Ramin Djawadi may not yet be a household name, but his music is surely among the best known of any television series of the past decade. He has scored all 67 episodes of “Game of Thrones” and is now putting the finishing touches on the final six, which begin airing April 14 on HBO.
The German-Iranian composer is careful to avoid spoilers, telling Variety that the score “definitely gets intense and more epic than ever.” Musically speaking, he adds, “this season will have new material that we haven’t heard before, but lots of the existing themes will also return.”
When “Game of Thrones” executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss came to him just weeks before the series’ 2011 debut, Djawadi had assisted Hans Zimmer on several projects, but he didn’t have as many solo credits. Among them were TV’s “Prison Break,” a remake of “Clash of the Titans” and the Marvel movie “Iron Man.”
Amazingly, Djawadi came up with the melody for the “Game of Thrones” theme while driving home from the initial screening. And although he has remixed and tweaked the theme over the years, the music heard under the iconic title sequence (that three-dimensional map of Westeros and Essos) is the same recording created for the first season.
Since that time, Djawadi has created dozens of themes for characters, places and royal families, all written in his Los Angeles studio but played by musicians and singers in Prague. “It started out intentionally small,” Djawadi says, “but as the story expanded, the dragons arrived, the battles grew, the drama got bigger and bigger, the music had to grow with it. We added bigger orchestras, more choir, more instrumentation all around.”
Season 8 boasts the largest ensemble yet: a 60-piece orchestra, a 40-voice mixed chorus and a 12-voice children’s choir.
Djawadi credits Benioff and Weiss for savvy use of music throughout the series. “They are always very clear about the direction we’re heading in, so I know what I can set up musically.” He cites as examples the second-season “Rains of Castamere” song and the Jon and Daenerys theme.
“Game of Thrones” not only won Djawadi an Emmy (for music in the seventh-season finale) but has inevitably changed his life. “I feel like it really shaped my career, shaped me as an artist and as a composer in terms of defining my style,” he says. “Being able to write music for such a vast project, developing the score and stylistically setting a tone for a show like this — it’s been quite a journey.”
The music became so popular that it inspired three concert tours in 2017-18, with Djawadi conducting as elaborate visual presentations from the series played. And on YouTube there are hundreds of cover versions of the “Game of Thrones” theme: Some are fairly traditional, like the one for guitar, piano and violin; others are a bit bizarre, such as a floppy-disk rendition and one done entirely by dogs and cats.
“I always try to imagine,” says the composer, “what if we just turn the picture off? Will the music tell the story — tell us how to feel for these characters? There’s an emotional connection to the story and the characters. Maybe that’s why it resonates.”
Djawadi’s Five Most Memorable ‘GOT’ Scoring Moments
1. The Main-Title Theme
“The intent was always to set up the mood, the mystery, the adventure, the journey and all that entails,” says the composer. “The cello, expressive but dark, just nailed the tone.” Tribal drums, choir and a hammer dulcimer hint at the ancient, mystical setting.
“Mhysa,” a choral adaptation of the main theme plus Daenerys Targaryen’s theme, sung in a Valyrian-inspired language, comes during the third-season finale.
3. “The Rains of Castamere”
Djawadi set “Thrones” author George R.R. Martin’s lyrics to music in the second season; it became the theme for House Lannister and a key moment in Season 3’s infamous Red Wedding.
4. “Light of the Seven”
The finale of Season 6, in which Cersei destroys the Great Sept, marks the first time in 60 episodes that Djawadi used a piano. Coupled with boys’ voices, organ and classically styled violins and celli, the music is startling and powerful.
5. Love Theme for Jon and Daenerys
Djawadi initially wrote this for the seventh-season finale, as we learn the truth about Jon Snow, then went back and applied excerpts in earlier episodes as subtle musical hints of things to come.