It’s nearly impossible to be sentient in America at this point and not at least be aware of what Game of Thrones is. The show has already made history as being one of the most beloved, obsessed over and highly awarded shows in television history. This is doubly impressive considering before this program came on the air it almost never happened in TV that a fantasy series was bestowed with so many accolades. That’s right. Until George R.R. Martin’s universe of not-so-medieval knights, swords and dragons made its way to the small screen, many people regarded fantasy programming as silly content, made for nerds or those not interested in high-minded writing or drama. This show turned everything on its head. Scrambling forever what could be considered high drama over a whopping 73 episodes, and taking high fantasy to truly operatic heights in the process. The story was grand in scope, and the work from top to bottom was some of the most labored after ever on television. Tonight at the Hollywood Bowl, the show’s composer Ramin Djawadi staged his final show of what he’s called the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. This mostly orchestral affair allows him to conduct and perform with an orchestra and a choir many of the best soundtrack cuts he wrote so well for the show. The show as a whole—for better and for worse—was a reminder of how just supremely excellent the show was.
Flanked and backed by three large video screens, Ramin Djawadi was introduced by his adorable six-year-old son. He took to the center stage podium and opened the show with the main title theme. With the exception of “Three Blasts,” which is the music from the finale of the second season where the white walkers approach the men of the Night’s Watch hiding atop The Fist of the First Men, the show from there largely went chronologically through the show with the setlist. All of the best moments were represented both aurally and visually, the screens showing artful montages of the scenes the music was written for. There’s the infamous execution of Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen falling in love with Khal Drogo, even Daenerys’ slaughter of the slave masters at Astapor. Rarely are songs introduced by name so the cues are largely based on the show’s most pivotal scenes.
Djawadi’s players are led by three stellar soloists: violinist Molly Rogers, cellist Cameron Stone and vocalist Leanna Holly. Holly typically performs lead vocals on any song that has singing. The epic Lannister family theme “The Rains of Castamere” makes an early appearance fronted by her and that melodic motif then shows up again numerous times throughout the evening. It’s a piece of the characters in the show, as a certain character’s theme is established, new versions of the score or new songs altogether often incorporate those melodies as a call back to their entrance into the soundtrack. On the show it serves as a subtle reminder of the tone of the character, but here live it’s more a little too much of a good thing, as the numerous callbacks in one show become a little more filler than the show truly requires.
Still, the stellar work Djawadi created for the show truly shines when the best cuts are performed. The terrifying violence and shocking twist of the red wedding plays with all the stun and misery the moment is famous for. One of Daenerys’ few, true hero moments “Mhysa” plays out with glorious pomp and circumstance as the freed slaves cry out for her. Arya’s theme “Needle” is as plucky and precocious as her characters always was (until she became a cold-blooded assassin that is). The best of perhaps the whole night follows shortly after in an outstanding one-two punch. First, “Let’s Play a Game / Bastard” depicts most of the incredible sequence known as The Battle of the Bastards, as Jon Snow and his army try to wrest Winterfell from the monstrous Ramsay Bolton. This feels almost like the greatest of cinematic movie showdowns, as Jon Snow drops his sword belt a whole army racing towards him, facing certain doom. Second, right before the intermission, “The Light of the Seven” plucks out its ominous first piano notes. The sequence is the Godfather-esque transformation of Cersei into The Mad Queen, tricking the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant to be stationed in the Sept of Baelor until she triggers a batch of wildfire underneath and burns them all alive. “The Light of the Seven” particularly is an amazing series of foreboding melodies, artfully weaving instrumentation in through each section rather than all instruments running simultaneously.
Following the intermission, the show leans heavily on the score and scenes from the final two seasons of the show. Violinist Molly Rogers shines like an incredibly confident pro, playing with swagger and apparently having time for numerous costume changes. “Field of Fire” depicts the madcap carnage of the “loot train” battle. Holly takes lead vocals again for “Jenny From Oldstones,” a song that happened in one of the episode’s end credit sequences (there sung by Florence Welch). The song is a cool nod to one of the book’s greater mysteries, but its lore never factored into the greater story of the show. One of the night’s other great moments comes in the form “The Battle of Winterfell” which scores the giant nighttime fight at Winterfell to stop The Night King. The audience is able to relive almost all of it right now down to the moment that Arya surprises The Night King to save the day. Cellist Cameron Stone makes expert uses of effects on “The Bells” which begins the final moments of Daenerys’ tragic descent in madness.
It’s this tragedy ending and reliving all these genius TV moments that bring a point into stark relief. It’s apparent that Djawadi and the literal army of people that made this show a reality worked endlessly hard for so many years to achieve the show’s high level of quality. The work is there in sights and sounds, all on the screen. No TV show ever was capable of making some luminous and grand in scale. Kind of like if The Wire was around for more than five seasons and took place in a fantasy world, this was one the best shows in television history. But anyone who was a real fan knows the show’s ending this year was mired in controversy. Much and more centered on the surprise turn of Daenerys’ character into a tyrannical perpetrator of mass genocide. Once the surprise was revealed, the show was pretty much a race to the finish, dropping massive revelations in a manner of minutes and leaving certain key characters in unusual endpoints. When you see the care and precision almost all of the show was done with, then compare that to how the finale was structured out, it’s hard not to wonder what the hurry was? Why such a mad dash to the finish line when so much wasn’t colored in fully? Somewhere behind all this is a giant explanation we may not get for years. Djawadi’s piece of the puzzle will live on greatly revered, but otherwise, fans will likely always have questions.