Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Screenshot: HBO

[Spoilers for Game Of Thrones season 8, episode 3.]

Weirdly, one of the biggest talking points to come from this past Sunday’s tentpole episode of Game Of Thrones has nothing to do with White Walkers, Arya, or the (sadly underwhelming) death of Jorah Mormont. No, it instead centered around the episode’s darkness—not in content, but in presentation. A slew of viewers just couldn’t see the dang thing.


A question then arose: Does the blame fall on episode director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner? Or on us, our stupid TVs, and the factory settings we never changed? Opinion is mixed.

Wagner stands by his work. “A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” he told Wired. “A lot of people also unfortunately watch it on small iPads, which in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.” He continued, “Personally I don’t have to always see what’s going on because it’s more about the emotional impact...Game of Thrones is a cinematic show and therefore you have to watch it like you’re at a cinema: in a darkened room. If you watch a night scene in a brightly-lit room then that won’t help you see the image properly.”


HBO, too, asserted “there were not issues across any of HBO’s platforms” in a statement to Motherboard. Motherboard’s Matthew Gault maintains that the issue doesn’t lie solely on viewers, though, saying that the downgrade comes from a “pressure both on internet connections and the hosting company’s servers.” James Wilcox, a senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports, told him, “So either HBO is screwing up the encoding of the show, or there’s not sufficient bandwidth to transmit the show without losing the bit detail in darker images. You don’t really notice it as much in brighter scenes. I was able to watch it on an OLED TV, which does a better job with blacks, and even on these sets the issue remains. It’s not the TV technology.”

Gizmodo came to a similar conclusion, but added that Game Of Thrones is shot as if it’s going to be screened in a professional theater when, for many viewers, that’s most certainly not the case. “The makers of Game of Thrones almost certainly blew it here,” writes Alex Cranz. “They did not take into account two big factors. First, that people would watch streams which could downgrade thanks to the demands on the servers of HBO and other services, and second, that people would watch the episode on uncalibrated displays in rooms that weren’t lit like a movie house.”


Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz, meanwhile, believes there’s also an aesthetic fault to be discussed. “Unfortunately, the tight framing in certain key action scenes was a problem that even careful calibration couldn’t solve,” he writes. “The dragon fight was framed so close that it was hard to tell who was doing what to whom; afterward, fans worriedly argued about whether Dany had one or two dragons left.” He concludes, “This ultimately feels like an instance of the episode’s chosen style not matching up with the narrative function it needed to serve.”

The good news is that repeat viewings should be better, as less demand on the servers allows for a clearer picture. That, of course, still doesn’t account for any of the episode’s aesthetic faults, should those factor in as an issue for you. Don’t bring these complaints to Wagner, though. “I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it,” he told TMZ. That’s some Arya-level confidence there.


Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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