Season eight’s winter may have come and gone, but the Game of Thrones franchise soldiers on with all the mindless determination of an ice zombie dragged shrieking from a frozen grave. Although HBO’s highest budget — and highest viewed — show bowed out with a highly controversial final season this June, shooting has already begun for a prequel set centuries prior. The show scooped up a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series last month (much to the disdain of fans) and talks have begun about two other spin-offs to cash in on the show’s money-making momentum. In the words of a meta-critical episode title, what is dead may never die, despite how long it’s overstayed its welcome.
Under these auspices, the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” returned to Shoreline Amphitheatre this October on the second round of its world tour. This time around, it read as less of a loving send-off and more as a trite continuation of how gorgeous tunes and visual fanfare reanimated the fetid corpse of the show’s nonsensical plotting. While fans may have enjoyed certain scenic callbacks as live orchestration overlayed over projected show clips, the concert’s three-hour symphonic rehash of the show’s most pivotal plot points paralleled the franchise’s apparent trend of favoring production above musical substance.
The night, though it may have been long and filled with sound-tech terrors, began on a high note. Fans filled the stadium’s informal outdoor stands sporting beers and cosplay, cheering uproariously when the concert launched into the show’s iconic opening theme. Jamie Colby and her partner Brandon Bolt, residents of Eureka, drove seven hours for the concert and arrived sporting homemade outfits in the show’s Targaryen colors.
Despite being billed, Ramin Djawadi, the soundtrack’s composer and one of the tour’s primary architects, was absent during this particular performance, and the audience made their confusion known. As national director Michael Sobie made his introductions following the opening riffs, someone in the stands screamed: “Where’s Ramin?”
These apparent staffing hiccups, however, were soon forgotten as the concert began to cycle through some of the show’s most beloved scenes and songs. Audience members alternately cheered and booed for characters as they appeared on screen with their respective themes, giving the concert the vibe of a massive watch party. Lending elements of theatricality to the already dramatic tunes, soloists sported costumes and often retreated for outfit changes, performing the part of characters as they strode across the stage.
Pyrotechnics and fake snow were also involved. “Wildfire,” a score that featured plenty of tense violin riffs, saw green mist envelop the stage as the emerald-flamed explosion occurred. Cheesy? Perhaps. But as the concert demonstrated tune and tune again, it was not quite about celebrating the soundtrack itself. Rather, the show sought to recreate the adrenaline-fueled experience of watching the show on a scale many times grander than most viewers’ HBO subscriptions would allow.
As a result, much of the symphony orchestra’s valiant efforts were often drowned out by a choice in sound arrangement to prioritize the screened scenes over the live music. As characters spoke, horses trotted and swords clanged on screen, the musicians were forced to play second fiddle to an amplified speaker. During the climactic tracks played over the “Battle of the Bastards,” hoofbeats and battle cries cut a claustrophobic aural experience with the drums and trumpets sounding from the stage. The beauty of a soundtrack, typically, is that it elevates the emotional tone of a scene while remaining striking. The concert, in its hamfisted execution wherein microphones battle speakers for dominance, retains the striking element but rarely its beauty.
It is unsurprising, then, that the best moments of the concert occurred during its more quiet refrains. Performer Nayanna Holley in particular shone as the vocalist, offering smoothly glorious renditions of the soft and lilting “Jenny of Oldstones” and the soaring “Mhysa.” As a Black performer clad in an outfit most associated with the show’s white savior protagonist, Daenerys Targaryen, Holley’s interpretation lent a layer of complexity to the latter song’s problematic tropes.
Unfortunately, these moments of pianissimo reflection were few and far between. Holley, along with the show’s solo violinist and cellist, at times strained to be heard under the screech of the screen and accompanying orchestrations. As the night wandered on and the crowd’s energy noticeably dipped in the face of ever-controversial scenes from the eighth season, the show’s spectacle proves unsustainable. Three songs into the last season’s soundtrack, a noticeable portion of the audience rose to quietly file out of the stadium — they, at least, knew how to leave well enough alone.
Highlights: “The North Remembers,” “Jenny of Oldstones,” “Light of the Seven”
Contact Anna Ho at [email protected].