Music in Game of Thrones: S08E01 ‘Winterfell’

So the final season of Game of Thrones is off to a flying start, with more intrigue than you can shake a stick at in the first episode, ‘Winterfell’. As the final season airs I’m going to try and keep up with a musical analysis of each episode as we go along. Not just because the music in this show is awesome, but also because sometimes composer Ramin Djawadi leaves intriguing musical hints in episodes. 

‘Winterfell’ lays out all the plot lines that are going to be crucial for the coming season, so we’re music-light in this episode and dialogue heavy. But was a musical moment episode that made me raise an eyebrow, in the opening scene. 

Visually there are no surprises here. Season seven closed with Jon and Daenerys riding North, and S08E01 opens with them riding into Winterfell to a characteristically frosty reception from the sceptical Northeners.

Usually when there’s a union between houses, Djawadi combines the themes of these houses. Take for example season six, when Daenerys teams up with the Greyjoys. As the camera pans over the Iron Fleet, we hear Daenerys’s music. After a close-up of Daenerys, the Greyjoy theme gets added in to the mix in the lower strings:

So I was expecting to hear a combination of Daenerys’s music and the Stark theme for the entry to Winterfell. But instead, Djawadi gave us hints of Daenerys’s music — but the most dominant music was the Baratheon theme.

Hang on a tick. What?! The whole scene is strongly reminiscent of waaaaaaay back in season one, when Robert Baratheon rides to Winterfell:

Not only is the music similar, but so are the visuals. When Robert rides in, the scene is introduced from Bran Stark’s perspective. He jumps down from the tower, and runs into the courtyard to see the King and his entourage. In season eight when Daenerys and Jon approach, the scene’s also shot from a child’s perspective, and follows a similar sequence of events in reverse. He hears the army, runs to see them, and then climbs a tree to get a better view.

Maybe this is all just to highlight the similarities between the two scenes, and to give an overall sense of symmetry to the show. Season one started with a King riding to Winterfell, setting off a sequence of events that sparks the whole show. Season eight opens with a King returning to Winterfell — it’s the beginning of the end.

But in Game of Thrones music is power, and sometimes the cues can be very revealing. Take S01E01, when Catelyn gets a raven from King’s Landing announcing the death of Jon Arryn. We get what seems to be, at the time, music that’s unassociated with any particular house or individual:

But in season three this music is clearly associated with Baelish, in S03E06. Sansa and Cersei’s plans are thwarted by Tywin demanding they marry Tyrion and Loras respectively, which turns out to have been masterminded by Baelish. This is revealed in one of the series’ very rare moments of voiceover. The scene begins with Baelish confronting Varys in the throne room, and as he keeps speaking the camera cuts to Ros, murdered by Joffrey, and then to Sansa, sobbing. And under all of this music plays that has up till now been associated (or so we thought) with generic intrigue — here, Djawadi gives Baelish this music to indicate that at this precise moment, he holds all the cards. Baelish’s voice and music put him in the position of the omniscient narrator, controlling multiple plot lines simultaneously and setting in motion a series of events that leads to further destruction and death.

Djawadi’s been playing a musical game. We also find out in season three that Arryn was poisoned at Baelish’s instruction. So right from S01E01 Djawadi is leaving us a musical clue. It just takes three seasons to unfold.

So maybe there’s more to the Baratheon music than first meets the ear. The only Baratheon left around is Gendry, who also rides in to Winterfell with Daenerys and Jon. Maybe this is a clue that Gendry is going to be increasingly important as the season plays out? This might give further credence to the theory that Gendry is Cersei and Robert’s son, and therefore holds a strong claim to the Iron Throne. Certainly if the music is anything to go by, Gendry may turn out to be a key player in the coming season.

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2 thoughts on “Music in Game of Thrones: S08E01 ‘Winterfell’

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  1. Great analysis, but unlikely theory. As you wrote, the music, just as the visuals in that scene, mirror the first episode. In fact, the whole episode loosely mirrors the S01E01. The Baratheon theme plays because it’s the pompous kingly theme, signifying there’s both a king and queen coming – which turns out to be true considering jon’s ancestry. If the Baratheon theme was meant to be signifying somehting with Gendry, it failed, because the moment Gendry appeared, the music was focused on Arya. It defeats the purpose then, seeing that the baratheon theme truly had it’s significance for gendry when he found out his ancestry in the third season (and it was less pompous in that moment). Gendry’s role in the season will most likely remain minor, as it would serve no purpose to have him as a king candidate (and he himself doesn’t care for it), and his plot is in the show related pretty much to arya, davos and smithing. The Baelish reference was intriguing one, especially when my first thought was to comment that the theme is just a signifier for omnious happenings, but then i remembered that Baelish truly is the one behind jon arryn’s murder. Still, it might be seen in both ways. It would be good to know in which other scenes has that music been present.

    What striked me odd in this episode was Arya and Jon’s reunion being the only one lacking music. Could you perhaps comment on that?

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    1. Yeah I agree that it’s perfectly possible that this musical use is only part of the larger scenic mirroring with S01E01. And I’d be shocked if it’s Gendry on the Iron Throne by the end of the season! Nonetheless I’m surprised by how absent the Stark theme was. He mixes in Daenery’s music under the Baratheon theme – so why not Jon’s as well, if it’s just signalling King/Queen?

      So my read on the Arya/Jon scene is that the scene is consistent with the other reunions. There’s music until the dialogue starts, and then it stops completely. That’s the same as Jon’s reunion with Bran, where the Stark theme plays until Jon starts talking. Arya/Gendry reunion doesn’t get any music either, and Sam/Jon none at all until Sam says ‘I’m talking about king of the bloody Seven Kingdoms’, and then this use of music is to underscore the gravity of Jon’s heritage, not to do with their reunion. A quotation of the main title music begins when Jon says ‘Daenerys is our queen’, which usually only happens at moments of significant plot impact.

      However, there *is* a quotation of the Stark theme when Jon says to Arya ‘I’m her family too’ (referring to Sansa), and then hugs her. It ends with a dissonance as the scene cuts to Cersei at King’s Landing, which is consistent with the build-up of a sense of threat between the two families.

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