The advantage of our thoroughly interconnected digital age is that you can get feedback within moments. When you have a big-name product like Game of Thrones, any notable point of discussion will find itself thrust into the spotlight very quickly – and the most notable point of the most recent episode, ‘The Long Night’, is the incredibly low lighting levels, with many wags taking to social media and posting ‘Game of Thrones spoilers!’ over a blank, matte-black picture.
Cinematographer Fabian Wagner, who worked on the show’s previous battle episodes ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Battle of the Bastards’, has defended the episode, stating “I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it“. Wagner puts the widespread complaints down to the way viewers watched the show, arguing that it’s a “cinematic” experience that isn’t meant to be watched on a tablet or phone, and suggesting that the optimum viewing experience would be on a full TV screen in a darkened room – and that, if all else fails, viewers should adjust the settings on their television.
However, this isn’t limited to ‘The Long Night’ – the same complaint has been laid against many other episodes of the show. In a 2017 interview, another of the show’s cinematographers, the Emmy-nominated Robert McLachlan, was frank that the show has indeed become darker over the years, and that this is a deliberate decision borne of a wish to make the show feel more realistic. McLachlan points to the fact that in the first season, there was “a lot of unmotivated backlight…Even day exteriors, you can tell that they’ve been lit”, and that as a reaction to this, in recent years he and the show’s other cinematographers have been aiming “to make these sets and locations feel as if they’re absolutely not lit by us, but only by mother nature or some candles or what have you, so that it feels more naturalistic”.
Granted, McLachlan has a point that outside, in winter, at night, there will by definition be little natural light, but of course realism isn’t everything. ‘The Long Night’ has been compared extensively to the Helm’s Deep battle sequence in The Two Towers, including by the show’s PR department – however, despite being a night scene, Helm’s Deep was quite clearly lit. Sean Astin, who played Sam Gamgee, recalls asking cinematographer Andrew Lesnie where the light was coming from in those scenes, only to receive the pithy reply “The same place as the music”. Certainly, nobody’s been hassling Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi about the unrealistic nature of the episode’s score, furious and befuddled that they couldn’t see a single pianist onscreen.
Previews for next week’s episode reveal that at least some of it takes place in the daytime, doubtless to the relief of anyone without 20/20 vision.