When music and dragons meet: ‘Game of Thrones’ comes to the Forum

"Game of Thrones" composer Ramin Djawadi. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Winter is coming, and with it, music.

During a rehearsal for the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” tour last month in a giant Burbank studio hangar, an orchestra and choir performed the opening theme from the HBO show as footage of Westeros was projected on overhead screens.

A pyrotechnic crew then had all the players stand on the main “King’s Landing” stage as they tested a choreographed blast of flames on numerous satellite stages.

The ferocity and heat startled some of the musicians. “I hope I don’t miss my mark and burn up,” joked one percussionist to another.


Dragon jokes abound on the “Game of Thrones” live tour, where theme music from the show is performed by an orchestra and choir on seven stages that represent the seven kingdoms of Westeros. The performance is accompanied by special effects, projected images and footage from key scenes in the show’s story line. The spectacle includes a giant ice wall, swooping dragons and fire. Lots and lots of fire.

“In an abstract way, we’re re-creating moments from the show on the stage,” said the concert’s creator and conductor, Ramin Djawadi. He composes music for the “Game of Thrones” series, as well as another HBO show you might have heard of, “Westworld.”

“We essentially transform the Winterfell stage into the weirwood tree, “Djawadi said. “The violinist plays under the red leaves that the Starks often sit under. For the Greyjoy theme, the cellist moves to the Pyke stage. There’s actually water on the stage, so it resembles the Iron Islands.”

The 28-city tour, which stops at the Forum on Thursday, is welcome news for “Game of Thrones” devotees who’ve been holding out for Season 7 since last June. There are 3 ½ more grueling months to go before the show returns.

“The musical themes are almost characters on their own — there’s the Daenerys theme. The Dragon’s theme. The Stark theme,” said Djawadi, 42. “It brings a whole other level of emotion that’s so much more than just us playing songs from the show.”

Is the idea of a “Game of Thrones” concert weird? Maybe a little. But then, so is the notion of grownups binge-watching a show about a magical kingdom where giants, witches and the icy undead battle for an iron throne.


Since the tour began in February, fans have been showing up in full “Game of Thrones” regalia. “There’s lots of Jon Snows running around,” said Djawadi. “There have been a couple of Brienne [of Tarth]. The Dothraki are popular too. Oh, and one couple, she was Daenerys, he was the Unsullied.”

The fandom doesn’t end there.

When the diabolical Ramsay Bolton appeared on screen at Madison Square Garden, the crowd booed. When Arya Stark appeared, they cheered. “They also yell things out when they hear or see something that triggers them,” said Djawadi. “’King of the North!’”

Djawadi may be new to the world of live, theatrical performances of TV scores, but he is well known in the film and television world. His credits include scoring pictures such as “Iron Man” and “Pacific Rim,” the video game “Medal of Honor” and network television series like “Person of Interest.”

The German Iranian composer grew up in Duisburg, Germany, studying classical music and “watching lots of TV,” but he’s said that “The Magnificent Seven” was his earliest inspiration toward a career in film composing. Djawadi played in pop bands as a teen and in his early 20s before moving to Los Angeles (where he’s still based) to become an assistant for Hollywood’s master scorer, Hans Zimmer.

When scoring a show, Djawadi said, he lets the footage and story line dictate the sound, and each film or show has a core instrument.

“With ‘Game of Thrones,’ for instance, the cello is most prominent,” he said. “That dark sound. It’s very emotional. In ‘Westworld,’ it’s piano because in so many scenes there’s a player piano in the room.” And because the player piano is automated, “it turned out to be glue between two worlds, between the synthetic, electronic robotic world and the western acoustic world.”


Djawadi incorporates other instruments that make the “Game of Thrones” themes sound equally of the Middle Ages and fantastical. A hammered dulcimer for ethereal scenes. A Middle Eastern duduk for Dothraki moments.

“There’s nuances in there not only you can hear, but now see. I use a lot of eclectic instruments, so to see someone play it, it’s, like, oh, wow. That’s the sound I was hearing in the show!”

There are just eight core players on the “Game of Thrones” tour; Djawadi employs the other 60 singers and musicians from city to city. They have just one run-through before the night’s performance. “I know, everything should go wrong, but it hasn’t,” said Djawadi.

The soundtrack of “Westworld” is “an entirely different animal” from that of “Game of Thrones.” In the sci-fi western drama, Djawadi repurposes modern-day pop songs by artists such as Radiohead, the Cure and the Rolling Stones into old-timey saloon music pumped out of a player piano.

The idea for the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” emerged three years ago while Djawadi was going over scenes with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The music, they felt, was unique enough to stand on its own.

When asked if he could see any other of his soundtracks as the basis for a music tour, Djawadi’s answer was immediate.

“‘Westworld.’ I’m starting to have ideas for ‘Westworld.’ There’s so many cool themes to work with from that show. It would be something totally different. And there’s robots.”



‘Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience’

Featuring Ramin Djawadi

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood

Price: $39.50-$125