Composer Ramin Djawadi took a break from prepping for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience to chat with HBO about working on the series, adapting his music for the live concert event – including use of a 12-foot wilding horn – and increasing the epic quality of Danaerys’ theme with every season.
HBO: How do you approach scoring a new season?
Ramin Djawadi: It always starts with [series creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss]. We get into a room together and they give me a vision of what they expect from the new season – certain plots, new characters or anything that expands in the story. Then we watch the episodes together and walk through them scene by scene. I start writing, and after a couple of weeks I play Dan and David every single piece I’ve written. We discuss and tweak. I love working with them. They’ve always had an amazing vision of what they wanted and didn’t want. It’s been an incredible collaboration.
HBO: What were some of the most challenging moments to write for?
Ramin Djawadi: Thinking back to Season 6, the piece called “Light of the Seven,” which plays during that sequence leading up to the Sept blowing up with Cersei. It took a while. Another piece was for “Battle of the Bastards,” I did a whole outlay to map how I wanted the music to be before I got into the more detailed process of arranging and tweaking the notes. You really have to see the entire arc of where you want to go.
HBO: Were there any plot-points where you thought, “Oh no, I have to write for that”?
Ramin Djawadi: The hardest scene I had to write for the show was when Shireen gets burned by Melisandre. When Stannis makes that sacrifice. I could not get through that scene. I had to stop and step back. It was so emotional to me. It was tough.
HBO: Can you speak to how the theme for Daenerys’ character has evolved?
Ramin Djawadi: In the beginning, I had not read the books. I wasn’t quite clear on what Dany’s character arc would be. It took a bit of explaining from Dave and Dan saying, “No, look, we need to plan a theme for her that can be really epic.” I didn’t realize until the finale, and then I really understood.
Her theme has immensely evolved. In the first couple of episodes, it really plays on a couple of instruments on top of the Dothraki music. It’s almost like it doesn’t have its own identity yet. It sets itself apart during the finale of Season 1 when the dragon eggs hatch. It plays as big as it gets with a big choir and drums; it’s just really powerful. Now I always use that instrumentation with the dragons when they attack. I always play with her theme to make it feel like it’s expanding.
HBO: Do you tie any specific sounds or instruments to any specific characters?
Ramin Djawadi: Definitely. The White Walkers have that mysterious, icy sound from a glass harmonica. Then the cello and violin for the Starks and the Lannisters. The Dothraki have the duduk – an Armenian ethnic wood wind instrument. Arya also has such a unique sound. I use what’s called a hammered dulcimer. It’s a kind of fun, plucky sound – very distinctive. I’ll actually be playing that instrument myself in the concert.
HBO: What can fans expect from the Game of Thrones concert?
Ramin Djawadi: There are quite a few pieces that I have rearranged. We have a 20-piece choir and a traveling vocalist. The concert is this immersive experience. The focus is always on the music and instruments, with digital moments that put you in different places. For example, when we are North of the Wall, there will be a flute player with a wildling horn that is 12 feet long. The stage will change into an actual representation of the Wall – it will feel like the stage has become the Wall. While you hear the music and see the footage, the concert really makes you feel like you’re there.
We’re in the middle of rehearsals now on the actual stage and the sheer size of it is unbelievable. It is so exciting. I would have never imaged how epic it feels to be on that stage.
HBO: What’s your favorite song you’ve done for the show?
Ramin Djawadi: It’s very hard to answer that [but] I think “Rains of Castamere” might be my favorite at the moment. I did a new arrangement for the tour – no one has heard it yet. I’m hoping that we’ll have some guest artists appear and sing the song in various cities.
HBO: What was it like moving from GoT to Westworld?
Ramin Djawadi: Westworld is just so different. You have to pick your instrumentation and figure out what the story needs. The cello is for Game of Thrones what the piano is for Westworld. With the exception of “Light of the Seven,” which we felt should be different, I’ve never used piano in Game of Thrones. In Westworld the piano is the instrument. They even filmed my piano playing and animated it for the opening titles.
HBO: If you had to choose one GoT song to be your own personal theme which would you pick?
Ramin Djawadi: The main title.
Get your tickets to the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience then test your knowledge on the music from Seasons 1-6.