Game of Thrones may have divided fans with its controversial last season, but on Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, they were united behind the show’s music for a live performance.
After months of debating theories, plot twists, and different characters’ storylines, all the fans who showed up for the final night of the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience tour could agree on one thing: their affinity for the show’s music.
“The last season could’ve been better, but the music was still great,” 19-year-old Selma Pena told BuzzFeed News. Pena traveled from Riverside, California, with her boyfriend in matching GoT shirts to attend the concert for the second year in a row.
“I’ve always been into instrumental music. We were both in our high school band together,” Pena added. “So I love the score, and the music from Season 8 was really good. I still really enjoyed it, even if there were other things I didn’t like about the show.”
Game of Thrones premiered in 2011 and spent eight beloved years on the air — but the end of the series wasn’t exactly well received by fans, viewers, and some critics. After years of anticipation, the George R.R. Martin adaptation fell short of many viewers’ expectations.
More than 1.7 million people signed a Change.org petition to remake Season 8 of Game of Thrones “with competent writers.” There was even an infamous coffee cup slipup that made it into an episode that aired last season, angering fans and sparking criticism about how the creators should’ve been more careful.
But the controversies took a backseat at the Hollywood Bowl as Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi led an orchestra performing the score alongside video clips from the show.
Emma Lee put it bluntly when standing near a photo op outside the concert venue: “The only good thing about Season 8 was the music.”
For the third consecutive year, Djawadi put on a tour using local orchestras in cities across North America, ending with his show at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday. In 2017, he went on a world tour and played popular songs from the GoT soundtrack, including “The Rains of Castamere,” “Light of the Seven,” and, of course, the Game of Thrones main theme, which garnered universal applause from the crowd of 17,000 people in Los Angeles.
Concertgoers Robert Wong and Jonathan Klein said they wanted to come to the GoT show because some of the featured songs “are really iconic.”
“We’d gone to another performance a few years ago and we really liked it. Then we kept buying the soundtracks from the last few years too,” Wong told BuzzFeed News. “We really like the music. The last season wasn’t that good, but I thought there was a lot of great music in the Season 8 episodes. So I try not to hold that against them.”
Moments before his soundcheck at the Hollywood Bowl, Djawadi sat down with BuzzFeed News to reflect about how powerful the fans' reactions are to the music he’s composed over the years.
"I think the music kind of became a character on its own in the show," Djawadi said. "Because of my close collaboration with showrunners David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and how thoughtfully planned out our music approach has been and how we use the themes, all that storytelling goes into the music."
During the concert, scenes from the series played on a screen above the orchestra. Djawadi said they choose not to include dialogue from the show because "the music tells the story quite well."
"People want to be taken through the ups and downs of the emotions,” he said. “And seeing live musicians play the music just enhances that so much more.”
The composer, who won an Emmy in September for outstanding music composition for a series, said he feels a different kind of rush of energy when he performs onstage for a live audience compared to when he composes it, which he said is a more isolated experience. There’s a specific kind of excitement Djawadi said he feels when the orchestra gets to some of the pieces that “clearly seem to be very popular.”
“Like, for example, with ‘Light of the Seven’ — when I hit those piano keys, the crowd just starts cheering,” he said, “which is incredible when you think about how that's a 9-minute instrumental score piece, and you can just tell the people know it and they've been waiting for it to be performed. They get excited about it, and it's pretty incredible.”
Djawadi is well aware of the fact that some GoT fans weren’t thrilled with the way the series ended, but he said he isn’t surprised they still come out to watch the concerts, because “the show is such a phenomenon, and different opinions won't change that.”
“The show just got so big, and when something gets that big, there's a lot of people that watch it,” Djawadi said. “And so there's a lot of opinions, and everybody's entitled to their own opinion. But the bottom line is, it’s still one one of the greatest shows that was ever made, and I think people just want to be put into that world again.”
The disappointment of where the story goes is “just a part of it,” he added.
“I think that's why Game of Thrones is Game of Thrones, because it's the unexpected or the surprise effect of the story and everything around it,” he said. “But it's great to see that people do come out and they do want to be put back into Westeros and have fun and enjoy it.”
Diana and Ryan Smith, who call themselves “huge” GoT fans, came to the show from the Palm Springs area. Now that there aren’t any new episodes of the series to look forward to, “this is the last little piece of it we can be a part of,” Diana Smith said.
“The music is such a big part of the show. It’s really epic,” Ryan Smith told BuzzFeed News. “It just goes so well with the scenes and is played out so well. When the Night King gets killed, that music was so, so epic. And when ‘The Rains of Castamere’ comes on, you know something crazy is about to happen.”
“Even though people hated the ending, they’re still attached to the show because it was a huge part of our lives,” Diana Smith added. “Even though we weren’t expecting the show to end the way it did, and we were bummed out, we’re still attached to it and wanted to show up here tonight.”