How Ramin Djawadi Uses Leitmotifs on Game of Thrones – A Video Essay

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In my first video essay, I analyze how Ramin Djawadi introduces and develops themes in his Game of Thrones score to communicate information to the audience, reflect character development and, of course, to pluck our heart strings!

So, which Djawadi themes are your favorites? And what do you think about the possibility of more video essays like this one? Tell me below.

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    1. Keep up the good work! Favorite part of the video: Jon’s democratic crownless coronation underscored with an energised rendition of his post-resurrection leitmotif

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    2. This was amazing. It’s amazing how the score can change your experience so heavily. If they had used different themes for certain scenes, it’d sort of change the whole thing. (Ex: Jon’s KitN scene playing Main Theme vs Stark/Targ/or Resurrection.

      This makes me miss my film and tv classes so much.

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    3. This was amazing! I’m a musicology student and this just made my day, as I am always trying to point out themes to my less music-nerdy friends, and end up mostly just confusing them.

      Djwadi is amazing!

      I hope you do more of these!

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    4. Great video Petra. Thank you for this.

      The music on this show is truly stunning and more content on analyzing it would be great.

      My personal favorite theme is Truth

      I also heard someone say that when the main theme is used it also signifies a shift in the balance of power in the game of thrones. To see this can see how it is used during blackwater and the watchers on the wall in the battle when the tide of the fight shift.

      For those interested and who speak spanish, there is some amazing content on youtube analyzing the various house themes and the jon and dany theme in extensive detail.

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    5. I had a little trouble hearing the referenced music in the video (but then I suffer from tinnitus.) Will don better earplugs and give it another listen (and viewing.) As always, great and thoughtful work, Petra.

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    6. Thank you, Petra!

      Very helpful and informative for someone as little musically talented as I am. Half of the time I don’t even recognise the themes unless they’re really obvious, lol!

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    7. Well done Petra. As a total layperson where music is concerned I appreciate someone who knows her onions – well her music – explaining the points referred in the video essay so succintly. (Well I know what I like but I’m not learned in music – I know EGBDF [because of the memory tool ‘every good boy deserves favour/fun’ for the notes written on the lines and FACE for those in the spaces I can very laboriously pick out very simple tunes on the descant recorder but that’s it). I would appreciate more such video essays because I found this one to be not too difficult to comprehend for a person like myself but containing enough information to be of interest.

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    8. Megan Stark,

      Thank you so much! It’s great to hear this from a musicology student since I have almost no musical education so half the time I’m not sure I’m using music terminology correctly. I’m just like “Hey, this sound is really cool! Ooh here it is again but different! Hope there’s a word for that!”

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    9. I want to thank you again, Petra, after watching for the 3rd time. I have no musical talent and know just about nothing about music theory and terminology, but you presented your points very clearly and accessibly.

      I’m very much a visual person, so I tend to “see” the few bits of music (leitmotifs?!) I recognise. As very abstract, mostly monochromatic animations, almost like gifs. It’s really difficult to explain, I’d have to draw it. But these mental gifs are quite consistent so I guess I subconsciously do recognise themes/leitmotifs or whatever.

      I will try to pay more attention to the music on my next rewatches… But I always get distracted by the pictures (GoT is often wonderfully “painterly”) and the spoken word (I’m also very much a language person, even by profession).

      And I see what you did there 😀 when you lamented that screen composers aren’t given the resources, creative freedom or the recognition they deserve! (Joffrey’s brutal treatment in S2 of the bard who accompanied Cat, prisoner Tyrion & co. to the Vale in S1.)

      I very much appreciate that WotW also has this type of more analytical content besides normal news of cast sightings etc. It makes the long night of the offseason more interesting and meaningful. Thank you.

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    10. Petra:
      singedbylife,

      Sorry about that. Sound editing/mixing is definitely where I am to improve the most

      As “technical” feedback, I’ll somewhat deny and confirm Singedbylife‘s observation. Everything was audible just the way it should when I listened with my cheapo earbuds, but without earbuds = through my pad’s inferior built-in “loudspeakers”, the music on the example clips from the actual series footage was somewhat difficult to hear. Not a major problem, just something that might be improved upon to make this or any other similar future videos even better.

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    11. Petra,
      I already left a comment on YouTube, but: I applaud you for this very informative video, Petra, nicely done! And it actually did help me out a little.
      Because I will go to the GoT Live Concert Experience next year in May. In preparation I started to listen to the soundtracks of all the seasons (and boy there were some surprises for me in there). I made a list the other day, which song belongs to which house/character, and now I try to figure out which songs are connected or not. So your video is another puzzle piece. 🙂

      So, which Djawadi themes are your favorites?

