Samwell is a steward in the Night's Watch. He is intelligent, well-educated, and insightful, but overweight, unskilled at combat, and believes himself a useless coward (though at least openly admits he is a coward).
Samwell Tarly is the oldest son and former heir of Lord Randyll Tarly, the head of House Tarly and Lord of Horn Hill. He is popularly called "Sam", and disparagingly as "Ser Piggy." He is gentle, bookish and shy. He is a large boy who, though having grown up in a comfortable setting, was consistently abused by his father, his instructors, and his peers.
House Tarly is one of the most powerful noble families in the Reach, and sworn to House Tyrell. By rights, Samwell would have grown up to be one of the top ranking lords of the Seven Kingdoms. However, his father Randyll Tarly is one of the most skilled military commanders in Westeros, and hoped for a son who would carry on his leadership of House Tarly in battle, not an overweight scholarly-minded son like Sam who has no thirst for violence. His father, ashamed of him, forced Samwell to take the black under threat of death in order to disinherit him. Had Sam refused to join the Night's Watch, his father bluntly told him that he would arrange a "hunting trip" with his son in the woods, and then kill Sam in such a way that it looked like an accident. Sam departed for the Wall, leaving his younger brother as heir to House Tarly.
Sam was a virgin when he left for the Wall, and is a bit despondent about the restriction that his vows forbid him from ever taking a wife in the future.
Samwell Tarly arrives at Castle Black. Ser Alliser Thorne identifies him as a soft, pampered lordling and has the other recruits attack him harshly. Jon Snow defends Samwell, to Alliser's annoyance. Samwell is assigned watches with Jon. He tells Jon that he is craven and that his father forced him to come to the Wall or face a 'hunting accident'. Jon convinces the other recruits to go easy on Sam, even using Ghost to intimidate Rast into doing so. Sam befriends Pypar and Grenn.
Thorne is furious at Jon's actions and confronts him and Sam. He tells them of the harsh conditions that exist beyond the Wall and claims men are driven to do terrible things to survive out there, especially in winter. He says that by avoiding the harsh discipline of the Night's Watch, they are condemning themselves to death.
The trainees become men of the Night's Watch and Samwell is assigned to the stewards, specifically to the service of Maester Aemon. When Jon complains about his appointment as a steward to Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, Sam points out that Mormont could be grooming him for command. Sam, feeling that his own gods have abandoned him, elects to say his oath to the Watch before a heart tree like Jon. After the ceremony, they are surprised when Ghost arrives, carrying a severed hand in his mouth.
The hand leads them to the bodies of two rangers. They bring the corpses back to Castle Black and Sam notes that there is no smell of rotten flesh on them. The Lord Commander orders the bodies examined, and tells Sam that he may be a coward, but certainly not stupid.
Jon Snow and the Lord Commander are attacked by one of the dead, who has risen as a wight. Jon fights off the wight and Sam watches the two corpses being burned. Sam tells the others that he has read an old book that claimed that reviving the dead can only be achieved by the touch of the White Walkers, who sleep for thousands of years beneath the ice. When the others ask what will happen when they wake up, he only says that he hopes that the Wall is high enough. Sam admires Jon's new sword, Longclaw, given as a gift for defending the Lord Commander. Samwell tries, unsuccessfully, to stop Jon leaving the wall when he receives news of his father's execution in King's Landing. He then convinces Pyp and Grenn to help him to pursue Jon. He is knocked off his horse by a low hanging branch which draws Jon back to check if he is okay. Sam stands, unharmed, and recites his vows with his friends to convince Jon to return.
Sam is part of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont's Great Ranging beyond the Wall. After travelling for months and passing several abandoned wildling villages they reach Craster's Keep. Craster is an unsavoury ally of the Watch who marries his daughters and apparently has no sons. Craster tells them that the wildlings are gathering under King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder. Sam calls off Ghost, Jon's direwolf, when he comes near Gilly, one of Craster's wives. Gilly calls Sam brave. Sam takes her to Jon Snow for help rescuing her unborn child from Craster but Jon refuses to disobey their orders to stay away from Craster's wives. Jon later follows Craster into the woods and sees him leaving a newborn boy for the White Walkers. Craster spots him and incapacitates him. Craster drags Jon back to his keep and demands that the Watch leave. Sam becomes infatuated with Gilly, vowing to return and rescue her.
