Kurt shares his favorite instrumental music to read and write along with
Artist: Ramin Djawadi
Albums: Game Of Thrones soundtracks for seasons 1 – 4
Length: altogether 3 hours, 57 minutes
Sounds like: Dun Dun Da-Da-Dun Dun Da-Da
With the fifth season of Game Of Thrones approaching, I thought it’d be fun to review the music of the available seasons all in one fell swoop. The short version: they’re all good, but they’re all different. Also, they’re all readily available and they all include the iconic opening theme song—which is the only real must-have. So which one should you start with?
Start With Season 1 If…
You’re really into leitmotif. For the uninitiated, leitmotif is the practice—popularized by Richard Wagner (yes, that Richard Wagner)—of assigning recurring themes to characters and places. Djawadi uses leitmotif extensively, and this album features many of the important themes and does the most interesting development work with them. The King’s Arrival introduces the Robert Baratheon version of the “King of Westeros” theme. Here it’s a brisk string arrangement, but it’s reprised as a somber piano piece in You’ll Be Queen Someday. Goodbye Brother introduces strains from the theme for House Stark which is later fully developed in King Of The North. The most interesting by far is Daenerys’s theme. Light strains of it emerge under the Dothraki theme in Love In The Eyes. Elements from it can be heard struggling against the Essos instrumentation in When The Sun Rises In The West. Finally it emerges fully formed in Finale, where it builds from and finally overtakes the Dothraki theme. Cool stuff.
Start With Season 2 If…
You like atmospheric music. Season two follows the War Of The Five Kings, so there’s a lot of battle music here and a lot of dark, broody music (including The National’s excellent rendition of The Rains Of Castomere). New themes are introduced for the Red Lady (Warrior Of Light) and House Greyjoy (What Is Dead May Never Die). Old themes are twisted, as in The Throne Is Mine which melds the “King of Westeros” theme with the “Chaos” theme (best illustrated in Season 3’s Chaos Is A Ladder, but it shows up everywhere), which is itself a twisted inversion of the show’s opening titles. There are very few standout stand-alone tracks here, but the entire album stews and thrums mightily.
Start With Season 3 If…
You want the best songs. It’s not as listenable front-to-back as Seasons 1 and 2 perhaps, but if you’re looking for individual tracks to throw into a playlist, this is a great one. It has For The Realm, a fingerstyle guitar rendition of the main title theme. It has A Lannister Always Pays His Debts, a heartbreaking instrumental version of Rains Of Castomere. It has Mhysa, a delightfully uplifting choral rendition of Daenerys’s theme. And it has You Know Nothing, the Jon Snow love theme. A few brilliant tracks elevate this one above the others.
Start With Season 4 If…
Don’t start with Season 4. The music is a jumbled mess—by design, yes, but still a jumbled mess. There are no new themes introduced, to speak of, just a lot of mixing around of older ones. For example, the song Two Swords plays over the opening scene from the first episode of the season in which Tywin Lannister melts Ned Stark’s greatsword and has it reforged into two new ones for his son and grandson. During the song, the House Stark theme is stripped down and then morphs into Rains Of Castomere. It’s perfect accompaniment, and it’s great leitmotif, but better versions of both of those themes already exist elsewhere. Then there’s Sigur Ros’s laughably weird cover of Rains Of Castomere, as performed during the Purple Wedding. It functions wonderfully in the show, but it’s not something I would ever choose to listen to. It’s still good, on the whole. So, whether you’re just a Game Of Thrones (or Sigur Ros) completist or a full-blown leitmotif enthusiast, definitely pick this one up. But pick it up last.
Kurt Pankau is a programmer, musician, and storytelling enthusiast. He occasionally blogs at www.kurtpankau.com and often tweets at @kurtpankau. His short fiction has been featured in Quantum Fairy Tales, Daily Science Fiction, and once it even got produced for Wisconsin Public Radio. Fun Fact: He sings Rains Of Castomere as a lullaby to his kids.