When in the Game of Thrones timeline did Winterfell stop its Night's Watch tradition?

In House of the Dragon's Season 2 premiere, we learned Stark men are chosen as "sacrifices" for the Night's Watch. When did their tradition come to an end in the Game of Thrones timeline?
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

The world of Game of Thrones continues to grow with House of the Dragon. We learn more about the past, and that includes traditions that have been long forgotten by the time we meet Ned Stark.

Caution: There are minor spoilers from the House of the Dragon Season 2 premiere in this post.

The second season opens with Cregan Stark sharing about the tradition Winterfell has with Jacaerys Velayron. One in 10 Starks are chosen at random to join the Night’s Watch. This is done at random, and it is an honor to head to The Wall to serve. It’s clear that Cregan knows that it’s not just wildlings on the other side of The Wall. There are monsters in the darkness.

In Game of Thrones, The Wall is mostly made up of some of the worst criminals. They choose to serve out their days at The Wall instead of facing execution, but they don’t make for the best of soldiers at The Wall. However, Starks have always taken it upon themselves to make sure they are represented at the Wall, with many of them becoming Lord Commander.

When did the Winterfell tradition end before Game of Thrones?

It’s clear in Game of Thrones that the idea of serving in the Night’s Watch is no longer one of duty and honor. While some characters view it as a way to serve back to Westeros, most people view this as a death sentence that they don’t want to go through with.

We never see the tradition of picking out the stones. This is done at the start of every winter, and we see a winter arrive in Game of Thrones. Of course, Ned Stark leaves Winterfell just before the start of winter and Winterfell ends up in the hands of the Boltons. It is possible that this leads to the end of the tradition, but it wasn’t even mentioned before that. Benjen Stark served in the Night’s Watch, and everyone makes it sound like he purposely chose this as the second born Stark son rather than picking a black stone out of a bag.

But this is just based on what we know during Game of Thrones. We don’t see when Benjen joins the Night’s Watch or why. We also don’t see what happens at the next winter since a Stark is no longer ruling over Winterfell. So, maybe the tradition did still stand.

If it didn’t, then it potentially died out sometime during or after the Dance of the Dragons. Is it possible that the tradition and the knowledge of the White Walkers died out with Cregan Stark? Or did Benjen and Ned take the talk of White Walkers seriously without us ever realizing, suggesting that Starks have always known?

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