They march to the Fist of the First Men and Sam is amazed at the ancient fortification. Sam assumes Jon's responsibilities as steward to the Lord Commander so that Jon can accompany Qhorin Halfhand scouting the Skirling Pass. The party does not return and are believed dead but Sam refuses to give up hope. He finds a cache of Dragonglass weapons buried at the Fist while working with Grenn and Edd. While collecting dung for fuel, the companions hear three horn blasts, signaling White Walkers. In a panic, they rush back to the Fist, but the slower Sam is left behind. As a blizzard rolls in, Sam takes shelter behind a rock, and witnesses armed wights and White Walkers approaching out of the snow. A White Walker mounted on a dead horse notices Sam, but appears to ignore him, ordering the wights towards the Fist.
After the Battle of the Fist of the First Men, Sam is wandering in the blizzard looking for shelter. He suddenly notices another man of the Night's Watch. When he walks toward him, he discovers the man has been decapitated. A Wight then approaches Sam, about to attack him. The direwolf Ghost knocks the Wight down and rips out its flesh as it drags towards Sam. Finally, the wight is lit on fire by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and the last remaining Night's Watch of the battle appeared. Mormont is angry that Sam didn't send any ravens in the confusion on the attack of the White Walkers. Finally, Mormont announces that they should retreat to the Wall and warn about the White Walkers to the others in Castle Black and the rest of Westeros. Lord Commander Jeor Mormont of the Night's Watch leads the few survivors of the slaughter at the Battle of the Fist of the First Men south in hope of reaching the Wall. Samwell Tarly is exhausted and collapses. Rast is annoyed that Sam hid during the battle, and thinks they should leave him because he's slowing them down. Sam is upset that Grenn and Dolorous Edd abandoned him at the start of the attack, although they refuse to leave him now. Mormont tells Sam that he has to keep moving, and sternly forbids Sam to die. Mormont orders Rast to keep Sam alive until they reach the Wall on pain of death. Farther south beyond the Wall, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont leads the ragged survivors of the Night's Watch expedition to Craster's Keep. Craster mocks the survivors of the battle when they reach his Keep. He initially wants to refuse them shelter until he notices some of them stroking their weapons. Fearful that in desperation they might try to rush him, he relents. As the black brothers warm by his hearth, Craster mocks them. Craster insists that the black brothers should be grateful for his generosity, and that he is a "godly man" for helping them. Mormont tensely questions that he is a godly man, but Craster insists that he is - to the "real gods", the White Walkers, who consume entire armies on their way to the Wall but will spare Craster for his loyalty. He admits that he's feeding his pigs better than them - as pigs are valuable to him - and half-seriously suggests to his guests that they should eat the fat Samwell Tarly. He is also annoyed by Gilly's loud wailing from birthing pains. Sam leaves the main house to a birthing hut where he witnesses Gilly giving birth with the aid of a few other women. To her horror, the baby is a boy. Sam and Gilly realize that Craster will want to sacrifice him to the White Walkers. Samwell Tarly visits Gilly, who is deeply distraught about the impending fate of her newborn son. She is frantic, and yells at Sam not to draw attention to the fact that it's a boy by calling it a "he" so loud, as Craster will want to offer it up as a sacrifice when he finds out it is a son. He asks her if she has decided on a name, but she responds that there's no point in naming her baby if he's only going to be offered up as a human sacrifice. She gives Sam back his mother's thimble and says she doesn't care about such stupid things, all she is focused on is protecting the life of her baby. When the traitors of the Night's Watch kill Craster and Jeor Mormont, Sam rushes to Gilly's hut and orders her that they have to escape now or they never will. Sam runs out of Craster's Keep with Gilly and her baby, as loyal Night's Watch members fall to the mutineers, who also kill and/or rape Craster's other wives. Gilly leads the way into the night because she knows the woods around her home. Covered in Mormont's blood, Rast shouts into the darkness that "Piggy" can run for now, but he'll soon be cutting Sam's throat too.
Sam and Gilly stop to camp during their journey to The Wall, after having fled Craster's Keep. Sam shows Gilly the Dragonglass dagger he found at the Fist of the First Men and tells her about Castle Black. Gilly wonders if Sam can sing, the he tells her that he can't sing well. However, he knew one song and starts to sing it for Gilly and her baby.
