Songs on Screen: 'Game of Thrones' theme is designed to make you feel ALL the emotions
Songs On Screen: Tributes by writers to their favorite musical moments from TV and film. Check out all the entries in the series here.
“Da na, nanana naaaaa, na na naaaaa.” If you’re a a human with ears, you probably already recognized that tiny onomatopoeia snippet as the opening refrain for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” There’s just something about Ramin Djawadi’s composition that takes hold of the listener by the throat and doesn’t let go.
Even five years later, the emotional returns haven’t diminished. Family members are still hushed as soon as the opening strain of notes begins to play; fans still want to experience the drums and strings move them through the aural journey of Westerosi adventure and betrayal in peace, thank you very much.
Can any other show say the same? The closest analogue I can come up with his the trumpeting fanfare that signals the beginning of a “Star Wars” film, which is the universal movie cue for “Shut up shut up shut up, it’s starting!”
Aldous Huxley once said “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music,” which seems apropos when talking about “Game of Thrones” theme. There are not accurate words to describe the emotion it evokes. It’s a longing for something, adventure or intrigue perhaps. It’s a flame of hopefulness that things will get better (both for the characters and humanity and general). It’s the fear of the unknown and betrayal. It’s all those things and none of those things and it kindles a different reaction in each person.
This is by design.
In a recent Song Exploder podcast, Ramin Djawadi discussed how he came up with the theme song. HBO wanted the music to take the audience on a journey. The whole piece is built around the opening violin rift, before running the gamut of human emotion through music. The theme begins in a minor key before switching to major and back again to portray the idea that backstabbing and betrayal can happen at any time. Djawadi chose the cello as the main instrument because it has a “dark” melancholy sound on top of which the other strings could be layered. The piece is composed to start dark and brooding only to become more upbeat and adventurous before moving to a shimmering sound of the dulcimer and a Scandinavian harp at the end to leave audiences with an sense of anticipation and uncertainty.
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