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'House of the Dragon' Is Great. Too Bad It's Too Dark to See

Commentary: Episode 7 hurt viewers' eyes, and the creators did it on purpose.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
3 min read
Wide shot of King Viserys talking to Princess Rhaenyra in a crypt overlooked by a giant stone dragon's head.

Candlelight isn't cutting it in Westeros.

Ollie Upton/HBO

Enjoying HBO Max's House of the Dragon? Me too. What I can see of it, at least. Seven episodes in to the Game of Thrones prequel, it's fair to say the show is abnormally dark, and I don't mean gloomy and pessimistic, though it is both of those things. I mean physically dark. As in, I cranked up the brightness on my laptop and I still need the captions to figure out who's zooming who. And trying to watch it on a regular television set is even tougher.

Episode 7, which aired Sunday night, was especially dark. Spoilers ahead

Daemon and Rhaenyra are hard to see in this dark image of them on the beach from episode 7

Squint and maybe you can see them. 


Laena Verlaryon's funeral scene was outside and mostly OK. But anything taking place inside the castle, or after nightfall? It was like I was trying to see my hand through a piece of black construction paper. There were shapes? And sometimes the Targaryen blond hair was visible? But when Otto cuffed a drunk Aegon, and when Daemon and Rhaenyra were walking on the beach, and especially when Aemond was trying to coax Vhagar the dragon to let him ride it? Yeah, it was like staring into a cup of black coffee squinting to see outlines.

This is a complex show. I've read Fire & Blood, the 736-page book it's based on, so I pretty much know what's going on. But for a more casual viewer, it's got to feel like you need a flowchart to keep up. Every other character's name is AE-something, or RH-something, they're all related and/or married to each other, and everyone's got some form of claim to the Iron Throne. I love the show, but that's why I just want to be able to see it.

 I'm not alone. One Twitter user implored HBO to lighten things up on Sunday, tweeting, "Can I get a little light in this episode?"

Other people complained directly to the HBO Max Help Twitter account, but the official responses may not have been very satisfying.

"We appreciate you reaching out about a night scene in House of the Dragon: Episode 7 appearing dark on your screen," the response read. "The dimmed lighting of this scene was an intentional creative decision." (THIS scene? There wasn't just one, HBO!)

So, OK, do not attempt to adjust your set -- the filmmakers want it this dark. But there's a rising tide on social media protesting the "creative decision."

One viewer wrote, "I get that the showrunners want to convey, 'sneaky shit happens at night' But ppllleeeeeaaaaasssseeeeee add a little more color, cuz this is me," adding the meme photo from the show Community showing actor Ken Jeong squinting at a tiny piece of paper.

Joked another, "The lighting budget for this episode: $12."

And another Twitter user is trying to get the hashtags #HBOFixTheLighting and #HBOWeWantLight trending.

One user shared two images of Daemon and Rhaenyra walking on the beach -- one in which they're clearly visible and easy to see, and another that might have been filmed through chocolate pudding.

A cinematographer weighed in to say we shouldn't be blaming the lighting.

"This isn't a lighting issue; it's a color grading issue," Oren Soffer wrote. "The second still was shot in broad daylight -- plenty of light. It was graded to look this dark, though, which is the problem. Begging people to at least try to understand the things they are (rightfully) complaining about."

Lighting or color grading, it seems like showrunners would want their expensive, carefully filmed scenes to be seen. 

House of the Dragon has a dark plot -- with murder, torture and all kinds of bloody vengeance. Does it also have to be visually dark?

Game of Thrones stars, from season 1 through today

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