Game of Thrones. You've all seen it. You've all obsessed over it. You've all splurged over Twitter about how shocking it was when [REDACTED] lost [REDACTED] [REDACTED]. Season three has just finished airing across the world, and viewers are still reeling. Get ready to relive all that emotional trauma via the medium of soundtrack.
Disclaimer: there is no possible way that I can discuss some of this without spoiling what has gone before, so if you have not seen (or read) Game of Thrones up to the end of the third season, you read on only at your own peril.
So fucking hell. I try not to swear in my writing now, but what other reaction can I really have to season three? The sad departure of Ros, the hooker with a heart of gold (and crossbow bolt). Jon Snow showing Ygritte how good he is at heading south. Appendages being lost left right and centre. And that wedding.
I feel sorry for Ramin Djawadi really. Game of Thrones is not only a dialogue-heavy show, it's also a show with really freaking good dialogue so the music gets lost in the background a bit, seemingly only allowed to show up when they need a big epic moment. And (politely) not being a fan of Djawadi's film work, it's a massive surprise to me how good the music is when dwarves are not swearing over it. Of course, the place to start is that main theme. I always think a good measure of a theme is how many YouTube covers there are, and for Game of Thrones, there are a lot.
And why not, as it's a stirring theme, almost like medieval rock opera with its pounding motif and that exotic theme, bringing together the different lands of the giant melting-pot that is Westeros. Djawadi does a good job of musically identifying those lands, each having their own atmosphere and colour while still being a part of the same overall soundscape. For example, the parts that follow Daenerys certainly belong in the same ballpark, but have their own Eastern flavour. Dany's Khaleesi theme makes a welcome return in 'Dracarys', before evolving in the stunning quasi-religious climactic cue (albeit not track) 'Mhysa'.
There's an emotional side of much of the music that certainly doesn't seem to be that apparent on the show, but at the same time I imagine underpins the drama fairly well, to the point where I'd love to go back and watch again to see how the music is mixed. It definitely comes through on the album, with the reflective and searching 'The Lannisters Always Pay Their Debts', the delicate romance of 'You Know Nothing', and the introspective and bitter-edged 'Kingslayer', the latter of which features a wonderful violin solo.
And then there's the action. There's not a ton of it, but enough, with the building grandeur of 'Wall of Ice', the creepy insectoid tones of ''White Walkers', complete with a JAWS-esque motif. But none of that really compares to the JFK moment of season three, the Red Wedding. 'The Lannisters Send Their Regards' is a tense piece, building with thick strings and pounding drums before unleashing a soulful and painful emotional string melody that really brought back terrible memories of watching that sequence. Whether that's down to the quality of the music itself or the sheer heartstopping terror of the scene, I don't know.
On a cheerier note - well, okay, not really cheery - there are a pair of actual songs on here, each coming from the end credits of two episodes. From 'Kissed By Fire' we have the somber and sparse 'It's Always Summer Under The Sea (Shireen's Song)' as sung by Shireen Baratheon, disfigured daughter of Stannis. And then we have The Hold Steady's version of bawdy drinking song 'The Bear and the Maiden Fair', with a punk rock/Van Morrison feel that was a perfect contrast to the episode-ending severing of Jaime Lannister's hand.
The album ends with 'For The Realm', a solo guitar version of the main theme as performed by Djawadi himself, one of two alternate renditions of the theme, the other being the beautifully ethereal yet foreboding choral version as in 'Dark Wings, Dark Words'. Both are excellent, and the former gives the album a unique ending.
Game of Thrones is the best show on television, and while the music isn't always that visible, on the album it's of a similarly high quality. It would be nice if HBO put the isolated scores on the Blu-ray, but until then, there's no better substitute than this soundtrack.
GAME OF THRONES - SEASON 3 is available on July 8th from Silva Screen