I Would Have Enjoyed Game Of Thrones If I Could See It

What the fresh hell is even going on here? Image: HBO / Foxtel Now

Who cares about spending $127 million on a show if you can't see the bloody thing?

That's my gripe with last night's episode, The Long Night. HBO reportedly spent 11 weeks filming in freezing temperatures, with several hundred extras, cast members and crew.

Obviously, such a huge effort costs a ton of money. The final season of GoT cost HBO just over $127 million ($US90 million), although the Battle for Winterfell will be one of the most expensive episodes.

So at a minimum, The Long Night would have cost at least $21 million.

It's a shame, then, that you could barely make out what was going on.

game of thrones the dark night final season episode 3This is supposed to be Dany on a dragon, but you've got bugger all chance of detecting that.

For reference, HBO doesn't fuck around when it comes to their camera rigs. The full package includes an ARRI Alexa, an ARRA Alexa Mini, and a RED Epic Dragon 6K rig, which is light enough to be used with Freefly's MoVI M10 camera gimble. There's also a range of steadycam, handheld and on-rails setups, which HBO has shown off before in a behind-the-scenes video for season 6.

But having high quality source footage doesn't help if everything gets compressed to complete garbage, a situation Australians are familiar with. Unlike most streaming services, HBO Now doesn't broadcast footage in 4K or HDR, the latter of which would have been supremely helpful in dealing with the muddy blacks that ruined The Long Night. You can watch previous seasons in 4K Ultra HD if you buy it on Blu-Ray, but 1080p is the best you can hope to stream.

And that's if you're not using a VPN. Australians going through the official channels are limited to the quality broadcast by Foxtel Now, which broadcasts at 720p for live TV and 1080p for select On Demand titles. And for most Australians, particularly those watching the initial screening at 11am - in the middle of the day, typically in a room with bright light - several sections of the fight were completely unwatchable.

Even identifying key supporting actors in parts of the fight that were better lit, courtesy of Melisandre's magic and the dragons starting to get into the fray, was a struggle. The one saving grace was that I was watching on a monitor close enough that I could lean in and squint. Anyone watching on a larger TV, where blockier pixels are blown up in full view, didn't have that luxury. (The worst scenario was apparently during an invite-only screening, where viewers were treated to a letterbox experience of a 720p image blown up onto a cinema screen. I'm told that the quality was so bad that people started walking out.)

A poignant moment, ruined by the fact that the dragon has all the detail of a Minecraft block. Image: HBO / Foxtel Now / Game of Thrones

It's frustrating because this is a situation that flared up last season. Every short of the Starks holding court in Winterfell, where just about every face and object is cast in great shadow, were always a problem. But HBO shot around most of this by using bright, vibrant areas. Shots around Dragonstone were often done by the cliffs, the beaches or something with a view to the water, offering plenty of natural light. Episodes beyond the wall often featured a backdrop of snow. Sam and Gilly's scenes at the Citadel were bathed in candlelight, illustrating their faces in a soft light. And much of King's Landing is covered in the warm daylight; even shots around Cersei's map room where many of the archways are covered in shadow, or underground parts of the city where Qyburn does his experiments, were still well balanced.

Broadcasting in HDR would help alleviate some of the darkness issue, although that's not much consolation if the compression ends up ruining the end quality anyway. The bigger problem is, as Alex Cranz noted, most of the editing and colour grading would have been done in a dark room on a reference monitor, the same conditions that films are edited in.

That's fine if you're in a theatre, but it's garbage for the everyday conditions that people watch content on now. It's especially true for people who stream content on their phones. And then there's the whole issue where people don't calibrate their displays, or they buy screens and TVs that don't have great quality to begin with (particularly if you're getting a budget TV).

Game of thrones looking incredible on $3k OLED TV /s from r/OLED

It's a stunning oversight on HBO's part. Winterfell, and much of the North, has a lot of beautiful blacks, blues and hues that are incredibly subtle, especially when filmed at night. By failing to better account for the conditions that most viewers would be seeing the show in, and not supporting better quality resolutions or features like HDR that most users expect in 2019, all of that went to pot. A ton of detail was lost, and while people will be able to enjoy the full experience in a year or so when the season is released in 4K Blu-Ray, that's nothing compared to enjoying the experience properly for the first time.

It'd be nice to see the episode the way HBO intended. The source footage is shot at a high enough detail, and maybe local cinemas could get their hands on higher-quality footage for one-off GoT marathons. Either way, at least we know where the season is headed. Winter has come and gone, and hopefully it takes the tide of blocky, muddy darkness with it.


Comments

    Literally the reason why I watch each season when it comes out on 4K Bluray.

