Film Score Friday: ‘Game of Thrones” By Ramin Djawadi

Film Score Friday: ‘Game of Thrones” By Ramin Djawadi

I have a horrible confession to make. It’s something that eats away at me everyday. I have yet to watch Game of Thrones. Now, this hurts for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that I am such a fan of Fantasy and Sean Bean, yet here I sit writing a review instead of spending my precious time getting caught up with the show that seems tailor made for me.

Despite that I think I have been strangely fortunate, I have been eager to write a score review sight unseen. Usually I listen to the music, then see movie and let whole experience guide my opinion. For once I am able to judge a work based solely on how it works on the album. So lets see how that works.

Game of Thrones is actually not a film score, but rather the score from HBO’s hit new series based on the books by George R.R. Martin. It was written by up and coming film composer Ramin Djawadi, another in the line of talented composers who were shepherded into the film world by Hans Zimmer.

Unlike Klaus Badelt and Stephen Jablonsky, Djawadi has yet to have a break out hit score. He did write the music for Iron Man, but the sound lacked a tight, cohesive hook that tied the project together. If his work on Game of Thrones is any indication, this will be remedied very soon, Djawadi has crafted a moody, melodic master work that incites amazing imagery in the mind.

Like Carnivale, Deadwood, Rome and so many other epic HBO projects, Game of Thrones starts off with an amazing Main Title track that sets a very distinct mood for the next hour’s entertainment. The absolute strongest part of the score is the Main Title, and it nails everything you want to hear for the theme of an epic fantasy adventure such as this. Also like it’s HBO forebears, Thrones has a strong singular sound throughout the soundtrack album.

This actually represents what is usually one of my biggest complaints, they have to fit the music of nearly twelve hours of TV into one single disc release. Lucky for this album that wont come into play as I listen, because without seeing the show I can’t judge music on what’s not there, only on what they give me.

Upon my first sight unseen listen the music reminded me a lot of another epic TV adaptation of a classic novel, Sci Fi’s Dune. I have always held Graeme Revell’s score for that mini-series in high regard, so imagine my excitement as I listen to Djawadi’s music blow it away with a similar but far more complex sound.

Djawadi does a supreme job mixing emotion with epic, a trick that even the very best have a hard time with. I particularly enjoy the quite moments in the score, the arrangements he puts together call for some extremely interesting sounding instruments. Making the softer moments come alive with exotic sounds.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Main Title By Ramin Djawadi: It will come as no shock to anyone who has read to this point that I love the opening titles. This track has a magical quality to it. Already I have found myself playing it on a loop with my eyes closed, playing out epic tales of kings and queens in my head. To further show how awesome this track is I want to share with you the 8-Bit version.

Seriously, this track is so well written it is even epic by Nintendo Entertainment System standards. This is potentially a new high water mark for HBO opening titles, a network already praised for their track record with outstanding themes and intros. I would put this track on the same level as Carnivale and John Adams, two main titles I already consider as close to perfect as you can get. This track is enough to convince me Djawadi is capable of doing the music for any of the biggest, most epic franchises in cinema. I want to see him given the freedom to make a no holds bard, epic fantasy magnum opus score. Are they still making a World of Warcraft movie?

Jon’s Honor By Ramin Djawadi: This track is the one on the album that gives me a really wonderful mix of exotic subtlety, tense build up and finally epic pay off. The version of the main theme that gets turned into a pulse pounding bit of action music is just superb. If there is a complaint I can levy on this score, and many TV scores to be honest, is there is a tendency of having action or build-up music on the album and it means nothing. What sets this track apart from others is that it is truly a worthwhile track that brings a lot of unique elements to the album that make it stand out as a repeat listen.

Finale By Ramin Djawadi: If the Main Title is my favorite track, then Finale is my favorite arrangement of the general, main theme. This music stands shoulder to shoulder with most of the theatrical scores made for fantasy films in the last three decades. It just does everything so well, from the hints of exotic orchestration, to the hopeful yet reserved music that builds all the  momentum you need to be thoroughly swept up by the time it ends with the largest and most beautiful versions of the main theme on the album. I can only imagine how this music plays with the actual finale of season one.

Least Favorite Track:

The Assassin’s Dagger By Ramin Djawadi: The biggest problem with heaping such mounds of praise on the album up to this point is that it is hard to justify a least favorite track with out sounding like you are “reaching” to say something bad. This is why I am glad I structured this section as “least favorite” and not “this track blows,” because honestly this track isn’t bad. I count it as my least favorite because it is all tension building lead up with almost no real payoff, this music is likely vital to an importan scene, and the lack of payoff is likely a creative decision that has everything to do with the show, not the soundtrack album. That said, I don’t know that I would every purposefully pick this track on a playlist. It is just simple tension building music.

I really like the music on this album. It plays amazing as a single piece of music, and since I haven’t watched the show that is all I can judge it as. Another success in the score department for HBO. A resounding success.

Total Score for Game of Thrones:

5 out of 5

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  • John Larson
    July 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I thought this soundtrack could use live instruments and voices. The chase scene music could have been excluded from the CD. Good music for a show, not great for a CD. The opening theme song is a few notes playing over and over. The composer is fine; it’s the format for which the music was created that is not music friendly. And the production is cheap.

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  • David Posner
    July 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    The opening theme is great, and works beautifully with spectacular and unique opening credit sequence HBO produced for the show.  It’s a perfect marriage of the two.  Sometimes I find myself playing just the opening of one of the episodes I have saved on my DVR just for to hear and watch the credits.

    I was often amazed (in retrospect) at how little I noticed the score as the drama actually played out, however.  I think this is to Djawadi’s credit, that the music seemed to blend perfectly with the scenes and were a part of them, and never overwhelmed them.  But for the main title theme and occasionally closing credit themes, I honestly can’t tell you what the music was like for most of the show, but I do know it helped develop the mood and tension perfectly.  For me, that makes a very successful score.

  • Anonymous
    July 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    An interesting aspect of the use of music in the show that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on listening is that it’s used rather sparingly. It isn’t the great blaring symphonies you’d expect from lord of the rings but it suites the series well. 

  • Anonymous
    July 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    The show is great but it definitely transcends Sean Bean. I’d recommend reading the books first, but knowing most people won’t do that, the show has been a great way to convince them to.  

  • Anonymous
    July 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    The show is great but it definitely transcends Sean Bean. I’d recommend reading the books first, but knowing most people won’t do that, the show has been a great way to convince them to.