Thursday, 21 April 2011

The GAME OF THRONES title sequence

Making a good title sequence is a disappearing art on American television. With only 44 minutes available for a network show once adverts are removed, losing 1 or 2 minutes of filmed material to a title sequence is understandably something shows are now keen to avoid. This wasn't always the case - Babylon 5 had a terrific opening title sequence which changed every year - but more recently shows like Lost and Heroes have only just flashed up a title card quickly and gotten on with the action.



Of course, premium cable shows which run without adverts have more time to spend on title sequences. Recently we saw Starz's Pillars of the Earth, which had a great title sequence with paintings coming to life and the cathedral rising out of the ground (this is the only link I could find, but weirdly it's been mirrored), but HBO generally has had some of the best title sequences recently: Rome with its graffiti coming to life as daily life in the city plays out around it; True Blood with its evocation of sex, religion and heat in Louisiana; The Wire with its scenes of life on the streets of Baltimore; and Carnivale's weird, surreal juxtaposition of darker moments from history with Tarot cards.

Obviously HBO were going to come up with something special for Game of Thrones and contracted Angus Wall and his company Elastic to do the job. Wall was the creator of Rome's title sequence, which won him a BAFTA, and also Carnivale's, which won him an Emmy. His work as an editor on The Social Network also won him an Oscar, so clearly he had the qualifications for the job. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he explains that the title sequence was meant to evoke the maps found at the start of every Song of Ice and Fire novel (and fantasy books in general) and the mechanical innovation of a late-medieval society (not a primary theme of the novels, though such innovation is referenced in the maesters' Citadel and also the Free City of Myr, where great advances are being made in optics) whilst also fulfilling story-telling functions: the sequence subtly outlines the history of the Seven Kingdoms and will change several times a season as new locations come to the fore.

The conceit of the sequence is that there is an immense globe of the world, with the continents of Westeros and Essos outlined on the inner surface of the globe rather than the outer, with a sun at the heart of the sphere ringed by a mechanical astrolabe. The whole thing is similar to a miniature Dyson Sphere. Under the surface there are gears, cogs and pulleys which, when activated when the camera gets near to particular locations, allows buildings and features to rise up out of the surface of the map. In the first episode, the cities of Kings Landing and Pentos, the castle of Winterfell and the Wall all rise up out of the map, with individual buildings and locations (such as the Red Keep and the Great Sept of Baelor in King's Landing, and the godswood in Winterfell) easily visible.

These locations will change as the series progresses: Pentos disappears from the sequence in Episode 2 to be replaced by Vaes Dothrak, whilst the Twins and the Eyrie will join the sequence in later episodes. With Season 2 confirmed, I'd expect to see Dragonstone, Pyke, Storm's End, Riverrun and Qarth appearing on the map.

A very nice touch is that the astrolabe surrounding the sun has scenes from the history of Westeros chiselled into the side of it. We see three such scenes during the title sequence: at the very beginning and end, and just after the camera visits Winterfell. In the first sequence we see a volcanic eruption destroying a city whilst a dragon looks on and people flee by boat, a clear depiction of the Doom of Valyria and the flight of the Targaryens to Westeros (technically the Targaryens didn't flee the Doom directly to Dragonstone, they were already there manning a trading outpost with the Seven Kingdoms, but that doesn't sound as cool). In the second the dragon is being brought down and killed by a direwolf, a lion and a stag, a reference to the alliance between the houses of Stark, Lannister and Baratheon that removed the Targaryens from power. The final scene has the other animals bowing down to the triumphant stag, noting that the Baratheons now hold the Iron Throne.

We then get the final logo for the series, backed by a great sigil showing the heads of the Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark and Lannister heraldic animals and setting out what the principle factions in the game of thrones will be.

It's a great title sequence. Some elements are odd - the 3D map, the Dyson Sphere-like set-up and the mechanical gears seem too advanced for the setting - but it also does a great job of showing the various locations and hinting at the deeper backstory behind events. Ramin Djawadi's theme tune is also a bit underwhelming at the start, but it's growing on me every time I hear it. HBO have poured a lot of effort into this - Wall apparently worked on the sequence for over a year - and the results are impressive.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

The 'Wire' link goes to Deadwood.

Wise Bass said...

(technically the Targaryens didn't flee the Doom directly to Dragonstone, they were already there manning a trading outpost with the Seven Kingdoms, but that doesn't sound as cool).

I had no idea. From humble beginnings indeed . . .

