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SYFY WIRE Emmy Contenders 2019

Emmy Contender: Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi unpacks the Night King's theme

By Jennifer Vineyard

Welcome to Emmy Contenders 2019. This month, SYFY WIRE is speaking to a long list of actors, artists, and artisans whose work earned them Emmy nominations this year. Today we speak with Ramin Djawadi, the Emmy-nominated composer for HBO's Game of Thrones.

Composer Ramin Djawadi is the rock star of Game of Thrones. He wrote all the music for the series and has taken it out on the road over the years packaged into a stage show called the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, in which he has appeared as both conductor and multi-instrumentalist performer. Now, with Game of Thrones a part of TV history, Djawadi is gearing up for a farewell run — a 17-city fall concert tour (although he'll only be taking personal part in four of the dates). He has reworked the show to incorporate more from the final season, including the Emmy-nominated episode, "The Long Night." ("Season 8 could have been an entire concert itself," he says.)

Djawadi chatted with SYFY WIRE about his final musical contributions to Game of Thrones, some of the famous musicians who have visited Westeros over the years, and The Night King's chilling theme.

Do you ever think back to the fact that you almost turned down scoring Game of Thrones, because there was a movie you wanted to do instead?

Oh, ever since the first episode aired and the way it took off! Oh, boy. I'm trying to think what film that was. I'm blanking on it now. It was so long ago. But yeah, I was just slammed, and I originally thought, "You know, I don't know if there will be enough hours in the day to do this." But somehow I pulled through. And now I can't even imagine not doing it.

Didn't David Benioff and Dan Weiss want some version of "The Rains of Castamere" to be the main title theme at first? Or at least David did, while Dan disagreed?

It's interesting that after all this time, that there are still things that pop up that I didn't know about! I don't remember there being an active discussion. Maybe in passing. Maybe by the time I was working with them, it had already been worked out, because I wasn't asked to write "The Rains of Castamere" until after the first season was over. They told me where the story was going with the Red Wedding, and I had to write a melody based on the lyrics in the books. It's interesting, because if they had gone that way, the main title would have related more to the Lannisters. By the time I started working with them, the discussion was about how the main title was supposed to capture the overall mood of the show, to stand for everybody.

I thought maybe that was why you redid "Rains of Castamere" with Serj Tankian as a more majestic theme for the soundtrack, as a nod to that.

No, no. The thing with Serj was just that he made a surprise guest appearance at the L.A. show on the first tour in 2017, and the response was so positive. They kept wanting us to release a recording, but you know, he's busy, I was busy, and we never got around to it. Then when we finished Season 8, I just couldn't let go of the show, and I thought, "What else can I do? One more thing?" And that's when this idea came up, as a bonus track, just for closure on this version. On the first tour, we also had Matt Berninger from The National, who did "The Rains of Castamere" for the show's end credits in Season 3. I think that was at the Las Vegas show. I don't know if I can tease yet who'll be coming up for guest appearances for the upcoming tour, other than George R.R. Martin at the Santa Fe show, which is a special show for charity.

Maybe you could get Florence + the Machine, since they've been performing "Jenny of Oldstones" live…

Yeah, people loved it! I can definitely say that "Jenny of Oldstones" will be part of the lineup in the new sets! [Laughs] But it's too early to tell. I would absolutely love to have Florence be on the tour, because I love what she did with that song -- it's just incredible. The version we're going to do is more of an in-between version combining Podrick's take and her take, because Pod's was very toned-down, almost a capella. The tour version is a longer, more arranged version of the song on the Season 8 soundtrack, although that version is an instrumental. It's closer to that, but it will be sung.

"The Night King" is the second time you've used piano on the show, after introducing it in "Light of the Seven," to accompany the horrors at the Sept of Baelor. Now it signaled that something was terribly wrong, but it misled us, making us think that all hope was lost, that the Night King would emerge victorious. How did you write the score to shape that scene?

That's a good question. David, Dan, and Miguel Sapochnik, the director of the episode, gave me the scene very early, and I just walked it around in my head. And I started thinking, "Okay, we have another opportunity to do a piano piece here." It's a substantial story moment, but there's even less dialogue in this scene than in "Light of the Seven." Just Theon and Bran, for a bit. So I had a lot of room for the music to really lead you. The sneaky part was, because of "Light of the Seven," you kind of look at the Night King the way you looked at Cersei, where she was the one winning. When the piano plays, you think all of our heroes are going to die — this is it. But it has the reverse effect at the end, when Arya shows up.

You also used some electronic music in this battle episode…

I've used electronic elements in the show, but not to this extent before. It was a real struggle in this episode. Whenever it became too orchestral, it felt too safe, so David and Dan kept asking for the music to be more abstract and weird.

You could have made it really weird and added a few electric guitars, to go for a sound like you created for the launch of the Fender Game of Thrones guitars, when you and Dan jammed with Tom Morello, Scott Ian, Brad Paisley, and Nuno Bettencourt. Or maybe you'll just save the big rock jam for the tour?

[Laughs] That was fantastic. Dan would pick up a guitar in my studio all the time and we would play there, so that was fun. And being in the room with my guitar heroes and being playing my composition with them? That was a blast. We kind of jammed it out on the fly. I could have done that all day. We will take some liberties on the tour. On previous tours, I played electric guitar on "Reign" and the audience reacted really positively to that. This time, though, we'll be staying fairly faithful to what the show is. There won't be a three-guitar rock piece happening all of a sudden. Although thinking about it now … that could be kind of fun. Who knows!

Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience 2019 Tour Dates

9/6 - Toronto, ON - Budweiser Stage

9/8 - Chicago, IL - Hollywood Casino Amphitheater

9/10 - Boston, MA - Xfinity Center

9/12 - Philadelphia, PA - The Mann

9/14 - New York, NY - Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater*

9/15 - Washington, DC - Jiffy Lube Live

9/20 - Jacksonville, FL - Daily's Place

9/21 - West Palm Beach, FL - Coral Sky Amphitheater

9/22 - Tampa, FL - MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre

9/24 - Alpharetta, GA - Ameris Bank Amphitheatre

9/26 - Dallas, TX - The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory

9/27 - Houston, TX - Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

9/30 - Santa Fe, NM - Santa Fe Opera*

10/1 - Phoenix, AZ - Comerica Theatre

10/3 - San Francisco, CA - Shoreline Amphitheater

10/4 - Irvine, CA - FivePoint Amphitheater*

10/5 - Los Angeles, CA - Hollywood Bowl*

*Featuring Ramin Djawadi