Game Of Thrones Music: Ramin Djawadi’s Ominous Score
Djawadi honed his sensibility at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions, where he still rents a studio today. Zimmer, of course, is the visionary German composer responsible for an outsize number of the past three decades’ trends in film music, with breakthroughs like the all-synth score for 1989’s Driving Miss Daisyand the pulsating orchestration of Christopher Nolan’s 2000s oeuvre.
Back when Djawadi worked at the studio as an assistant, Zimmer and his team of composers were agonizing over 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Specifically, they were stumped by Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom’s first duel, which was, for some reason, spectated by a donkey.
“If you don’t get the sword fight with the donkey right, you might as well bury the movie,” Zimmer told me recently. “Very quietly, the guy who was making the coffee, who I didn’t think played a musical instrument, said, ‘When you go home tonight, do you mind if I have a go at it?’ ”
The guy was Djawadi, and the treatment he came up with was “staggeringly brilliant,” Zimmer said. “He made it look as if it was a ballet. As if the music had been written first. You could tell it wasn’t just a good musician at work, but a really good brain at work.”
Zimmer’s influence on his former protégé can be heard in the throb of the Thrones theme song (shades of Pirates) and the thunderous brass brammmof its battle scenes (Inception-esque). But Djawadi also cites his Iranian-born father as an inspiration, and suspects that the time signatures of the Game of Thrones and Westworldtheme songs (6/8 and 12/8, respectively) were unconsciously derived from Middle Eastern music.
Compared with thework of scoring even a long feature film, serialized television demands massive volumes of composition. Consider: The eight Star Warsfilms that John Williams has overseen total more than 18 hours in running time. That’s not even as long as two seasons of Thrones.
Djawadi’s first hit TV show, Fox’s 2005 thriller Prison Break, ran up to 24 episodes a season. “I had to write 40 minutes in one week, which was insane,” he told me. “I learned how to write fast.” For Thrones, the seasons are shorter and the turnaround time cushier, ranging from weeks to months per episode. But the production process is far more elaborate. His Prison Break scores were made entirely on studio computers; for Thrones, with its cinematic ambitions, Djawadi writes the songs and then sends the notations to an orchestra in Prague.
It’s not just the quantity of the writing that makes TV a distinct challenge. Whereas a film has a clear beginning, middle, and end, a series unfolds over seasons and years, its direction not always clear even to its creators. On Thrones, George R. R. Martin’s unfinished book series provided a road map for the rambling story, but the showrunners had to invent new plot turns as the series began to outpace Martin’s writing. Djawadi needed to write a score capacious enough to evolve over seven seasons, pushing the conceit of “variations on a theme” to the limit. “He can think in large concepts and long arcs, which is really valuable,” Zimmer told me. “He’s thinking nine hours ahead about what is going to happen.”