‘Game of Thrones’ Composer Ramin Djawadi on Working Toward the Musical Ending He Always Envisioned

Before taking the music of the show on tour, Djawadi also explains his process for adding voices to the show's iconic theme music.
Composer Ramin Djawadi'Game of Thrones' Live Concert Experience, The BB&T Center, Sunrise, USA - 22 Sep 2018
Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock

Saying goodbye to “Game of Thrones” meant different things to everyone involved in making the show. As Season 8 drew to a close, composer Ramin Djawadi had a number of unique opportunities to bring his decade on the show full-circle.

The Season 8 soundtrack is a bit of a first for Djawadi, who chose to arrange the cues from the show’s final six episodes in chronological order, following the gradual reintroduction of themes from across “Game of Thrones” history. As Djawadi told IndieWire, all of that culminates in the final episode, which bids farewell to a number of characters using music that’s marked their respective journeys.

“When you see Brienne at the end, and she’s writing things down in the book about Jaime, I’m using the Honor theme, which had developed over the seasons for the two of them and their relationship,” Djawadi said. “Of course, the Stark theme got used a lot, especially in that ending montage. But there’s even some of the subthemes that might not be as obvious. As Grey Worm sets out to sail away to the Island of Naath, the Grey Worm/Missandei love theme plays to show what he’s thinking about her and he’s going there because of her. Whenever I could, I would place themes that are in connection with the characters.”

Few people have made a single piano feel as threatening as Djawadi has. The centerpiece of one of the landmark “Game of Thrones” sequences at the close of Season 6, “The Light of the Seven,” built from a simple piano line to one of the more dramatic turns in the show’s trajectory. It was the first time that Djawadi had used the instrument for “Game of Thrones.” For Season 8’s landmark Battle of Winterfell sequence, “The Night King” needed a similar, major musical element, and he knew where to turn.

“That was the one piece of information we all knew when we looked at the scene. We said it’s time again to use the piano, because it was the perfect callback to ‘The Light of the Seven.’ It had the reverse effect because when you played the piano, people were kind of drawn in by that: ‘Here’s the piano. Something’s blowing up. This is the end!'” Djawadi said, “Because of what we had set up in Season 6, we were able to do it with this piece here. It just builds and builds and builds. And we were really able to create some tension with that. We really wanted the audience to just hold their breath the whole time.”

Djawadi was once again tasked with helping to reflect character traits through music for arguably the most pivotal shift in the series’ final season. In the score track titled “The Bells,” the low basses in the orchestra bend a pulsating set of notes, emphasizing the pending destruction to King’s Landing at the hands of Daenerys.

“All these seasons, we’ve seen her as the savior and what she always thinks is the right thing to do. And it was always heroic things that she did. All of a sudden, I really had to strongly push her to the dark side,” Djawadi said. “Those basses and that descent really had to come out through music. That emotion, we really wanted to enhance it and bring that across. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed about this whole show so much. I always say the music has to follow what the character’s going through. All that anger just comes out and it was great to enhance all that with music.”

While the writing of the series offered a number of potential endings, it only made sense for the final music over the end credits to be a reintepretation of the show’s iconic theme music. The closing version added a choral element, with a children’s choir helping to turn the orchestral piece into a “Song of Ice and Fire.” Foregoing traditional lyrics, Djawadi built this farewell “song” around sound rather than words. “That was something we all had decided on from the beginning. We all knew that we wanted this to be a nice bookend,” Djawadi said. “I call the lyrics ‘Valryian-inspired.’ They’re just little gibberish words that I’ve kind of made up over the seasons. They really don’t mean anything, even though they’re actually saying words, but they’re there because I liked the way it sounds.”

Going with that approach, like bringing back the themes or those distinct character switches, is in line with Djawadi’s goal to work as a complement to the series overall. In the series’ final minutes, he wanted to give the audience a chance to absorb the full impact of the ending. “There’s so much emotion in that last scene, in that last episode that I felt it was better just leaving everybody with their thoughts rather than actually putting in lyrics. It’s more meant as an emotional instrumental piece,” Djawadi said.

The series may have reached its conclusion, but now Djawadi prepares to embark on a North American tour, bringing the music of the show as part of “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience.” For Djawadi, it’s a chance to revisit his own work, one the job rarely affords him.

“Usually, when I finish a project I kind of leave that behind it and then move on. Now that the season’s finished, I’m going to update this concert series and include the eighth season and then really rework it to have the complete show,” Djawadi said. “It was an honor to be part of an incredible experience, and I loved everything about it.”

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