‘Game of Thrones’ Composer Ramin Djawadi Talks Epic Score, Daenerys’ Dragons, and Metal ‘Thrones’ Theme

By Laura Ferreiro

One of the most memorable aspects of the uber-popular HBO series "Game of Thrones" is the epic theme song that begins each episode. Strings swell, drums beat, and cymbals clang, creating the ominous yet uplifting title theme that plays while the camera pans over mythical lands and the credits roll.

Ramin Djawadi is the gifted composer responsible for writing the "Game of Thrones" title theme song and the epic score that has helped define the critically acclaimed show, now in its third season and based on George R. R. Martin's fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire. It's not an easy job, since each weekly episode contains new music specific to the various characters and locations, and as any fan knows, there's a plethora of characters and places to keep straight.

Djawadi, who grew up in Germany and now calls Los Angeles home, says that when the series started in 2011, he and the show's creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, met to discuss the conceptual approach to the show. "They had a great vision," he says. "I brought my ideas and then I started writing themes. I wrote main title and themes for characters and locations. The one thing we wanted to focus on is not having a different theme for everything because there are so many characters."

The 38-year-old, Grammy-nominated composer says that they decided to use music to express the emotion and mood of each scene, and create distinct themes for just a few of the main characters. Some themes have evolved with their characters, such as Daenerys Targareyen's, whose theme has changed as her character has grown and transformed. "I like Daenerys--she has the dragons and she's so amazing and powerful," says Djawadi. "She's a good example of how when you look back to the first episode, when we planned her theme, it's not remotely as powerful as it is now."

The beloved character, known as the "mother of dragons," started out in Season 1 as a meek young girl, but in the current season she has become a powerful and fearless woman who leads an army and controls a cadre of young dragons. What started off as soft background music has evolved into an epic theme with orchestra swells and a full choir.

"What inspires me is the amazing story--it's unbelievably creative," says Djawadi, who admits he hasn't read Martin's book series because he enjoys seeing how the story unfolds onscreen. "There's so much there and the characters are so deep, there's so much to do musically."

The music has obviously resonated with fans, who have posted their own renditions of the "Game of Thrones" theme song on YouTube that have gotten millions of hits. There's a heavy-metal guitar version, a techno version, a rendition played on mandolin, and another one played on Carillon bells that rang out from the University of Wisconsin-Madison bell tower. "I love what people have done around the world with the theme…I love how creative people are," Djawadi says, aware that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Djawadi, who considers legendary Dark Knight composer Hans Zimmer a mentor and shares studio space with him, explains that some of the score is recorded live with a full orchestra and a choir, while other times he uses electronic samples to do the job. While the music for "Game of Thrones" contains many classical elements, it has an energy akin to rock music, as does the score for Iron Man, which Djawadi also composed.

"As a teenager I got really into rock guitar," he says. "Guitar is my main instrument and it came in handy in the first Iron Man film because [director] Jon Favreau said the main character is a rock star. He wanted his Iron Man character to be more rock 'n' roll--so I combined orchestra with guitars."

Djawadi is currently finishing the score for the upcoming sci-fi flick Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman and Idris Elba. "It's really larger than life," Djawadi says of the film and its accompanying score. "There's a big orchestra, and a choir--it has a really big epic sound."