Samwell Tarly and Gilly continue on their journey to Castle Black, taking refuge in a destroyed cabin next to a heart tree. Before they enter, two crows land on a branch on the heart tree, and begin to squawk loudly. Later that night, Sam tries to light a fire. When he is unable to, Gilly does it instead. Meanwhile, Sam suggests that Gilly name her son, but she does not know any boy names, Sam gives her some examples, and also explains the difference between first and last names. Suddenly, they are interrupted by the loud squawks of the crows. Sam and Gilly go outside to investigate, and see hundreds of crows angrily squawking at them. Gilly is then horrified to see a White Walker approaching them, and knows that it is after her child. Sam tries to halt its advance, but the Walker shatters his sword with his bare hand and knocks him aside, and heads for Gilly. Sam staggers back to his feet, pulls out his Dragonglass dagger, and attacks the Walker, stabbing it in the back. The Walker howls in pain, as its whole body begins to freeze from the point at which he was stabbed It falls to its knees and shatters, leaving nothing behind but white dust and the dagger. Leaving behind the dagger, Sam takes Gilly's arm, and runs as the crows chase after them.
Following their encounter with the White Walker, Sam and Gilly continued their journey south to Castle Black. While they were still a considerable distance from their destination, Sam knew that they were approaching Nightfort, the original headquarters of the Night's Watch which was located between Castle Black and Beyond the Wall. Nightfort had been abandoned centuries ago when the Night's Watch's numbers dwindled. Sam explained to Gilly that he planned to get them across the Wall using a secret sally-port which would lead right into the Nightfort. Gilly expressed her amazement that Sam knew so much history just from reading books, insisting that he is a wizard much to Sam's delight. When they finally caught a glimpse of the Wall, which Gilly had never seen before, she is awestruck.
Later, Samwell and Gilly finally arrived at the Nightfort. There, he encountered Bran Stark, Jon Snow's younger half-brother and his companions—Hodor, Jojen and Meera Reed, and his direwolf Summer—who were travelling north beyond the Wall to find the three-eyed raven. Bran and his companions initially mistook him for an intruder but sheltered them after seeing Gilly and her baby. Samwell, noticing the gigantic Hodor and Summer, realizes who Bran was and offered to take them to Castle Black. They decline and Jojen tells Sam that he and Bran were travelling to go beyond the Wall. Due to his earlier encounters with the White Walkers, Samwell and Gilly were unwilling to return to the north. However, Sam reluctantly gave them the obsidian blades which he had found north of the Wall and which he had used to slay a White Walker. While Samwell and Gilly stayed behind in the castle, Bran and company finally reached the lands beyond the Wall.
After traveling for some distance, Samwell and Gilly finally arrived at Castle Black. There, they met with Maester Aemon, who is displeased at the prospect that Sam had violated his vows. Sam defended himself by reciting the Night's Watch oath to protect the realms of men whatever side of the Wall they are on and repeating Jeor Mormont's assertion that a wall of ice 500 leagues long and 700 feet high was not built to keep out barbarians. Aemon's demeanor softened upon learning that Gilly was one of the late Craster's wives, and acknowledged that she is now a refugee and should be sheltered since the North is no longer safe for humans. Aemon then ordered Sam to begin writing letters immediately and to make sure that all forty-four of Castle Black's ravens are well-fed, as every one of them is to fly that night: the White Walkers have returned, and Westeros must be warned.
Sam is present in Castle Black in the weeks following Jon's return. Sam tells Jon that Alliser Thorne and Maester Aemon are ready to judge Jon for his actions. Sam tries to cheer Jon up and tells him he hasn't done anything wrong. Jon counters that he's "done plenty wrong". People call him "the Slayer" (mostly mockingly) after hearing how he destroyed the White Walker.
Sam visits Gilly to ask how she is doing at Castle black. He admits to being paranoid about what his fellow brothers are thinking about her. Sam tells Gilly that He thinks that she would be safer at Mole's Town. He assures that he is only doing this to protect her. They arrive at Mole's Town and Sam tells the manager that she can cook and clean. He also refuses to let Gilly do "other jobs". Gilly thinks that Sam is doing it for himself and not thinking of her, which upsets Sam.
