Game of Thrones cinematographer defends low lighting as “a creative choice”

Image: Game of thrones/HBO
Image: Game of thrones/HBO /

Among the many controversies stirred up by the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, the first may have been the dark lighting on “The Long Night,” the episode where the armies of the living fought the army of the dead…and won! The episode was a wild ride, but for a lot of people, very hard to see.

Director of photography Fabian Wagner tackled “The Long Night” after cutting his teeth on classic episodes like “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter.” After “The Long Night” aired, the episode received some blowback for the lighting, and Sapochnik sounded a little defensive talking about it. “A lot of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” he told Wired U.K. “A lot of people also unfortunately watch it on small iPads, which in no way can do justice to a show like that anyway.… If you watch a night scene in a brightly lit room then that won’t help you see the image properly.” And then to TMZ: “[Game of Thrones] has always been very dark and a very cinematic show.… We tried to give the viewers and fans a cool episode to watch.… I know it wasn’t too dark because I shot it!”

Well, Wagner is now here to set the record straight, talking about “The Long Night” — and his comments — on a new episode of The T Stop Inn podcast. He says his original comments were taken “out of context,” although he stands by the artistic decisions he and the rest of the Game of Thrones team made when lighting the episode, which he says were made “fairly early on.” Episode director Miguel Sapochnik came on board first, and the special effects were all too glad to hear of the idea, since it meant they could save some money.

"Some people are, I’m afraid to say, a bit lazy. They want to see everything that’s going on. We made a creative choice to not see what’s going on, because we wanted the audience to be with our heroes on that battlefield looking into a darkness that is unpredictable and uncomprehendible, I guess."

I 100% agree with Wagner that he and Sapochnik were trying “to make the best possible, most interesting TV episode [we could].” Where I differ is that while Wagner still maintains that the low lighting was “the right look” for the battle…eh, I dunno. I totally get what they were going for, but in hindsight, if people can’t see what they’re looking at enough to enjoy it, maybe it’s not a good idea.

Props for effort, though. The weird thing is that despite the lighting for “The Long Night” taking knocks from critics, the episode was probably harder to light than something that looked more traditional. “That was the biggest lighting setup I’ve ever had,” said Wagner, who had to light for four different cameras in some scenes. “Game of Thrones is probably the only job I’ve ever done where I’ve never actually been able to just sit down and relax.” And let’s not forget that the battle was cut together from shoots at five or six different locations.

Wagner says he loves getting in the thick of things and finding angles, so the hustle and bustle is doubtlessly worth it for him in the end. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the episode would look like if it were a tad brighter. But of course, I don’t have to wonder, because Reddit exists:

"[SPOILERS] S08E03 Fight of the dragons – brightness UP, speed DOWN from gameofthrones"

In the end, Wagner is at peace with the…ahem…enthusiastic response his work on “The Long Night” received. “I think a bit of polarization is great,” he said. “Art has always polarized and should always polarize, and you can never please everybody. There’re gonna be people who love it and there’re gonna be people who hate it…I think that’s great. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”


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In other bits of trivia, Wagner mentions that before Sapochnik was brought on to direct “Hardhome” in season 5, it was going to be directed by “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall” director Neil Marshall! When life throws you curveballs, hit a home run, right?

You can hear more of the Wagner interview — including his opinions on more technical matters like depth of field, color grading, and other stuff — here.

Next. Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner marries Joe Jonas…again. dark

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