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The Game of Thrones Symphony
  • Composed by Ramin Djawadi
  • Silva Screen / 2017 / 69m

Highly lauded on its debut in 2011, HBO’s Game of Thrones has only got bigger and more popular as time has gone on, with its seventh season set to be shown this year.  Based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the series features dragons, breasts, fights, people travelling long distances for reasons that elude me, colourful language and plenty more.  I’ve rarely had much of a clue of what’s going on, but have watched every episode.

And each of those episodes has been scored by Ramin Djawadi.  My reaction to it has rather changed over the years – at first I was dismayed by the cheap-sounding main title theme, but 60 episodes later it’s hard to imagine the show without it; and I’ve found the episode underscores to be rarely noticeable and when they are, generally to be missed opportunities.  Because of that, I’ve never sought out the music on album – but now this new compilation from Silva Screen, dubbed “The Game of Thrones Symphony”, featuring music from all six seasons and coinciding with a concert tour of music from the show, distils everything down to a 69-minute set of highlights.

Ramin Djawadi

To say that these highlights have exceeded my expectations would be quite an understatement.  The 21-movement “symphony” gets going of course with the main title theme, which itself has grown immeasurably in my estimation over the years.  Of course it’s very simple, but actually, it’s just nice to have a 21st century tv show with room for an extended opening title theme like this at all, and the tune has become very recognisable and is actually very catchy.  Here, unlike in the show itself, the orchestra (the City of Prague Philharmonic, of course) sounds like an orchestra and not samples, the cello and choir each shining in a way I haven’t heard before in the piece.

“Goodbye Brother” is then the first of a large number of sombre, serious pieces – quiet and contemplative but with a bit of emotional oomph to it, it’s a great way to get things going.  Djawadi tends to write these short phrases, simply orchestrated, often with little pauses and this piece is a good example of it working well – it feels a bit like breaths being taken.  Next is the more dynamic “Finale” from the first season, with a real sense of forward momentum, the piece darting around the main theme with an interesting choral counterpoint added.  We slow down again in “Warrior of Light”, with quite ambient writing for solo cello over a bed of the other strings – at least until the percussion kicks in.  “Winterfell” is one of the most impressive pieces, including a really lovely section with a duet for oboe and flute which is quite gorgeous.

“Mother of Dragons” brings back the dramatic drive, fuelled by the percussion again, with a full-bodied rendition of the main theme for the orchestra and choir emerging to good effect late in the cue.  In “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts”, another new theme emerges, this one quite expressive and in some ways rousing, as it gradually builds.  As with most of the score’s thematic material, it seems to be related to the main theme, and it’s interesting to see how many different things Djawadi does with that.

The mean and moody “Dracarys” includes some enjoyably demonic chanting (who doesn’t like demonic chanting?) and a little action phrase that feels almost Goldsmithian.  Keeping up the album’s sequencing of light alternating with dark, following this is the choral requiem-like “Mhysa”, another very impressive piece of work.  “Two Swords” opens with an interesting passage where Middle Eastern stylings combine with the sound of a dulcimer, before it develops into another arrangement of Gerald’s Theme and then the earlier motif from the cue is developed further in the strained “You Are No Son Of Mine” which leads into an ominous arrangement of the main theme and then some very sombre, serious emotional material.  Included within that is a choral arrangement of the main theme, and there’s another one in “The Children”, very different this time: upbeat, optimistic, sunny.

It’s been a while at this point since there’s been much in the way of action, so “Blood of the Dragon” is quite welcome, with its distinctive piano colours, standard Remote Control string ostinato and percussion – it’s simplistic (all the music here is) but effective.  More dynamic is “Dance of Dragons”, with its elaborate percussion again bringing a Middle Eastern feel.  By contrast “Atonement” is another of those strained, emotional cues, again focusing on Gerald’s Theme.  Then comes some more demonic chanting – whispered, this time – to open “Son of the Harpy”, one of my favourite tracks on the album – the action is really full-on here, by far the best on display.

The most popular Game of Thrones cue to date other than the main title is “Light of the Seven” from the most recent season, a really fine ten-minute piece which opens with a delicate piano solo which gradually builds up and packs quite an emotional punch, particularly when the choir combines with the raw power of the pipe organ and all the religious connotations that brings.  I think a lot of people sat up and took notice when they heard it for the first time, not realising the composer had something quite this impressive in him.

Next is “Khaleesi” and here I will note that the show’s impact has extended in some unexpected ways: when I took my daughter to her playgroup one week and the children were introduced to each other, one little girl there was called Khaleesi.  I assumed this was a joke, but it wasn’t.  (The poor thing.)  The track itself is a good one, actually featuring an epic feel with the way the choir is used with stirring orchestral forces.  The final three tracks all come from the last season’s finale: “Winter Has Come” is an evocative piece, reprising the theme heard earlier in “Goodbye Brother”, quite beautifully it has to be said; “Hear Me Roar” is more of a slow-builder, a bit of a dirge; finally comes the impressive “The Winds of Winter”, a driving choral anthem that makes a perfect conclusion.

As you may have noticed, I really like this album, and am very surprised by just how much given how little impact the music seems to make within the show.  The gentler material is generally more impressive than the more outwardly dramatic (and is certainly better-represented, presumably for that reason).  The album is sequenced particularly well, and the performance by the Prague musicians flawless.  This is certainly a perfect album for those who want a highlights collection from the show and I suspect will be appreciated even by those who already own the six albums previously released from the original scores.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Thomas Wiley (Reply) on Saturday 4 March, 2017 at 02:07

    Hey, thanks for this review! I’ve been wondering about where to start exploring the Game of Thrones music, and this seems like the perfect place to start. Much appreciated!

  2. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Wednesday 15 March, 2017 at 23:49

    After listening to some of the tracks of the G.O.T. Symphony on You Tube, various covers appeared – from Asian teens playing their exquisite arrangement to the heartbreaking Cello variation by Adaptable & an energetic version by Break of reality. Then my favourite cover was on offer– by the GALWAY BUSKERS – THE HARP THE ACCORDION AND THE UGLY. The six musos perform on an overcast day, on a busy street in Ireland…throngs of passers by stop to listen to DJAWADI’S title theme…and show their appreciation by filling a busker’s hat with notes and coins. A lovely video to watch, and another gorgeous performance of Game of Throne’s popular main theme.