We are fortunate enough to exist in the era of rebirth for television scoring. Where before there was no soundtrack (or, in the case of some shows, un-thematic minimalism), we now have sweeping thematic scores that complement fine dramas. And these scores don’t have to be complex, either. Case in point: Game of Thrones, the epic Fantasy on HBO that just began airing its third season. Note that if you have not seen this show, read at your own risk as there are some spoilers up to the end of season 2. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!
Of course, everyone knows the main theme, overlaying the title sequence:
It’s a fun little sequence. I also find it brilliant that the relentless ostinato presented here tends to show up when two or more story arcs or characters that began disparate start to become intertwined, or when we are at the doorstep of events that will have consequences reaching other story lines (since all of them are pretty much totally independent after the first few episodes of season 1). So to me, this is the “everything is tied together in the epic land of Westeros” theme, or literally the “game of thrones” theme, since that’s what all this convoluted plotting is about: taking the throne and keeping it. ‘Tis a phickle game, after all. 😛
Another “universal” theme I’ve noticed is the theme of the Crown (whoever happens to posses it at the time). It’s marked by two elements, actually, which usually coincide. One is the ostinato underneath:
And the other the main melody:
This shows up in some fun places, namely when Joffrey is promising to treat Sansa better and also when he orders all illegitimate sons of Robert Baratheon executed (in the second example, there is of course a darker, almost corrupted tone to the normally regal theme).
On a related note, I dearly hope Joffrey get’s what’s coming to him. There is literally nothing redeeming about his character, unlike EVERYONE else (some of whom have had pretty gruesome deaths so far). I can’t wait to see justice served, George RR Martin style.
One of my favorite themes in the show is the Stark Family/House theme. It perfectly portrays the Starks and the brutal northern lands they have to contend with. There is a quiet strength about it.
Of course, just because the family has a theme doesn’t mean that some of the members of House Stark don’t have their own. The honorable John Snow has one that reflects his honor and his struggle to maintain it in the face of adversity. It also shows us that a character theme doesn’t have to be complicated at all to be recognizable, effective and epic. It’s just an augmented triad!
Initially, I thought this was the theme for the Night’s Watch…as it seemed to only show up when we were looking at the enormous wall the Crows watch over or when they are reciting their vows:
But that was soon proven wrong when it started accompanying John Snow wherever he happened to be, even when he seemingly switches sides to join the wildlings. Even if it is still the Night’s Watch theme (possible given that he could still be loyal to the Crows), it always seems to be playing whenever he’s in the scene.
Keeping with the subject of very simple yet effective themes, the recurring line (and words of choice for House Stark) “Winter is Coming” has its own theme, largely due to its foreboding tone and painfully obvious use as a way to foreshadow the return of the White Walkers:
My other favorite theme is the theme for House Lannister. It is literally a drinking song Lannister men use as source music (meaning it’s within the show’s reality and not part of the score…actors are actually singing it). If you listen to the lyrics, you can plainly tell that it’s referring to Tywin and his utterly ruthless tactics.
Here’s an example of it in use in the score itself, which is obviously meant to represent Tywin specifically:
Daenerys is an interesting character, which is no doubt why she’s the only one with two themes. She has gone from a frightened, submissive little girl to the Mother of Dragons, ruthless and imbued with righteous purpose. This theme represents those moments of transformation…when you know you are looking upon the Mother of Dragons and, IMO, the one who is going to take the throne in a big way at some point. This is the first example of it showing up, where she refuses to be treated like an animal:
And here, where she hatches the eggs of her Dragons and discovers her true identity, is the pinnacle example (also notice the main title ostinato making an appearance!):
But of course, her character is nuanced. There are moments in which her youth and inexperience show through…moments where you still see the emotional, insecure side of her that she is required to hide from nearly everyone in order to maintain her leadership.
Then there’s the Lord of Light theme. This one tricked me early on as well, because it seemed to be Stannis Baratheon’s Theme for a while. Obviously the two identities are somewhat intertwined, as Stannis is being touted as the conduit of that god. But nowadays it shows up with the Red Woman more often than Stannis, who is of course preaching the loudest about this god.
The cool thing is that some of the relatively minor characters even have themes. Theon Greyjoy is a good example of this. His theme seems to indicate that he is slowly, ever so slowly growing into his own identity and becoming something greater after having rejoined his true house…which is why this might double as the House Greyjoy Theme at some point.
I find the score of Game of Thrones compelling. It is a perfect example of how effective thematic writing can be, even if the themes themselves are sparsely orchestrated and simplistically constructed…though I must level a few criticisms against it. First, the main title ostinato shows up so often as to wear on the listener at times. Second, while the themes are decent enough, the composer doesn’t always take it upon himself to develop them. Sometimes it’s just another statement of the same theme with the same orchestration. I feel like either he should force himself to spread his creative wings a bit or more of the budget (which looks quite large judging from the effects) needs to be thrown his way. Either way, I hope you enjoy picking these out as you watch…as though the ludicrously extensive world-building wasn’t enough to keep track of.