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Don’t adjust your dial: Game of Thrones’ cinematographer says it was that dark on purpose

By Jacob Oller
Kit Harrington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has seen the Battle of Winterfell come and go — but some fans had to squint. That led to some of its immediate reactions focusing on the chaotic smoggy dimness of the episode, but now an expert has weighed in: the guy who was the actual director of photography on the episode. And as he reveals, it was all according to plan.

** WARNING: Spoilers from the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night” follow **

In an interview with Vanity Fair, cinematographer Fabian Wagner (whose work you’d recognize from Justice League) calls the battle “classically” shot and based in the naturalistic way that most of the dragon-filled show is filmed. Without the sun and with the Night King’s powers snuffing out most fires, there wasn’t much diegetic (AKA in-fiction) light to show off what was actually going on.

“I wanted to evolve the lighting,” Wagner said, explaining that he wanted the “storytelling of the lighting” to “evolve with the storytelling of the characters.” That references the magical fire from Melisandre as well as the dragonfire Dany and Jon bring down. But because those moments were few and far between, it helps “make things smaller” while breaking the battle into smaller emotional chunks “that we can follow.”

Director Miguel Sapochnik mentioned that the horror-filled episode used The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ Helm’s Deep as a reference, but that particular siege was bright and uncluttered in its editing. Game of Thrones, at least in Wagner’s mind, was after a much more realistic depiction of fantasy action — one that may have prevented people like the fans below from catching everything that happened during the episode:

Game of Thrones returns for another episode on May 5.