Why Did Benjen Stark Join the Night's Watch?
Warning: Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I do talk about some of the theories that are going around about Benjen withing the series, and there are some things I have mentioned that are alluded to in the books (and which haven't been mentioned in the HBO series as of yet). So, beware, if you are going to go on, and you don't want to get ahead of yourself.
One would think that since Ned and Benjen Stark are the only of their siblings that we have ever met (with the others having been killed or having died under circumstances that aren’t entirely clear), that Benjen might not have taken the black. It is true that the Starks take their responsibilities of protecting the people of the North very seriously (they probably take their position of authority and that of protectors more seriously than most anyone else that we have met in the series), and Benjen may have taken the black out of a sense of responsibility of protecting the people of the North against the Others, the White Walkers, the Wildlings, and any other possible threats to their lives that might present themselves.
But it is curious that by the time that we meet Benjen, he is already the First Ranger, and it would have taken him some time to have reached such a position of authority within the ranks of the Night’s Watch. He would have needed to have proven himself as being intelligent, able, and willing to do things that would have put him into harm’s way. He would also have had to accept the responsibility that comes with such a position, but have been able to prove that he was willing and able to command others (so that they would be able to gather the most amount of information about any possible threats that there might be, and also send them out to places where they might be killed for their efforts). So, he would have had to have taken the Black quite a while ago, but when exactly was it?
Would he have waited until after Ned and Catelyn had had their first child before he left Winterfell? Or did he take the Black before that point? Being part of the Night’s Watch would mean that he would not be able to marry or have children, so joining their numbers would mean that he had effectively taken himself out of the line of succession (and it would all fall upon Ned to make sure that the Stark line did not die out, and to also make sure that there was always a Stark in Winterfell). What little we have seen of Benjen in the series does not lend to the impression that he does not care about his family, despite the fact that the Brothers of the Night Watch are supposed to care more for the realm than they do to the ties that they had before taking the Black. We are lead to believe that he and Jon are particularly close, seeing as how Jon seems to want to become a Ranger out of his love and respect for his uncle; so there had to have been time spent both at Winterfell and at the Wall by him.
Also, Benjen may have been the third son, and there may not have been a lot of need for him to remain at Winterfell as a possible heir to the North when he was young; but after the death of Ned and Benjen’s eldest brother (Brandon), Benjen would have been the heir to Winterfell (in the event that something happened to Ned). And while it is likely that Benjen has done a great amount of good since taking the Black, if he was needed at Winterfell, why would he have left it to become part of the Night’s Watch? With the importance that the Starks put upon their duty, it doesn’t seem likely that he would have left Winterfell without someone there to step in if Ned was injured or killed.
So, could it be that he didn’t take the Black until sometime after the birth of Robb? And would he have waiting long enough to know for certain that Robb was going to survive his infancy, just in case he would still have been needed?
Do you think that it is plausible that Benjen joined the Night's Watch because he was trying to protect Jon?
There is a theory surrounding Jon Snow’s true parentage, with some thinking that it is possible that he may have been the son of Ned and Benjen’s sister (Lyanna) and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. According to part of this theory, Lyanna died after giving birth to Jon, and the thing that she made Ned promise to her was to keep her son’s true identity a secret; from there, Ned took his sister’s son and raised the boy as his own bastard son so that he would remain close to his family, and no one would suspect that he was actually a Targaryen (even if there are still some characters within the series who think that it is strange that Ned would have had a child with anyone but his wife, since it seemed so out of character for the man).
But if this is the case, if Jon is really the son of Lyanna and Prince Rhaegar, and Ned was really trying to keep the boy a secret from his Targaryen relations (or from those who would want to kill anyone in the Targaryen line), would he have told his brother about what was really going on? As I mentioned before, Benjen seemed to have a good relationship with his brother and his brother’s children, having returned to Winterfell enough that the children knew and loved him. But of his nieces and nephews, it is Jon that he appears to have the best relationship, and it is only Jon who seems to be concerned with the fact that no one knows what has happened to Benjen.
Could it be that because he knew the significance of who Jon’s real parents were, he made a special effort to watch over and nurture this particular nephew? Or could it be that he may have been put to it by Ned himself? Perhaps, after telling Benjen what was actually going on with Jon, they devised a plan so that Ned would raise the boy as his own son, and so that Benjen would possibly make a place for him in the Night’s Watch when he was old enough to join; and once Jon joined the Night’s Watch, perhaps Ned and Benjen had planned to have Benjen watch over him while he was there, and perhaps, making sure that no one figured out who he really was.
But the fact that there is still so much of a mystery surrounding Benjen (not only in parts of his personal history, but also whether or not he is still alive somewhere) makes it seem as though there may be something significant surrounding his joining the Night’s Watch (as well as why we still don’t know where he is).
In A Clash of Kings, we did find out that Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch was actually a Targaryen, and that he would have become the king of Westeros, but he refused the crown (taking the Black instead). But what we get from this revelation is that it is something that may be known by some of the more trustworthy of the Night’s Watch, but it isn’t something that is widely known by their company . . . and it is certainly not something that they speak about with outsiders. There seems to be a desire to protect Maester Aemon and his Targaryen heritage from becoming common knowledge.
Ned and Benjen may not have known that there was already a Targaryen on the Wall, but they may have become aware of the fact that if Jon took the black once he became old enough (and they had already kept his heritage secret enough) that he might have been safe there. Once at the Wall, Jon would have become somewhat untouchable by anyone who would have wanted to harm him because of their mistrust (or because of their hate) of the Targaryen line. By taking the Black, he would no longer be able to become a king of a line that so many had wanted to be rid of, and he would have not been allowed to sire any children of his own.
But whatever the reason that Benjen left Winterfell and went to the Wall (and even when he did it), we may not find out until Benjen is found again. He may come back of his own accord, having accomplished whatever it was that he was trying to do when he disappeared. Or it is possible that he may be found at some point by Bran (while he is being trained by the three-eyed crow), and we are able to finally get some of our answers through him.
Further Reading ...
- What Happened to Benjen Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire?
There may be more to the disappearance of Benjen Stark than any of the fans realize.
- What Could Be in the Future for Jon Snow?
Is it possible that we will see Jon Snow in either of the two books that will complete the Song of Ice and Fire series? Will he have survived what happened in A Dance With Dragons? And if so, how will he appear?
- What is the Significance of R'hllor and the Great Other in A Song of Ice and Fire?
Minor gods in A Song of Ice and Fire may be far more important than any of the others for the future of Westeros.
- Could the Starks in A Song of Ice and Fire be More Important Than We Believe?
Could Jon, Arya, and Bran prove to be more powerful than we originally thought? And how will that effect the rest of Westeros?
- Will There be More Dragonriders in A Song of Ice and Fire?
Are we likely to see anymore dragonriders in The Winds of Winter or A Dream of Spring? And if we are, who are they likely to be?