Multiple shades of darkness.
Warning, the following contains spoilers for the seventh episode of House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon on HBO has taken a dark turn quickly, and we don’t just mean because of the burned Velaryons and the gruesome caesarean sections.
House of the Dragon has, thus far, successfully avoided the pitfalls of David Benioff and DB Weiss’ fantasy epic while still maintaining a strong connection to Game of Thrones. Driftmark has, unfortunately, committed the cardinal sin of Game of Thrones. In addition, there is no need to readjust your television.
The shocking conclusion of the most recent episode of House of the Dragon, which rewrote George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood canon, may have been missed by some viewers. Laenor may have gotten away from his literary doom, but it was hard to tell as he sailed off to a happy ending.
Even though House of the Dragon is venturing into uncharted territory, it is haunted by the death of the Game of Thrones. In particular, “Driftmark” is awkwardly juxtaposed with “The Long Night,” the episode from season eight that no one could see.
The Long Night will be remembered as one of the series’ most iconic episodes. Not only did major characters like Jorah Mormont, Theon Greyjoy, and Lady Melisandre all perish, but the eight-season arc of the Night King and White Walkers was also resolved.
A historical event that could have been witnessed by millions was marred by its own scandal of dim lighting, forcing viewers to turn up the brightness to a painful 100. Episode cinematographer Fabian Wagner told Wired that “people don’t know how to tune their TVs properly,” despite fan complaints, and he stood by the decision.
Coming back to House of the Dragon, most of the scenes in the seventh episode were also shrouded in darkness. It was difficult to tell whose hand was touching when Daemon (Matt Smith) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) finally got down to it on the beaches of Driftmark.
Although it may be a way to avoid censorship, it’s still not the same as watching the explicit, well-lit sex scenes in Game of Thrones. While Emilia Clarke has been vocal about the stress of filming nude scenes, we highly doubt the lighting choices in ‘Driftmark’ were made to spare the modesty of Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy.
In other words, we had to squint into the night to witness the pivotal moment when Aemond Targaryen claimed Vhagar and flew above Driftmark. You would have a hard time seeing anything if Vhagar hadn’t threatened to torch the young Targaryen, which is why that scene is so brightly lit. It seems ridiculous to spend the massive budget on CGI for the dragons, which we can’t even watch, on a scene we don’t even get to see.
Still, it wasn’t all bad news. Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower engaged in a verbal duel, heightening the tension, and the one-eyed Aemond and shifty Daemon lurked in the shadows, all of which added to the dramatic effect.
There is a widespread cultural debate about whether or not television and film have become “too dark.” To see this in action, one need only view Matt Reeves’ The Batman. At least the city’s signature gloomy, the rainy atmosphere was always present in Gotham.
An opinion piece published by Vulture in 2016 discussed television programs with inappropriately low levels of lighting, drawing parallels between the grim atmosphere of Mr. Robot and the sunny tone of Jane the Virgin. In 2018, TVLine published an article about how the crucial moment when Daryl Dixon reclaimed his vest in The Walking Dead’s season eight midseason finale was lost due to poor lighting, reigniting the debate.
Another hit HBO series, Euphoria, has received a lot of attention for its lighting, prompting Kodak to repurpose some of its factory space to make the now-extinct 35mm Kodak Ektachrome film stock. This is what gives Euphoria its distinctive visual style, and while it may not have been entirely practical, at least it was done on purpose and didn’t compromise visibility.
Reporters urged audiences watching House of the Dragon lower the lights and pull the shades. According to Digital Imaging Technician Nicholas Kay, many directors will purposely shoot scenes darker to make them feel “truthful” to the backdrop, but ultimately, the viewer’s viewing setup is the biggest offender.
The HBO Max Help Twitter account responded to criticism of House of the Dragon’s low lighting by saying, “The dimmed lighting of this scene was an intentional creative decision.”
Though you’d think the network would have turned up the lights after the Game of Thrones fiasco. Is it just a coincidence that Miguel Sapochnik, winner of an Emmy, directed both “The Long Night” and “Driftmark?”
Lord Corlys Velaryon’s (Steve Touissant) comments about bringing even more disgrace to his family’s name are ironic, given that he will be leaving his position as co-showrunner at the end of Season 2.
Whether its Succession, shot as if the camera were a Roy sibling, or The White Lotus, bathed in the golden light of Hawaii, the cinematographic styles of these prestige shows have become instantly recognizable.
It’s unfortunate that both Games of Thrones and House of the Dragon have had to defend themselves against criticism of these seemingly intentional changes. While the episode’s dark lighting served the show’s overall aesthetic, it made it difficult to tell Aegon and Aemond Targaryen apart.
Things are bound to heat up before the end of the season, so here’s hoping the lighting improves next time around.
The first season of House of the Dragon airs weekly in the US on HBO on Sundays and in the UK on Sky Atlantic and NOW on Mondays. There will be a second season. The first eight seasons of “Game of Thrones” can be purchased on DVD and Blu-ray.
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