Game of Thrones has traditionally avoided lens flares. Despite their popularity when the show launched in 2011 (which was peak period for Abrams flare, right between Star Trek and Into Darkness), the show has gone for less self-conscious cinematography style that calls less attention to the artifice of filmmaking.
Not that the imagery is never stylized; the blue imagery of the northern army against the red and gold of the southern is clearly a deliberate artistic and cinematographic choice. But elements that call attention back to the nature of lenses, cameras, and other postmodern meta-reflexions on filmmaking don't appear that often in Game of Thrones, until last night.
Of course, there were occasional very short flares along the way, such as when the internet practically exploded when this image appeared in the teaser for season 7, with fans excitedly "Getting Hype" about the coming of lens flares to the program.
But, like the viewers who were disappointed expecting that to be Cleganebowl (the battle of Gregor and Sandor Clegane which is what people were actually excited about when that shot appeared), lens flare fans were disappointed that it was only a very brief flash of the flare, not the introduction of a new visual language in the show.
While our knowledge of Game of Thrones is by no means exhaustive, off the top of our head, we could only think of one other small flare, again gone in seconds, in the show, from the establishing shot for the "Tower of Joy" in season 6.In fact, there have been many times the show has shown uncharacteristic restraint with scenes that clearly could've used some flare not getting it added in post-production. With tools like Knoll Light Factory, it's easy to not only add to a flare that exists, but also create a flare from whole cloth.
Adding post-production flares work best when there is a clear and defined light source either in, or near the edge of, frame with which to motivate the drama-creating flare. When Theon kneels on the beach, with sunlight just breaking over mountains, is clearly a moment that could've used a little flare, and they head back.
So why now? What is it about this particular moment (SPOILERS), after Dany has burnt King's Landing to a crisp, and Arya, who has seen so much destruction in her life, is traumatized again by the epic scale of the human destruction, see's a life raft, an escape boat, to take her away in the form of a white horse?
One thing we know for certain is that the lens itself is wide open since we see no aperture blades at the edge of the flares, which tells us that the scene, although shot in daylight, was dark on set and required a wide aperture. Or that they shot with NDs. Or that the flare was added in post.
Is it the filmmakers just wanting to add drama? Is it the filmmakers wanting to call attention to filmmaking itself, reminding us that we are watching filmed, crafted, created entertainment that is captured through a physical lens, that we are making a choice in what we consume, and that we ourselves can take a life raft and escape whenever we want? Is it, like the end of The Wolf of Wall Street, an observation and almost an indictment of our own fascination with the subject covered?
Or, maybe, it just happened on set, and the director, DP, and showrunner saw it on the monitor, and it looked nice, so they kept it. It definitely looks very "Cooke," we know that for sure. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.