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For many viewers, watching the latest “Game of Thrones” episode, “The Long Night,” was as taxing as the Battle of Winterfell itself. The darkness of most of the scenes left people struggling to follow the action during the big fight scene.

Below, we have tips for adjusting your set, whether you want to rewatch “The Long Night,” get prepared for the final episodes of “Game of Thrones,” or just be ready for other dimly lit shows, such as “The Walking Dead.”

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Very dark scenes in many movies and shows can be a challenge for TVs, but in “Game of Thrones,” darkness is almost an additional character. In this particular episode, all the battle action is at night, and many scenes take place in dimly lit areas of Winterfell, such as the crypt. Flaming swords, fire-breathing dragons, and torchlights did little to lift the veil of gloom.

Part of the problem with battle scenes in “The Long Night” was reportedly that GoT cinematographers are dedicated to realistic lighting—and for a nighttime scene shot in a crypt, that means candles, a few torches, and not much in the way of artificial backlighting.

If you mainly watch sports and reality TV, the crypts of Winterfell may have you considering an issue you haven’t previously thought about—your TV’s black level. Your viewing experience last night was likely affected by how good a job your TV can do with black level and how the TV’s picture settings have been adjusted. 

But darkness wasn’t the only problem we noticed with last night’s broadcast.

Looking at the show on several LCD and OLED TVs, from both pay-TV and streaming services, we saw several picture irregularities. For example, there was a fair amount of banding, which happens when the video signal is compressed and loses bits of information. This is most noticeable in scenes with transitions from light to darker colors, or even from kinda dark to very dark shades of black. Instead of a smooth, seamless transition from one shade to another, you instead see what look like vertical “bands” on the screen. This happens most often in large areas that have various shades of the same color, such as a shot of the sky.

We also noticed some other artifacts, most notably macroblocking, in which parts of the picture look like small pixelated blocks. This, too, can happen because high-definition program material is compressed—either by HBO or your TV provider—so that it can be sent into your home. It can also happen if your cable company or streaming service doesn’t have quite enough bandwidth to be able to send the video signal in the quality it needs.

We reached out to HBO to ask about the compression issues, as well as the overall darkness of the show, but a spokesperson said the company wasn’t commenting on “the creative and production aspects of the series right now.”

Here's What You Can Do

When we calibrate the TVs we’re testing in our labs, we use test patterns to get the right balance between the darkest and brightest images. Generally, once a TV is properly set up there’s no reason to tweak the settings again. That’s why we recommend using our free TV Screen Optimizer, which provides the exact settings we recommend for a specific TV model.

But it makes sense to experiment with the settings if you’re coping with the almost oppressive darkness of the Battle of Winterfell.

For one, we suggest trying a picture preset called something like Movie or Cinema. This will give you a more natural-looking picture, and it should work better than whatever preset the TV came with.

If “Game of Thrones” or another show is still too dark, freeze on a very dark scene and then go into the individual picture settings. Look for the brightness control, and try increasing it slowly so that you begin to see more detail in the shadows but not so far that you lose contrast. You’re trying to find the best balance of depth of black while revealing all the shadows.

For example, the TV in the image directly below was calibrated with the brightness set at 50. That’s fine for most content but not the dimmest scenes. We found that increasing the brightness to 56, in the second image below, helped reveal a bit more black shadow detail.

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The normal brightness of this TV is set at 50, but details are difficult to see in dark scenes.
Picture from
Brightening the picture just a bit helps to reveal some extra detail in the darkest parts of the scene.

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You can also make a small tweak to the Gamma control, which allows you to adjust the TV’s brightness to show greater shadow detail in darker images without changing the actual black level of the set. But we recommend only small, judicious changes here.

In addition, you might try to get your room as dark as possible by turning off or dimming the lights, because they can cause reflections and glare that can affect your experience.

Finally, if you’re in the market for a new TV, you might want to consider an OLED TV rather than an LCD set. We watched “Game of Thrones” on top-rated TVs using each technology, and the OLED TVs did a better job with blacks in general, and with “Game of Thrones” in particular. 

One other OLED benefit: unlimited viewing angles. With many LCD-based sets, the image can look washed out when viewed from the side of a room—and no one wants Jon Snow to start looking like a White Walker.