‘Cobra Kai’ Composers Break Down Iconic ‘Duel of the Snakes’ Scene

John Kreese and Johnny Lawrence in "Cobra Kai"

YouTube Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and John Kreese (Martin Kove) battle it out in the season 3 finale of "Cobra Kai."

Netflix’s hit series “Cobra Kai” may be well-known for its soundtrack, with some of the series’ most recognizable scenes taking place under the backdrop of some iconic music. Recently, “Coba Kai’s” official Instagram page released a video of the show’s composers, Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson, breaking down their original theme, “Duel of the Snakes,” also known as John Kreese’s theme, which was used in the climactic season 3 finale.

Two scenes centered around Kreese (Martin Kove) – one when he was a younger man, battling his Army Captain George Turner, and another in the present as he battles his former student Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) – are spliced together during the dramatic scene, culminating in a bloody end for both battles. Here’s exactly how Birenberg and Robinson break down the score behind season 3’s action-packed showdown.


The ‘Main Cobra Kai’ Theme is Centered Around Robby

In the video, the composers explained that the score for “Cobra Kai,” which is “highly thematic,” is broken down into themes for virtually every character, human and non-human – “people, dojos, places.” However, the “main Cobra Kai” theme, they believe, is “Robby’s turncoat moment” in the season 3 episode 10 of the show, where Johnny’s son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) displays his loyalty to John Kreese by choosing to fight it out with his father in defense of Kreese and the Cobra Kai dojo.

Birenberg explains why Kreese, arguably the series’ villain, is one of their favorite characters to score:

Kreese is one of our favorite characters to score because he’s this master manipulator. There’s always bits of his musical DNA floating around, even when he’s just an offscreen presence. 

Robinson added that “[Kreese] and Johnny’s relationship is super fraught, to say the least, and it provides a lot of drama for us as composers to work with.”


The Influence of the 1980s In the ‘Cobra Kai’ Score

John Kreese

YouTubeJohn Kreese in the midst of his battle with Johnny Lawrence in “Cobra Kai” season 3.

Both composers stressed the importance of scores from past films when it came to creating the music for “Cobra Kai.” Robinson referenced “Star Wars” (the score of which was composed by John Williams) by referring to how Kreese’s theme would be played in the soprano voice for the first time as he tries to turn Johnny to the “dark side” in the season 3 finale. The title of the theme – “Duel of the Snakes” – is also likely a play on John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” theme used in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” which is also played over a number of different battle scenes spliced together.

Robinson added that Kreese’s Vietnam flashback scenes, which was “prime ‘Cobra Kai’ score” gave them “an opportunity for us to pay homage to our favorite ’80s war action film scores.”

Birenberg explained that “there’s a lot of ’80s air metal influence in the score in general,” but in moments like the climactic dual battle sequence that they get to combine the “big gated drums, [and] guitar,” with the orchestra. “We use a lot of low muted brass, timpani, low string access, just everything to give it kind of rhythm and muscle,” Robinson said.

They later added that they use an “80 piece orchestra” for every episode of the show. Birenberg explained that “for us, you need that for the sense of scale and storytelling.” Furthermore, as the composers explain, many fans may not know that Johnny’s theme, which was introduced in the first episode of the show, is interwoven into the “Duel of the Snakes” fight scene.

In a 2021 Variety interview, Birenberg and Robinson expanded further on the significance of the “Duel of the Snakes” theme. Birenberg said:

You’ve got father-son betrayals, master-student betrayals, the stakes are literally life and death. It’s just giant orchestra the whole way through and it brings in our bass guitar and drums. It’s a major climax in the storytelling.

While Variety mentioned that there are nods to Bill Conti’s score for the original “Karate Kid” film in “Cobra Kai,” both Birenberg and Robinson wanted the score for the TV series to be wholly original. “We wanted to draw from a lot of hair metal influences,” Robinson said, “which you don’t hear a lot of in scores, and take elements of the 80s synthpop and new wave, post-punk type sounds and incorporate that into the music.”

You can listen to Birenberg and Robinson’s full “Duel of the Snakes” theme on YouTube here.

All three seasons of “Cobra Kai” are available to stream on Netflix. Season 4 will be released December 31.


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