The Watch was once highly regarded and their ranks were filled with volunteers from noble houses.
I want to get this straight:
The Lord Commander is the leader of the entire organization. The First Ranger is the head of all the Rangers, the First Builder the head of all the Builders, and the First Steward the head of all the Stewards.
Now when I say "head of all", this means that the three "Firsts" are technically considered the head of their department for the entire Wall. That is, Bowen Marsh is theoretically in charge of the Stewards at the Shadow Tower and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea?
Apparently, the Lord Commander also serves as the immediate commander of the fortress where the Night's Watch is headquartered? (which for two centuries, has been Castle Black - thus Jeor Mormont was both Lord Commander of the entire organization, as well as immediate commander of Castle Black itself? There's no mention of a subordinate garrison commander, I think).
Thus, the other castles along the wall don't have their own "First Builder" or "First Ranger" -- these are...aides/avisors/attaches to the Lord Commander himself?
I would assume that each castle at least has its own sub-commander for such tasks, i.e. there's got to be one lead Steward at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea in the sense that there has to be a head cook in the kitchens.
But I'm worried that this is too much speculation/supposition.
Is it more that there's a Lord Commander (who doubles as immediate commander of the HQ fort, Castle Black), along with his three advisors the Firsts (Ranger, Builder, Steward), and then any additional fort has its own local garrison commander? (which would be Denys Mallister for the Shadow Tower and Cotter Pyke for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea).
As for Maesters, there's Aemon at Castle Black, Harmune at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and Mullin at the Shadow Tower.
Because I was looking over the list of Night's Watch command officers killed at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men and saw just how much their command structure has been devastated. Also that drunken lout Septon Cellador is posted at Castle Black but has no official authority.
Anyway, Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck remain First Steward and First Builder, respectively. Marsh was explicitly left behind at Castle Black to command the remaining garrison, so he didn't take part in the Great Ranging. Not much was said about Yarwyck's contribution other than that after the expedition, he is later seen alive again at Castle Black - it isn't clear if he actually went on the expedition or not. Ironically, the TV show actually shows him in the background at several points during the Great Ranging (lets hope they later show he survived, rather than departing from the books).
As for First Ranger...after Benjen Stark disappeared, as weeks and months passed they named Jaremy Rykker as acting First Ranger, until he was killed by the wight of Jafer Flowers. Afterwards, Thoren Smallwood is named First Ranger. An annoying grasper, he nonetheless dies while bravely charging a wight-bear during the Battle of the Fist of the First Men. At some point later Black Jack Bulwell is named as the new First Ranger but he too soon dies soon after being promoted.
Jarman Buckwell is the only officer of note who survived the Great Ranging; he was commanding a separate group of scouts than Qhorin's group (thus it may have numbered only about five men) and thus wasn't at the Fist when it was attacked by the White Walkers. His group made its way back to Castle Black separately.--The Dragon Demands (talk) 05:28, August 3, 2013 (UTC)
This page needs a major overview, overhaul, update, and revision. It's such a large page (detailing an entire, unique faction, which features prominently in the TV series) that I was putting it off. I made some basic progress updating the subdivisions just now.
There are more pressing problems elsewhere at the moment and this is kind of an ongoing task. I got the ball rolling. I'm personally tabling this major update for next February when we get more info from the Histories & Lore animated featurettes anyway.