The Music Of Game Of Thrones

HBO gained notoriety with the adaptation of George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels  into the much decorated  television series the Games of Thrones. Capitalizing on favourite medieval tropes of knights, dragons and castles, George Martin (built a grim fantasy world that included lots of places and cultures surrounded by intrigue and power struggles that collected an enormous number of fans that HBO in turn used to create a number one series.  The fascination and attraction for Martin’ Song of Ice and Fire, along with HBO’s musical contributions, created one of the biggest Fandoms to date on the internet. The fan base for the music that Ramin Djawadi created for Game of Thrones has been growing exponentially with each series produced. There are orchestral songs,as well as, some songs that were based on ballads contained within Martins’ novels, most of the music was created by the desire to go outside the medieval/Celtic tropes.[1] In an interview Ramin shared how he began the creative process of creating for the series Game of Thrones.

The stories and characters contained within Game of Thrones allowed Djawadi to start the music softly and then layer by layer shape and create an interlaying web developing more complex themes as each season passed with more complex sounds.[2] He stated that each new season created new characters as well as new layers to old beloved characters, although he claimed he loved Daenerys, as she is a very powerful character like her powerful dragons and this was a good opportunity to shape the music to start softly and as her power and the dragons grow so too does the music.[3]

HBO assembled an enormous cast and world around the Game of Thrones’ map that appears as complex as the fan base that is following the hit series.HBO has produced a musical arrangement of songs that is growing as fast and large as Daenerys Targanryen’s dragons thanks to musical director Djawadi who had not even read Martin’s book before starting to creating the series sound track.[4] Djawadi was shown the first two episodes by directors David Benioff  and Daniel Brett Weiss then went away and created a master piece that gathered even more fans than just readers of Martin’s books. This rich fan base formed one of the most popular enthusiast audiences that used music to experiment, create and discover new interpretations or paratexts. Gray explains that these paratexts are where fans get “to play in challenging or supplementing those created by the industry, in creating their own genres, genders, tones, and styles, and in carving out alternative pathways through texts”.[5]As a wealth of fan studies literature has argued, fan-created paratexts can facilitate resistance to the meanings proffered by media firms through their own texts and paratexts.[6] When examining the many sites available on the web it is hard to begin to understand where HBO reality is and separate it from the created works of the readers/ viewers.  Many individuals have created their own versions of the songs ballads and musical arrangements presented by HBO and it is as Gray argues “the products of fan creativity that can challenge a text’s industry-preferred meanings by posing their own alternate readings and interpretive strategies.[7] He continues this argument with “Fans become active participants in the construction and circulation of textual meaning,” as well as their “fan and audience discussions alone can become a strong paratexts”, perhaps even stronger than originally presented.[8] It is as Gray continues these fan’s additions to the world that become or take on a life of their own separate (not just “canon” but “fanon” too, source and fan paratexts), so that the multitude of fan-created stories and variations therein becomes a work in progress insofar as it remains open and is constantly increasing; every new addition changes the entirety of interpretations. By looking at the combined fantext, it becomes obvious how fans’ understanding of the source is always already filtered through the interpretations and characterizations existing in the fantext.[9] The more popular than Game of Thrones becomes through fan created arrangements the more the “viewer-paratexts can reveal ways in which communities of audiences interact with and thereby create texts, not just ways in which individuals fashion them” thereby making the original product even more popular than in the beginning.[10] The many different arrangements and genres of music force Djawadi to extend and reach even higher with these “industry-created paratexts”,  these paratexts “call for subtle changes in interpretation, valuing the text’s various elements differently from industry-created paratexts, and opening up new paths of understanding”.[11] Gray examines “fan-made “vids” of popular film and television programs” and “focusing on a character study and relationship vids, or character specifically in Game of Thrones, he stated audiences gave a “capacity to create a reflective space in which viewers can engage more closely with the psyches, motivations, and specifics of multiple characters than they might be able to in the films or programs themselves”.[12] In most cases the created “vids” have as much weight and meaning as original character s/ music then presented by HBO. Case in point is when  Lara St John  a violinist wroteshe challenged HBO’s rendition of the opening music which according to her was created by a synthesiser  and not a real musician therefore, an insult to the music world.[13]

