Audience Expectations for Intertextual Engagement with the Musical Score for House of the Dragon

Curator's Note

When considering screen composer Ramin Djawadi’s music for HBO’s fantasy drama series House of the Dragon (2022–), it is interesting to note the curiously divisive response that the series’ title sequence provoked among audiences. Despite being the much-anticipated prequel to Game of Thrones (2011–19), numerous critics and fans expressed their dissatisfaction when the show directly repurposed Djawadi’s original “Main Title” for Game of Thrones in this spinoff series’ equivalent intro sequence. Of course, many viewers would have been able to parse the rationale that informed this inclusion, i.e. to serve as a rallying call for audiences who finished watching (and perhaps willfully forgot about) Game of Thrones after the airing of the show’s infamous final season three years prior. However, fans nonetheless felt betrayed by the apparent transparency with which the studio seemed to be capitalizing on the theme’s existing semiotic and affective weight (see Edwards 2022; Hall 2022).

One film scholar’s response to this music’s reuse affords us an especially useful insight into this complicated facet of viewer expectations for music in spinoffs and adaptations: “I cannot believe they are just reusing the GoT theme for House of the Dragon, not even a spiffy new orchestration, just copy and paste” (St. Laurent 2022). From this, we might glean that the sense of betrayal felt by certain fans was not the result of the theme’s reuse, but rather its unaltered transferal from Thrones to House of the Dragon, without any evidence of rearrangement or variation. Of course, it goes without saying that, in almost every discussion on adaptations, remakes, or spinoffs, we are unfailingly faced with an array of troublesome conceptions of “fidelity,” a notion which is so often invoked as a criterion of success in adapted media (see Hexel 2016, 18; Leitch 1990, 142; Lukas 2010, 234; Stam 2000, 54). However, these audience responses to House of the Dragon’s title sequence illustrate a quite nuanced facet of this perceived expectation: they reveal that, while viewers may often be thought of as seeking some nebulous criterion of fidelity in spinoffs and adaptations, it is perhaps more accurate to suggest that it is a combination of variation and the pleasure of intertextual engagement that audiences desire in both adaptations and their musical scores, whether knowingly or otherwise. This is certainly consistent with the unique pleasure ascribed to adaptations more generally, whereby change is deemed to be just as important as recognition and remembrance (Hutcheon and O’Flynn 2013, 4).

In this respect, House of the Dragon’s intro sequence – the first window that viewers were afforded into what this “new” rendering of Westeros would feel like, two-hundred years prior to the events of Game of Thrones – serves as a useful springboard for interrogating other aspects of audience engagement with the series’ prominently intertextual identity and wider transmedia presence. These polarised responses to the reuse of Djawadi’s “Main Title” in House of the Dragon alert us to a tangible sense of audience expectation not merely for musical quotation in adapted works, but for musical reinterpretation: a phenomenon forcibly evidenced in the frustration voiced by fans when even the most remote evidence of variation was withheld in the series’ title music.


Works Cited:

Edwards, Belen. “House of the Dragon’s greatest flaw is its theme song.” Mashable. September 7, 2022. Accessed March 5, 2023.

Hall, Sophia Alexandra. “House of the Dragon brings back the original Game of Thrones theme music, but fans are divided.” Classic FM. August 30, 2022. Accessed March 5, 2023.

Hexel, Vasco. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s The Dark Knight: A Film Score Guide. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

Hutcheon, Linda, and Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation. London; New York: Routledge, 2013.

Leitch, Thomas M. “Twice-Told Tales: The Rhetoric of the Remake.” Literature/Film Quarterly 18, no. 3 (1990): 138–49.

Lukas, Scott A. “Horror Video Game Remakes and the Question of Medium: Remaking Doom, Silent Hill and Resident Evil.” In Fear, Cultural Anxiety and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy Films Remade, edited by John Marmysz and Scott A. Lukas, 221–42. Lanham, MD: Lexington books, 2010.

Stam, Robert. “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation.” In Film Adaptation, edited by James Naremore, 54–76. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 2000.

St. Laurent, Lance. Twitter post. August 29, 2022, 2:57 AM.

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