If you found yourself squinting at your television during last Sunday’s new episode of House of the Dragon, you aren’t alone. Fans took to the internet following the premiere of “Driftmark” to complain about the light level on the episode, which made certain parts practically unwatchable depending on the calibration of your television or whether there was a light on in the room. It was even worse if you attempted to watch in the daytime.
However, this was not a mistake; much like Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night,” the dimness was a purposeful move to up the atmosphere. We know this because HBO has responded to fan complaints about it. Apparently, there have been enough that the network’s HBOMaxHelp technical support Twitter account has been issuing a blanket response to anyone who tagged them to complain about not being able to see the episode:
“We appreciate you reaching out about a night scene in House of the Dragon: Episode 7 appearing dark on your screen. The dimmed lighting of this scene was an intentional creative decision.“
Why was House of the Dragon so dark?
According to HBO, the dark palette of the episode was an intentional decision, which tracks. Director Miguel Sapochnik was also the guy who helmed “The Long Night” on Game of Thrones. Shortly after that episode aired, he explained to Variety his thought process behind making the episode so ominously dark:
“It made sense that this was the last hope humanity has, the last beacon of light, and from the perspective of where we needed the story to go — which was to reach a surreal, chaotic climax — we needed an environment that was friendly to that. So all the reasons for doing it were there, and nobody sat there and wondered if it was gonna be too dark.“
That all made a certain sense for “The Long Night,” which had our characters dealing with a literal apocalypse, although opinions remain understandably divided.
This episode of House of the Dragon was different, though the darkness is still fitting. Scenes took place at night, after all, and night is obviously dark. It also makes sense because many scenes made extensive use of the dragon Vhagar. In general, large-scale creature effects like that are easier to pull off in a darker setting; this is one of the reasons the effects on the original Jurassic Park have aged so well.
But the complaints are fair: Depending on the set up, tons of viewers were not able to see what was happening.
As for the technical side, part of the issue is that some scenes in House of the Dragon were “day for night” sequences. In other words, all of those shots of Rhaenyra and Daemon walking along the beach were filmed during the day, and then artificially darkened to simulate night. This is a marked difference from “The Long Night,” which was filmed over 55 days of night shoots.
While day for night can look great—Nope is a recent example of a film that used day for night quite well—in this instance it ended up causing a lot of viewers problems because the darkness was dialed up to such an extreme.