Lara St John’s REAL Game of Thrones theme (with live cello)

HBO rebutted the claimed  that the soundtrack that Lara St John was listening to was a fan pick created not by HBO and sent her the real version.[14]  This example of how the fan versions corrupted the musician’s puritan’s view although the original creator understood the benefit form synthesisers. It is interesting to note that Ramin Djawadi in an interview image  he began the creative process with the synthesiser and played every instrument then layer them for the beginning of the creativity, and it appears he understood the value of synthesiser and when to use a live audiences.[15]He stated he enjoyed using real musicians as well as orchstrals but there is a place for layer for effect.[16]

HBO’s award winning series gave the fan base many interesting stepping stones to be creative remake various hits in the Game of Thrones. When one takes the time to listen to how Djawadi created the music to tell a story by using all his previous experience with classical, multi  Games of Thrones is where the audience sees how deeply Ramin wanted to excite the audience and have them interact with the characters by making the music grow with each character season after season. Both directors Benioff and Weiss acknowledged that the fantasy worlds needed more than traditional flute music cultural and rock influences although he tried hard to stay clear of the sounds of flutes video  that was associated with Celtic medieval sounds and incorporate the cello that was moody dark and emotional [17]. That is not to say that fans did not incorpurate the missing intraments as seen with this flute cover of the theme song.

Game of Thrones flute cover by Wouter Kellerman

Djawadi acknowledges that although Game of Thrones is fan driven because of their love of Medievalism and Celtic sounds which naturally leads to a percussion driven feel he wanted to move away from the predicted sound and incorporate more emotions for character development as each become fuller and at a faster paces as with Theon, and Daenerys.[18]   When examining the opening songs from season and two, The Rains of Castamere and the Bear and the Maiden Fair, Djawadi clearly understood how to incorporate sounds, instruments and mood to support the characters with their triumphs and loses, and also when his orchestral sounds needed to be replaced with a modern twist.

HBO Game of Thrones “Official” Show Open (HBO)

Season one, in the Game of Thrones  opens with a map and the sound track softly playing. As the audience is move from one place to another the music builds changes and evokes emotions from a variety of places. The music is haunting yet metallic like the workings of a clock, ticking of the moments as you fly from place to place.  The music takes you a on journey of wonderment and curiosity never giving a chance to catch your breath.  The speed keeps increasing as the places fly by Whereby the Season Two Opening, the sounds begins the same and familiar to first season, however the clip increases like the hoofs of a horse, as you fly from place to place, the springs of clock are replaced by a metallic sounds of metal clashing and the speed increases until the end where it is fuller and leaves you hanging with a few soft bars of violin to add intrigue. The differences in the the songs within these two seasons, are as Djawadi states “growing more powerful like the dragons.”[19] Djawadi tells the audience that “sometimes I use these glass bowls for when we’re north of the Wall, so it really gives you this weird mood..We have this eerie glassy sound — even though you don’t see them, you know, ‘OK, that’s the White Walkers again. “[20] He uses sounds from glass bowls to reach out and bring the audience into the season of ice, cold haunting, breaking on the wall, with a layer the sounds of bells ringing layer on the cello for dark emotions wrapped around your senses.

Wall of Ice – Game of Thrones – Season 3 – Soundtrack

It can be argued that so far in the series the most important musical work beyond the title song is the song that harbors an eerie message every time it is heard. This is song The Rains of Castamere that is found in both the TV series and throughout the novels. This melody is haunting and is used by the show as a musical theme for the Lannister Family. The lyrics of the song are written my Martian and can be found in A Storm Of Swords [21]

the_rains_of_castamere_by_telumetar-d51qr99 (1) [22]

They tell the story of Tywin Lannister wiping out House Reyne, who is symbolized by the red lion, in contrast to the golden lion of House Lannister, this meaning of the song is not explained in the show until the third season, episode 8 with Cersei using this history to threaten Margery. The meaning of the song is found earlier within the extras of Season 1 the history of House Lannister, where the actions and song are explained, as well as, the reason for the title is alluded to in the pun of Rains and Reynes.

