“The Long Night,” the third episode of the final season of Game of Thrones contained one of the most epic sustained action sequences ever captured on film. The problem is, no one could see it. The episode was so dark that it was hard to follow the action. Fans were not happy.
Don't forget, if you missed last night's Game of Thrones, you can easily replicate the experience by taping two dirty gauzes to your eyes and imagining no significant deaths
— Stuart Heritage (@stuheritage) April 30, 2019
just an incredible episode so far pic.twitter.com/43JpqyvWbj
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) April 29, 2019
Now, Fabian Wagner, the episode’s cinematographer, is speaking out to explain what happened. Wagner says that he filmed the episode properly, but he faults HBO’s digital compression for the muddy, monochromatic final product. “I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it,” Wagner told TMZ.
“[GoT] has always been very dark and a very cinematic show,” Wagner said. He described the particularly dark style of the episode as a creative choice by the director and showrunners intended to immerse the viewer the chaos and confusion of the onscreen battle. John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly on the show, told USA Today that the darkness of the episode “reflects how the characters are feeling a sense of confusion and fighting blind, literally stabbing in the dark.”
Compression is the Culprit
Still, by the time the episode reached viewers’ screens, it was darker than the show’s creators probably intended. The culprit is the compression technology cable companies and streaming services use to squeeze digital video into the least possible bandwidth.
Compression works by reducing the amount of information that needs to be transmitted. The compression process discards elements that repeat or that are deemed unnecessary by the compression algorithm. The result is a smaller, more manageable file. However, the process inevitably loses some of the image information along the way.
Most of the time, the compressed video still looks good enough that you wouldn’t notice. But, for a variety of technical reasons, compression algorithms have a harder time dealing with dimly lit scenes. Because “The Long Night” was darker to begin with, the quality loss resulting from the compression process is more apparent — especially when watching on streaming services with slow internet connections.
Do Adjust Your Set
Wagner says he understands fans’ concerns. He suggests that viewers watch the episode in a darkened room and crank up the brightness on their TV. Making sure your internet connection is as fast as possible will improve the image quality as well. “The Long Night” is remarkable television and well worth the extra trouble.