Bronn the mercenary sings The Rains of Castamere.

The Music of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, the show that captivates fourteen-year-olds everywhere, is bad.  It’s not well-written; it’s not well-shot; it’s not well-lit; half the time it’s not even well-acted; and even the music to the opening credits is little more than a rip-off of better music.  When I first heard that opening theme, I liked it, and indeed it was what made me watch the show in the first place.  I’d watch the opening credits then suffer through the blandness that followed, but I was always struck by how similar it was to the theme from another show…

The Score

The main title, although pleasant to listen to, is a cheap rip-off of the theme from BBC’s Merlin.  When comparing the two, Game of Thrones’ demonstrates in its differences many of the things wrong with the show itself.  Unlike Merlin, the Game of Thrones theme is circular and altogether directionless, building up to nothing.  Merlin’s theme tells a story through the music and concludes in a satisfying finish, but Game of Thrones seems to endeavour to do the opposite.  Indeed, it spirals off into nothingness, leaving the listener mildly unsatisfied, when only a single additional note would have saved it.  To put this another way, the title sequence of Game of Thrones stays in your head by going round and round in a spiral that never satisfies.

The music throughout the body of the show is mostly okay—neither bad nor great.  It has a few problems with settings not feeling distinct enough, and its leitmotifs are sorely lacking in variety at times, but overall it’s a fine soundtrack.

The Rains of Castamere

Bronn the mercenary sings The Rains of Castamere.All of a sudden we get an actor, who can’t sing, singing a bloody terrible song by the author.  Then the show jumps the shark in the credits with the same song, and this time it’s sung by an American rock band in a U.S. cowboy accent!

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that Lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.

Aside from the obvious that it’s just a terrible song, The Rains of Castamere is rife with more problems than I can mention in this article, so please tell me if there’s anything I missed.  The verse structure of The Rains of Castamere feels unfinished, as though it were only the first verse but the poet sadly died while writing it.  Indeed, the cursory nature of the poem’s structure feels far less like a medieval war-song than it does a Mother Goose rhyme.  Another problem with this song is that it’s near impossible to tell who’s saying what, and I still haven’t figured it out.

A New Song

It struck me that The Rains of Castamere has as its subject a character who is still alive at the time of the story, meaning that the only song of any great importance in Game of Thrones concerns only a very recent event.  This, I felt, made the world feel a bit shallow—as though its important history went only so far back as the eldest living character.  Contrast this to The Song of Beren and Lúthien, an important song in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which is apparently so ancient that only Elrond remembers the tale’s ending.

A Song With No Tone

What’s almost insulting about The Rains of Castamere is that George R. R. Martin allegedly based it on the classic Scottish folksong Massacre of Glencoe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d only listened to the shitty punk version.  It’s clear from the use of weather in Castamere’s I-can’t-believe-it’s-supposed-to-be-a-chorus that Martin was trying to mirror the chorus of Glencoe:

O, cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o’ Donal’;
And cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house o’ MacDonald.

How does one go about comparing a great Scottish folksong to crap like Rains of Castamere?  Is it not enough to say that Massacre of Glencoe is great and Rains of Castamere is horse-shite?  Why don’t we start with the fact that The Rains of Castamere has no tone; I don’t know what—if anything—I’m supposed to feel.  Worse still, I don’t know what the fictional characters listening to this are supposed to feel.  Forget what Martin was thinking when he wrote it—what was the fictional poet thinking?

Focus

While Massacre of Glencoe focuses on the massacre itself, Castamere seems merely content to present a pathetically vague political context and jump jarringly to the conclusion.  “But,” you might be saying, “Massacre of Glencoe is written from the perspective of the victims!  The Rains of Castamere was written by the victors.”  Well then, let’s take a look at a song by the side who won a battle…

The Point of a Battle Song

The whole point of a battle song is to either record history or rally others to a cause.  For this reason, battle songs tend to be pretty clear as to what the hell’s going on in the story.  When a real folksong is as ambiguous as Castamere, it’s almost certainly because it’s intended to be inconspicuous in inciting others to rebellion.  The Rains of Castamere was supposedly written after the fact by the winning side so there’s no reason for it to be written in code.

Adjectives and Adverbs

This brings up another important fact about battle songs: any real battle song inevitably takes a side, whether that of the victor or the defeated.  Haughs o’ Cromdale, for instance, is filled with words like “great,” “valiantly,” “boldly,” and the like to describe the heroic Hieland clans and portrays Cromwell’s men as dishonourable.  A song written by someone on Cromwell’s side would likewise portray the opposite.  The most description a character gets in Rains of Castamere is when a lord is referred to as “proud,” which isn’t the most flattering of complements, particularly when we consider that the poet is supposed to have been on his side.

Ambivalence

All the characters in the story react to the song as though it were quite clearly on the Lannisters’ side despite its pronounced ambivalence, which leads me to believe that George R. R. Martin doesn’t even understand his own lyrics.  No real folksong is going to actively avoid taking sides in a battle, and the fact that Castamere does exactly that exposes it for exactly what it is: a half-assed attempt by a New Jersey product-of-his-time whom I doubt has listened to a true Scottish folksong in his life.

The National

The sheer Yankishness of Game of Thrones as a whole was accentuated by the decision to hire The National, an American rock band, to perform the song in the show itself.  Not only is their delivery lifeless and dreary, but the presence of the singer’s unpalatable American accent serves only to strip Game of Thrones of what weak illusion of Medieval atmosphere it may once have retained.

The Third Shark-Jump

An episode in Season Three ends with an asshole we don’t care about getting his hand chopped off, followed immediately by the sound of an untalented American heavy metal band in the credits!  Shark officially jumped… again!  Please excuse my language, but what the fuck?  This trainwreck sounds like a bad Bruce Springsteen song that lost its way.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have songs in the credits, but the difference is that with those films we got Ed Sheeran on the cello for I See Fire.  With Game of Thrones all we got was some American doing his best Butt-Head impression!  The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit credits songs all feel like they belong there.  Even the ones arguably on the pop spectrum like Neil Finn’s Song of the Lonely Mountain have a strong element of folk to them that this punk-metal lacks.

Game of Thrones claims to be dark, gritty, realistic Medieval fantasy, but when you hit us with this anachronistic garbage it jars us right out of it.

2 thoughts on “The Music of Game of Thrones

  1. Score is ok,, opening theme good with title sequence as long as you don’t have to hear it for too long; nothing to write home about, songs are beyond dreadful.

  2. I haven’t seen Game of Thrones or heard its sound track, except for the odd bit here and there, but I do know that music can make or break a show. It can keep you in the world or hurl you out through a hole in the ozone layer. It sound’s like GOT is the latter.

    Interesting point about Scottish Battle Songs taking sides.

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