[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season seven premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “Dragonstone.”]
On July 11, Ramin Djawadi stepped into the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles to conduct and perform his own music from the Game of Thrones score, in honor of the new season premiere. The next morning, he woke up to the news that his score for HBO’s Westworld was one of the show’s 22 nominees at the 2017 Emmys. Needless to say, it was an eventful twelve hours.
“I can definitely say it was quite a week,” the accomplished composer tells The Hollywood Reporter about his two recent major Thrones and Westworld moments. “Number one, I did not expect a nomination for Westworld, so I was super flattered about that. Very excited. And I had never performed at Disney Hall, so to be able to do that and to do it at the actual premiere it was absolutely amazing.”
But it was far from the first time Djawadi brought music from the Seven Kingdoms to a live audience. Earlier this year, he embarked on a live concert tour which showcased the Game of Thrones score, touring cities across the country. During this time, as he was revisiting Westeros’ past, he was also bracing for its future: work on composing new music for season seven was at hand, and remains at hand, as Djawadi is still working on the score for the final few episodes.
Here’s what Djawadi told THR about the winds and sounds of winter set to hit the air in the season ahead, beginning with his score for Dany’s dialogue-free Dragonstone homecoming. He also weighed in on how he first became involved with Thrones, how the live concert experiences fuel his creativity, his thoughts on the Westworld nomination and the series at large as it approaches season two, and the newest project on his docket, a film called The Mountain Between Us, which has tragically little to do with Gregor Clegane.
At the premiere last week, in introducing you to the stage, David Benioff and Dan Weiss told their story about how you came to work on Game of Thrones. What’s your side of the story?
It’s pretty much exactly what they said: I saw the episodes, I was blown away by it, I met with them, and I was really busy at the time already. I realized that the scope of the show was so big and I didn’t know if I had enough time to make it happen. A few phone calls later, they said, “Come on, Ramin. We love you so much. We have to make this work.” And I loved them so much and the show so much that I said to myself, “Okay, you’re not going to sleep for three months.” We just dove into it, and here we are: season seven.
How glad are you that you created the time to work on Game of Thrones, then? You’re more than Thrones, but there’s no question that this show is a central part of your life.
I’m so happy. I’m so happy I trusted my gut. Again, I loved David and Dan so much and we just clicked on that first meeting. I told myself I had to make it work and figure it out. And I did. The sleep had to give in, but looking back, it was the best experience I’ve ever had. We agreed on things right away. It’s so special. I think you can hear that in the music, that we understood what the language of this needed to be. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Even before the premiere this past week, you had taken the show on the road before, in the form of the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. For those who weren’t able to attend, what would they have experienced?
It would have been the perfect preparation for season seven, because it’s really a large recap of all six seasons. We sort of stayed in chronological order and played through the most iconic pieces of scenes from the show. We did it in a way that it was a very immersive experience. It wasn’t “just the music,” we had the visuals and we took it even further. We had pyro and fire for the dragons, and we created snow, and we had Weirwood trees… it was very visual. We wanted the audience to relive the whole experience and feel like they were in Westeros. It was so much fun. We had such a blast. And the audience really loved it. It was so great to be on that stage and really feel that response from the audience.
Did the experience of taking your music out on the road, and getting that live feedback, fuel the work you’ve come up with for this season?
Definitely. I’m a fan, too. I was just as excited as everybody else to see what season seven will bring us. I only get to see it a little bit earlier than everyone. On the tour, I didn’t know what season seven would bring us. I was just as excited as all of the fans in the audience about playing the current music we had and looking at the current scenes, and then every night saying, “Okay, everyone get ready for season seven.” That included myself. I was just as pumped about it. Writing season seven, I was very inspired of now seeing where it’s going and pushing further with the melodies and new themes.