Sam and Jon are talking in the library and Sam is worried about Gilly now that he realizes the wildlings are attacking villages. Jon tries to assure him she's safer there. They then discuss Bran going beyond the Wall, which Sam told Jon. They try to work out where he is before they are interrupted by Locke.
When Jon Snow and his fellow black brothers return from the Raid on Craster's Keep, Sam is one of the first to greet him. He is also present when Jon tries to convince Alliser Thorne that they should seal the tunnel due to the threat of Mance Rayder and his wildling army.
The news of the wildling attack on Mole's Town reaches Castle Black. Sam is horrified by the news, believing he sent Gilly and her baby to their deaths. Eddison Tollett argues that Gilly managed to survive Craster, the long march back to the Wall, and even a White Walker. This gives Sam hope that Gilly may have survived.
Atop the Wall, Jon and Sam are staring out into the darkness of the north and awaiting the imminent wilding invasion. Sam attempts to interrogate Jon about what it was like to be with a woman, stating that as their deaths are likely imminent, it may be his last chance to find out. Sam brings up that the vows of the Night's Watch only explicitly forbid members from taking wives or producing children, and that other "activities" are open to interpretation. Jon replies glumly that Alliser Thorne most likely does not care about their interpretations. When further pressed by Sam to describe lying down with Ygritte, Jon attempts to explain but is unable to properly express it, proclaiming exasperatedly that he's "not a bleeding poet." Jon offers to take the watch up alone so Sam can go below.
Meanwhile, Sam is caught reading a book about wildlings by Maester Aemon. Aemon correctly guesses that Sam is reading the book because he wants to know what kind of fate might have befallen Gilly if she fell into wildling hands during the sack of Mole's Town. He also surmises that Sam has shown such a keen interest in her fate because he is in love with her, despite Sam's protests to the contrary. Aemon muses about the girl he once loved, stating that he can still picture her as clear as day and that she is more real than Sam is. After being dismissed by Aemon, Sam leaves the maester's chambers only to hear Gilly at the gate begging to be allowed inside, revealing her survival of the Mole's Town massacre and her identity as the cloaked figure approaching Castle Black. Pypar attempts to deny her passage into the castle, saying he is not allowed to open the gate at any circumstances. However, Sam roars at Pyp to allow her in, causing Pyp to relent and let her in. Sam promises Gilly wherever she goes next he will go too, but their reunion is cut short by two blows from the horn, indicating that Mance's wildling army has finally begun their assault. Sam rushes to get Gilly safely inside the castle while other brothers of the Night's Watch prepares for the imminent attack by wildlings.
Sam brings Gilly and her baby to a storage room where she can hide. Gilly wants Sam to stay with her as he promised, but he cannot as he sworn to defend the Wall as a brother of the Night's Watch. Before he leaves her, Gilly begs Sam to promise her that he won't die and the two finally share a kiss. As Sam and Pypar are preparing arrows at the southern gate, Pypar laments that he never seen a real battle before or ever even held an edged blade. Pypar asks how Sam is not afraid, but Sam replies that he is, as there are thousands of wildlings about to overrun them. Pypar asks how he managed to kill a White Walker while being afraid, and Sam says that at that moment, he just had to do something or Gilly would have been killed and her baby would have been taken. Sam further explains that at that moment, he wasn't himself; he was nothing, and when you are nothing there is nothing to be afraid of. Before walking away, he looks at Pypar and says, "I'm not nothing anymore."
When the battle begins, Sam and Pyp take part in defending Castle Black's southern gate. Pyp is firing a crossbow as Sam assists by reloading another crossbow, but Pyp's aim is poor due to inexperience and nerves and he repeatedly misses his shots. The band of wildlings manage to reach Castle Black's walls and begin scaling them using grappling hooks and ropes, forcing Sam and Pyp to retreat.
Later, Pyp is fatally shot by Ygritte and Sam comforts him as he dies. Sam is forced to leave Pyp's body and as he heads to Castle Black's lift system, but he is spotted by the Thenn warg. The warg charges at Sam as he desperately attempts to load his crossbow, managing to do so and firing a bolt into the warg's head just before he reaches him. Sam then arrives atop the Wall to ask Jon for more men to defend the castle, and Jon tasks Sam with releasing Ghost from his pen to assist in the fighting. Once the battle was over, Sam returns to Gilly just like he promised and discovers Janos Slynt, who hid in fear during the entire battle.
