Whether you are a game of thrones Aficionado or not, chances are you’ve heard the driving strings and galloping drums of composer Ramin Djawadi’s iconic series theme. Throughout his career, Djawadi has composed the soundtrack for a wide range of major titles, from Westworld at Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in the video game Medal of Honor. But he is best known for instrumental pieces that brought vibrancy and drama to Lannister-ruled King’s Landing. Now Djawadi has been tasked with capturing Lightning in a Bottle again for HBO Dragon Housea prequel that chronicles the Targaryen family at the height of their powers, 172 years before game of thrones.
Before a mid-season time jump Dragon HouseDjawadi caught up The audiovisual club and discussed learning from Hans Zimmer, loving Post Malone, and how the landscape of Targaryen’s reign strikes a different chord in Westeros.
The AV Club: What are the different approaches you take when composing a film, a series or a video game?
Ramin Djawadi: I mean, overall, they’re pretty much always the same. I always like to sit down with my creators and get ideas for style and instrumentation before I even write anything. With game of thrones, It was so funny. When I spoke with [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] I said, “So what do you hear? What do you think?” they said, “Well, we’re very open, but we know we don’t want Celtic flutes. No flutes. So I was like, “Okay, I know not to go.”
Then I start writing theme ideas and pieces of music. Often the image isn’t out yet, the cut isn’t locked, or the digital effects aren’t done. But it kicks in, and you’re able to play things – then when the picture comes in, you can plug things in and say, “Oh, it works really well here!” and narrow things down a lot more to the picture.
With video games the big difference is that a lot of it is unimaginable because obviously you can’t lock the game music to the picture because you don’t know how long the player will be in this piece. Whatever the game, you simply create those bits of mood, action, tension or emotion. But otherwise, everything is pretty much the same.
AVC: How did you go about conceptualizing the new Dragon House theme and why did you decide to stick so closely to the original game of thrones theme?
DR: We decided to stick to this theme because game of thrones had been off the air for three years, and it was decided that we really wanted to tie the shows together. Because even though it’s brand new characters and it’s set hundreds of years before, we felt like it needed that stamp to say “This is game of thrones– it’s from another era, but it’s game of thrones.” We felt like the opening really tied it all together. Even in the first episode, I wrote new pieces, but thematically you hear the King’s Landing theme, you hear the dragon theme, so it’s very reminiscent of known themes to set the tone. But then we go, and as we get to know all the characters, there are new themes. I wrote so much music for the season.
AVC: In your opinion, what are the main differences between HOTthe world and OBTAINED‘s? How did these differences influence your choices with the score?
DR: Well, what’s interesting is that in this one, we get a lot closer to the drama of one family rather than all the different families. In the original version game of thrones, we had the Starks, the Targaryens and the Lannisters. So we were creating the family themes, and once in a while, a few seasons later, we had a small group theme. As Arya has her own theme, then we would have a choice between: do we stick with the Stark theme, or do we go with Arya’s theme?
But there, right away, we are dealing with a band of Targaryens within the family. The dragon theme was sort of the overall Targaryen theme, but we immediately zoomed in on all the different characters: there’s the Rhaenyra theme, the Daemon theme, the Viserys theme. There are a bunch of themes that are part of the family, so I guess zooming in closer is another way to look at it.
AVC: Would you say you have a favorite HOT theme so far?
DR: Who I’m really into this season is the Rhaenyra one, because it deviates a bit from the original tone. Whenever that happens, it’s always really cool. I feel like it gives him a lot of power. The first time she flew on the dragon, and then when she leaves and that theme plays, in episode three, that’s the first time we hear it. And Rhaenyra has more than one theme, there’s also another more emotional theme that she has. But this vocal one gives him a power that I think is really cool.
AVC: Your musical contributions to OBTAINED continue to attract huge streaming numbers. Why do you think audiences have stayed so connected?
DR: Look, we spent so much time with these characters – we really bonded with Daenerys and Jon Snow and all these great characters, and the themes really grew with them with each season. There is something that goes with you, and emotionally you attach to it. My goal has always been: if you’re listening to the piece of music, you want to know what’s going on in the scene. If you take the “light of the seven“, without even looking at the visuals, just listening to you relive that scene – “I remember, Cersei is here, in the room, drinking wine…” All those moments, I hope, musically, I’m telling this story and it puts you in Westeros.
AVC: What is the most valuable thing you learned from your debut with Hans Zimmer?
DR: He was such a great mentor. Obviously, I admire his music so much, but that was also a big part of the business in general. Because there’s so much more to it than just writing music – creatively you can learn all the tools and stuff, but it’s something that can’t really be taught. But just to work on a project with him, to see how he does his meetings, the organization, the recording sessions. All technical aspects, he is always at the forefront. I remember, when I first walked into his studio, my jaw dropped: I didn’t know what those faders and knobs and all were doing. It’s just something that can’t really be taught, on this scale, so it was just amazing to be able to work with him on these big projects that he’s done. It was an amazing experience for me, that’s for sure.
AVC: Do you listen to guilty pleasures, mainstream or not?
DR: I mean it’s really on all levels – the only thing I don’t really listen to is movie soundtracks. I listen to a lot of classical music, then I listen to a lot of pop music. We have 8 and a half year old twins, and I try to expose them to all sorts of things. Even jazz that I sometimes put in front of them, to which they are starting to warm up a bit. But then they definitely like classical stuff, and then of course pop music, I knew they would go that way, so it’s home all day. Post Malone and Billie Eilish and all those great artists. And I find them very inspiring! I mean, it’s good music.
AVC: Let’s talk about the reaction of fans to the news HOT theme. Given what you hear or see, do you think your vision of the score resonated?
DR: Well, my big thing is: I hope everyone is happy and also a fan of not only the music, but also the show. Because I’m a fan of the show myself, not just because I work on it. So I hope the music continues to inspire people and that they get excited about the new themes of the new characters, so that they kind of do the same thing as the original.
AVC: I loved the song that was introduced during Rhaenyra’s pre-wedding dance in episode five – it was the perfect haunting ballad to lead into a very intense sequence. How did you go about creating the track and what were you thinking when you scored the wedding?
DR: That’s a good question actually, because that was one of the times I had to read the script earlier. This music was written before they even started touring because the music had to be there first so they could choreograph the dance to it. So I read the script and we talked: what would a Targaryen wedding look like? How would the music be? We’ve got the drums, and that might not be what you expect from wedding music – tribal isn’t the right word, but the percussive element, there’s definitely a strong background there- inside. So it was fun writing it and seeing how they shot the scene. And then later it turns into a score, of course, when everything gets crazy, but I think there were three songs that I had to write before. So they were written over a year ago.
AVC: How does it feel to come back to this music, and come back to this world, after a long period of working on other soundtracks, like Westworld Where Jack Reach?
DR: It was amazing, because it was a three-year window, having been on the show for so long. But I still remember, when they sent me the first episode [of House Of The Dragon]it just sucked me in. I thought to myself, “Oh my god, I still have more to say about the game of thrones music.” Especially seeing all the new characters, I was inspired immediately, so I was really excited to come back and do more.