Emmy spotlight: ‘Game of Thrones’ composer Ramin Djawadi delivers a song of ice and fire in final season score

Three members of the Night’s Watch wandering through the snowy, harrowing forests beyond the wall, then, suddenly, two of them get ambushed and slaughtered by White Walkers — all backed by an ominous, dark background score. Yes, even before composer Ramin Djawadi presented what became one of the most popular opening themes to a TV show in our era, he set the tone for “Game of Thrones” with his gripping opening track “North of the Wall,” one that warned us: No one and nothing is safe.

Now, eight seasons later, the HBO phenomenon has come to an end, and one thing is certain: Djawadi’s multifaceted, distinctive score quickly became an inseparable part of the show’s DNA. So what do we say to him not getting a farewell hug for the final season? Not today!

For consideration in Best Music Composition for a Series, Djawadi has submitted the third episode of the season, “The Long Night,” which gave viewers the much-anticipated battle between the living and the Army of the Dead at Winterfell. It’s an 82-minute battle spectacle that features few scenes that aren’t accompanied by Djawadi’s background score.

SEE Ramin Djawadi ‘can’t think about what the audience’s reaction might be to ‘Game of Thrones’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Bringing a final season to fruition, including scoring it, comes with the necessity of finding a balance between finality and throwback. In this case, it also comes with the additional burden of scoring an action-heavy episode that brings about the end of many favorite faces. But what is so winning about Djawadi’s work in “The Long Night” is that he weaves together new compositions with familiar character-centric themes, paying homage to the show’s previous 70 episodes and to fans that have seen every single one of them.

This is clearly felt in the episode’s opening track, “The Battle of Winterfell,” which is not only intertwined with Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) “Lord of the Light” theme as she arrives out of pitch darkness to save the night, but also the show’s opening theme as the Dothraki charge the non-visible Army of the Dead on an open field. With horn-like sounds in the background, the score gets you excited for this long-awaited battle but warns of the danger that lies on the opposite side of the field.

While director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner lay the groundwork for the episode’s nonstop suspense, Djawadi ups the ante by bringing back the harrowing White Walker/Army of the Dead tunes from the series opener and weaving them into a score that sounds like a clock that is ticking, most noticeably in “The Long Night, Pt.1” and “Pt.2.” Any fan-favorite character could die any second, and the score makes sure at all times that viewers are aware of that.

One of the most satisfying moments of the episode is when we finally see Arya (Maisie Williams) enter battle with her “Needle” theme playing into the intense notes of “The Long Night, Pt.1.” This is a character that we saw transition from a girl who wanted to fight to one who finally became a heroic, skilled warrior, now taking part in one of the most grueling battles of the Seven Kingdoms. There’s a confidence and an energy to “Needle” that demonstrates Arya’s unconditional determination to persevere, which is what her character had been building up to since the show’s inception.

SEE Top TV composers on what they wish they could’ve known when they first got started [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

But remember when the previously unheard sound of the piano first appeared in Djawadi’s nine-minute piece “The Light of the Seven” in the Season 6 finale “The Winds of Winter,” alluding to imminent danger? Well, the piano made a comeback in the final act of this episode and introduced Djawadi’s “The Night King.”

We’re nearing the end of this long battle, the living are on the losing side and all hope seems lost. The initial series of slow-paced mellow piano notes perfectly capture the dread but simultaneous bittersweetness of fighting a seemingly losing battle. As the Night King slowly approaches Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and all other characters pull take their last stand, the piano gets darker and much faster, and bass instruments are thrown into the mix. The dream-like, otherworldly score reaches its culmination as the Night King is about to kill Bran but is ambushed and killed by Arya. Overall, “The Night King” is a coherent orchestral that brings the circle to a full close, as it’s a sendoff to the Night King and his Army of the Dead.

After six nominations, Djawadi finally ascended the Emmy throne for the first time last year his Season 7 “Thrones” finale score, “The Dragon and the Wolf.” What’s significant about last year’s win is that he overcame vote-splitting with himself, since he was also nominated for scoring “Westworld”‘s “Akane No Mai,” and also beat 17-time nominee and four-time winner Sean Callery, who was in the running for “Marvel’s Jessica Jones.”

In the past four years, this category has strictly gone to a Best Drama Series nominee, which our combined Emmy odds have “Thrones” at No. 1. Plus, the final season is expected to get a farewell hug from the TV academy; Djawadi could benefit from the dragon-size wave of support for the show and go along for the ride. And even though the show was hit with a lot of controversy for some of its creative decisions in the final season, Djawadi’s score is seemingly untouched by it.

External factors worth mentioning are his rookie Grammy bid last year in Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for “Thrones” Season 7, and his 2017/2018 “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience,” where he performed highlights from the show’s score in front of a live audience in the US and overseas. He will perform later this fall in the US, with the inclusion of Season 8’s soundtrack.

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