The following morning, Jon discusses with Sam that he has a suicidal solution to end the wildling threat; he plans to assassinate Mance Rayder, noting that he is the only thing binding the disparate wildling clans that make up the army, and his death will rob them of that purpose and leadership. Sam tries to talk sense into Jon, but to no avail. As Jon prepares to leave via Castle Black's tunnel, they discover the bodies of the black brothers who held the inner gate against the giant. Grenn is amongst the casualties and Jon tells Sam that all bodies must be burned. Before Jon leaves, he remembers the promise he made to Jeor Mormont and decides to leave Longclaw with Sam. Sam tells Jon to come back, and Jon looks and Sam and smiles unreassuringly before stepping out into the wilderness on the other side of the gate.
After the arrival of Stannis Baratheon, Sam is present when the Night's Watch burn the bodies of those who were slain during the battle.
At Castle Black, Sam attempts to comfort Gilly since she is worried of being sent away by Ser Alliser Thorne, which would most likely happen if Alliser is elected as the new Lord Commander. Sam reaffirms his promise that where ever Gilly and her baby go, he will go too in order to protect her. Later, Sam is present when Mance Rayder is executed by Stannis Baratheon for refusing to bend the knee, and comforts Gilly, who cries in his shoulder.
Sam is reading a book on previous Lord Commanders while Princess Shireen Baratheon teaches Gilly how to read. He also learns how the young princess survived Greyscale and that Gilly also had sisters who perished from the disease.
At the choosing for the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow reveals Stannis's offer of legitimization to Sam. Jon states that it was always his dream to be Lord of Winterfell, but he reveals that he will decline the king's offer, much to Sam's surprise. When Maester Aemon asks if there are any more candidates wishing to run against Ser Alliser Thorne and Ser Denys Mallister, Sam puts Jon's name forward as a candidate. Janos Slynt mocks Sam by calling him "Slayer" and pointing out his love for Gilly being similar to Jon's love for Ygritte, and Sam retaliates by publicly mocking Slynt for hiding in the pantry with Gilly and her baby during the wildling attack. Sam reminds all of the black brothers present that Jon was Jeor Mormont's personal steward, that he led the force to deal with the mutineers at Craster's Keep, and took command of Castle Black's garrison during the wildling attack when Thorne was wounded. Sam's speech ultimately results in Jon being chosen as the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
At a meeting of the Night's Watch, Jon questions Sam about Maester Aemon's absence. He reports that Aemon apologizes for his absence because he is not feeling well. Jon tells Sam to take good care of the old maester. Sam later witnesses Jon personally behead Janos Slynt for refusing to obey orders.
Sam drafts numerous letters for Jon Snow to sign in order to request the Northern houses to send more men to man the Wall. Jon signs all of them until Sam gives him a letter meant for Roose Bolton, the new Warden of the North. Jon is against asking for help from the man who murdered his half-brother, but Sam convinces him that they need all the help that they can get. Sam departs when Melisandre enters the room to speak with Jon.
At the library, Sam reads a note from Slaver's Bay to Maester Aemon updating him on Daenerys's situation. Sam praises the courage of Daenerys but Maester Aemon worries about her safety because she is all alone, under siege, and with hardly anyone to guide her, while he, as her only living relative, is useless and dying thousands of miles away. Then, Jon Snow enters and asks to speak with Aemon in private, so Sam leaves them. Later, Sam tells Gilly about his wish to go to Citadel and become a Maester before he was sent to the Night’s Watch, when Stannis Baratheon walks in. Stannis reminisces about how Sam’s father, Randyll Tarly, defeated Robert Baratheon in the Battle of Ashford. Stannis wants to know how Sam killed the White Walker and Sam tells him how he did it with a dagger made of dragonglass. Stannis muses that it is abundantly available on Dragonstone. Sam has been researching dragonglass and how it can kill White Walkers, but has yet to come up with anything. Stannis tells him to continue his research and leaves.
