Spoiler alert: Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3, “The Long Night.”
Perhaps you, like countless other that have sounded off on social media in the past few days, had trouble viewing the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, in which the living faced off against the dead in the dark of night. There was plenty of fire to go around, but for the most part, the episode was a flurry of hard-to-see action taking place in poorly lit environments. Even diehard fans were complaining en masse.
Know that the decision to film the episode in such a fashion was a purposeful one, according to cinematographer Fabian Wagner, and that he blames your TV settings or the quality of your screen if you had trouble making out what was happening. After all, Wagner says the show was directed and shot like a cinematic experience that could be viewed in a movie theater, even though it’s predominantly streamed at compressed quality to screens of all shapes and sizes.
In a pair of interviews given to Wired UK and TMZ, Wagner explained the reasoning behind the artistic choice to film such a dark, claustrophobic battle. He also pointed the finger at technology, specifically a lack of quality and understanding of it. “A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” Wagner told Wired UK. “A lot of people also unfortunately watch it on small iPads, which in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.”
What is this TV tuning he’s talking about? Well, according to The Verge’s resident TV expert Chris Welch, there’s a number of factors that could result in a less-than-stellar stream of the episode. Wagner himself also said HBO’s compression of the episode, to help smooth over the streaming process for millions of viewers with varying connection speeds, is another contributor.
There’s the brightness level of your TV, as well as the picture mode. Both can impact how sharp onscreen action appears in scenes with vastly disparate lighting levels. There’s also the backlight level that can light up hard-to-see parts of a particularly dark shot, while nearby lighting sources can cause reflections and make it even more difficult to focus on the onscreen image.
did HBO call this the largest battle in cinematic history knowing we wouldn’t be able to see if that claim was true
— tc (@chillmage) April 29, 2019
Having an OLED display also goes a long way in helping differentiate the action of a shot with a considerable amount of black pixels in the frame. Finally, as Wagner points out, there’s the raw streaming quality to take into account, with fans debating the best streaming service to view the episode on before an official Blu-ray. For now, it sounds like Amazon is the way to go given its potentially higher bitrate.
As for why the episode had to be so dark, Wagner says it was an artistic choice. “The showrunners decided that this had to be a dark episode,” he tells Wired UK. “We’d seen so many battle scenes over the years — to make it truly impactful and to care for the characters, you have to find a unique way of portraying the story.”
For those that are still unconvinced, Fabian offered a more definitive response to TMZ. “We tried to give the viewers and fans a cool episode to watch,” he said. “I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it.”