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In the latest episode, a Nights Watch member just leaves his assignment/task/mission before completing his assigned objective with no excusing reason.

As he is going back I don't think it counts as desertion, but is there any punishment for this under normal circumstances at least in the show or book?

Sam leaves the Citadel without permission or affirmation from the maesters thus violating his mission of becoming a maester for the Nights Watch. He also steals a few books. For the purpose of this question we will ignore what he may have been doing with Gilly

  • @Paulie_D I may have missed something but didn't he just grab a bunch of random books and book it? I don't think there was any indication he knew what was in the books – SCFi Aug 14 '17 at 12:03
  • @Paulie_D I suppose he did mention some names of Maesters who might know so they could have been their books but it's never really elaborated on if they were useful just might be. Besides that getting off topic, this is about under normal circumstances abandoning the mission or duty – SCFi Aug 14 '17 at 12:12
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    His mission isn't just to become a maester, it's also specifically targeted at finding intel that will assist in the fight against the Night King. Since that portion is taking on more urgency, and the maesters are dragging their feet on providing any kind of direct assistance and allowing him to focus his efforts, he's collecting materials useful for that and returning to the Watch. As such, I'm not sure he's really abandoning his assignment. Though, if he is, there is a family job opening that is timed pretty well for him..... – PoloHoleSet Aug 14 '17 at 14:26
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    @PoloHoleSet There''s no family job...he isn't allowed to inherit as a member of the Night's Watch. Of course the King can do anything. – Paulie_D Aug 14 '17 at 14:59
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    @Paulie_D - Please re-read what I wrote .... "if he is (abandoning)...." If he leaves the Night's Watch, how is a Night's Watch restriction on inheriting relevant? Plus that statement was mostly tongue-in-cheek. If I join the military and I have to sport a crew cut, by rule, how does that bind me in my choice of hairstyle after I desert? – PoloHoleSet Aug 14 '17 at 15:03
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If we assume that Samwell is deserting his post then there is only one punishment...

Death!

Desertion is a serious crime in the Seven Kingdoms. It takes place when a man abandons his post, particularly in times of war. Deserters are considered outlaws and thus are marked for death.

Within the ranks of the Night's Watch, desertion is considered a form of oathbreaking. Deserters are not only hunted down by sworn brothers of the Watch but also by lords should a deserter enter his lands.

Wikia

However, that doesn't mean the punishment has to be imposed.

Jon Snow briefly deserts the Night's Watch upon learning of his father's execution, intending to join his brother Robb Stark's army. He is convinced to turn back by Samwell Tarly. Jeor Mormont pardons the indiscretion, remarking that if he executed every man who contemplated deserting, they would have no men left.

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    not abandoning the post but the "mission"... end result seems to be the same as Janos is executed for refusing to man one of the other castles. – Skooba Aug 14 '17 at 16:01
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    There's night and day, however, between "I'm telling you to do this as we're in the same room", "No" and "Go do that thing", "OK"...many months pass and new evidence comes to light... – Nick T Aug 14 '17 at 21:17
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    When you have to ask what the punishment is in GoT, this is usually the answer. – Dan Staley Aug 14 '17 at 22:57
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    @Skooba: One can argue that Sam's actions are there to complete his mission. He was sent to the Citadel to learn how to fight the Walkers. If Sam feels that his training is holding him back, and returning with the books gives them the best real chance of fighting the walkers, he is not refusing his mission. He merely adapted his approach based on the situation in the Citadel, which is well within the accepted range of how a mission can be completed. It's about the intention. – Flater Aug 21 '17 at 10:52
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    Similarly, a scout sent beyond the wall, who then returns empty handed because he needed to avoid an unexpected situation, is not guilty of desertion. First of all, he is still loyal to the Night's Watch, and secondly, he is not expected to die trying if the task ends up being impossible regardless of his attempts. Janos was guilty of willful insubordination. Sam is not. He is still completing the same mission (learning how to fight the walkers). Becoming a maester was the way he was suggested to approach this mission, it was not the end goal by itself. – Flater Aug 21 '17 at 10:54

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