Ser Jaime Lannister and Ser Brienne of Tarth in formation ahead of the Battle for Winterfell
PICTURE: Helen Sloan/HBO
Ser Jaime Lannister and Ser Brienne of Tarth in formation ahead of the Battle for Winterfell PICTURE: Helen Sloan/HBO

#GameofThrones cinematographer explains why 'The Battle of Winterfell' was so dark

By Katie Mettler and Bethonie Butler Time of article published Apr 30, 2019

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They say Democracy Dies in Darkness (OK, OK, only we say that), but in the latest "Game of Thrones" episode, we learned what else dies in darkness.

The entire Dothraki army. White Walkers. Dragon(s)?

Key characters pertinent to major plot points who maybe died or maybe lived, or perhaps died and then rose again with the undead and then died a second time - it's really not clear, because we couldn't actually see much of anything at all during "The Long Night."

The whole episode felt chaotic and tense, more than an hour of combat that moved from the sky to the ground to the castle to the crypts. It was the longest and most expensive battle scene in the history of TV and cinema, the showrunners have said.

It was also, according to many "Thrones" fans, the darkest.

Across social media, viewers shared screenshot after screenshot of indecipherable blobs: Is that Jon Snow? Is it Arya? Which dragon is that? Who knows?

"Everyone could've died this episode, and I won't know cause I can't see anything," one fan tweeted.

"Did they blow the budget on the dragons or what because there is NO lighting," wondered another.

"The Long Night is Dark and Full of Viewers Who Can't See What the Hell is Going On," said yet another.

The lighting, or lack thereof, was an intentional choice, according to the show's director of photography, Fabian Wagner. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair's "Still Watching" podcast, Wagner cited the show's "classic cinematography and lighting" - an aesthetic that doesn't lend itself to unnatural sources of light.

Instead, Wagner relied on familiar elements for the show's biggest battle - the sun, the moon and fire. In the latest installment of HBO's "Game Revealed," which takes a behind-the-scenes look at each episode, Wagner described "a color scheme that developed throughout the whole episode."

"It starts with a moonlit night because the Night King brings a storm and the clouds. The moon becomes dissipated, and the moonlight takes over, but in a very diffused kind of way," he explained.

The next step was a fiery trench, lit by a resurfaced Melisandre, that would serve as "an overpowering light" and evoke the battle's hellish nature.

"It's turning into hell for each character, so the blood-red fire of the trench takes over the image and completely drains out the blue of the moon," Wagner said. "Until the end, because the trench is dying down. The moonlight suddenly gets introduced again."

Colour scheme aside, Wagner admitted the episode, which reportedly took 55 nights to film, presented cinematography challenges.

"Game of Thrones" is hardly the first show to weather complaints from viewers unable to make out the action on their television (not to mention laptop or mobile) screens. Dramas, in particular, have become increasingly notorious for dimly lit scenes.

But some viewers with newer sets, such as the high-definition 4K TVs that have become more accessible to consumers in recent years, reported being able to watch "The Long Night" just fine.

The Washington Post
Where to watch "Game of Thrones" 

Watch it on Mondays at 3am on (repeat at 10pm) on M-Net, or straight after with the  DStv Now app

You can also binge-watch all previous seasons of "Game of Thrones" on Showmax. Sign up for a 14-day free trial at

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