As the composer of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld,” Ramin Djawadi has become the master of his musical craft, demonstrating great versatility by alternating between aggressive action and intimate drama. No wonder he’s been nominated for both fantasy epics. But he’s the favorite to capture his first Emmy for “Game of Thrones'” penultimate Season 7 (“The Dragon and The Wolf” finale), bolstered by the exposure from his popular “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” tour.
“‘Game of Thrones’ offers such a wide range of instruments that I use and stylistically for what I’m doing, but ‘Westworld’ is the same,” Djawadi said. “There is so much for me to explore. It goes all the way from these acoustic and organic instruments to ethnic instruments this season. But then it goes all the way to the other side by experimenting with sound designs purely with synthesizers.”
However, “Game of Thrones” continues to inspire Djawadi, as he embarks on his final score. “I haven’t started on it and don’t know anything about what’s to come, but I thought the setup for Season 8 was really great with the different houses coming together, now having to deal with the threat from the north,” he said. “The two big additions are the Jon and Daenerys love theme (‘Truth’), and the White Walker theme (‘Against All Odds’).”
“Truth,” which begins with a cello solo before layering on more strings, is filled with romantic longing between Jon (Kit Harington) and Dany (Emilia Clarke). There’s a hint of it in “The Queen’s Justice,” when she grants Jon permission to mine the dragonglass. Then it develops more forcefully and climaxes with the final boat scene.
“The theme is played in a low register, harmonically neutral, but with the capability of being more expressive and emotional with the full orchestra,” Djawadi said. “This new theme provides a sense of progression.”
By contrast, there’s an otherworldly terror to “Against All Odds,” with its screeching prepared piano, synthesizers, and strings. “Season 6 was the first time we used the piano, and it was an opportunity to play with it more with the new White Walker theme,” said Djawadi. “In Episode 1 (‘Dragonstone’), you see this unstoppable force coming in the snow and it develops melodically. Then, it fully plays when the wall comes down in the final scene of the season.”
In Season 2 of “Westworld,” Djawadi got to musically explore the synthesis of East and West in the Shogun episode, “Akane No Mai” (for which he was nominated). “I got to experiment with a lot of ethnic instrumentation: shamisen, koto, various taiko drums, and shakuhachi flutes,” he said.
Because Shogun World represents a mirror image of Westworld’s Sweetwater, the composer re-arranged “Paint It Black” to establish the similar programming of the hosts. “We use it for the robbery,” Djawadi said. “I removed the more Western percussion, like the snare drum and base drums, and replaced that with various sizes of taiko drums. Instead of some of the piano lines, I replaced that with shamisen, which is like an ethnic banjo type of plucked instrument. Also, instead of harp, I replaced it with the koto, which is the ethnic version of the harp.”
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Meanwhile, Djawadi’s reworking of Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” was a clever instrumental choice for Akane’s (Rinko Kikuchi) heart-wrenching dance scene. “Normally, I write with picture available to me, but with this one, we picked the song, I did the arrangement, and they used it on set for the choreography of the dance,” he said.
A further nod was playing the familiar Sweetwater theme with ethnic flutes, koto, and gongs. But a more stirring musical reworking pertains to Thandie Newton’s Maeve. ” I took her emotional theme with her child that she’s trying to find and modified it quite heavily,” Djawadi said. “It was played on the violin but stylistically slides more from one note into the other. It was performed very differently to provide the Asian sound. I pushed it so far you could say it’s a new theme, actually.”