Beyond The Wall

The Divisive 'Game of Thrones' Series Finale Had One Perfect, Beautiful Moment

All thanks to the show's composer Ramin Djawadi.

game of thrones
HBO

I listen to the second-to-last track from the Game of Thrones Season 8 score almost once a week. There was a period where I was listening to it maybe once a day, when the whole album popped up on Spotify just after the show concluded its dramatic final run with a horrendous penultimate episode and an anticlimactic finale one whole year ago. I listen to a lot of soundtrack music from properties of otherwise questionable merit -- the Prince of Persia movie OST is not bad, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters included an extremely cool cover of Mothra's theme -- but Ramin Djawadi's work for Game of Thrones was always a series highlight, no matter how disappointing the actual show became. The series wouldn't have been the same without his music: It got to the point where, whenever I heard the distinctive white noise of the HBO logo, my brain immediately expected to hear the opening notes of the Game of Thrones theme. 

The specific track I'm talking about, titled "The Last of the Starks," plays over the finale's final montage of Jon Snow, Arya, and Sansa Stark taking, symbolically, their rightful places in the new, post-Targaryen Westeros: Sansa is the Queen in the North; Jon has been exiled to the Wall where he'll lead his wildling followers to new lives in the snowy wasteland; and Arya is leaving on her own ship, seeking whatever is "west of Westeros." It's the kind of ending that would have been incredible if the season leading up to it had been consistently good -- as such, it was more of a relieved "okay, at least they nailed that bit" amongst an otherwise muddled episode.

But, listen: They nailed it. And my hot take here is that the good part about it wasn't so much what was happening onscreen as what you were hearing as it was happening, which was Djawadi effectively remixing his own pieces into one final farewell, picking three of the best musical themes of the show and weaving them together as seamlessly as if he had planned it that way from the beginning. (Similarly, Djawadi, who also composes Westworld's music, found a way to work in that show's theme into an orchestral cover of Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage" at the very end of Season 3.) What you hear during "The Last of the Starks" is, first, a theme that appeared in the first season, called "Goodbye Brother" on that soundtrack but better known as the Winterfell theme, as it started showing up in the show whenever we saw one of the Starks doing something or meeting with someone that made them think of home. 

Then, he throws the belly of the show's actual theme in there, a sound instantly recognizable to anyone who was paying a little bit of attention to pop culture during the last nine years, marrying the two together. A little bit after the three-minute mark, two things happen at the same time: Djawadi sneaks Arya's specific theme music, which you near as a track called "Needle" in Season 6, in there, and brings in a single, loud stringed instrument to effectively go sicko mode on the Winterfell theme for two measures. It's overwhelming. 

Game of Thrones always had an interesting relationship with the notions of "fate" and "destiny." The world of the show (and the books) is heavy on prophecy but light on actual magic, leaving it up to the characters themselves to decide whether or not a vision some priest or priestess told them about had actually happened the way they said it would, or if it had happened at all. It also enjoyed playing around with our preconceived notions of how stories are supposed to work -- Ned Stark's death was a harsh indicator of what was to come, letting us know then that things would rarely turn out the way we hope. In the end, though, the victory of the Stark family, truncated and scattered though it became, seemed like it was always supposed to happen. Not an inevitability, exactly -- because then where would the excitement be? -- but an ending that was neat and felt right, at least where those characters were concerned. When the story lost its threads, the score picked them back up again. Listen how well those themes work with each other, all woven together like that, bringing the end of the show right back to the beginning. Sounds a little bit like fate to me.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.