I just started re-reading the series, and something that strikes me as odd in AGOT is Jon's apparent lack of knowledge about the Night's Watch's sharp decline. He is genuinely disillusioned when he arrives at the Wall and finds the Watch isn't the idealized honorable organization he thought it would be. Yet the fact that the Wall is now manned by criminals and rapists seems to be common knowledge throughout Westeros at this point, surely Jon would've heard about this at some point growing up?
Thanks for the question, princeofsunspear.
I think with Jon, he’s in sort of a unique position in that he has a far more personal connection to the Watch than most Westerosi, even highborn Westerosi. For basically his entire life, and certainly as long as Jon can remember, his Uncle Benjen has been a proud - and voluntary - member of the Watch, and probably in a position of high command for a good portion of that time. If the son of a Lord of Winterfell can join the Watch of his own volition and no shame is brought upon him, and if a bastard can rise high in the Watch, then it stands to reason Jon would not see any shame in a bastard son of the Lord of Winterfell joining the Watch to find himself an honorable career. Plus, given that Benjen has visited Winterfell occasionally - Jon even thinking of his uncle as the last of the “high lords” to enter the feast for the king - I would imagine Jon might have seen the Watch as basically an extension of his current friendship with Robb; just as Ned and Benjen kept in contact and Ned occasionally hosted his brother at Winterfell, Jon might have expected to be the same sort of “high lord” of the Watch who would be Lord Robb’s friend at the Wall and come down to visit him sometimes. To Jon, the Watch is a place where a nobleman, even the son of a great lord, can serve with honor, as Uncle Benjen demonstrates. Add to that Jon’s seeing Ser Waymar Royce - the son of a very prominent Vale lord - voluntarily joining the Watch and being feted for his decision at Winterfell, and I think the normalization of the Watch as an honorable institution for highborn men was complete.
The Queen Regent (NFriel)