I recently had a revelation about the Game of Thrones credits, to which one of my friends responded, 'Are you serious? You only just noticed that?.' Still, I thought it was interesting enough to warrant further inspection.
I thought the Game of Thrones title sequence changed every season, but it's actually different EVERY EPISODE. More than this, there are RULES.
Game of Thrones Title Sequence Rule 1
The sequence must include King's Landing, The Wall, Winterfell, and wherever the heck Daenerys happens to be during that episode's timeline.
Yup, even during Seasons 3 and 4, when Winterfell was never actually visited on screen, the ancestral home of House Stark was still present at the start of every dang episode.
Game of Thrones producer Greg Spence elaborated on the title sequence rules:
"The way the main title, and the way that the camera travels, and crossing the Narrow Sea into Essos is important to us, because it communicates the expanse of the show, and it helps to remind the audience of the entire world in which the show takes place. I think if we tried to limit the main title to just places that appear in the episodes, or we're literally tracing each character, it would be more confusing and less successful at its primary task, which is really orienting people to the world."
Game of Thrones Title Sequence Rule 2
Where a specific region features in the show but time and money prevent its creation for the title sequence, a nearby 'capital' region may stand in.
The gang at HBO — and title designers Elastic — don't shit gold like Tywin Lannister, so there are limited exquisite, tiny mechanical cities that can be rendered for the Game of Thrones credits. This means a bit of approximation and substitution goes on. One example is seen in Season 5, where Sansa and Littlefinger are at Runestone in The Vale, but the animation depicts The Eyrie instead.
Game of Thrones Title Sequence Rule 3
The title sequence may never be longer than 90 seconds.
Additionally, the length of the permanent animations — Winterfell, The Wall, King's Landing and Dany's latest haunt — are fixed, meaning that, no matter how many locations are visited in an episode, there is limited space to cram in more. For this reason, there are never more than 6 locations visited in the title sequence.
For more on the marvelous meta-implications of the Game of Thrones title sequence and an investigation of the astrolabe, check this out. If you're interested in the Game of Thrones music, listen to composer Ramin Djawadi discuss how he created the beloved title theme on awesome podcast Song Exploder.