hile attending a film school in Norway, I was challenged with an assignment to film the same scene twice, with the goal to create two vastly different reactions from the viewer. There was a catch: music wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t impossible, but it was hard. Music is an easy (and powerful) tool to invoke a desired emotion.
Taking that one step further—when the soundtrack is actually part of the story itself and not beyond the fourth wall—creates something as powerful as a Balrog in heat.
From “Carry On My Wayward Son” blaring loudly in Dean’s ’67 Chevy Impala to the outright comical bane of Lana with Archer’s “Danger Zone,” there is no shortage of unique examples we can call upon. But there are only a handful of absolute masterpieces that not only add to the culture of the show but become pivotal and iconic pieces that completely encapsulate what the story stands for.
Take the legendary work of Tolkien and “Far Over the Misty Mountains,” for instance. Peter Jackson’s interpretation of this song is a positively brilliant opening to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The dwarves sing it as a dirge; it is the mournful cry of a band of brothers, grieving over their lost kingdom. It also foreshadows the destruction that is to come, that not all would leave unscathed, and gives us the unique psychological insight into the dwarves. They knew some of them would die. They are haunted by this, but they all go forward anyway.
Then there is the crazy backwater town, Canton, where Jayne Cobb is a folk hero. Our favourite band of spacefarers discover that he’s been pretty much elevated to godhood amongst the people. Fear and dread are instantly washed away and replaced instead with shock, joy and comedy the moment the lyrics pour out. “Jayne.. the man they call Jaaaayyynne.”
That song represents a pivotal point in the character of Jayne. That is the moment when Jayne finally begins to question his own selfish intentions. The confused Jayne is forced to deal with selfless sacrifice and in his words, it “Don’t make no sense.”
In “Out of Gas,” the shuttle captained by Zoe returns before being recalled. Jayne’s shuttle does not. Jayne fumbles with his words trying to explain away why they did not return. If he was the same Jayne before visiting Jaynestown—he wouldn’t have cared. And in “Ariel,” Jayne finally understands who he is, and who is family is. This character arc all begins with the song in Canton.
And, of course,“The Rains of Castamere.” How many reaction videos exist on YouTube to the now infamous Red Wedding?
In that brief second after the first note is played and before the horrific slaughter, there is a moment of sheer terror. Everyone in the room knows exactly what is coming. As the audience, we feel that moment of terror in the same split second that the characters do. The event remains burned into the hearts, minds, and souls of every Game of Thrones fan, and the moment is scored beautifully with “The Rains of Castamere.”
Sometimes I feel like film scores are trying too hard to manipulate me to feel a certain way, possibly to make up for mediocre storytelling. But when the production is amazing and when the story moves me, the music is the duct tape that holds the universe together. ♦