Game of Thrones . History and Lore . House Lannister

The meaning of this story and song grows throughout the course of the show, and builds over time, in order to be able to portray this threatening message that Cersei uses as well as the reputation of the House Lannister to the viewers. The tune of this song enters the show much earlier than the explanation and without the threatening tone, the tune is introduce with Tryrion Lannister whistling it in first episode of season two.

Tyrion: The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones)

This introduction does not truly reflective what the meaning and use of the song would evolve in to over the course of the rest of the series.For this semi cheerful whistling tune throughout the sires builds into a tune that will eventually carry a heavy message…”The Lannisters send their regards“.[23]

The next time the song is heard it is now with the lyrics and the meaning is starting to become more clear but it’s threatening tone is not yet apparent instead the tone is sad but the connection to the Lannisters is made very clear with its being called the “Lannister Song”.

Bronn singing the Rains of Castamere before battle

The soundtrack version of the song is the next version that the viewer hears and it is played at the of the Epsisode The Battle of Blackwater. This is where the creators of the show play with music and its variations. The show production at this point used mostly a orchestral score but the producers “producers surprised fans by enlisting The National to play “The Rains of Castemere” over the closing credits of the climactic “Battle of the Blackwater” episode. [24] This decision to use a modern band adds a layer to the complexity of this song’s use within the show for this version of the song is not hear in the story world it is the version on the season two soundtrack and has become one of the official versions.

20 The Rains Of Castomere – Game of Thrones Season 2 – Soundtrack

A discussion of the song Rains of Castemere and its uses within the show cannot be complete without an in depth analyses of season three episode nine entitled Rains of Castemere or the famously know “Red Wedding”. [25]

How the song Rains of Castemere and the use of this music connect to this most iconic of episodes is central to building message of Lannister power. HBO has released a series name Inside Season 3 and in the episode Red Wedding  producer David Benioff explains the importance and use of the Rains of Castemere.
Inside the Red Wedding

Benioff is quoted saying “it might be a happy wedding of course this all stats to change when you hear Rains of Castemere. [26]This moment where the band starts to play the song is very important for the show as it displays with one tune change the whole tone of the scene switches to foreboding and the song then is used as foreshadow for what is to come.This moment of recognition by Catelyn Stark  [27] is not something that the TV producers created but took from the novels within the chapter from Catelyn’s perspective,

“With scarcely a moment’s respite, they began to play a very different sort of song. No one sang the words, but Catelyn knew ‘‘The Rains of Castamere’’ when she heard it. Edwyn was hurrying toward a door. She hurried faster, driven by the music… And who are you, the proud lord said, that I must bow so low?” [28]
With this quote the reader is shown the power of not only one song but of the message that this song and the actions of that night hold for the Lannisters. Martians use of music is central to this chapter and his books, for the chapter continues with quotes like, “The music drowned all other sound, echoing off the walls as if the stones themselves were playing.” [29]

This message of power for the Lannisters quickly changes with the introduction of a new version of the song, by another modern band Sigur Rós in season four during the Purple Wedding in episode two.
Sigur Rós – The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 2)

The song is played with a new cover during the wedding of King Joffery Lannister, at first the songs foreboding tone do not register for this is the theme of the Lannisters and they are the ones in power, but as comes with the new tone of the song, the power of the Lannisters is in jeopardy.The progression of the meaning and message of this song grows through the series and it will be interesting to see where this theme is taken within the next season of the series.