    Not only the lack of lighting but can we please stop filming battle/fight scenes with a shaky handycam? I get that it seems more "believable" and adds to the tension/drama but for the love of all that is holy... stop.
    I immensely disliked yesterdays offering, to the point of checking my phone during it. It's fallen really far from the original season.
    Of course it's all subjective and many people enjoyed it - including a number I watched it with.

      because the show has gone past the books; it's written by screenwriters, not an author

    I wouldn’t have minded it so much if it descended into that level of darkness, the further the battle raged. So what started as clear characters were just faceless bodies and mess by the end. But they way it ended up was just a technical mess, that only proved how awesome Peter Jackson got the balance for Helms Deep. In which never lost sight of exactly what was happening

    The worse part were the dragon fights, unless you could see through the wings of the undead one, they all looked the same.

      Right? I still have no idea which, if any, of those dragons survived. Or for that matter, which of the humans. Brienne and Jamie were fairly indistinguishable for the entire episode

        the undead one died, Drogon (Dany's) lived, Jon's (rhaegon? something like that) crashed landed but you see him in the trailer for next week's episode.

          Yeah Rhaegal seemed to run along the ground for a few seconds (when Jon fell off) and then it vanished for the rest of the episode.

          Guess it was taking a nap with Ghost or something...

    THANK YOU!

    I sat and watched this episode and after an hour and a half I was just like... I couldn't see a damn thing. It was such a waste of time and far from what the original seasons were like. I expected there to be a bloody massacre by the end of that episode... but noooo we have to have the good guys win.

    The best thing about that whole episode was the Dothraki charge at the start with their flaming swords. Watching them go out 1 by 1 was an excellent use of night and darkness. That truly set the scene for what the heros were up against and how their effort would just be consumed by this enormous army heading towards them. But after that it all went down hill when it was just impossible to see what was going on.

    The dragon fights... useless. Most of the fights between any of the main heros and enemies... Useless. The only fight worth mentioning is with the giant because we could see what the hell was going on. There was no sword fight with Jon Snow and the Night king, which had clearly been set up to be with their long gazes at each other in their past encounters.

    Shaky cameras and shit lighting = no thanks. Pass.

      +1 Agreement on the Dothraki charge, that was a very good scene. I am also in agreement with the dragon fights, I would have much preferred a pull-backed shot of them fighting above the clouds.

      I also like the wave of the dead hitting the 'defenses' - a giant amorphous blob of dead things.

    I've seen this topic come up and I didn't have an issue with it. I guess I just enjoyed it as the directors and producers intended? A little realism in a fantasy world. You're flying on a dragon in the dark, through a magical snow storm. You ain't going to see shit - why should the audience? The purpose of the storm was to make it difficult to see and function. And it was night time... To me, that darkness added to the tension of the frenetic battle below which was also dark and terrifying. I enjoyed it.

    I honestly expected to have a few more characters well and truly dead in this episode, and the foreshadowing within the episode was craptastic because it was way too obvious and basically told you what was about to happen about two minutes before it happened, thus killing the tension at the end. I'm disappointed that the battle for Helms Deep... oops, Winterfell... was as anticlimactic as it was. But I still enjoyed it overall.

      >You ain't going to see shit - why should the audience?
      Because its a freaking TV show, what the hell is the point if you cant see whats happening? That is literally the one thing it is supposed to do, show you whats happening.
      It would be like buying a CD (lol) and then all the music is only ever playable at a volume not audible. "oh but the singer intended that", wouldn't mean its not moronic and pointless

        How do you sell the idea that the storm is so thick no one can see shit without making it so thick that the audience can't see shit though? In the books the storm is mentioned as one of the many terrifying things about 'the others', they've never really done it justice in the show but I thought they finally did this week.

        I'll admit that they overused it, the fire in the trench should've been a bit quicker and even after that they kept the fog when they really should have stopped (we'd got the point by then) but I do support the idea of making it bleak and aweful to see early on.

          Oh yeah it does work very well to show how it should feel in universe, but i think the viewer actually being able to watch the show should have taken a bit more precedence.
          Like you say show it get really dark, but maybe tone it back a bit or have the fires and such make more difference. I do get it would have been a tough balancing act, but well i think they got it wrong this time, maybe on a bluray release they can fiddle with things and see if they can make it lighter while hopefully keeping as much of the creepy feeling as possible

    i started watching it on my phone on the train, but quickly realised that on that screen in that environment, i couldn't watch it well, so === LIKE AN ADULT === I stopped.

    When I got home, I waited til the kids were in bed, then watched it with the lights dimmed on a 55" TV, and it was perfectly fine, didn't notice any compression artifacts or muddy blacks.

    Be an adult. Is the image too dark? Just turn the room lights down and mess with TV gamma/brightness/contrast a bit.

    Must you watch it right at 11am in a bright room? Go on then, watch it at that time, and complain on the internet afterwards.

      Agreed. We turned the lights off in the room and the picture was fine. Yeah it's dark but hey, it's a fight at night in a storm...no worse than most horror films are in night scenes.

      >I'm an adult because i just accept crap and dont make any fuss
      I watched it at night in a literally pitch black room, on a very high quality computer monitor from only a few feet away and no it was absolutely made too dark. Sure i could mostly tell what was going on in a general sense, but any real detail to anything was lost.

    I liked the use of darkness, added a unique layer of fear and tension. It really sold the idea that it was death, not a glowing blue army of ice death men.

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