Once you started settling into season seven, what were your thoughts on what this year of Thrones needed to sound like? For instance, winter is here. In the premiere, we’re seeing snowscapes in places that were lush and green before…
What I really love is that every season, it kicks things up another level. Whenever I think that isn’t possible, then I see the material. The dragons are huge now. Everything is really expanding. So the music has to do the same. There’s a lot of really great and emotional scenes coming up. Just Dany arriving at Dragonstone, that was a five minute scene with no dialogue at all — just her touching the sand. It was a big music moment. I’m really expanding on that and using a lot more orchestral elements now, because there’s such a size to it. Normally we would go bigger with the orchestra toward the end of the season, but this year we were able to bring it into the very first episode.
Daenerys’ arrival is historic both for the show and within its universe. This is her first time in Westeros since her birth. Did the music have to have a royal quality to it?
Absolutely. I took her theme and the dragon theme and rearranged it in a way we hadn’t heard it before. Royal is actually a good word, because there’s a use of the French horns in that scene that would normally not take such a leading role in her music, other than action music. There was something very royal about her walking the halls and into the throne room. That’s why I changed the instrumentation and the arrangement quite a bit.
There are also quieter moments: Dany touches her hand on the beach for the first time, and we take a break from the feeling of a march to war. Was that important as well, capturing the personal nature of Dany coming to Dragonstone, and not just the mythical nature of it?
Exactly. It was a very internal thing for her. I wanted to make sure I captured her as an individual and her internal feelings as well. Being born there and now actually walking back there. When she rips down Stannis’ banner, I even put a little bit of the Stannis theme there. It was carefully planted.
What is the name of the piece? Is it called “Dragonstone”?
To be honest, I would actually have to look it up! (Laughs.) When I do the soundtrack, I can only do a selection of the pieces from the season, and then I summarize and pick some of the names. Since I’m still working on the show, I haven’t even had time to name the pieces. It’s probably safe to say that that’s what this piece should be called.
Season six concluded with “Light of the Seven.” Entering this season, did you feel any pressure to top it?
I put pressure on myself every season, even before season six, that I want to push forward with new themes. I just want to top myself on the season before. At the same time I’m trying not to think about it too much. I’m just trying to write good music and hone in on what’s right for the show, and that leads me to write what I write.
“Light of the Seven” was notable in that it brought piano into Game of Thrones for the first time. Did you find yourself experimenting with new instruments again this season?
Definitely. We always try to have some new instrumentation, some more subtle than others. But there are some developments. The music though, just as with the rest of the show, I don’t want to say too much. We’ll have to see how things unfold over the next couple of episodes.
Turning away from Westeros, I wanted to ask you about Westworld. First of all, does the Emmy nomination still feel surreal, a few days since the announcement?
It’s so exciting. I’m very proud of the whole show. Twenty-two nominations is just incredible. Westworld is another show that’s very special to me. I’ve worked with Jonah Nolan on several projects. I really love collaborating with him. And the show itself is very special because I loved the original Westworld as a child. Now working on the remake? It’s just incredible.
Season one featured memorable covers of great rock songs. What went into the selection process? Was it mostly your choice, or was it done in consultation with Jonah and Lisa Joy?
It came from them. They would pick the songs. I was always happy because every song they picked, I liked it too, so that was great. The songs would always come from them: “How about we do a Radiohead song, or Paint it Black?” Then I would go in and do the arrangements.
What was it about Radiohead that made them such a muse?
I think it’s because Jonah, Lisa and myself were all big Radiohead fans. Some of the lyrics… just the vibe of that band seemed to fit really well and into the world of Westworld.
When is the Westworld Concert Experience happening?
Well, we’ll see. (Laughs.) I definitely already have ideas for it. Let’s see what season two brings us. There’s already plenty of material. Season two starts soon. Who knows? After that, I would love to do a Westworld tour. I have a ton of ideas. I cannot wait [for season two], now that Game of Thrones is kind of coming to an end.
And what’s next until then? Still finishing work on season seven?
We’re pretty close to the finish line. And then I’m working on a feature film: The Mountain Between Us. The director is Hany Abu-Assad and it stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. It’s a great story and a fantastic director. I’m a big fan of both of the actors. Very excited to start working on that.
Learn more about the season’s music in the video below:
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