Westeros may have once existed only in the mind of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, but last night it came to life at the Forum in Inglewood. The popular HBO series took to the stage on its current Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience Tour. At the core of the Experience was the music — a live orchestra and choir performed the score from the show’s most famous scenes. At the helm of it all was the score's composer, Ramin Djawadi.
A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Djawadi has scored numerous motion pictures and television shows, most recently the HBO series Westworld. “We started setting this up over three years ago,” Djawadi says of the origins of the Thrones live concert. “[Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] said you should do a concert. I came back and said let’s do something that’s never been done before. I had this whole idea about this immersive experience. I felt that having an orchestra playing music to the picture has been done before, but [not really] making the audience feel like they're there.”
Djawadi definitely achieved his goal. From the moment I entered the Forum, I passed by Jon Snow, Cersei and Daenerys — or, rather, fans cosplaying as them. As all the Thrones fans took their seats, cosplayers and non-cosplayers alike (I, for one, was wearing my House of Lannister shirt), the show began with a hilarious announcement from Queen Cersei herself, followed by the iconic opening theme, which was played completely live.
After a few words from Djawadi, which included announcing that his mom was in the audience all the way from Germany and that the orchestra was Los Angeles–based, the arena was divided into houses. Banners flew down from the ceiling (I was very excited to be Lannister) as the orchestra played through the themes of every house. The show included many fun, interactive elements, such as the Sons of the Harpy masks the choir wore for one number and snow falling from the ceiling when we were taken north of the Wall. And, of course, pyrotechnics swelled up from the stage during the songs about dragons.
The crowd itself was perhaps one of the most important characters in the performance. The audience members definitely did not shy away from making their opinions known as scenes from the show played on the Jumbotrons. They booed Walder Frey during the "Red Wedding" piece, screamed whenever Ramsay Bolton was on screen and roared in applause when Jon Snow came back from the dead or when Cersei declared that she chooses violence. The audience also cheered during a special Los Angeles–only appearance by System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian, who sang “The Rains of Castamere.”
The crowd interaction is definitely not lost on Djawadi, who used to play in rock bands in his teen and college years. “One of the most fun parts about my job is that when the music gets recorded live at the end of the project and real musicians play it, I still get goosebumps every single time,” he says. “Performing it live [in front of an audience] is another step up from that. It’s just very, very special.”
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Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the live performance of “Light of the Seven,” the first piece of music from Game of Thrones featuring the piano; it appears in the season-six finale when Cersei blows up the Great Sept (and Margaery with it). Djawadi stepped away from his conductor duties for his favorite performance in the show to play the piano and organ himself on the piece. The performance ended with green lights and smoke permeating the arena, perfectly mimicking the wildfire that sealed the fate of the Sparrows.
Sure, television shows have attempted concert tours before, but often those shows have a basis in popular music (Glee and Nashville come to mind). It’s truly innovative and unconventional for a show to sell out an arena tour with just an orchestra and choir as headliners. This is a testament not only to how much of a cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones has become but also how much its music contributes to the success of the show. For a creative genius like Djawadi, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience is achieving a goal he’s had since childhood: “My dream that I followed and that I'm living now is that I actually always wanted to go to music college, play in a band, do a world tour and then eventually get into film music. The world tour never really worked out [until now, so] I’m kind of catching up on that dream that I always had.”