Seeing Game Of Thrones, and its Dimly Lit Battle, in a Whole New Light

How a new box-set helped to rebuild one fan's relationship with Game Of Thrones…

Game of Thrones The Long Knight Jon Snow
Photo: HBO

It’s been a year and a half since Game Of Thrones aired its final episode ‘The Iron Throne’ (although it feels a lot longer thanks to 2020 time dilation), and now a ‘Complete Collection’ box-set has arrived.

It’s slightly odd to behold these 33 discs, squeezed into eight Blu-ray cases, snuggled up in a lovely box, with a little booklet nestled in. So much time has passed since the world watched that finale and the online discourse erupted with the fiery ferocity of Cersei’s attack on the Sept Of Baelor.

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With so much vocal negativity surrounding season eight, it feels as if Game Of Thrones has ended up in the big pop-culture bin of shows that nobody talks about anymore (unless they’re taking the mick). But this box-set is a chance to revisit and reappraise, and see if that sentence is really fair…

“You were the best of them”

When season eight was first released in 4K Ultra-HD at the end of last year, word filtered down that it was the best way to watch the infamously dimly lit Winterfell battle episode ‘The Long Night‘. Having originally squinted at this episode (which I streamed on Now TV through a 1080p TV back in the day), I was keen to see how it would look with a 4K-enabled Xbox Series X console hooked up to a shiny new 4K ASUS monitor.

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Long story short, it did look better than I remembered (although, who’s to say that I’m not remembering it worse than it was at the time because of all the memes). I wouldn’t necessarily say that the whole thing looks brighter, but that the nuance of the lighting and the rich details in certain shots are a lot easier to make out and understand with a Blu-ray disc and a proper 4K set-up. So yes, I felt I could properly watch the episode this time, with a far greater sense of what I was meant to be able to see.

Putting tech specifications to one side for a moment, there was also a simple joy to be found in seeing these actors and characters together again on screen. With Game Of Thrones so quickly having become meme-fodder and the inspiration for countless angry comments, it’s easy to forget how excellent the cast and crew clearly were. 

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Although there isn’t much in the way of dialogue during ‘The Long Night’, it’s moving to be reminded of that sweet exchange between Sansa and Tyrion in the crypts of Winterfell. Reminiscing on their fraught marriage of many seasons ago, Sansa tells Tyrion, “You were the best of them.” It’s a reminder that Game Of Thrones isn’t just about big battles and questionable writing decisions – but also lovable characters, memorable arcs and great performances.

“It’s chaotic for a reason”

Jon Snow The Long Night Game of Thrones

There are two commentary track options on ‘The Long Night’ disc, one with director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner. Listening to it, I’m reminded again of how I saw Game Of Thrones before that final season, back when Sapochnik was heralded as the genius director of such iconic battles as Hardhome and Battle Of The Bastards.

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On this commentary track for ‘The Long Night’, which was clearly recorded after all the backlash about how dark the episode was, Sapochnik is in very candid form. It’s refreshing to find something that sounds so honest, and very far from PR speak, on what is clearly an HBO-approved product.

Sapochnik and Wagner reflect on the gruelling 55 days of night shoots that brought this episode to life, a discussion which, on its own, is enough to remind us that a lot of people put a lot of hard work into making this show – whether or not they agreed with the top-level decisions about its direction. 

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It’s also interesting to hear Sapochnik’s take on why this episode is so dark – it was, of course, a conscious creative decision from the director and the writers, as opposed to a hapless work experience kid in the editing suite accidentally thumbing a big switch labelled ‘brightness’ in the wrong direction. 

“It’s chaotic for a reason,” Sapochnik explains, as the dead descend on Winterfell on a jet-black night, bringing wind and snow with them to baffle and disorient their human enemies. As Davos squints in the abyss atop the Winterfell battlements, Sapochnik jokes that our beloved Onion Knight should’ve bought a better TV. 

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As well as providing some laughs, this insightful commentary can also help fans gain a better understanding of this episode – it wasn’t meant to be a traditional battle like the ones we’d seen before. Rather, it was a descent into hell for all of our beloved characters, brought to life by a crew that spent almost two months working through the night to make it happen.

“The hardest episode of TV anyone on this show has done”

Game of Thrones Dany crying The Long Night

The special features of this mammoth box-set include more than 15 hours of special features, so it’s a huge treasure trove for fans of the show. There’s access to basically every resource you could want. Say, for example, you wanted to know even more about ‘The Long Night’ episode. In the Bonus Features disc from the season eight case, you could check out ‘The Last Watch’ documentary, which includes footage from the first-ever table read for that episode – complete with Maisie Williams’ utter joy when she finds out that Arya will be killing the Night King, and Kit Harington’s bemusement at that same revelation. 

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There’s also ‘When Winter Falls’, a documentary which shows exactly how ‘The Long Night’ came together: you can see which bits were special effects and which bits were built in real life, and you can hear the cast and crew reflecting on the harsh realities of making what Harington calls “the hardest episode of TV anyone on this show has done.” Emilia Clarke is convinced the episode must have broken some sort of “work endurance records,” if such a thing exists.

If Game Of Thrones had ‘stuck the landing’ with its final season and somehow managed to please every different subsection of the show’s fans, a bountiful box-set like this would probably look like a tempting investment to a lot of people. And, to be honest, even though I wasn’t utterly convinced by the final season, this treasure trove has reminded me that there was a lot more to the series than just the showrunners’ decisions in the finale. 

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“All this chocolate fell out of his secret pocket”

Sean Bean as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones

In the ‘Bonus Features’ case are three discs of extra-extra features, which couldn’t be crammed onto the dedicated discs for each season. Across these three discs, you’ll find even more goodies to grow your Game Of Thrones appreciation. On one disc you’ve got ‘Conquest & Rebellion: An Animated History Of The Seven Kingdoms‘, a feature-length animated special in which cast members narrate tales of Westerosi history. (This could be handy knowledge to have if those ancient history prequel series end up happening.)

You’ve also got numerous chunky featurettes in the categories ‘Behind the Scenes’, ‘Inside the Visual Effects’ and ‘Anatomy of a Scene’. I particularly enjoyed the Anatomy of a Scene on Sansa and Tyrion’s wedding – I’d forgotten quite how ridiculous it was, and again, it’s a great reminder of just how much great content this show has given us, how many brilliant performances Game Of Thrones boasts, and just how much hard work went in behind the scenes.

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The ultimate fan-friendly celebration of Game Of Thrones can be found on disc one from the Bonus Features case, under the title ‘Game Of Thrones Reunion Special Parts 1 & 2’: it’s basically a two-hour love-in, during which Conan O’Brien interviews pretty much everyone you’d hope to see in a cast reunion.

Game of Thrones Ultra-HD 4K Blu-ray box set

Serving as the satisfying season finale to my rekindled Game Of Thrones fandom, this Reunion Special has so many moments of squee-inducing glee: there’s a fabulous montage that shows how lovely a time Emilia Clarke has had over the last eight years, compared to Kit Harington being caked in mud and left out in the cold at every opportunity (the gentle roasting of Harington is really quite heartwarming); there’s also a fun anecdote from Mark Addy about Sean Bean hiding chocolates in his costume; and Sean Bean himself turns up for a joyous reunion with his on-screen children, as well as being reunited with Ned Stark’s severed head. 

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Seeing the cast and crew laughing together under Conan’s playful questioning, I’m reminded again of all the terrific actors and talented crew members that put years of their life into making this flight of fancy for us. And even though the decisions of the final season may not sit well with everyone, I’m glad that I dived back into the Game Of Thrones fandom and rediscovered what made me love it in the first place.