Berklee-educated ‘Game of Thrones’ composer talks about that Emmy nod

Ramin Djawadi is Emmy-nominated for his work composing "Game of Thrones" for HBO.

Berklee grad Ramin Djawadi. –Photo by Andres Jimenez

Since its first season, Ramin Djawadi has scored “Game of Thrones,” composing epic themes to deepen the impact of the HBO mega-hit’s most memorable moments.

Although the show’s eighth and final season has been received divisively by fans, the Berklee grad’s grandiose compositions were largely seen as a highlight of the last “Game of Thrones” episodes, from reworked versions of past themes to new, nine-minute opus “The Night King.”

Earlier this week, amid a record 32-nomination haul for the fantasy series, Djawadi earned an Emmy nod for outstanding music composition for a series. It’s his fifth in the category, after winning for “Game of Thrones” last year and receiving past nods for “Game of Thrones,” “Westworld,” and “FlashForward.”


“It makes this last season even more special,” Djawadi said by phone. “It was hard for me to let go, and to be honored is amazing.”

To properly send off “Game of Thrones,” Djawadi worked diligently to revamp and reintroduce themes from across the show’s history, often bringing back pieces of music he’d crafted to mark specific characters’ journeys. As in past seasons, he was tasked by HBO with musically foreshadowing dramatic twists in the show’s endgame, from Daenerys’s descent into darkness to the fates of Cersei and Jaime Lannister.

“I’ve always put myself under immense pressure every season,” Djawadi said. “I always wanted to push the score forward and let the story guide it. My task was: How could I make the existing themes work but also incorporate something different, something new, evolve existing themes while introducing new ones?”

Had he not studied at Berklee College of Music, Djawadi may have never found his way to Westeros — or Hollywood, for that matter. The composer, who grew up in Germany, arrived at Berklee with guitar in hand and an appreciation for film, but little sense of how to combine his two interests. By the time he graduated summa cum laude in 1998, Djawadi had earned a degree in film scoring and guitar performance; he soon moved to Los Angeles, where he began making music for movies.


Djawadi still stays “in close touch” with his Boston alma mater, regularly visiting its campus to meet with students or sit on panels at Q&As. His last engagement there was in April, at the college’s Career Jam event.

“That school really means so much to me,” he said. “I learned so much there; it was a huge musical education. Berklee’s a big part of me.”

Asked how it feels to say goodbye to “Game of Thrones” after eight years with the pop-culture juggernaut, Djawadi’s not quite sure.

“Maybe it still hasn’t hit me,” he said.

Out of all those involved with the series, the composer is still more involved than most; he’s looking ahead to a final U.S. tour with his “Game of Thrones” Live Concert Experience (which comes to the Xfinity Centeron September 10), on which he’ll perform at select dates.

The massive production, which includes an 80-piece orchestra, a choir, and solo musicians all performing atop a 360-degree multipart stage with pyrotechnic adornments, was a gamble in its inaugural outing two years ago, but Djawadi sees this latest route as more of a victory lap.

“We try to blend the orchestral and contemporary side of the music with pyro effects, to make it almost like a rock show,” he said, adding that his experiences on the road have been “everything [he] hoped for and more.” For the upcoming dates, Djawadi has been tinkering with the live show so as to incorporate his season 8 themes and reflect the full arc of the series.


Asked whether he’d ever return to Westeros for any of HBO’s upcoming “Game of Thrones” spinoffs, Djawadi is tight-lipped.

“It’s too early to talk about it, really,” he said, noting that scorework is usually one of the last pieces of a TV production to fall into place. “But we’ll see what happens.”