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I wasn't a huge fan of this as a title sequence. I love it as a DVD extra or some other type of special, but I didn't think it represented the series as a weekly intro. Like you said, it's too advanced looking, and I didn't like the building up of each part of the kingdom. I guess everyone's building their scheme, but it just didn't seem to make sense or represent the series.

As someone who was going to be a fan of the series no matter what, the intro is great. From the perspective of someone new to the series, it didn't seem to work.

ediFanoB said...

Adam,
your excellent post reflects that you are a real fan of A Song Of Ice And Fire.
It is one of my favorite series.
I live in Germany and don't have access to HBO. Therefore I read your ASOIAF posts with great interest.
What shall I say? I fell in love with the trailer the first time I watched it.

ediFanoB said...

I hope the title sequences of all episodes will be available soon.

Adam Whitehead said...

Oh yeah, I was looking at different HBO sequences, but DEADWOOD's was pretty straightforward and prosaic so I didn't include it. Must have saved the link address instead of THE WIRE's by accident. Fixed it now.

@Wise Bass: the Targaryen history seems to have been retconned by GRRM at some point. Going by AGoT it does sound like the original idea was that they fled the Doom to Dragonstone, but later on he said they'd been on Dragonstone for 100 years before the Doom and stayed there for 100 years after before attacking Westeros.

@EFB: the title sequence changes when needed, not every single week (though it might in Season 2, given all the toing and froing between different places). I suspect it will stay the same (without Pentos but with Vaes Dothrak instead) in Episodes 2-4, then bring in the Eyrie in Episode 5 and then the Twins around Episode 9. Interesting to see if they follow Dany from Vaes Dothrak to Lhazar on the map in the final episode as well.

Darkstar said...

Actually, I have to admit, I was quite disappointed by the title sequence. I would have wished for something which didn't scream CGI so loudly, and - in my opinion - it looked cheesy and (as Seak mentioned) it really doesn't reflect the tone of the story.

Anonymous said...

The theme music's pretty good, if nondescript. But the in-episodic music is frankly awful. At best, it's boring. Frequently, it's so hammy and overobvious that it detracts from any attempt at subtlety in the acting going on.

--

On intros: I'm not impressed by the Wire's, which is just a sequence of random clips from the series without much rhyme or reason to them - I watch it every time, but only because of the music.

Rome's intro is excellent - and in a similar vein I must mention John Adams.

However, I think the best is Six Feet Under. The music is iconic - quirky and yet elegaic - and the sequence of death-related scenes is beautiful, macabre, and disturbingly clinical: ending with the sublime serenity of the symbolic representation of the moment of death, the persistance of nature, and finally the death of nature and a fade to white. I think it's brilliant.

Catmanic said...

Well I am completely new to this series. I decided to watch it at the behest (nagging!) of my brother-in-law, and personally I was really impressed with the credits and theme tune. I won't pretend to understand the books, because I haven't the pleasure of reading them yet. But, I thought the music very fitting (I can't get it out of my head, actually!)and the credits very informative: Showing landmarks on the map, etc. Some people are saying that the technology is too far advanced for late medieval society and as a post-graduate student of History I would tend to agree (but this series is sheer fantasy is it not???). In any case, as an 'outsider' my impression was that the credits were making a play on the title of the series 'GAME of Thrones', showing the world and it's towns/cities as mere toys to be trifled with.
That's my take on it all, anyway. Looking forward to watching this series! Wished I'd read the books first though.

Aaron said...

Weren't you going to have a long, in-depth review of Game of Thrones? I think you said that you were working on that last week. Any progress? Thanks!

Adam Whitehead said...

The in-depth review was initially delayed because I wanted to wait until the episode had aired in both the USA and UK (and thus freed me from having to be careful about spoilers), and then I decided to wait until Episode 2 aired, which it did tonight in the UK, as that freed me about having to be careful about spoiling that (I saw both eps at a pre-screening). Now it's just a question of finding the time to do it, which might not be until later in the week :-)

Jebus said...

Actually I quite enjoy the music of the title sequence, I think if they keep it as a theme during the episodes it could really be built upon for different scenarios/emotional themes, much like All Along The Watchtower in BSG.

enjai said...

The theme music is growing on me (I especially like the end credits which I think are slightly different).
I didn't notice that the map goes to different places but that's a cool idea. I liked how the intro conveys the size of the world too.
What I didn't like was the clockwork building of cities as it left me with the impression the show was steampunk or that the world at least had a higher level of technology than they actually have. Very misleading. If I were the makers I'd ditch the clockwork and maybe just animate the cities.