      Among my favourites are the House Baratheon theme, plus/including “The Throne Is Mine” and “Wildfire”. There is “The Children”. The newest addition is “The Army of the Dead”, oh, I love it! I am pretty sure there are a lot more favourites. I have to listen to the scores some more.

      And what do you think about the possibility of more video essays like this one?

      Yes, please! Especially video essays about the music. 😉 As I mentioned above, there are some things I am struggling with. For instance, are there specific instruments for just some characters or is Arya S1 a solitary case?
      Because on the soundtrack from season 1 there are the tracks 7, 12, 13, 18 and 19 and there is something similar to them. At first I thought it could be something from the Baratheon theme, but no. Although they seem to be connected through their titles, it’s always something king or Baratheon related. Right? Then I thought it reminded me of Littlefingers theme, but I am not so sure anymore. Is it an instrument? What is it? Or I am just going crazy.

      Maybe I am just a little too excited. LOL

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    12. Oh, and I love how you described Cersei’s new S6-S7 theme that was sparingly used but to great effect. Unstable, unpredictable… so, volatile.

      My “mental gif” of that music is like a violently shaking long carpet with flashing spears of light on top of it, all askew. Flashing and jumping, dangerous.

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    13. House Monty: For those interested and who speak spanish, there is some amazing content on youtube analyzing the various house themes and the jon and dany theme in extensive detail.

      I am interested. How’s the video called? Is it “El Tema de Jon y Daenerys – Análisis de Juego de Tronos”? If so, it has English subtitles.

      talvikorppi: I’m very much a visual person, so I tend to “see” the few bits of music (leitmotifs?!) I recognise. As very abstract, mostly monochromatic animations, almost like gifs. It’s really difficult to explain, I’d have to draw it. But these mental gifs are quite consistent so I guess I subconsciously do recognise themes/leitmotifs or whatever.

      That sounds like a very particular kind of synesthesia. A friend of mine has it.

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    14. Cliohna:
      For instance, are there specific instruments for just some characters or is Arya S1 a solitary case?

      I’m no expert but the Dany (esp. Dany/Dothraki) music has this specific horn sound and I remember reading an interviw with Ramin Djawadi where he says it’s a specific kind of “ethnic” or “folk instrument” (as opposed to the western standard philharmonic instruments) from somewhere in the east. (Ramin Djawadi actually specified where but I forget where.)

      How amazing is Ramin Djawadi to know all these instruments and how to use them to create the rich tapestry of music that GoT has. The man’s a genius.

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    15. Luka Nieto,

      Nah, I googled synesthesia a few years ago because I thought it might explain what my brain was doing, but I don’t think I’m truly synesthetic.

      It’s more like my poor, unmusical brain trying to make sense of music in a way I can understand/appreciate = turning it visual. As I understand it, true synethetics have consistent relationships between different sensory perceptions. I don’t. Sometimes my mental gifs focus on rhythm, sometimes a melody, sometimes on a single instrument, and they’re not consistent across all music (like D minor always being represented by the colour purple or something like that). It’s mostly monochromatic and very abstract with a dark background. A bit like the waving, weaving, flashing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) that I see every year in my northern country… Aah! Some people claim they “hear” the auroras. They’re probably aural (auditory and music oriented) people, whose brain is trying to make sense of the overwhelming visual experience, and translates it into an aural thing. Me, I’ve never heard a thing, The visual experience is what my brain handles best.

      Uugh, I’m getting a bit deep and messy here, but perception and cognition interest me.

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    16. talvikorppi: I’m no expert but the Dany (esp. Dany/Dothraki) music has this specific horn sound and I remember reading an interviw with Ramin Djawadi where he says it’s a specific kind of “ethnic” or “folk instrument” (as opposed to the western standard philharmonic instruments) from somewhere in the east. (Ramin Djawadi actually specified where but I forget where.)

      How amazing is Ramin Djawadi to know all these instruments and how to use them to create the rich tapestry of music that GoT has. The man’s a genius.

      Glad you mentioned that instrumentation! After viewing Petra’s excellent video, I put on the headphones to listen to one of my favorite tracks from Season 1 — Jon’s Honor. I always enjoyed it and now am convinced that Ramin used it to foreshadow Jon’s romance with Dany. Among the themes in this piece — The Wall, just a few notes from the instrument used in Dany’s Love in the Eyes, Game of Thrones, the Stark theme, Winter is Coming, and a few notes from the instrument used in A Raven from King’s Landing/Things I Do For Love/Needle. Petra, I would love to know your thoughts on this one!

