The Best Music Of ‘Game Of Thrones’, Ranked
The night is dark and full of bangers.
At one minute and 40 seconds — a lifetime in the world of TV themes — the Game of Thrones opener is an epic piece of music that puts you in the mindset for dragons, murder, and more murder.
— Spoilers ahead, obviously —
The ‘skip intro’ button has become a feature on most streaming services, but it underestimates the role opening themes play in setting the tone for what’s to come. The sweeping opener of Game of Thrones is a vital part of the show’s appeal, as it prepares us to enter the shadowy world of the seven kingdoms.
The music of Game of Thrones, which conjures all the grandeur of the fantasy series before a second of footage has aired, often gets overlooked in favour of the series’ more salacious elements.
The score comes from Ramin Djawadi, a composer whose work can be heard in blockbusters like Iron Man and Pacific Rim, as well as the TV series Prison Break and Westworld. Djawadi got his start working with composing legend Hans Zimmer, contributing music to films like Batman Begins and Pirates of the Caribbean, before going solo.
The musical highlights of the series are a combination of Djawadi’s magnificent score and the songs of Westeros, often performed by soldiers, minstrels and Ed Sheeran. They don’t have much to sing about in Westeros, but they do try their best to rhyme wedding with beheading.
In honour of the finale, here’s a look back at the best musical moments of Game of Thrones.
#10. ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’
Who doesn’t love a good sing-along? Especially when it takes your mind off all the murder. Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol makes a short cameo as a soldier of Locke (Noah Taylor), a bannerman of Lord Roose Bolton who captures Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. The song is mentioned several times in the novels so when it came to the show, George R. R. Martin provided the lyrics and Djawadi produced the song.
In the track, a bear rescues a maiden who was expecting a knight (think a Shrek situation) and it carries significance due to the number unlikely alliances in the series like Sandor and Sansa, Daenerys and Jorah Mormont (whose house signal is a bear), and Brienne and Jaime (who encounter an actual bear). The Hold Steady recorded a full version of the song that plays over the credits.
The closest the series gets to giving Arya a Rocky theme. Braavos was no picnic for Arya, training to be ‘No One’ was brutal, so to witness her get the upper hand was one of the rare fist-pump moments in the series and the music makes this moment soar. Needle weaves together Arya’s theme (‘Valar Morghulis‘) with an uplifting melody to match Arya’s personal victory.
#8. ‘Jenny of Oldstones’
Before all hell broke loose in the final season there was time for a nice song. As forces gathered in Winterfell to await the arrival of the White Walkers, in a subdued moment, Podrick (Daniel Portman) sings ‘Jenny of Oldstones’. The song first appears in the book A Storm of Swords and it’s about a Targaryen who gave up his claim to the throne to be with a commoner.
The song alludes to the situation between Jon and Daenerys, and it’s great when a tune does a little thematic heavy lifting on the show. Portman’s vocal performance is excellent, but he was one-upped by Florence and the Machine who recorded a version that played over the credits.
Remember when Daenerys was freeing slaves instead of burning innocent people alive? Good times. Daenerys frees the Yunkish slaves in the final moment of season three and they chant, ‘Mhysa’, which means: mother. Daenerys steps into the crowd and they lift her up on their shoulders like it’s the 1998 Big Day Out and the track ‘Mhysa’ kicks into gear.
The score is a combination of Daenery’s theme (‘Love in the Eyes’) and the main theme, and it’s one of the show’s most enduring moments before things got…crispy.
#6. ‘Goodbye Brother’
Djawadi composed a theme for each house and one of the most evocative tracks is the one associated with the Starks. When you hear this theme, you can picture the family and the weight of their honour and responsibility. Lots of melancholic sounding strings that carry the burden of House Stark, probably hanging out in the freezing cold crypt.
#5. ‘Lord of Light’
Dark magic is afoot when you hear Melisandre’s Theme, a creepy combination of strings, organs, chants and synthesisers. Outside of the themes for each house, Lord of the Light perfectly enhances the mystery surrounding Melisandre to create a sense of unease.
#4. ‘The Night King’
People complained they had difficulty seeing anything during the Battle of Winterfell, but you could definitely hear the epic score. Djawadi wrote triple the amount of music because of the episode’s run time and it moves beautifully from the anticipation of the White Walkers’ arrival to the gigantic, bone-crunching life or death battle.
Right when all hope is lost and The Night King closes in on Bran, the score slows down to a single piano (a rarity, we’ll get to that in a sec) and we brace for the worst. But then Arya does her knife trick, the White Walkers turn into Slurpees, and we’re left to mourn the aftermath of the battle with sombre violins.
#3. ‘The Tower’
The biggest reveal of the series, Jon Snow is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, has a score to match its significance and it’s a heartbreaker. You can hear touches of the Stark’s theme as a young Ned Stark makes a promise to his sister on her deathbed to protect Jon Snow. The score then hits an orchestral peak as it confirms the parentage of Jon Snow. Chills, every single time.
#2. ‘The Rains of Castamere’
The most cursed song on the show because terrible things usually happen whenever it’s sung. The tune is favoured by the Lannisters because it details Tywin Lannister’s bloody victory over a group of rebels. Throughout the series it’s sung, whistled and featured in bits of score.
‘The Rains of Castamere’ is featured during two of the most shocking events in the series: The Red Wedding and Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. In fact, in the latter, the band Sigur Rós make a cameo as musicians performing the song before Joffrey throws money at them to go away. If you want more of this hexed song in your life, The National recorded a version that gives it new levels of darkness.
#1. ‘The Light of the Seven’
A piano solo is rare on Game of Thrones and Djawadi chose the instrument after the show’s writers and producers tipped him off about Cersei blowing up the Great Sept to claim the Iron Throne. ‘The Light of the Seven’ is a haunting piece of music that works perfectly with the slow reveal of Cersei’s explosive plan. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Djawadi said there was pressure to create something new and no rely on familiar sounds:
“Any kind of character theme could tip it, and we didn’t want to tip the audience,” he said. “Miguel [the director] brought it up: ‘What about the piano?’ We discussed it. The piano is not really in the language of the Game of Thrones score…there’s really nothing like it. The piano has this decay and attack at the same time. We even experimented with the harp, but the harp was not as haunting as the piano.”
Of all the huge moments in the show, the game-changing scene in season six finale is driven by Djawadi’s score for 9 minutes as it starts with the isolated piano and builds to unsettling choir boy vocals, organs, cellos and violins as King’s Landing is left in ruins. Unforgettable.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.