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.
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!
Hi Stephen! We appreciate you reaching out about a 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! ^LL— HBOMaxHelp (@HBOMaxHelp) October 3, 2022
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?
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.”
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.
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.