Epic stage mechanics accompanied composer Ramin Djawadi shredding the guitar in the perfect night for “Game of Thrones” fans.
Wafting the familiar smells of stadium hot dogs and nachos toward my nose, I descended the steps in San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena, knowing that winter is coming. Ramin Djawadi, composer for the hit television show “Game of Thrones,” brought Westeros to San Diego on Sept. 11 for the world tour of the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. A flurry of special effects, specially-designed stage mechanics, and beautifully performed orchestral pieces — each detail of the show sent my head spinning even more so than a certain beloved character. Djawadi made a modest promise — a concert to display his masterful creations. Instead, he took the audience on a nostalgic walk through the series, perfectly capturing the series’ balance of subtle sounds and aggressive imagery.
As soon as the stage came into view, it oozed potential. What looked to be a hooked catwalk extended from a central stage with a second platform at its end. Behind it, a massive LED screen projected the unnervingly blue eyes of the Night King —the most intimidating version of the painting whose eyes seem to follow as you walk. Stagehands dressed in maester robes tinkered with the stage lights and broke this unsettling eye contact with a laugh. It was difficult to not feel sorry for these audio engineers who had to test microphone connections in large, awkward woolen sleeves, but their dedication to the show was commendable.
Anticipation, impatience, and wonder built when the orchestra shuffled onto the stage clothed in robes, leather armor, and flowy dresses. A dimming of the lights signalled that the musicians had finished tuning their instruments. Darkness sucked the air out of the room; everyone silenced themselves with a pause. All at once, the crowd erupted in applause as the familiar “Game of Thrones” theme song boomed from the stage and the iconic opening credits played on screen. Choir singers marched on stage to accompany the orchestra, an operatic leadsinger not far behind.
After letting the applause die down a bit at the end of the score’s most recognizable song, Djawadi introduced himself, his musicians, and the local San Diego choir that joined them for this performance. The crowd replied with its own choir of cheering “I love you, Ramin!” Djawadi bowed and got right back to work with a smile. The orchestra played songs associated with each of the main families, as footage from the show followed their respective timelines. The crowd relives the decapitation of a fan favorite as “Fire and Blood” plays and The Red Wedding as “The Rains of Castamere” plays.
While the entire show kept the audience at the edge of their seats, there were some clear highlights. The unlikely star of the show was the brown-leather-clad wind instrumentalist. Not only was he adept at over a dozen wooden instruments, the sheer fervor with which he bellowed from a didgeridoo blew the crowd away. Not even Djawadi himself shredding an electric guitar matched this man’s show-stopping charisma. The opera singer made a claim to the throne, though. Though she usually backed up the orchestra with an ethereal undercurrent of harmony, the opera singer also commanded a lot of attention. In one of these moments, she maintained composure as she was hoisted upwards to the very height of the arena —her voice becoming stronger as she rose.
Audience participation elevated the mood of the whole arena, even during the intermission. Children and adults alike flocked to the very dedicated cosplayers to bond over a shared love of the characters. A wheelchair-bound Lady Olenna maintained the character’s cutting wit. A fearsome Cersei Lannister impersonator embodied the entitled, yet supremely magnetic personality of her idol. It became readily apparent which characters the audience favored; they unleashed deafening cheers for Daenerys Targaryen and absolutely nothing for Joffrey Baratheon.
It was so easy to get caught up in the thrill of the show that the few mistakes that happened were easily forgiven. Older members of the choir slowed down the rest as they marched along the catwalk. Stagehands had difficulty unhooking the opera singer from the pulley that lifted her to the top of the arena. Again these were all minor mistakes in the face of such an intricate show. The performance, in its laborious production, managed the very difficult task of maintaining the same balance of action and solemnity of the series. It was subtle and thoughtful in its reflective moments, but aweing and assertive in its lively moments. Ramin Djawadi reinforces just how perfect a pairing his score is with the series; the emotions elicited by the music echo and amplify those conjured by the footage from the show. By the end, this dressed-up orchestra show even mimicked the same longing for more that those woeful end credit elicit after the show.
Date: September 11, 2018
Location: San Diego State University Viejas Arena