Even the most devoted fan will admit that Game of Thrones can be a confusing show. With a cast of a thousand characters, dozens of locations, and names that have way too many vowels to comprehend, it's a lot for any mere mortal to remember. Whether you can name (and correctly spell) all three of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons by heart or only know that one sounds vaguely like the word “dragon,” there is a great equalizer when it comes to the sprawling HBO epic: the music.
Perhaps no current television theme is more recognizable than that of Game of Thrones. For the past six seasons, composer Ramin Djawadi has created a musical language that complements the show's complex machinations. Every note carries a story, from the way the cello hums wistfully in Winterfell to the way it looms over the Lannisters in King's Landing. Now, fans will be able to watch Djawadi bring the Seven Kingdoms to life with the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a national arena tour that kicks off February 20, 2017, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The idea came from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss during one of their playback meetings with Djawadi three years ago. From there, things escalated quickly and unexpectedly. What was originally conceived as a one-night engagement developed into a full-blown tour, complete with an 80-piece orchestra, a choir, and seven custom 360-degree stages that were designed to replicate iconic locations throughout Westeros and Essos. King's Landing, the largest stage, will house Djawadi and the orchestra, while smaller stages — Meereen, Braavos, Dorne, Pyke, and Throne — will spotlight soloists. Finally, there's the Winterfell stage, the production's most kinetic setting. At one point the stage even transforms into a sacred weirwood tree with thousands of red paper leaves falling to the ground.
As if that wasn't enough, more than 800 feet of video wall was also used to create the more scenic elements of the show, immersing the audience in the familiar iconography of the Seven Kingdoms. (The team reviewed over 3,602 minutes of Game of Thrones footage to choose the perfect scenes.) The massive production reflects the size and scope of Game of Thrones, something that was important to Djawadi.
“We wanted something different and something new and this idea of this immersive experience,” the soft-spoken composer told MTV News on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, California, where rehearsals were under way. “When fans come to the show, they really relive their favorite moments from the show and feel like they're there, enjoying the music, seeing footage from the show, and feeling like they're in Westeros.”
“Anything Thrones-related, I always expect it to be huge scale,” actor Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm) said behind the scenes of the Live Concert Experience. “You're never prepared for what it actually is. Even the sets on the show, a lot of those sets are built, they're not CGI. You never get used to that. This was the same. Walking in, it's a lot of looking up.”
For Djawadi, the more arduous part of the process was putting the set list together. He wanted to feature key pieces. Some are obvious, like the familiar house themes that linger in his work (“Goodbye Brother,” the first piece of music he wrote for the series) and the soaring orchestration of Daenerys's triumph (“The Winds of Winter,” “Mhysa”). “Light of the Seven,” the standout composition from the Season 6 finale, also made the final cut. “‘Light of the Seven’ is the one time we have piano in it,” he said, noting that he'll step away from his conductor duties to play the piano and organ himself. “I'm excited to actually play an instrument.”
Meanwhile, other compositions will feature new elements. Djawadi has even written several arrangements specifically for the concert experience. “I've done some new arrangements, which are not on the soundtracks, and are just for this show,” Djawadi said. “That instrumentation came with the arrangements. Some instruments, because when I'm in my studio and I create sounds on my own or create my own instruments, we had to create and build especially for this live tour.”
Djawadi's original creations include a “12-foot Wildling horn” that will be played during the Wildling attack on the Wall (one of seven epic battle sequences that will be shown during the two-hour production). In addition to the Wildling horn, 11 rare instruments will be utilized in the symphony to recreate the score's unique sound.
The music of Game of Thrones has always elevated its emotional highs and lows, from the Red Wedding to the Battle of the Bastards. What's the Red Wedding without the ominous arrangement of “The Rains of Castamere?” Or Hodor's death without the sorrowful strings of “Goodbye Brother”?
“I remember when Hodor was going down, and I was completely overwhelmed,” actor Liam Cunningham (Davos) told MTV News on the Warner Bros. lot. “You can't put in the script exactly what is going to be seen, especially with a character who says one word. When he was holding the door, it goes beyond drama; it becomes more than a sum of its parts. Ramin is incredible about layering his music. It's not about standing alone. He bleeds life into a scene, he takes you on that journey.”
That's the power of Djawadi's score: It's inviting. “The Winds of Winter” transports you to the Narrow Sea with Daenerys Targaryen and her armada, the wind at your face. “Goodbye Brother” imbues a sense of melancholy and finality, the violins weeping for those you've lost along the way. “Light of the Seven” fills you with unease as Cersei's machinations are gorgeously rendered. Through Djawadi's compositions, a bombastic epic like Game of Thrones becomes an intimate experience.
That's the kind of experience people pay to see, even in an arena with thousands of screaming fans. And dragons. People also pay to see dragons, but apparently creating a full-scale dragon was the only thing that wasn't in the budget.
You can purchase tickets to the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience here.