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    17. Luka Nieto: I am interested. How’s the video called? Is it “El Tema de Jon y Daenerys – Análisis de Juego de Tronos”? If so, it has English subtitles.

      Yes it is that guys videos. When I first heard them when they came out they didn’t have subtitles but thats great it now has subtitles. Everyone should check them out.

      That one you mention on Truth was super insightful along with his recent Maester Aemon video and his look at how we can see Maester Aemon’s words about love being relfected in the different love themes of the show and how Truth is unique compared to those other themes.

      He also has videos on the rains of castamere, house baratheon, house stark and targaryan that are worth checking out although they are longer.

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    18. Bravissima, Petra–what a brilliant analysis. This time you weren’t using a Glass Candle but a figure-ative Glass Harmonica! I’m truly surprised you’re not trained in music because you’re so articulate about its use. So glad you did a video so we could hear (and see) your evidence. Discussing music, words do not suffice

      IMO, fans who analyse or predict the story but ignore musical motifs do so at their peril; Ramin Djawadi’s music is a *reliable* narrator. Perhaps D&D even tell him about future developments or the true subtext of an on-screen action. Early in Season 1, a raven from KL brings Ned news of Jon Arryn’s death underscored by what will become Littlefinger’s famous “Chaos is a Ladder” leitmotif in S3. We learn in S4 that LF had Arryn poisoned. Ironically, in 3.6 The Climb, LF’s music and his speech to Varys plays as the camera cross-cuts between LF and Sansa, ending on her crying because she’s literally missed the boat he leaves on. We occasionally hear the music again, but finally in 7.7, as it softly and slowly dribbling away as with LF’s oozing blood after Sansa and Arya cut short his climb. I’m not aware of a Sansa leitmotif, but if she pursues a climb of her own in Season 8, she may inherit his music.

      Over seven years, Jon, Dany, and Arya have acquired several themes, including Jon’s two love themes. Arya’s has grown organically. “The Pointy End” morphed into “Needle” by Season 6, still jaunty but incorporating Jaqen’s House of Black & White theme. She also gets a quiet ‘Intrigue’ theme, used when she’s making poisons and when she’s strategising or enacting a trap for an enemy. When Arya turns to go home in 7.2, she also gets back the Stark theme. In the WF Godswood, she learns the evil Littlefinger gave Bran the dagger to manipulate him. But she can’t hurt LF because he’s committed no crime and is protected by Guest Right. In Episode 4, Arya and Brienne spar in silence but finish on the ostinato you mentioned. The “intrigue” theme appears as Arya spots LF, and gives him that Death Glare. Djawadi just subtly hinted that she plans to assume Faceless Man mode to trap Littlefinger. Sure enough, after doing some lie-detecting on Sansa, Arya spies on LF and sees he’s up to no good. So she play-acts menace to Sansa to indirectly intimidate LF into making a fatal mistake the Pack can prosecute him for. In the scene where Arya hands Sansa the dagger to signal her, the intrigue theme plays once more.

      Djawadi is a genius, and D&D’s use of him is very canny. He may even know the show’s end. He’s so in demand as well as concertising, he probably needs months to compose the music. In the end, his score will tell us the truth.

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    19. Stark Raven’ Rad:

      IMO, fans who analyse or predict the story but ignore musical motifs do so at their peril; Ramin Djawadi’s music is a *reliable* narrator.

      I agree with this 100%. The music is incredibly revealing.

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    20. Excellent video, thank you for that. Absolutely agree with your analysis and for me the music is one of the things that makes GOT one of the best programmes on TV for a long time. I am off to Kings Landing from the North in May and I can’t wait to see and hear Ramin Djawadi ‘s music.

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    21. talvikorppi:
      Stark Raven’ Rad,

      Man, so much Aryasplaining.

      LOL. Guilty as charged! But I love and collect film soundtracks so I listen up all the time. And gods know, Winterfell this year needed some ‘splaining. Frankly, I was gobsmacked that Petra highlighted how very integrated Djawadi’s work is. And in a video!!!

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    22. A very interesting article. Never heard of a ‘Leifmotif’ before, but it makes sense. The use of a musical theme and with occasional variations on it depending on the scene and the characters involved. After all these years and just listening to the musical sound track of an episode, one could probably deduce the character the scene was written around.

