MIGHTY MOVIES
Kim Renfro

'Game of Thrones' composer reveals last season's music secrets

(HBO)

Composer Ramin Djawadi had a formidable task ahead of him for the final season of "Game of Thrones." Back when he was working on the seventh season in 2017, Djawadi didn't know his music written for Jon and Dany would also need to play right as Jon Snow plunged a dagger into Daenerys' heart.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had "talked a little bit in riddles" about Dany's fate and the music Djawadi needed to write, the composer said in an interview with INSIDER on June 11, 2019.

"They said, 'OK, this needs to be a really romantic theme, but make sure that it's a love theme that can imply complications,'" Djawadi said. "That's how they started me out. They said things turn differently and things go wrong."


Their love "theme" (the term Djawadi uses to refer to the melody unique to a character's scenes that you can hear on the soundtrack) was worked into a track on the season eight score called "The Iron Throne."

Daenerys and Jon embracing just before her death.

(HBO)

The song played just as Jon and Dany kissed, mimicking the way she believed they were going to have a happy ending. But it was cut short, right as Jon stabbed his queen. Djawadi says "The Iron Throne" is one of the songs he's most looking forward to playing live later this year when the "Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience" goes on tour.

Keep scrolling to read INSIDER's full interview with Djawadi, in which he reveals the "positive" message of the final scene with Jon Snow.

Kim Renfro: The final song heard on the show, called "A Song of Ice and Fire," is obviously such an important endcap to the series. What were the emotions that you wanted baked into that particular track?

Ramin Djawadi: The thought was to really create a bookend to the whole show. We have our main title song that really represents everybody and the entire series, and we thought there's no better way to end the show than with our main title theme. But this time it was with a full choir. We have men and women and children actually singing it.

Jon leading the remaining wildlings beyond the Wall.

(HBO)

We've heard that main title so many times at every beginning of the episode, so we wanted to leave the show with that — including the very last note on our small dulcimer [instrument]. The main title ends when the title card goes to black and they have that little "dum dum ba ba bum bum" on the dulcimer, and those are the same last notes people will hear on the show.

Renfro: Did you have any conversations with showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss about what is going on with Jon specifically? I feel like the shows ends on this optimistic note, where he's half-smiling and there are children around him. The children's presence felt really important in that scene, because it's this mark of the future and possibility. At the same time it's a little sad, because he's going into exile, basically, and leaving behind his past life. Were there conversations about that?

Djawadi: Yeah, absolutely. The idea is really that he stops and he looks back, and then the main title starts, and it's the idea of a new beginning. It's supposed to be positive and yeah, like you said, the fact that there are children around and [other] people — he's not just by himself.

Jon taking one last look at Castle Black before heading into the North.

(HBO)

Djawadi [continued]: Originally [he was] with the Night's Watch, and you're not allowed to have a wife and children and all that, but this is him going out there with the wildlings, and you can interpret it like he's starting a new life. He's a changed man, and he's leaving the past behind, and so it's definitely supposed to be something positive. There are many possibilities now — that's how we can look at it.

Renfro: I'd to talk about Brienne and Jamie, and the music you wrote for their important scenes. How did you approach that aspect of season eight, and especially the romantic element with both of them?

Djawadi: What's interesting is their theme together came out of what I call the "Honor Theme" [...] over the seasons, when they met and the way they treated each other, it was always an honorable theme. So that became their music. And the other big scene which I loved so much there, when she gets knighted, it was used there, and then, yeah, then we basically every time, I'm pretty certain with the development of their relationship, their theme was playing.

[Editor's note: Djawadi's reference to the "Honor Theme" is likely a melody heard on the season three song "Kingslayer," as well as season eight's "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."]

Jaime and Brienne didn't get their happy ending.

(HBO)

Renfro: Some people noticed that the melody for "The White Book"has echoes of the season two track "I Am Hers, She Is Mine," which was what played when Robb and Talisa got married.

Djawadi: Yeah, I was going to get to that [laughing]. I just threw that in there because I thought it would be a subtle nod to their relationship. When she sits there and she thinks about him and writes down all the things he had done, the second half is the 'Honor' theme, but yeah a big chunk of that [song] is the wedding theme.

It's just a hint of what their relationship — if they had stayed together, if he was still alive — what it could have been. What they could have become. That's why I put that in there. I was amazed some people picked up on it. I was hoping people would go, 'Wait a minute, that's from season two.' And that was exactly my intent. I thought it would be very appropriate.

Renfro: People absolutely loved that. A lot of fans were so attached to their relationship, and I think that it was really special to get a hint at that dream. Like Jaime and Brienne could have been married in some alternate timeline.

Brienne writing down Jaime's deeds in the White Book.

(HBO)

Djawadi: Exactly. That was exactly my intention. It just shows the power of music, right? There were no words [in that scene] but by putting that in there your imagination goes [into] where this could have gone. I wanted people to have that emotion, and have those thoughts. I'm glad it was picked up.

