Theme songs are an essential part of a show’s personality. They encapsulate what the series is about through a few notes, a catchy melody, and the right amount of bass. The Game of Thrones theme song is perhaps the most recognizable theme tune on television today; it has been around since 2011 when the HBO fantasy drama first aired, and it was so impactful, that the sequel series, House of the Dragon, kept it for its opening sequence. But what makes the Game of Thrones theme song melody so epic in the first place? Why does it stick in our heads like no other? To answer these questions, we must start with the basics.
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The legendary Game of Thrones theme song, composed by Ramin Djawadi, takes some creative liberties with its structure. The series’ opening piece evokes the same sense of epicness and nobility that the show embodies, and to do so, Djawadi had to choose which instruments should be featured in the arrangement carefully.
Music aficionados would have already noticed that the theme song doesn’t have any brass instruments, which are quite common in fantasy pieces. The reason for this is that such instruments are usually reserved for “heroic” moments in film and TV. As any Game of Thrones fan could tell you, the series has many things, but true “heroes” are a rarity in Westeros.
This seemingly small decision to leave out the brass instruments in the Game of Thrones theme song already helps with establishing the mood of the series. It also ensures that the theme song sounds different from most other fantasy shows, which are known for their pompous themes. For something as complex as Game of Thrones, you’d need an instrument that can evoke an air of mystery, similar to the scheming nature of many of the show’s main characters; that’s where the cello comes in.
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Djawadi refers to the music in Game of Thrones as the series’ “musical palette.” Knowing that the Game of Thrones theme song in the opening sequence is probably the first thing that fans will notice about the show, Djawadi wanted to make sure it reflects the story of the show. He states that he uses the musical palate to replicate the atmosphere of the show itself, which is why the choice of the cello as the backbone of most of the show’s music reflects that same sense of dread and mystery that permeates throughout the series.
Of course, it all comes together when you notice just how much that initial riff influences the rest of the theme. We see it repeated in the intro – albeit a bit slowed down – as the main melody. Then, in the series, the riff appears as a frequent leitmotif when things are about to get interesting. It works on a subconscious level for the viewer: once you hear the few notes of the Game of Thrones theme riff, you know that whatever happens next is going to be big.
Finally, there’s the chorus section. It arrives right at the end of the Game of Thrones theme song, almost obscured by the rest of the epic ensemble. Although it’s a bit hard to notice, the chorus represents the emotional or mystical side of the world of Game of Thrones. Thematically, it makes perfect sense for it to appear so low, almost as a whisper blurred by the drums of war: it reminds us of the true force behind the events that move the world of Westeros – the magic of old and the new religions locked in a fierce battle for the control of the main actors in the ever-changing epic of Game of Thrones.
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Tell us, why do you think the Game of Thrones theme song is so epic?