An Actual Film Study Class from that shot from Game of Thrones


You may not have heard, but long-running television epic Game of Thrones finished up its final season recently. Something so popular is always going to be divisive, and indeed this season and its final episode have been fairly divisive, some declaring it a fitting finale, while others petitioning that the final season receive a do-over with a whole new writing team. Such is the hyperbolic nature of the Internet. And in that hyperbolic spirit, one GoT fan got a little caught up in their enthusiasm this week, over-praising one of those “one perfect shots” from the final episode and sparking off a glut of memes.

The fun began with a notable shot from Sunday night’s finale, one that found Drogon the dragon unfurling his wings behind Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys to striking, if unsubtle visual for the Dragon Queen. Symbolism! Enter the exaggerated extremes of Twitter.com, as one user declared that the image was worthy of being taught in any film study class:

Memery and derision ensued,  starting off with people screen-capping shots that placed one character in front of another thing, then quickly evolving into an excuse for film fans to dig up the weird and obscure frames from the cinema’s strangest flicks. The shot is…grand. The memes, are good. The need to make fun of a random small-time Twitter user for liking something in their favourite show is a bit much. But it did get us wondering, is their actually anything in this shot that would be of use in a film studies class?

We reached out to Dr. Harvey O’Brien, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the UCD School of English, Drama and Film, to ask if someone who actually teaches the subject would agree that the shot is “brilliant” and consider using it in their class. Sadly for that fan, Dany and Drogon are unlikely to find their way into a UCD lecture any time soon:

I’d be in the derision camp on that, I’m afraid. Check this image from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari where decor and character are inherently interlinked, and psychological state is mirrored by the set design. This was a standard trope in Expressionism, which was already, in fact, old fashioned by the time this was done in a film made… 100 years ago… No, that particular motif is very old fashioned indeed, and GoT has nothing to add in instruction.

Game of Thrones

So however neat a look it may be from the Game of Thrones production team, there’s nothing particularly of use to a film study lesson plan. But it might even be wrong to suggest the show be used to teach about film at all, suggest Harvey, since it’s ultimately being made for a different medium entirely. Blurring the lines between film and television, even something as large in scale as Game of Thrones can lead to issues, including some of the complaints drawn by the look of another contentious episode this season:
There is a bigger question about GoT and teaching, and here you come up against something I’ve been discussing for a while: the assumption that TV is ‘just like film, if not better’. It’s not. It’s a different medium that works in entirely different ways, and in fact if anything from GoT would be worth drawing attention to for teaching, it would be the complaints about The Long Night, when the internet called for the blood of the cinematographer. I’m quite sure that when they viewed that footage on a theatre screen during rushes, and for cast and crew purposes, it looked completely fine. TVs, in spite of our tendency to make them bigger, they are still not cinema screens. The scale is wrong and the light situation is entirely different both in terms of the screen itself and ambient lighting. The battle of The Long Night was still, at the end of the day, to be shown on TV, or, worse, on someone’s phone. That’s not cinema. It’s barely even TV. But when you assume the two media are the same, the ‘fans’ begin baying for blood because they can’t see it as clearly as they’d like.
That’s because television is designed for close ups. It’s a box in the room where people talk at us between commercials. We make tea, answer the phone, surf the internet, and look up now and then. The Long Night was perfectly well shot for cinema exhibition, but not properly graded and processed for television exhibition, and that’s not actually the cinematographer’s fault. It’s post-production, and the hubris of thinking you can do anything on TV that you can do in cinema. You can, but it’ll look shite…

So there you have it. While the shot may not be quite that good, it’s still capable of sparking off a wider discussion about film history, shot intention, and the requirements of shooting for television vs film. And hey, it was kinda neat. At least there are no coffee cups visible on screen!

Luke Dunne
About me

Luke is a writer, film addict and Dublin native who loves how much there is for film fans in his home county. A former writer for FilmFixx and the Freakin' Awesome Network, he founded Film In Dublin to pursue his dual dreams of writing about film and never sleeping ever again.

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