Later, after Jon has left for Hardhome, Sam and Gilly visit Maester Aemon, who has fallen ill and grown delirious. Aemon imagines Little Sam as Egg, his long-dead brother. Aemon's condition steadily deteriorates as the day goes on, and he dies in the night. Sam eulogizes him before lighting his funeral pyre, declaring for all to hear that he was the blood of the dragon. Ser Alliser whispers that Sam's friends are abandoning him one by one. Afterward, Gilly is attacked in the dining hall by two brothers, but Sam and Jon's direwolf, Ghost, come to her rescue. Sam is badly beaten, and Gilly takes care of him before the two have sex.
Samwell reunites with Jon, who is despondent, saying that the mission was a disaster and they only managed to save a small fraction of the wildlings at Hardhome. Sam points to different wildlings passing by and notes that each of them would have died if he had done nothing at all, so it wasn't a complete failure.
A few nights later, Jon Snow tells of what he saw at Hardhome to Sam. Sam asks Jon if he can travel to Oldtown to study and replace Aemon as the new Maester of the Watch. He feels there is no other way he can help them as he cannot fight, he is also afraid for Gilly and her child's safety, and wishes to take them along. Jon reminds him that the Citadel will also not allow Sam to be with women, but is humored to hear that it is already too late for that. Sam promises he will return, they toast to that and Jon sees his only friend off.
On the voyage to Oldtown, Gilly tells a seasick Sam that she'll be happy to see the city, having learned much about it from the ship's captain. Instead, Sam doesn't want Gilly and Little Sam to be alone in the city while he trains as a maester and plans to take them to his family at Horn Hill, as the Citadel also doesn't allow women and there won't be anyone there to make an exception. Gilly protests against this, but Sam assures her that it is for her protection.
After landing in Oldtown, Samwell, Gilly, and Little Sam are transported to Horn Hill by station coach. Knowing his father's hatred for Wildlings, Sam tells Gilly that he had told his father's retainers that Gilly is a Northern woman he had bedded in Mole's Town and that Little Sam is their son. Upon arriving at Horn Hill, Sam is greeted by his mother Melessa and sister Talla Tarly, who are delighted to see Sam and his "family." Sam quickly learns that his father Randyll and brother Dickon Tarly are out hunting.
Later that evening, Sam and Gilly joined the other Tarlys for dinner. Sam reveals his plans to train as a Maester at The Citadel and promises that he will return to the Wall as soon as he has finished his studies. When Dickon asks him about hunting Beyond the Wall, Sam responds that he hunts rabbits. An openly scornful Randyll then interjects that Jon Snow did all the hunting for him. He also criticizes his son's size, and hunting and fighting abilities. Randyll also adds that he will not let his son inherit Heartsbane and House Tarly. Gilly then springs to her "lover's" defense by pointing out that Sam had killed a Thenn and a White Walker.
While Dickon dismisses the White Walkers as a fairy tale, Randyll quickly realizes that Gilly is a Wildling. He disparages Sam for allowing himself to be seduced by a "Wildling whore." In response, Melessa chides her husband for his "dishonorable" conduct and motions for Gilly to leave the dining room with her and Talla. After the women have left, Randyll tells Sam that Gilly and Little Sam are welcome to stay. He will find work for Gilly as a servant and promises to raise the "bastard" Little Sam as his grandson. However, he warns Sam that he is no longer welcome at Horn Hill and must leave at first light. Later, Sam apologizes for his father's actions but Gilly tells him that he does not need to apologize for his father's actions. Unwilling to be separated from his family, Sam tells Gilly to pack up and leave together with Little Sam. Before leaving with his "family", Samwell steals his family heirloom Heartsbane.
Bookish and sensitive, Sam was forced to join the Night's Watch by a father who sought to disinherit him. Traveling north as part of the Lord Commander's expedition, he fell in love with Craster's daughter Gilly and has protected her and her son from danger in the wild and at Castle Black. Sam left Castle Black for Oldtown with plans to leave Gilly and baby Sam at Horn Hill with his parents. That idea was abandoned after he witnessed his father's cruelty, and Sam traveled on with his young family and the stolen family sword, Heartsbane. Although Gilly and baby Sam were not welcomed at the Citadel, Sam felt immediately at home in its vast library.