      I especially like Arya’s theme played on the hammered dulcimer. The music for Dany’s scenes and with the dragons is great also, but not so keen on ‘The Rains of Castamere’ or its variations which for me sound a bit like a dirge! The main opening GoT music is brilliant of course and the variations on that… One day I must learn how to play that on my guitar 😉

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    23. Absolutely agree with everything posted above, and brilliant video, by the way.
      To me, the most poignant themes are definitely the Targaryen themes. It is not to say that they are better than any other themes, and I’m not particularly a Daenerys-fan, but they are so, so epic, they give me chills. To this day, the one bit of the OST I cannot stop listening to is “The Winds of Winter” from the S6 finale, with the Greyjoy-Targaryen mix (correct me if I’m wrong) in it. It just had the “oh damn, this is it, she’s FINALLY leaving for Westeros”. I actually believe that Daenerys wouldn’t be half as popular or likeable if she hadn’t some of the best visual moments of the show, accompanied by one of the most epic themes. It’s also particularly cool how the variations of the Targ theme also go in strong correlation with the “aggressiveness” of the action: if you notice the themes that play when Daenerys is on her own, or dealing with “politics”, or people, or even when her dragons are quite young, you have the Targaryen theme full on; but when the dragons grow and attack, as is the case of S6, you hear OST moments such as “Reign”, which is a much more “violent” score, so to say. I love the Starks as much as anyone, and their themes are brilliant as any other piece by Ramin Djawadi, but damn, whenever I hear the Targaryen tunes I wish I could push Daenerys over and ride Drogon myself.

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    24. Just had an opportunity to actually watch your video, Petra. Cool that you mention Wagner- I blurted his name out in hodor mode above as I saw there were no comments yet.
      Really inciteful video! Lots of thoughtful analysis, and some nice humorous moments. Nice editing as well.
      I absolutely love Cersei’s new(ish) motif- haunting, dangerous, and as someone said above, volatile. This woman is NOT TO BE TRUSTED!
      Very well done, cheers.

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    25. Thank You! I adore the music of GOT. Lots of fine motives and yes they are used in a Wagnerian manner, but Wagner was a revolutionary while Djawadi is a romantic. His style is certainly not Wagnerian nor revolutionary but I hear lots of respect and admiration for Samuel Barber in his score, especially the Stark theme, Dany and Jon’s love theme, and my favorite of his themes, the Maester’s theme, which I did not hear you mention.
      I’m looking forward to your future presentations in this respect and hopefully you’ll give the Maester’s theme a go then. 🙂

      Again, much, much thanks!

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    26. Thank you so much. I hope there are future episodes. Musical scores are something I particularly listen for when watching film or TV. Djawidi has been fascinating to listen to, in GoT, as well as Westworld. In S6 Ep10, the music was so dramatically different, and even the little bit we heard of it in S7 was dread-inducing.

      I’d love it if you analyzed a few key episodes and broke them down. I have some musical background, and appreciate any opportunity to hear experts discuss it.

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    27. Luka Nieto: I am interested. How’s the video called? Is it “El Tema de Jon y Daenerys – Análisis de Juego de Tronos”? If so, it has English subtitles.

      That sounds like a very particular kind of synesthesia. A friend of mine has it.

      There is a Spanish Youtuber called Jordi Maquavello and he has done excellent analysis of the themes for the major Houses and well as discussed the Jon and Dany theme extensively.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w78I1wvMM6o&list=PLD6JgtNNjAMAZ9RRUfGOEujlhX6HBvNaG

      You can find the Jon and Dany theme discussion compiled here, most of them have been translated into English: http://oadara.tumblr.com/post/167233479471/game-of-thrones-soundtrack-analysis

      There is another Youtuber who did an analysis of the theme for Game of Thrones (also in Spanish) that was really enlightening.

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    28. Such a fantastic video, Petra! I’m 100% a total fangirl for Ramin Djawadi. While his style is more reminiscent of Wagner, I feel that as far as innovation and emotional connection to his music, along with his relatively young age, he’s more of a modern day Mozart.

      As for my favorite theme, it was, is and will always be the Stannis cuts. His approach in the Battle of Blackwater Bay is made hundreds of times more ominous and terrifying by the accompanying score, and “Warrior Of Light” still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Props to Melisandre for surviving thus far and at least providing me with a pale shadow of the “Light” theme every now and then.

      Again, thank you for a fascinating analysis. I cannot WAIT to see live show in September.

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    29. What a fantastic video and explanation for those of us who love music, but who have no training whatsoever with what we’ve been hearing in the musical scores, you’ve explained it brilliantly. Djawadi’s score is breath-taking, and always has been, but you’ve motivated me to rewatch the entire series in the off-season, paying particular attention to the score. As another poster here rightly said, the “score is a 100% accurate narrator”.

      Thank you, and look forward to more of your fine analysis.

      BTW, here is the site with dates for the 2018 GOT Concert Tour.

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