Why Latest Game of Thrones Ep., "The Long Night", Looked So Dark

Watching Game of Thrones requires a little more effort than other popular TV shows.
Jessica Miley

Game of Thrones is back and fans all over the world are delighted to have their favourite characters and dragons in their living rooms again. But not last night. After the Game of Thrones episode, 'The Long Night' aired the internet went berserk. Surprisingly it wasn't because someone got their eyeballs squeezed out of their head or a wedding went horribly wrong.


It was because the show was too dark to see. If there is a fan group you don't want to mess with its GoT fans.  The dragon lovers took to Twitter to air their frustration, breaking the Twitter record for most talked about TV show. 

So what happened?

Did HBO and the makers of the popular show mess up? Or is there something wrong with your viewing device?

There are a couple of theories floating around that all give plausible explanations why the battle scene in last night's episode may have been driving you crazy. First up, no matter which way you access HBO via ist apps like HBO Go, HBO Now or through a Hulu or Apple TV subscription the file you are getting is highly compressed.

To get you the video you want using a small amount of data reliably the file is made much smaller than the original. Compressed music and video files actually have some information missing from them in order to make them smaller.

In music files, this might be missing parts of bass or treble that you are unlikely to notice when listening from a device with standard headphones. In video compression, the missing information might be more noticeable as pixelated images or as an effect known in TV circles as macroblocking.

Macroblocking can be seen when there is a large area of one color that instead of a shaded area appears as blocks of colours. Perhaps you may have seen this when there is a cloudy sky, the clouds appear more like a Lego toy that fluffy water vapor.

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Another effect is known as banding, this occurs when there are areas of very high contrast in the same scene. So bright in one ear and dark in the other, with subtle shades between them. But rather than a rich transition between them, a highly compressed file will show this transition as bands of color.

Almost every TV you show you access via a streaming site will have examples of both macroblocking and banding to various degree of noticeability. But when you have extended scenes that are very dark then interrupted by bright lights - like in last night GoT’s episode these effects are also most painfully present.

Not a movie

So there is that factor, the other reason why the battle scene appeared so dark and almost impossible to watch was the way you watched it Game of Thrones has become one of the most expensive TV shows ever made with each episode costing around $15 million.

With each episode more like a short film than something for the small screen. With that in mind, it's likely that the makers of Game of Thrones, edit their TV show in the same settings films are edited in. This is a problem because we aren’t watching TV in a dark cinema with a high-quality projector. We are watching at home on laptops, tablet or even our smartphones. Therefore the rich dark tones intended to be viewed in a dark room from a super bright projector will look very dark, washed out and muddy.

How can you fix this?

While you will never get a perfect viewing experience streaming at home, there are a couple of ways to improve the picture. First, get the best monitor you can. Most of us don't' own actual TV's any more using laptops and tablets as our viewing devices, watching on a high-quality monitor will make a world of difference. 

The conditions will also make a huge impact, make sure your room is as dark as possible before you get started.  The other thing to do would be to not watch the show at peak viewing times to minimize the amount of activity on the streaming sites. 

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