Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
Musicians love Game Of Thrones – and it can’t be just because of its renowned historical accuracy, whatever Snoop Dogg says. Everyone from Chvrches to Enter Shikari have covered the theme song, there’ve been special Game Of Thrones mixtapes with contributions from Big Boi and Ty Dolla $ign, and once, metal band Mastodon made a cameo appearance in the show as they were violently killed by ice zombies and then resurrected as reanimated corpses.
But Mastodon aren’t the only musicians who’ve invaded George R.R. Martin’s fictional world of Westeros. Below are five musicians who’ve made their mark among the dragons and the bloodshed…
Let’s start, then, with a brief history lesson in all things Westeros. Everyone in the Seven Kingdoms, from lords and knights to peasants and farmers, knows ‘The Rains Of Castamere’. It’s a ditty composed in honour of the mighty House Lannister and its iron-fisted patriarch, Tywin, after he violently crushed a rebellion from upstarts House Reyne. Essentially, it’s their own version of the Imperial March for Darth Vader and Darth Sidious in Star Wars: whenever it plays, the Lannisters are usually running roughshod (and there’s a good chance someone’s about to die, too).
At first, it’s a song mentioned, but not heard – referred to in reverent tones by characters and occasionally whistled by Tywin’s son, Tyrion, but never performed in its full glory. But it got it full debut in the penultimate episode of Season Two, ‘Blackwater’, to soundtrack the credits after the Lannisters squeak out an unlikely victory against rival Stannis Batheon in a brutal battle. And who else could have performed it but New York miseries The National? Here, using the same lyrics from the original novel, they make it sound dark and doomy, a sombre and subtle aftermath for the bloodshed that’s just occurred. Originally, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had wanted Florence And The Machine to do the honours instead, but it’s hard to imagine her coming up with something quite so disquieting.
Ah, the Red Wedding: the queasy, gruesome scene from episode nine of Season Three, where Game Of Thrones took its established formula of gleefully killing off fan favourites in even sicker, more shocking directions. Here, the North’s great hope, Robb Stark, is double-crossed by Walder Frey and Tywin Lannister, duped into attending a wedding at the former’s castle so he can be unceremoniously butchered along with his wife, his mother and all of his men during the ceremony. And again, it’s all set in motion by ‘The Rains Of Castemere’: everything’s uncomfortable but safe, ish, before those eerie, opening notes begin – a sick prank organised by Tywin before the slaughter – and you realise that a treacherous massacre is imminent. But look! There’s nice Will Champion, drummer with nice boys Coldplay, playing in the wedding band! He wouldn’t let anything nasty happen, would he? Oh…
(And as a bonus: see below, too, Coldplay’s spoof musical with the Game Of Thrones cast)
More wedding-related murder, now, but thankfully, it’s one we can all get behind. Joffrey Baratheon, quite possibly the most horrible little shit the world has ever known, is getting hitched to Margaery Tyrell. But for all of Joff’s faults – which include, but are not limited to, being a sadistic bully, tormenting his uncle, executing prostitutes with a crossbow and having a face you would literally never get tired of punching – he’s also apparently a big fan of tasteful, moody Icelandic post-rock, which is why Sigur Ros pop up here as his wedding band. Sadly, they don’t go down a storm: they come a bit unstuck with their medieval pump-organ (not a euphemism), and scurry off the stage after Joffrey pelts them with coins. Fear not, though, Sigur Ros fans: he gets his karmic comeuppance when he drinks poison and dies. Huzzah!
Some nifty foreshadowing, here: early in Season 3, there’s a group of troops singing bawdy Westeros standard ‘The Bear And The Maiden Fair’, an old folk song about a damsel who’s waiting to be rescued by a knight but has to settle for a big, lumbering mammal instead. And one of those soldiers is none other than Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, leading the knees-up as he and the rest of the men transport their prisoners, Jaimie Lannister and Brienne Of Tarth, through the forest. Another version of the song, performed by one of Benioff and Weiss’s favourite bands, The Hold Steady, is played over the credits, too – and later, it all comes full circle when it’s sung again by a taunting rabble as Brienne is forced to fight – you guessed it – a bear in a pit.
And finally, the greatest musician in Game Of Thrones of all. Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson has a recurring guest role as silent, dead-eyed executioner Ser Illyn Payne, the man responsible for chopping off Ned Stark’s beloved head way back in Season 1. He doesn’t speak, and he doesn’t need too: just one stare and he’s already able to give you nightmares. Sadly, Johnson’s cancer diagnosis prevented him from appearing in the show after Season 2, but he has hinted he’d welcome a return in the future. And a special mention, too, to silver-tongued mercenary and swashbuckling rogue Bronn, ie Jerome Flynn, ie that chap from Soldier Soldier, ie one-half of cheesy pop duo Robson And Jerome.