On July 15th, HBO aired the premiere of the seventh and penultimate season of what has become a worldwide phenomenon: Game of Thrones. Indeed, this series has been praised almost universally for the fantastic acting, the cinematic storytelling, and the sheer scope involved in telling the interconnected stories of characters who,until recently, were spread out over two continents.
Be that as it may, there is at least one part of this groundbreaking show that I feel does not get the credit it deserves: the music.
Ramin Djawadi has poured himself into the score of the goings-on of Westeros and Essos, and it is abundantly clear. So to celebrate the show's seventh season, here are seven of my favorite compositions from this massive body of work.
1. Main Theme
Perhaps I'm being a bit too obvious, but can you blame me? This theme has transcended the show and entered our wider cultural knowledge. The moment you hear the opening chords, you know you are watching Game of Thrones. Much of the score for GoT can be played on solo cello, and this piece is no exception. The theme is driven by the famous riff:dundun-dada-dundun..." that switches back and forth between major and minor keys as fast as allegiances between noble houses. The whole thing builds to a full orchesta and a 20-person choir before ending with a musical question mark, leaving the viewer curious to see what happens in the show that follows.
2. The Rains of Castamere
Another obvious choice, the song of House Lannister is unique in that it is both a diegetic piece,(that is, a piece of music known, played and discussed by characters in universe) and a musical motif. Commissioned by Tywin, the patriarch of the proud family, the lyrics of the piece tell the tale of House Reyne and what happened to them when they dared rebel agianst a house with the military might of the Lannisters. With lyrics or without, it sends a message, and is one of the most haunting melodies in the score.
3. The Light of the Seven
Believe it or not, this ominous, foreboding piece from the Season 6 finale was the first time Djawadi used piano in one of his compositions for the show. This ensured that when viewers heard it, they would sit up and take notice. The piece is a masterclass in building suspense: the viewer is spell-bound as first the solo piano, then the organ, then vocalists, and finally the strings help light the fuse of the most deadly plot of the entire series, so far.
This piece is heard during the Season 3 finale, in the midst of one of Daenerys' finest moments: she has liberated all the slaves of Yunkai and been hailed as thier "myhsa", or mother. This piece ties together Daenerys' central theme, the main title theme, and the leitmotif Djawadi has established for fate and destiny, in case you hadn't figured out how important the girl with the dragons is to the plot of the show.
5. Needle (Arya's Theme)
I debated putting Season 4's finale (The Children) or the Stark's main theme (Goodbye, Brother) on this list but I loved this character and her theme too much to keep it off. Named for the younger Stark girl's weapon, given to her as a gift by her half- brother Jon, this theme, carried by ascending dulcimer notes and strings, is uplifting but also indicates Arya's long journey, both literally and as a character. A slight variant on this theme is heard when she travels to Bravos to train with The House of Black and White.
6. You Win or You Die (Joffery's Theme)
First heard during Joffery's ascension to the Iron Throne, this piece is a mutation of the established musical theme for House Baratheon. This serves to instill a sense of unease in the viewer, as well as foreshadow the character's cruel, twisted nature and his less-than-savory upbringing.
7. Three Blasts
As heard in the Season 2 finale, this piece is absolutely (no pun intended) chilling. We've seen the White Walkers coming from the opening of the pilot episode, but this is the first time the brothers of the Night's Watch get a good look at the biggest threat to the realm. The piece captures the sheer horror of the moment perfectly, crafting a soundscape like no other and slowing the iconic theme tune to the glacial tempo of a dirge.