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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Revisiting the music of 'Game of Thrones' 10 years later

A promotional poster for Season 8 of "Game of Thrones" is pictured.

Ten years after its debut on April 17, 2011, "Game of Thrones" (2011–19) is still one of the most popular shows of all time. With eight seasons, 73 episodes, more than 100 characters’ deaths and a devoted international fan base, it is no surprise that many are once again turning their eyes to the HBO show on its 10th anniversary.

Its success is striking. Out of 160 Emmy nominations, the show has won 59, and has won a total of 269 awards out of 738 nominations across numerous other awards shows. Breaking records and captivating audiences, "Game of Thrones" redefined television. 

But what makes it so special?

The actors deliver stunning performances and the fantastical plots weaved by the books’ author George R.R. Martin keep fans anxiously awaiting the next episode, but there is something else that really separates the show from any of its TV counterparts: its score.

There has rarely been a TV series with an original score as profound and intricate as that of "Game of Thrones." Thanks to the award-winning talents of composer Ramin Djawadi, the show’s original score is as much a part of the series as its main characters are.

Characterized by twisting string melodies and pounding drums, very often in a minor key, the show’s soundtrack has become iconic. The main title theme has become one of the most recognizable TV show introductory tracks of all time, as have many of the other tracks from the original score.

With hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify, Djawadi’s compositions create the cohesion that ties the show’s narrative together from season to season. Featuring chilling tracks like “Chaos is a Ladder,” which accompanies one of the show’s signature villains, Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen), in Season 3, and emotional string movements like the track “Maester” from Season 6, which celebrates Samwell Tarly’s (John Bradley) arrival at the Citadel, the "Game of Thrones" soundtrack is rich in motifs and notable for its nuances.

In an iconic, infamous scene in "The Red Wedding" episode from Season 3, an acoustic version of the Lannister House’s theme “The Rains of Castamere” plays as many main characters die, hinting at the revenge in store for the Lannister House’s enemies.

The last episode of Season 1 introduces the rhythmic drums and choral singing that become characteristic of the theme music for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) throughout the rest of the show, while “Winterfell” from Season 2 introduces the main theme for the Stark family. And it is with these themes, and the others like them, that Djawadi spins a musical narrative that evolves with the characters. During significant moments throughout the show, a house’s theme plays and the effect on the audience is an immediate recognition of the saliency of the scene.

But there are moments of pure ingenuity in which Djawadi deviates from the normal score stylization. In the final episode of Season 6, Djawadi introduces piano into the show’s soundtrack for the first time. As the season finale begins, a haunting piano theme in the “Light of the Seven" becomes the groundwork for one of the show’s most (quite literally) explosive episodes. And again, for the second and last time, in the third episode of Season 8, a piano haunts “The Night King” in a mostly quiet musical piece that plays over one of the climactic battle scenes between the White Walkers and humanity at Winterfell. It is this attention to both instrumentation and detail that elevates the soundtrack and, in turn, elevates the show.

"Game of Thrones" is so successful because of its breadth of characters, its ability to connect the audience to their stories and the engaging plotline that drags on across seasons. But the music that underscores it all is remarkable. After a decade, Djawadi’s score does more than just tie details of the series together; the instrumentation creates meaningful motifs that the dedicated fan base has come to adore.