Episode 3 of Games of Thrones Season 8 was one of the darkest moments on TV, literally. The episode, titled “The Long Night,” took place almost entirely at night and between the darkness and eventually storm was barely visible.
Wait, did Daenerys’ dragons just collide in mid-air? Was Samwell bitten and killed by the wights? Did Grey Worm just die? No, he somehow got back from the front lines! These and many more were some of the questions fans may have been asking during the 82-minute battle scene.
Viewers with calibrated TVs or at least a knack for adjusting TV settings may have gotten more out the episode, but the majority of fans who watched regrettably had a hard time following the story. The social media sphere has been lit up with complaints about the episode, and rightfully so because we just want to know what’s going on!
Even more concerning was the fact many viewers may watch “The Long Night” on mobile devices in locations not optimal for viewing darker video like on planes or outside in sunlight (which is probably the worst place to watch the episode). Clearly, a darkened room with a large TV is the best place to see the action.
This is where High Dynamic Range (HDR) could play a major role in getting “The Long Night” to look better at home. One of the functions of HDR is to widen the range of brightness. On Ultra HD Blu-ray the HDR metadata within the video stream allows 10-bits of color instead of 8-bits on traditional Blu-ray. It’s a huge improvement that could make a difference in how we interpret the episode.
The first season of Game of Thrones was released last summer to 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray and the advantages (not only in terms of sharpness) are evident on 4k TVs that support HDR10 (HDR10 is the spec used on the Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Season 1). With more bits there is more detail possible in the dark and light areas of video that would have either been condensed to minimal tones or blown out completely.
If the disc used Dolby Vision or HDR10+ the metadata could dynamically change with every scene, but since Dolby is proprietary and not used on the Season 1 4k Blu-ray we would expect HDR10 and hope for HDR10+ (although most HDR TVs still don’t support the format) in future 4k of GOT in 4k.
With HDR, the episode may never be as bright as the referenced Helm’s Deep battle from Peter Jacksons’ “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” (GOT director Miguel Sapochnik watched the movie for ideas about how to create “The Long Night”), but in the dark, shadow areas more details can be made visible with a wider range made possible by HDR.
Director of Photography Fabian Wagner made no excuses for the dimly-lit battle. His intention was to “evolve the lighting” (as told to Vanity Fair), and one way it did this was by showing the entire Dothraki army disappearing into darkness as their flaming arakh weapons were extinguished.
As far as color? Another function of HDR is to make colors more vibrant and realistic. But this episode, and most of Game of Thrones, could end up looking ridiculous with too much color luminance. This episode, in particular, is monochromic given the night time lit only by the moon and fire, and filtered through a storm that made everything a pukey kind of dark yellow.
We should also mention the horrible banding that was evident in the On Demand version of “The Long Night” watched for this article. That’s when large sections of dark areas are reduced to only a few values rather than smooth transitions. In the print and digital image world this usually-unwanted effect is referred to as posterizing. In video, this is usually experienced with efficient but low-quality compression methods.
Game of Thrones Season 8 could be a good showcase for the benefits of HDR TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs with HDR (maybe even Digital 4k/HDR if the episodes are ever offered from digital retailers). The technology has allowed huge improvements in home viewing of movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner.
This is all, of course, speculation that HBO will release the eight seasons of Game of Thrones to Ultra HD Blu-ray and/or Digital 4k. Hopefully, a complete series edition is in the works that could be more affordable than buying single seasons on 4k Blu-ray. But if released individually, it will be hard to resist re-buying the seasons especially if packaged with any new bonus material.