Renfro: What was the most challenging scene to write music for this season?

Djawadi: I find almost everything challenging [laughing]. I guess maybe "The Night King." I definitely knew that I wanted to really try to wrap up [on the show] things nicely with all the themes that we know and have come to love, so there were opportunities for that, but there were opportunities for new things.

Obviously "The Night King" theme was our big new theme this season, and writing that piece was challenging in many ways. One is because we decided to for the second time in "Game of Thrones" history to really focus on the piano again. We felt this was an opportunity to have a big piano piece, and we wanted to call back to "Light of the Seven."

Djawadi [continued]: But then of course I had to reinvent myself, and here I was, thinking, "OK, how can I beat myself? I need to have something that has the same impact at this particular moment on the show and call back to 'Light of the Seven,' but it can't be the same piece."

If I had done an arrangement of "Light of the Seven" again it wouldn't have made any sense. Cersei was nowhere to be seen, and that piece belongs to Cersei. But it was a very long scene, just like "Light of the Seven." There were a lot of similarities, so I definitely made a connection [between them]. For example, I end up in the same key and tempo as the "Light of the Seven" by the end of "The Night King."

But I also [wrote it knowing] when the piano drops people would sit up and go, "Oh, piano's coming. This means something's happening now. What's going on here?" And the idea was that it would have the reverse effect. That you'd see the Night King on his final march towards Bran, and you'd think back to the Cersei theme and that this is all going his way and he's going to win and it's over.

We just had 50 minutes of action music and battle and they tried and tried, and they just can't do it. It was supposed to feel like a finale and that they were all going to die. And then of course the big surprise happens at the end.

Arya surprised everyone when she killed the Night King.

(HBO)

Renfro: I know for past seasons there were times when Benioff and Weiss would give you some advance notice of an arc that was coming, because you needed to start planting those musical themes a little bit sooner. Did you have any advance notice that Dany was going to die, or that she was going to have this kind of turn at the end? The theme you used for her and Jon, called "Truth" on the season seven score, comes back into play right as she's dying. Did you know when you wrote it that it was going to be a part of her death?

Djawadi: They showed me this season very early, earlier than any other season. But they weren't that specific about Dany dying back in season seven. We've had such a good working relationship; they always give me exactly the information I need to know at the time.

When I wrote [Jon and Dany's] theme, they said, "OK, this needs to be a really romantic theme, but make sure that it's a love theme that can imply complications." That's how they started me out. They said things turn differently and things go wrong [...] they talked a little bit in riddles.

To be honest, I never even thought about who was going to die, but I just took it as, "I need to write a love theme that has some drama to it, that can show complications." That's really the word they used, that things will go wrong and [it's] "complicated." That word gave me enough information.

The Jon and Daenerys love theme played during their season seven finale sex scene.

(HBO)

Renfro: So the "Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience" is coming back. I'm super excited. I live in LA now, so I get to go to the Hollywood Bowl version. What made you decided to go with an outdoor/amphitheater vibe versus in the indoor arena setup from the past two iterations?

Djawadi: We just want to try different things. The Hollywood Bowl is a historic venue, and performing there has been on my bucket list. With venues like the Hollywood Bowl and others in all the different cities, these outdoor concerts can be very special. It's just another way of performing it, and obviously the stage brings different challenges by being outside, but it's exciting.

I'm actually really majorly reworking [the show] right now, because there's so much material from season eight — we could have done a concert just with season eight alone. I'm trying to keep a cohesive story from seasons one through eight, which is tricky because I only have that limited amount of time. It's exciting that I have choices, which is great. So I'm in the process of doing that right now. I can't wait. Hollywood Bowl will be amazing.

Renfro: Is there a particular part of season eight you're most excited to perform live for people?

Djawadi: Well, of course "The Night King" because it's just a great set piece, and it'll be fun and exciting to perform. And another one, I have to say, is actually ["The Iron Throne"]. It'll be in there in one way or another. That's the theme from when Dany dies, and it was such an emotional scene for me to write. I'm just really attached to it. I think it's such a powerful scene, with Drogon, and so that piece is just special to me. I'm very excited to play that live with an orchestra.

Renfro: Well, I can't wait to see it. Thank you for bringing all this music to life, and congratulations on finishing out this series. It's really incredible that it's come all this way, and that you've been there from the start.

Djawadi: Thank you. I think it still hasn't caught up with me fully that [it's over]. The live concert tour is helping me with it, because I just don't want to let go, just how many fans probably don't want to let go of the show. It helps me to still be working on the music and just stay in that world longer.

And yes, looking back it's crazy when I think of how this all started out in 2011. And now with the concert tour, all this music that I've written and just going through it, I feel very lucky that I've been part of this. It's been unbelievable.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can find dates and ticket info for the "Game of Thrones: Live Concert Experience" here.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.