both are noticeably silent on the matter, their respective books seem to demonstrate the ins and outs of racism, sexism, and violence towards the Other and it seems that they both appear to have civil-minded sensibilities.
Those living in the South are often expected to take sides when it comes to racial matters, and not everyone has the courage to pick the side of the angels. Some chose the path of expedience, cowardice, or evil. Not every man can choose right over wrong. Times might have been different then, but cowardice never changes. The situation at The Citadel was so blatantly obvious that a movie was made about (an ostensibly fictional version of) it based on a 1980 novel by Pat Conroy [ 12 ][ 13 ]. Add to this the sexual harassment of minors and you have a place where stated core values of Duty, Honor, and Respect are no more than so many pretty words on paper [ 14 ].
So is The Citadel nothing more than a secret scholarly cabal where mostly young, mostly wealthy, mostly white males learn the not-so-secret roots of their traditions? Are the ideals of the KKK instilled in cadets behind the closed door of a Citadel designed to keep such things alive despite attempts to kill it elsewhere? The Citadel may use pretty words to hide their nature, but the things that have been going on for years there must have been known by the upper echelon; it took several investigations and a Hollywood movie to elicit change.
The authors discussed, as evidenced by their bodies of work, both seem to have good moral structure. However, that behavior could have very well been taught to them by teachers who wanted to make sure the next generation of violent, misogynistic racists have a chance to practice and perfect their craft in secrecy.
Summary and Conclusion
How many stories, in books, comics, animation, anime, films, radio, and television have begun as the main character arrives at boot camp? Or maybe they begin a day training to be infantry in the army of Charles the Simple, in the olden days of France. What would we all give to have a game or movie following a recruit into the Klingon military on the cusp of the Dominion War? What? Just me? Okay, fine…
War shapes people. Military training will do the same, with the caveat that the person you were before entering will be broken down and built back up. How much more intense must the life be at The Citadel? How much more ingrained into your very being does esprit de corps become? I’m sure there’s at least a few veterans out there who might be able to expand on that thought, being fit for military service where I myself was not (Ménière’s disease finished off that for me, and the military prefers recruits who can tell which way is down before the ground smacks them in the face).
Fight or flight. Survival of the fittest. You versus the other. The concepts underlying military training often build on these in order to develop soldiers who can survive and carry the battle. When the heat of battle is present, troops must be able to adjust and adapt, using whatever training and instincts are necessary. If that means drawing upon the primal mind of humanity as a savage, so be it. More often, a good chunk of an individual’s training would advise against that, but the battlefield is a strange place.
The militaries and military-like organizations of Martin and Rigney couldn’t have been put to paper without some influence like The Citadel. Would exposure to West Point in New York or RMA Sandhurst in the U.K. have resulted in a very different set of worlds than the ones we’re now familiar with? It’s hard to say, unless you’re someone who went back and forth between the various military academies for whatever reason.
Those who enter into the military are sometimes called on to perform acts they might later be ashamed of. Or perhaps, they are prepared to accomplish great feats of heroism, not necessarily under enemy fire. Some experience both, and some go through neither. The time the soldier spent as a cadet influences the choices they must make under pressure, and that includes time spent reviewing what must be done in moments of uncertainty.
Soldiers are human. Students are human. Instructors are human. No lesson plan can ever truly encompass everything that every individual cadet must know in order to survive a war, protect their squadmates, and attain their objectives. Complicating things further, military policies are like political ones; they’re not always up to date with their societies’ morals and ethics. And sometimes, horrible practices have overtaken any chance the Citadel has of being on the right side of history at a given moment. Other institutions labor under similar circumstances, of course. But how much more dire can it be when harassment, hazing, and the like are still the norm in a given era?
“Yours is not to reason why,” goes another old saying. “Yours is but to do or die.” Yet the armed forces require thinking troops who simultaneously follow orders. The outcomes of wars rest upon the very humanity that is both drawn upon and suppressed in the minds of those who fight them. While those who read and watch the struggles of an army might wonder or take for granted what they witness, it’s the duty of a writer to make certain their representation relates the truth of battle and instruction.
What better entry into the fiction of conflict than the academy of conflict?
- “George R. R. Martin’s world of Westeros, developing a cult following since 1999, was adapted for HBO in an infamous series running 8 seasons.” Source: Van Patten, Timothy. Game of Thrones: Winter Is Coming. HBO, 17 Apr. 2011, www.imdb.com/title/tt1480055/?ref_=ttep_ep1, disc 1. TV.
- “The Citadel Military College of South Carolina, founded in 1842, has had a formative influence on many an author, military and otherwise. GRRM was no exception.” Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/citadel-flag-building-structure-68702/
As SFS’s Chief Administrative Officer, Mr. Cardinal has found his editorial duties at Steam-Funk Studios often reconnect him to parts of fandom he’d have otherwise overlooked. Andrew has DJed, catered, and run travel logistics in the goth scene as DJ Rasclin. Other credentials include staffing for Anime Central and work for the US Census Bureau. As the second of our Senior Editors, he advises on strategy for both The Unconventional and The Living Multiverse, remaining a steady guiding hand.
- Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire. Bantam Spectra, 1996.
- Porch, Douglash, “What ever happened to the French Foreign Legion?,” Military Times, 20 Dec 2017. militarytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2017/12/21/what-ever-happened-to-the-french-foreign-legion/. Accessed 21 Mar 2021.
- Riddle, Lyn, “25 years ago, Shannon Faulkner left The Citadel in tears. But she changed the corps,” The State, 15 Sep 2020. thestate.com/news/local/military/article245597355.html. Accessed 21 Mar 2021.
- Fausset, Richard, “The Citadel Fought the Admission of Women. Now a Female Cadet Will Lead the Corps,” NYT, 4 May 2018. nytimes.com/2018/05/04/us/citadel-woman.html. Accessed 21 Mar 2021.
- Citadel Staff, “Leadership & Ethics at The Citadel.” citadel.edu/root/admissions-leadership. Accessed 21 Mar 2021.
- “Maesters.” A Wiki of Ice and Fire, 1 Mar 2021. awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Maesters. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.
- Jordan, Robert, Lord of Chaos (WoT book 6). Tom Doherty Assoc, 1994.
- “Jordan, Robert, “Glossary,” A Crown of Swords (WoT book 7). Macmillan, 1997.
- Rouk, Daniel, “LoC Signing Report” entry 12, WoT Interview Database, Theoryland, theoryland.com/intvmain.php?i=22. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.
- Salter, Jessica, “Game of Thrones’s George RR Martin: ‘I’m a feminist at heart,’” The Telegraph, 1 Apr 2013. telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9959063/Game-of-Throness-George-RR-Martin-Im-a-feminist.html. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.
- Byrd, Caitlin, “As The Citadel confronts racist past, a Black cadet shares his truth through fiction,” The State, 1 Mar 2021. thestate.com/news/charleston/article249232030.html. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.
- Roddam, Franc, director. The Lords of Discipline. Paramount, 1983.
- Conroy, Pat. The Lords of Discipline. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
- Citadel Staff, “Core Values,” citadel.edu/root/core-values. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.