Was 'House of the Dragon' Too Dark, or Is the Problem Your TV?

Was 'House of the Dragon' Too Dark, or Is the Problem Your TV?
'House of the Dragon'Credit: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
House of the Dragon fans experienced déjà vu while watching the latest Game of Thrones prequel episode. 

In the seventh episode of the new HBO series, “Driftmark,” several scenes were deemed too dark to see by fans, with some saying that the episode was “unwatchable” because the screen was simply too dark.  

A similar backlash happened during the final season of Game of Thrones in the dimly-lit battle episode “The Long Night.” Taking place over one very long night, the battle left many fans squinting at the screen as they struggled to see essential information during important sequences. The darkness also created a sense of disorientation during an already overwhelming battle.  

Why was the seventh episode of 'House of the Dragon' so dark?
'House of the Dragon'Credit: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Emmy-winning director Miguel Sapochnik, who directed both darkly lit episodes from the two series, is no stranger to this type of backlash. He spoke to IndieWire about the creative choice to use darkly-lit cinematography, saying it was what the show’s atmosphere needed. 

“It made sense that this was the last hope humanity has, the last beacon of light, and from the perspective of where we needed the story to go—which was to reach a surreal, chaotic climax—we needed an environment that was friendly to that,” Sapochnik said. “So all the reasons for doing it were there, and nobody sat there and wondered if it was gonna be too dark.”

Fans, however, were not supportive of this creative decision, with some users wanting a written apology from HBO for releasing “a whole episode of black screen.” 

One of HBO’s social media accounts took to Twitter to defend the dark moments in the episode, writing that those moments were “an intentional creative decision.” 

In their response, the HBO account wrote: 

We appreciate you reaching out about the night scene in House of the Dragon: Episode 7 appearing dark on your screen. The dimmed lighting of this scene was an intentional creative decision. Thanks! 

Was the episode too dark, or was it simply a case of modern TVs being the source of the problem? 

It’s Not the Fault of HBO… It's Your TV?

Shot by Fabian Wagner and graded by colorist Asa Shoul, the episode was beautifully shot and illuminated the shift in characters’ arcs and motives. 

Night episodes are always tricky to light, especially in “historical” projects that use firelight to illuminate a scene or moonlight for exterior shots

The Ringer writer and podcaster Joanna Robinson attempted to warn fans ahead of the episode’s airing to alter their TV settings to make the screen a bit brighter, saying, “Watch it with all the drapes closed.”

The reason Robinson recommended viewers change their TV settings is that most TVs are terrible and do not have the ability to show a deep range of darker colors

You can have a TV that shows the “brighter” parts of the frame at the right brightness level, but the way a TV handles the shadow area of the frame isn’t the same as the way it’s handled on the calibrated monitor in the post suite. 

Post pros try to compensate for many viewers’ default TV settings, but there are just too many different TVs on the market and ways for them to be set that it is impossible to make a dark scene look goon on every single one.  

To fix this issue, you have to change your TV’s picture controls in your menu to see the darker areas of the frame properly. On a properly set up TV, you can see details of a scene and expressions of characters’ faces in the dark moments. 

Users can turn their TV to "Vivid" to compensate for the TV's lack of range, giving the viewers an overall brighter image. Unfortunately, the image will likely not look how it was intended to, but you will at least be able to see what you're watching. For modern TVs, users can switch to "Filmmaker mode" to get a clearer image and display images somewhat accurately. 

This is one of the major frustrations of modern filmmaking. You cannot properly control the home experience with the consistency that we see in a proper theatrical projection. 

Why was the seventh episode of 'House of the Dragon' so dark?
'House of the Dragon'Credit: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
There is no problem watching prestigious TV series on an affordable TV, but don’t blame HBO or the filmmakers behind the episode for being too dark to see anything. Streaming creates several issues when watching anything on any device. The best we can do is adjust our settings in an attempt to watch a film or series in the way the filmmakers wanted us to. 

Was the episode too dark on your screen? Will you be calibrating or at least turning your monitor to "vivid" before the rest of the season? Let us know in the comments below.      

You Might Also Like

Your Comment

7 Comments

Funny how the video world is just now dealing with an issue the audio industry has managed to solve. When mastering audio the goal is to make it sound good on all speakers, from the club to the iphone.

“Your tv sucks” is not the reason, it’s an excuse.
Matt

October 3, 2022 at 3:47PM

1
Reply
avatar
Matthew Carnes
All Trades that Pay
74

100% Agree.

Also there is already a solution for this. In HDR sure dim it slightly, assuming a better viewing experience, but in Rec. 709 that better still be visible even on a shitty TV in daylight.

The fact that this is the same damn director as "The Long NIght" drives me nuts. Learn a lesson from the first backlash! Your directing for TV, not movie theaters!

October 3, 2022 at 5:30PM

0
Reply
Geoff C. Bassett
Colorist
295

sorry but... what?

It's made for viewing at home, and lots of other movies with night scenes motivated by candlelight and moonlight look fantastic at home... I use a projector at home so can not get quite as deep blacks as an Oled... yet almost eveything, even horror films, look fantastic on it...

The fundamentals of cinematography is you need bright parts in the frame to balance out the dark and make the dark feel like darkness and not just underexposing... these shots all seem across the board seem to sit so low that the actual key-fill ratios are more like a comedy, just underexposed rather than a higher key-fill ratio to amplify the feeling of darkness they underexpose a low key-fill ratio to make it, i dono, hard to see stuff in the frame? I don't get it, it feels lazy... like a high end version of the 5D phase of shallow depth of field as a facsimile to 'cinema'....

October 3, 2022 at 8:04PM, Edited October 3, 8:43PM

0
Reply
avatar
Isaac Elliott
Director - Producer
729

No TV can fix this fundamental problem, personally i dont think its a problem of darkness or brightness but a problem of key-fill ratio. That's why you can't raise the brightness of the TV to make it viewable in anything other than a light controlled black room (a colour grading studio) without just turning it into a grey mess... Or raising the contrast on the TV and essentially trying to artifiically stretch the luma range of an image to make it viewable... Even in cinemas this shooting where all the information is in the lowest 5% of luminance struggles... unless they are in the most amazing modern Laser projector cinemas which is less than 5% of cinemas....

October 3, 2022 at 8:47PM

14
Reply
avatar
Isaac Elliott
Director - Producer
729

Exactly. You can tweak your settings all you want, you won't be able to relight the scene.

October 4, 2022 at 10:37AM, Edited October 4, 10:45AM

1
Reply
avatar
Álex Montoya
Writer/Director
755

The destination of the show is home tv through streaming and streaming compression by itself is already awful with shadows.
They should deliver a beefy enough image (that is, with good contrast ratios) to be 'read' in most tv sets.

It's really not that hard.

October 4, 2022 at 10:35AM, Edited October 4, 10:38AM

6
Reply
avatar
Álex Montoya
Writer/Director
755

I have a Dolby Vision/HDR TV that normally shows dark very well. Not the case here. I don't pay HBO to squint at a black screen.

October 6, 2022 at 12:08PM

0
Reply