Another of Martins in world songs has gotten interesting treatment by the production team and that would be the tavern song The Bear and the Maiden Fair.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair – Game of Thrones – Season 3 – Soundtrack

This is another of the tracks from the soundtrack that is by a modern band with the cover by Hold Steady. The producers told Entertainment Weekly that,
“This is one of the most popular songs in Westeros, beloved by nobles and commoners alike, sung at taverns and feasts and etc. We wanted our rendition to be bawdy and a little sloppy – drunken musicians getting up on the table and jamming while the rowdy party continues around them. There was no one better for the job than the Hold Steady, and the song they delivered has been stuck in our heads for the last four weeks.” [30]
But this is not just the addition of another non orchestral song to the song track but in the way the producer’s intergraded the song into the show. It was play in the ending credits of the episode Walk of Punishment. “It’s such a shocking ending and when we read the scene in the books it was so shocking to us,” the producer Weiss reported. “To really hammer home the shock of that moment you need something unexpected. There’s no version of a traditional score that would keep you as off balance as we wanted that scene to leaving you feeling.” [31] Producer Benioff said that could not just say to composer Djawadi, “Now we need the Jaime-gets-his-hand-chopped-off music,’” Instead what he wanted was the emotional shock he received from the ending of “An American Werewolf in London, … (where) our hero shot and killed and then his lover runs to embrace his dead body – it’s a sad ending – but then we cut to black and it’s [‘Blue Moon.’ And that jarring juxtaposition was fantastic.” [32]An American Werewolf in London Ending and Blue Moon

Comparing the ending of American Werewolf in London and the ending of Walk of Punishment producers received what they set out to do with this use of music. This did cause a stir in audience reactions and sparked a fan phenomenon where the fans went on creating their own alternate endings with different songs to further the juxtaposition of the seriousness of the movement and the soundtrack.
Jaime Lannister’s Hand – Alternate Endings

The Bear and the Maiden Fair like the Rains of Castemer had different versions with the show that has a different feel, as well as tune , as seen within the episode The Bear and the Maiden Fair.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair -Gary Lightbody’s cameo Game of Thrones

Not only did this version have a much different tone and feel to the Hold Steady cover but it was also a cover by a modern famous artist. This scene is a cameo of Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody who reported “So I did my scene this morning for Game Of Thrones. I looked like this. Can’t say much – just it’s no pivotal role. Fun! [33]This is not the only musical cameo of the show as reported,”when HBO’s Game Of Thrones required a drummer for an upcoming role in its third season, it sought only the most popular and famous of drummers, after deciding that stacking some. This was to be a cameo in the famous Red Wedding scene where in a review they viewer noticed as “we moved to a feast in a grand hall. Frey sprung for a band and notice Coldplay’s Will Champion is guest-cast as a drummer.” [33]
Will Champion in Game of Thrones

This involvement of pop icons ties the music of Game of Thrones with its fan base beyond that of the common viewer, into the realm of famous people using their fame to take the fan role further.
The music of Game of Thrones, they way it is used, its symbolism and they way it is interacted by fan culture make for complex study that leaves more questions than answers. The producers of the show use Martins written songs in ways that are unexpected and bring the lyrics on the page to life for the fans in ways that make the viewers contemplate their messages. The genre of music connects the books, the show and the fans together in a intricate web of messages and meanings that need further study.

[1] Victoria Ellison.”Game of Thrones’ Composer Ramin Djawadi: ‘I’m Just Trying to Create Something Magical’ (Q&A), APRIL 15, 2013 1 year ago.

[2] Ramin Djawadi, Mar 21, 2014, Interview,

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Jonathan Gray (2010-01-01). Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. NYU Press short.p.143

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.p.144

[8] Ibid.p.145

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.p.146

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

13] Jennifer Van Evra. Feb 18 2014,!/blogs/2014/2/Canadian-violinist-fixes-horrible-Game-of-Thrones-theme

[14] ibid

[15] Victoria Ellison,“Game of Thrones’ Composer Ramin Djawadi: ‘I’m Just Trying to Create Something Magical’ (Q&A) Hollywoodreporter. APRIL 15, 2013.

