By Chancellor Agard
April 04, 2019 at 03:00 PM EDT

When composer Ramin Djawadi signed on to score Game of Thrones, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss gave him one rule: No flutes allowed.

“They didn’t want a medieval feel because that’s what you’d expect,” Djawadi, whose other credits include Person of Interest and Iron Man, tells EW. “They wanted something a bit more contemporary.” In the end, that boundary was a blessing: “Giving me restrictions of where to search creatively helped so much.”

With flutes off the table, the Iranian-German musician, 44, decided to make the cello the backbone of the HBO epic. “I just felt that could be the instrument for the show because it has such a wide range” he says of the cello, which provides the main propulsive melody in the instantly iconic opening sequence. Djawadi actually remembers Benioff and Weiss sending him the first YouTube cover of the theme the morning after the series premiere. “It was a rock version, with a guy playing all the instruments himself,” Djawadi says. “It was very inspiring and humbling to see that it inspired other people.”

Credit: J. Kempin/Getty Images

Over the seasons, Djawadi has expanded Thrones’ musical palette to include non-Western instruments. For instance, the hammer dulcimer, which is usually heard in music from Asia and the Middle East, is often used in association with Arya Stark because the instrument’s pingy sound reminds Djawadi of her sword, Needle.

One of Djawadi’s boldest moves was the use of a piano in “Light of the Seven” — which scores Cersei Lannister’s explosive plot to destroy her enemies in the season 6 finale — because piano had never been part of the show’s musical language. He was so concerned the instrument was too radical that at first he tried the music out on different instruments, like the harp. “It just didn’t have that same effect,” he says. “So we went back to the piano. The minute it starts, you realize right away that something is not right.”

Djawadi is currently at work on the final season’s score, a rewarding task: “It’s great to see it come to an end, and, musically, for me to give closure to all of the material that we’ve carried through the seasons.”

Game of Thrones returns April 14.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

  • TV Show
  • 8
  • 73
  • TV-MA
  • David Benioff
  • D.B. Weiss
  • HBO
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