Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi has never read A Song of Ice and Fire. He’ll get to someday – he’s been a bit busy for the past nine years working on the Emmy-winning Game of Thrones score.
Before Thrones, Djawadi had done a handful of TV and film scoring, including the MCU-launching Iron Man soundtrack. His work caught the attention of Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who scheduled a meeting and showed him the first two episodes.
Djawadi got to work immediately, yielding one of the most indelible television or film scores of our generation and a theme song that, to be perfectly honest, slaps.
Djawadi recently spoke with Mashable about the new season, the iconic theme, and more.
How did you approach the project? What was the first thing you wrote, do you remember?
A lot of people think that the first thing I wrote was the main title, which actually it wasn’t …The main title discussion wasn’t even happening at the very beginning, that actually happened about one to two weeks into working on the project that they actually said, ‘Oh, by the way, we also have a main title! Two-and-a-half minutes long…’
I was working on the [first] episode and the first theme I wrote was actually the Stark theme. [Benioff and Weiss] had a lot of ideas of how they wanted the show to sound, and they wanted to hear my ideas. It just kind of clicked right from the beginning. Anything that was said in the room we kind of all agreed on, and then based on that information I started writing.
Did they give you any direction about the title song – the sound, the feel? Did they know about the visuals at the time?
The visuals were actually pretty much completed. We were able to watch it together and then kind of talk it through in really broad strokes of describing to me what they wanted. One of the key words they said was it needs to be a journey. The characters, they travel, they meet up, it’s a many complex storylines so it’s really this adventure, mystery, and journey. Those were the three words they said.
One of the key words they said was it needs to be a journey.
The theme song is of course iconic now with those visuals and your music. How did you come with all those parts – can you talk me through the genesis of this piece?
I wish I had a formula … a lot of the times when I write, I don’t exactly know how it comes together. This particular tune, it came to me when I was driving, actually, sitting in the car. Writing the piece itself obviously took longer. It’s really kind of supposed to capture the overall mood of the show.
The main instrument you can hear right away in the beginning is the cello — that was the instrument that we kind of determined as our lead instrument for the show … The piece overall is in a minor key – however, in the very intro, there is one chord section where it actually switches to major and then goes right back to minor. The idea behind that was always that sense of misgiving … nobody’s safe – that’s what I tried to establish there … Have a listen and you’ll see, that one note changes everything.
Did you go through a lot of versions or revisions?
No, not really. I think I did one tweak, I don’t really know what it was, I think we made something lower – but overall the structure and everything I had, they kind of went for it. We just had such a clear understanding of what we wanted that somehow it just came together.
Did you have any idea how big that piece alone would be? I could hum it to anyone who watches the show and they could join in – it’s become so salient.
I had no idea. Anything I write, I never think about ‘oh wow, this is such a melody.’ I try to put my best foot forward, I try to write the best I can, and I also try to write something that I like. That’s always my rule is that I have to be happy with it. But I never think ‘Oh, people will really like this,’ or ‘People will make a cover song of this.’
The fact that people started doing cover songs of it and that it was a melody that – it’s so rewarding. It makes me very happy to see that it had such a success out in the world. It’s a wonderful thing.
Have you ever wished you could modify or change any of it?
You know, it’s funny, because many times I listen to our music and I want to tweak things here and there, but in the main title … we’ve performed this live now quite a bit, and over the years I have made slight arrangement adjustments, but it’s really so minor that I think most people probably wouldn’t pick it up. Overall, it’s always stayed the same, I’ve never changed it.
We know the excitement that theme inspires in people who watch the show and the thrill of a new episode, but what do you feel when you hear it, given your own journey?
[Laughs]. I definitely get very emotional about it, especially now that we’re coming to the end with Season 8 … we actually don’t use the main title melody that often. We have all these other themes throughout the show; the characters and the plot and so on, that get used all the time, but the main title melody we don’t use that much historically. We have used it toward the end of the season more and more, like the climax of each season. So it doesn’t get used that often, so when I do use it, it’s always exciting to pull it off.
Yeah, sometimes it comes up in different arrangements, like “Winter Is Here.” Are there moments when you choose to bring it back?
In certain key moments. Because the main title, it captures the whole show, really. It could apply to any character … We’ve even used it in combination with like Daenerys’ theme or something. But the nice thing about the theme is it kind of fits anywhere – like in Season 7 when it starts snowing, that theme felt like the right choice because it captures the overall drama of what’s happening at that moment in time. It’s nice to be like ‘Oh, I can draw from the main title now!’ It’s exciting for me too.
I love that version. It’s so chilling, calling back to all those early emotions while also pointing out that the path forward is uncertain. Will we be hearing the main theme in Season 8 at all?
There’s definitely moments when you – absolutely. Just like in every other season. If there is a season where we can use it, it’s definitely Season 8. It will show up…
Have you written new stuff that you’re really excited about for Season 8?
Ummm…definitely. I have to be cryptic. There’s definitely – just like in every season where we have these themes that are developed, there are definitely new themes and I’m very excited about them. I’m very excited for people to hear them … I don’t know! I’m horrible at talking cryptically.
Oh no, it must be terrifying to be in your position. I do not envy any of you.
I want people to be really surprised by what happens in Season 8, so I don’t wanna make any statements in any direction other than to just say that I feel Season 8 is sensational and epic and amazing. I think people will really enjoy watching it. I can say that I think.
Game of Thrones returns April 14.