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] ibid

[20] Rebecca Hawkes. “Game of Thrones: 30 things you didn’t know” The Telegraph.June 9, 2014
[21] Martian, A Storm of Swords, 2000.Chapter 39.446
[22] Image. Noemi Tasarra-Twigg. “Let the A Capella Version of “The Rains of Castamere” Soothe You”
[23]Imgur.”The Lannisters send their regards.”
[24] James Hibberd.”Game of Thrones’ and the Hold Steady team for season 3 song “Entertainment Weekly. Posted January 17, 2015.
[25] Hibberd.’Game of Thrones’: See our Red Wedding invitation
[26]Youtube. David Benioff.“Inside the Red Wedding”. HBO 1:50.
[27]Josh Kupp, “GIF Of Thrones Recap: ‘The Rains Of Castamere’
[28]Hibberd.”Game of Thrones’ and the Hold Steady team for season 3 song
[29]Hibberd. “’Game of Thrones’: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime’s Big Surprise” Entertainment Weekly. January 17, 2015 .
[31] Paul Tamburro. “Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody to Cameo in Game of Thrones”. CarveOnline. July 25th, 2012.
[32] Sean O’Neal. Of Thrones seeks drummer, only members of Coldplay need apply. Avclub. Nov 6, 2012.–88416
[33]Hibberd.Game of Thrones recap: The Red Wedding” Posted Janurary 17, 2015. p.3 .


Ellison, Victoria.”Game of Thrones’ Composer Ramin Djawadi: ‘I’m Just Trying to Create Something Magical’ (Q&A), APRIL 15, 2013 .ttp://

Hawkes, Rebecca. “Game of Thrones: 30 things you didn’t know” The Telegraph.June 9, 2014

Hibberd James. “’Game of Thrones’: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime’s Big Surprise” Entertainment Weekly.  Posted January 17, 2015.

Hibberd James.”Game of Thrones’ and the Hold Steady team for season 3 song “Entertainment Weekly. Posted January 17, 2015.

Hibberd, James. Game of Thrones recap: The Red Wedding” Posted Janurary 17, 2015. p.3 .

Martin, George R. R. 2000. A storm of swords. New York: Bantam Books.

O’Neal, Sean. Of Thrones seeks drummer, only members of Coldplay need apply. Avclub. Nov 6, 2012.–88416

Tamburro, Paul. “Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody to Cameo in Game of Thrones”. CarveOnline. July 25th, 2012.

Van Evra, Jennifer, Feb 18 2014,!/blogs/2014/2/Canadian-violinist-fixes-horrible-Game-of-Thrones-theme


.  Noemi Tasarra-Twigg. Image. “Let the A Capella Version of “The Rains of Castamere” Soothe You” Forevergeek.

Hibberd, James. “’Game of Thrones’: See our Red Wedding invitation. Posted January 18 2015.

Kupp, Josh .“GIF Of Thrones Recap: ‘The Rains Of Castamere’


Youtube. Game of Thrones Season 4: Ramin Djawadi Music Composer Exclusive Premiere Interview.

Youtube. REAL Game of Thrones theme (with live cello).

Youtube. Game of Thrones flute cover by Wouter Kellerman

Youtube. Game Of Thrones “Official” Show Open (HBO)

Youtube. 08 – Wall of Ice – Game of Thrones – Season 3 – Soundtrack

Youtube. Game of Thrones – History and Lore – House Lannister

Youtube. Tyrion sifflant The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones)

Youtube. Bronn singing the Rains of Castamere before battle

Youtube. 20 The Rains Of Castomere – Game of Thrones Season 2 – Soundtrack

Youtube. Game of Thrones: Season 3 – Inside the Red Wedding (HBO)

Youtube. Sigur Rós – The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 2)

Youtube. 14 – The Bear and the Maiden Fair – Game of Thrones – Season 3 – Soundtrack


Youtube. Jaime Lannister’s Hand – Alternate Endings

Youtube. Gary Lightbody’s cameo Game of Thrones

Youtube. Will Champion in Game of Thrones