In the era of streaming, some question whether title sequences are necessary. ‘Game of Thrones’ proves that they are.
Title Sequences, those brief vignettes that showcase the talent involved in your favorite show, are in a bit of a flux right now. Perhaps they are more entertaining than ever, not only introducing the players of a particular show but also qualifying as a stand-alone work of art. For some that can be equally frustrating as they binge-watch the latest Netflix show on the train. Are title sequences on the way out? If title sequences like Game of Thrones continue to exist they show that titles can be vital to a show’s DNA.
Before The Sopranos took to the highway to set the mood, TV title sequences were mostly mundane. Some of them had really fantastic jingles like Happy Days or I Love Lucy, iconic relics of a television era gone by. If you were to hum any number of these songs, friends, coworkers, and family would instantly know exactly what show you were talking about. There was nothing wrong with this kind of opening, it’s just that after a certain matter of time it became rudimentary. A chore that took time away from the broadcast of your favorite television show.
Leave it to HBO, television pioneers in many facets, to revolutionize what audiences could expect from a title sequence.
The Sopranos might have led the charge forward, but since then HBO has elevated what audiences can expect from their titles. Shows such as True Blood, The Leftovers, and True Detective feature the pinnacle of their work. What makes these great titles? They offer an ingenious way to introduce viewers to the world of the television program. They aren’t so much of maps of the characters that are going to appear in a show, but more of a map of the actual events of the show. No other show exemplifies this than Game of Thrones.
Angus Wall (with musical accompaniment Ramin Djawadi) is responsible for the Game of Thrones opening sequence. He had helped HBO previously with titles for Deadwood and Carnivàle when he got the call to set up the map of Westeros. When talking with Art of the Title, Wall said “…a concern which is that [Game of Thrones] doesn’t take place on the Earth that we know. It takes place in a world that exists only in the books. So similar to how the legend or map at the front of fantasy book works, …there was a need for a map to the show.” The idea originally was to have the map within the confines of the show so audiences would know of the different locations they were visiting, but that eventually got pushed to the opening titles.
That map sequence has become such a key component of Game of Thrones. Not only is the music a signature song that stands alone, but sets viewers up for exactly what destinations they are visiting within Westeros. Each season the map changes just a little big to show where we are going and where the different houses are located. This is done ingeniously by the house sigils on top of the computer generated locations. These are vital to the plot of Game of Thrones and expertly sets up audiences for the events to unfold before them.
Today we have a countless number of television shows available to consume. Shows such as Game of Thrones, American Gods, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things are a few shows that audiences adore that also contains lively and intriguing title sequence art. These sequences are created by talent at studios such as Imaginary Forces and Elastic, the two studios where most of the memorable titles are created. Many of these titles can be viewed at Art of the Title, which does an excellent job of interviewing and recognizing the talent behind these sequences.
While current times for title sequences sound wonderful, there is a looming threat on the horizon. Streaming services such as Netflix have brought a greater rise to binge-watch culture. Audiences breeze through a season of ten episodes in a single weekend. These same audiences don’t want to have to waste valuable time sitting through the same title sequences again and again. Even if it is as exciting as what shows like Game of Thrones and American Gods offer. Thus Netflix began playing with the option that allows viewers to skip the opening titles. Why not give audiences what they want?
There is a problem with this from an artistic standpoint and one of acknowledgment. Obviously, a lot more money is going into making these sequences. With so many shows to choose from these sequences can draw attention to a certain show and intrigue audiences. Case in point: A show like The Leftovers was not on my radar until the buzz about its season two opening sequence reached a fever pitch. Creators want people to be drawn to the shows and the crew of the show also deserves attention. When we can skip opening sequences and shut off programming before the closing credits, it becomes increasingly difficult to put names to faces.
That would be nice except audiences don’t really care about how their shows are made, they just want to watch them. Title sequences are going to have to generate a buzz of their own if they want to continue to matter, otherwise, they will be a thing of the past. If that means releasing them early as Starz did with American Gods, then perhaps we will be seeing more companies take that approach when advertising their shows. Title sequences are more vital than ever, as Game of Thrones showcases. This art form is one that is constantly evolving, it will just have to move faster to survive our ever-changing media consumption.