On Sunday, Game of Thrones returns for its eigth and final season on HBO, and many millions of viewers will undoubtedly hang on to each new plot twist after a two-year drought. And those gripping stories will be served and moved forward yet again by the show’s award-winning soundtrack.
Music has its own role in GoT, both in the omnipresent background and within the action of the scenes. It’s interesting to note that the world shown in Thrones — Westeros, Essos, etc. — has theoretically been stuck in some version of the European Middle Ages for roughly 8,000 years, depending on how you compare cultures and parse the canon timeline. (Superfans will quibble on this like angels battle-dancing on the head of a pin.) Any music that the characters know is basically folk music and religious hymns, the music that would have been common many centuries ago in our world. No Westerosi has ever heard a sick beat, an electric guitar or a piano (or ever tasted chocolate, for that matter). Heck, they haven’t even gotten around to inventing the harpsichord yet.
Take a moment and think about how that would inform your internal soundtrack if you lived in that world, and then take a step back to look at the music in the show. From music-world celebrity cameos to casting mighta-beens, here are some key places where the worlds of music and Westeros crossed.
Randy Bears. Some of the in-world songs have had noteworthy real-world covers. For example, a song called “The Bear and The Maiden Fair” is beloved by many characters within the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. In prequel novella The Sworn Sword, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is the only song that plebian Ser Duncan the Tall knows all the way through. A century later, in A Storm of Swords, Lady Olena Tyrell has her minstrel play the same songs loud to spy-proof her conversation with Sansa Stark. Real-world band The Hold Steady did a rousing punk “cover” of the song, written for the show by composer Ramin Djawadi to lyrics from author George R. R. Martin, which memorably played over the closing credits after Jaime Lannister’s hand is amputated in season 3 episode “Walk of Punishment.”