The arsenal of instruments Ramin Djawadi has used to score Game of Thrones includes mournful strings, mighty horns, and the Armenian double-reed woodwind known as a duduk. During the series’ first five seasons, however, he left one common weapon untouched: the piano. Early on, the showrunners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, decided that the ivories were too delicate for the show’s brutal realms, where even weddings tend to involve some stabbing. They also banned the flute, for fear that Thrones would sound like a Renaissance fair.
But when Djawadi sat down to soundtrack a pivotal sequence in Season 6—the slow reveal that the embattled royal mother, Cersei Lannister, was about to bomb her own kingdom’s cathedral, incinerating half a dozen regular characters in the process—none of the instruments he tried seemed right. “I played the whole scene with harp, and everyone was shaking heads,” he told me. “There’s a warmth to it that the colder piano doesn’t have.”
So Djawadi finally brought the piano to Westeros. As one of Cersei’s minions skulked through the sewers below the cathedral, lighting fuses, the score reverberated with haunting piano arpeggios. The heretofore unheard instrument suggested, however subtly, that one of the series’ signature plot twists was in the making. But the elegiac mood of the composition, called “Light of the Seven,” conveyed more: Cersei’s violent act wasn’t just a game-board-upending coup; it was a tragedy born of malice and desperation. “It doesn’t accompany the scene,” Benioff and Weiss told me via email. “It shapes the scene, as much if not more than any other creative element.”