The composer for HBO’s dramas, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Westworld,’ also talks to ET about the Emmys and taking his scores on tour.
From the wintry wilderness of Westeros to the dusty desert plains of Delos, composer Ramin Djawadi is well-versed and deeply embedded in two of the buzziest shows on television, with his music providing an iconic backdrop to Game of Thrones and Westworld’s complex and beloved stories.
This year, the Television Academy took notice. Djawadi was nominated twice in the Outstanding Music Composition for a Series category for his work on the Game of Thrones season seven finale “The Dragon and The Wolf” and the pivotal Westworld episode “Akane No Mai,” giving him double the chance of earning his first-ever Emmy award after four previous nominations.
“It feels very rewarding because what a lot of people don’t know is how much hard work this actually is,” Djawadi tells ET. “I literally work every day and weekends. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of effort we put in. I didn’t expect anything at all, and then to get two nominations at the same time -- it was pretty mind-blowing, I have to say. I feel very honored, and it’s just unbelievable.”
The German-born Djawadi has been with Thrones since the beginning of the series, crafting dramatic and powerful soundscapes that have become embedded in the pop culture conversation. As he began work on season seven, two big elements were on his plate: the love theme between Jon Snow and Daenerys, and the music for the White Walkers, both of which came to the forefront in the finale.
“It was great to develop those over the episodes,” Djawadi says. “At the beginning of every season I sit down with [co-creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and we talk broad strokes about the music. Then, we go into even more detail where we hone in on every single episode and discuss where music should go and what it should do.
“The Jon and Daenerys love theme is a good example, because we kind of worked backwards with that one. As their relationship developed through the season, we didn’t want to play that as a love theme from the beginning, because their relationship needed to grow. So, I worked backwards. I wrote the theme first to the big scene in the final episode and then broke it down in the early episodes.”
Meanwhile, Westworld poses its own unique challenges for Djawadi, since many of the episodes interpolate popular music into the score. His work on “Akane No Mai” was especially critical because it finally introduced viewers into Shogun World, a Samurai-themed section of the park, leading to a transformation of the show’s music from Western sounds to Far East rhythms, including a unique twist on the Wu-Tang Clan classic “C.R.E.A.M.”
“With these songs, it’s actually [showrunner] Jonah [Nolan] that comes up with them and then he’ll send me on my way to do piano arrangements or orchestral arrangements or whatever he feels may be the right way to go,” Djawadi says, revealing that episode five also included a departure from the typical process. “The Wu-Tang Clan, in particular, was interesting because we actually did the music before they started shooting so that they were able to play this piece on set and do the choreography to the piece of music, which is really cool.”
The in-demand composer, who has stayed busy with a TV and film slate that includes Jack Ryan on Amazon, A Wrinkle in Time and Pacific Rim: Uprising, is also helped by the fact that Thrones and Westworld shoot at different times of the year. “When I work on multiple projects, I’m really good at dividing my days so I start in the morning with a clean slate,” he says.
While he has a bit of a break in his schedule, Djawadi is hitting the road with the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a multi-city North American tour during which he leads an orchestra and choir in performing music from all seven seasons of the show, complete with a tricked-out stage and state-of-the-art visuals that help bring the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros to life.
“It’s been a really fun thing to do,” the composer says of the tour, which first started in North America last February before moving on to Europe this summer. The new tour kicked off Sept. 5 in Vancouver before moving to the States. “I think it’s great to see that there is such a connection to film music and the way people react or connect to a character or scene. When we play the ‘Red Wedding’ or we play Arya’s theme, people just love it and cheer. It’s really exciting to see how they identify with the music and how they get emotionally carried away at these concerts. That was always the intention: to relive these scenes with the music in the foreground and enjoy yourself.”
Of course, all Thrones fans are steeling themselves for the final season of the show, which is scheduled to air sometime in 2019 despite rumors of delays. Djawadi isn’t sure how things are going to end, and but he’s eager to find out what’s in store from a personal and professional standpoint.
“It’s sad and exciting for me at the same time,” Djawadi says. “I’m sad to see this end, but at the same time, I’m really excited to be able to write a conclusion to this amazing series. People think I’m finished, but the fact is, I haven’t even started. I’m very curious, just like everybody else, to see what’s going to happen and what journey it will take me on musically. I can’t wait to get going on it.”
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience is currently touring the U.S., with performances throughout the country and Canada scheduled until Oct. 14. The 70th Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be handed out over two days, on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. A telecast of the awards will air Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.
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