It’s Sunday at 9PM. You and your friends gather around your television—or more likely, the HBO GO screen on your laptop—and settle in for the new episode of Game of Thrones. The cellos and basses strike that familiar chord, and you are transported to Westeros, the Wall, or wherever your White Walker heart desires. Though the sequence only lasts for 101 seconds, it has the power to convey an entire series worth of emotion and drama, building up to the opening scene. Regardless of where in the story the show left off the week before, “Main Title” composed by Ramin Djawadi, always seems to bring you back to the right place.
When the Game of Thrones soundtrack was released in June 2011, it was not so highly received by the soundtrack world. Though I am not exactly sure what there is not to like, It is possible that removing the audio from the visual and listening to it for its own merits could leave something to be desired. But when the song is combined with the opening sequence or when you can hear traces of it in each family’s song, you cannot help but get goosebumps.
The beauty of the soundtrack is found in its ability to express the tone of a character or the atmosphere of a new environment. Djawadi manages to compose music that supports a narrative arc, offers clues about the action of the drama without giving too much away, and ultimately provides his listeners with an even greater sensory experience than if they were to watch the show without it.
Even when the only thing that you can hear is a lone violin playing the “House Lannister,” the music still plays a crucial role in the story line, and you would be hard pressed to find a viewer that had not at least taken note of the score. As Cersei comes to terms with her forbidden brotherly love, the high-pitched violin sings the soft melody of her house’s song. Barely noticeable, this invocation of the theme is repeated numerous times throughout the series in order to call attention to the various plot lines and relationships.
When Djawadi masterfully intertwines the family themes or when he transposes them on to different instruments than those on which they are usually heard, you begin to hear the music’s versatility. So much can be done with the melodies that I was not surprised when I stumbled upon this gem:
A jazz ensemble named “Postmodern Jukebox,” led by Scott Bradlee, takes contemporary music and puts a swing or du wop spin on it. For the Game of Thrones theme, Postmodern Jukebox uses a “smooth jazz” feel, slowing down the main progression and inducing tapping toes rather than rolling heads. This rendition translates the rough sounding strokes of the orchestra to the soothing stylings of a saxophone and piano, conjuring images of Jamie Lannister in a top hat and Daenerys Targaryen singing at a speakeasy.
By transforming what is usually dark and action packed into a mellow and calming tune, Postmodern Jukebox exemplifies the magic of instrumental music. By tweaking the rhythms and playing with the voices of each instrument, they create a similar enough sounding cover that you can recognize it, but one that is distant enough from the original that you receive an altogether different vibe. Fortunately for the GoT fan, the melody itself remains intact so that behind the plucking of the bass and crashing of the cymbals, you can still feel the clash between fire and ice.
Photo: Pam Shu/The Georgetown Voice