Secrets of The Soundtrack: The Walking Dead’s composer on why only Carl got his own theme, the music


 The Walking Dead contains some of the most intense and bloody scenes ever brought to television – and it’s made even more horrifying by the eerie musical undertones that play it  From the start of the quickening strings of the title sequence, that builds its heart-stopping suspense, to knowing when silence is key for that moment of pure horror, there’s lots to unpack in what makes the show great  Composer Bear McCreary has been part of the show since the start, and helped bring out the suspense and heartstopping music that guides us through the 147 episodes completed since  Also creating the score for other shows including Outlander, Battlestar Galactica and Agents of SHIELD, and it’s obvious that this guy knows how to leave viewers’ hearts in their throats as things start to go wrong for our heroes  Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, Bear delves into the creation of the theme song, and easter eggs even the biggest fan might have missed over the past 10 years…   Creating the iconic theme  ‘When Frank started developing The Walking Dead, he brought me on very early,’ Bear told us, adding that at the time, the show didn’t even have a cast and the pilot episode was yet to start filming  ‘I have to admit that I struggled with the Walking Dead theme, perhaps more than any other theme for a show that I’ve ever written,’ he continued ‘Normally the theme is the first thing I write, and in the case of the Walking Dead, I just couldn’t crack it, and I struggled at it so long, I eventually started scoring the show when Frank [Darabont, season one showrunner] and I, we’d come together, go through it, talk about all the themes, and I just started writing cues  ‘The theme, the title sequence, was just sort of just gnawing at me, I couldn’t crack it,’ Bear added ‘Literally the last 15 seconds of the episode, I suddenly have an action thing to write, so I started looking at it, and immediately, I heard this urgent fast string break that use the open strings of a violin, G, D and A, I added a D Flat and within seconds I heard this thing, this urgent, Bernard Harmann kind of colour  ‘In five seconds I realised I had the main title.’  ‘I quickly sketched out a main title for the Walking Dead and after struggling with it for weeks, it happened almost instantly,’ he added ‘It’s really weird, and it tells me that when you try to force something creatively, you often find yourself going down the wrong path, or going nowhere, and then when you wait for the right set of circumstances or inspiration to hit you, something can happen very quickly ’  It seems he wasn’t the only one to think so, and within days Frank and the AMC team had given their approval, and he’d got himself a title track  ‘That sketch that I did in about half an hour when I first got that idea, went to Gail, Frank, AMC, and then the millions of fans, virtually unchanged from that initial idea,’ he said, laughing: ‘It actually went from being one of the hardest things for me to write, to being the thing I wrote the quickest!’  ‘I would imagine Walking Dead is among the simpler theme songs out there, if you really boil it down,’ Bear later added of the final piece ‘It’s a 35 second title sequence but it really is just two seconds of information that just repeats and dissonant colours that come in an modulates a little bit, but basically the entire theme can be boiled down to one bar, and I find in a sort of minimalist way in an almost Phillip Glass horror way  ‘That makes it more effective. It’s utter simplicity is what I think makes it an effective tool for scaring people and simultaneously being memorable ’ The theme almost changed in season nine  While the basis for the theme song has remained the same, Bear revealed that there were changes made from episode to episode throughout season one    However, once it was laid down, it was important they remained the same to Bear, and even when the time jump arrived in season nine, he decided it was best not to adapt it     Why you hear the theme before the titles run  ‘There’s the point in the first episode where this show is structured with a teaser before the main title, and as a teaser for the first episode of The Walking Dead, Rick encounters what he thinks is a little girl and he turns around…it’s a walker and he shoots her in the head, then it cuts to title,’ he said  ‘I thought that was so disturbing, and so creepy, that I just wanted to hear that main title string grade earlier, to comment on the end of that scene, so I started the main title music before the main title  ‘I thought it would be a once-off, special thing that he did in episode one- but it actually created a rhythm for the show, and I’ve done this many times We don’t do it every episode, but we do it a lot.’  ‘I think it’s with an interesting narrative trick that I stumbled upon, because there’s something interesting to the viewer,’ Bear continued ‘It was kind of my fear it would take tension away, because as you watch episode to episode the introduction of those strings signal the main titles is about 5-10 seconds away  ‘I thought that would take tension away with the audience knowing the scene is about to end, but I’ve found it actually does the opposite It actually ramps it up.  ‘The audience knows there’s only a few seconds left and on this show a lot can change in a few seconds I feel that it has kind of had an interesting, Pavlov-ian effect over the years, their reaction to hearing it and that thing over scenes of extreme tension, over and over and over, and I think it’s sort of burrowed into their brain ’ Only Carl got his own musical theme  Due to the sheer number of characters, factions and survivors on the show, it became impossible for Bear and his team to create something unique for each and every person  However, Bear admits that there was one character who got his attention, and one of the few themes in the show – Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs)  ‘Carl was special, Carl was a really unique character that had this innocence and vulnerability to him, and it transitioned in strength and trying to think,’ Bear explained ‘The first time I wrote a theme for him was season two, where he starts off the season getting shot, and at the end of the season does pretty, significantly violent things  ‘So I hung on him this beautiful little piano piece that I actually did bring back when he left the show, and I used it several times throughout ’  However, while others got an outright musical theme, others definitely were inspired by certain things – like John Carpenter, the Halloween creating Horror Master, came in particularly handy for one character’s inspiration  Bear told us: ‘The Governor in season three got something pretty awesome, this ominous sort of John Carpenter inspired, low-synth growl that just repeated over and over  ‘It was actually the first truly synthetic sounding truly acoustic organic score from around that time So it was pretty bold for anyone who was at that change of colour that was really attached to him ’        Something to keep an ear out for for sure…  The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC in the US, and Mondays at 9pm on Fox in the UK