WARNING: This Article Contains Massive Spoilers!
Game of Thrones aired its big Battle of Winterfell episode, "The Long Night", which saw the Stark family and their allies defending Winterfell against the Night King and his army of the dead, the White Walkers. The episode was a mix of action, horror, and edge-of-your-seat thrills - at least for most fans watching. There's always a contingent of haters who don't like what they see in a major TV or movie event, and in this case, there's a lot of negativity swirling around how acclaimed series director Miguel Sapochnik presented this, the most epic battle in Game of Thrones history!
If you are one of those fans who watched the bloody events of Game of Thrones "The Long Night" and had trouble actually seeing what those unfolding events actually were, then this next part is definitely for you: A 2017 interview with one of the show's cinematographers has resurfaced online, and it seems to explain a lot.
Here's what cinematographer Robert McLachlan (who handled the infamous "Rains of Castamere" Red Weeding episode) told INSIDER back in 2017, when Game of Thrones season 7 was airing:
"If you watch season one again, there’s a lot of unmotivated backlight. Even day exteriors, you can tell that they’ve been lit. The cinematographers who’ve been doing it since then, I think we’re all very much on the same page where we’re trying to be as naturalistic as possible... to make these sets and locations feel as if they're absolutely not lit by us, but only by Mother Nature or some candles, so that it feels more naturalistic, albeit enhanced in some cases."
As you see above, the creative teams in these latter seasons of Game of Thrones have endeavored to capture more of a "natural light" feel to the show. That's a baton that Sapochnik apparently wanted to run with, when he tapped cinematographer Fabian Wagner (Overlord) as director of photography for "The Long Night". It wasn't just an aesthetic choice, either: many viewers may have missed the thematic reasoning for why "The Long Night" looks as dark and murky as it does.
Simply put: the episode is about a group of doomed people trying (in vain?) to hold off death incarnate as it arrives at their door. The episode actually sets up the darkness metaphor from the very first salvo of the battle, as a legion Dothraki riders with their blades all lit up on fire, charge at the ranks of the White Walkers. The sequence is shown in long shot, as the spearhead of light shoots across the battlefield and into the dark, where it is snuffed out entirely. That wave of darkness then literally and figuratively rolls over Winterfell, with many of the "fight" scenes with undead presented as a dizzying tornado of dead bodies rolling over everything in their path like a swarm of ants. Is it hard to make out clearly what's going on? Definitely. But that's largely the point: for the characters in the battle, the experience is largely just as terrifying, confusing, and uncertain.
Wagner spoke to Vanity Fair before the Battle of Winterfell aired, and teased that "I wanted to evolve the ... [to make the] storytelling of the lighting evolve with the storytelling of the characters.”
There certainly is an ebb and flow to how light factors into the Battle of Winterfell, for better or worse. In the end, the one moment that absolutely needed to be clear definitely was: Arya looking like a boss as she took out the Night King!
Game of Thrones final episodes are airing on HBO Sundays at 9/8c.
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