Why final season of television juggernaut ‘Game of Thrones’ shouldn’t rule 2019’s Emmy Awards

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The cast and crew of HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones” are exchanging wars in the snow and slaughters over the throne for a different battle — the battle for an Emmy.

A blend of the best parts of dramatic soap operas and noir actions with a sprinkle of zestful romance and spicy power dynamics, “Game of Thrones” has been the heavy-weight champion of television for years. Its rise to popularity marked a new and expansive era for dramatic television — and the Emmys recognized this. Over the span of seven seasons, the series garnered 129 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and 37 wins. So, it would make sense that the show’s eighth and final season would result in similar accolades, right? 

Well, maybe not. Even though the series has an incendiary reputation, the farewell season of this magnum opus was globally recognized as a disappointment. The season was noted as brimming with obscene amounts of fanfare, and the limited number of episodes left showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss forcing plotholes shut rather than filling them naturally. Despite all of this, “Game of Thrones” made history this year with 32 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award nominations.

Eleven of these 32 nominations are for actors’ performances. And while many of the cast members of “Game of Thrones” have exhibited onscreen excellence in the past, these seem to be career nominations rather than earned recognition. 

Let’s focus on the nominated actresses. The women of “Game of Thrones” have put time and effort into their performances and deserve their fair share of critical acclaim without a doubt. Lena Headey’s performance as Cersei Lannister, who served as the shadowy and sensual puppet master of the Red Keep in season three, should be the example in acting classes of the canon for exquisite dramatic acting. Gwendoline Christie was no more deserving of a nomination this year as the loyal and quietly insecure Brienne of Tarth than when her character was forging unlikely alliances with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) for survival in season two. 

Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams as the Stark sisters offered some of their most believable, youthfully vulnerable and heart-wrenching performances when the Starks were just beginning to have trouble at King’s Landing back in season one. Emilia Clarke spent years crafting Daenerys Targaryen, a benevolent but naive, strong but overly ambitious character coming into her own as a leader. And Daenerys’ character arcs and storied plights in earlier seasons gave Clarke a meaty platform to show off her venerable acting skills. 

But Emmy nominations in all categories are awarded to season work, not series accomplishments. And while each of these actresses has, at some point during their tenure as “Game of Thrones” essentials, proven themselves deserving of award recognition, season eight did not exhibit their best work. 

It isn’t their fault, though; none of these actresses were given the narrative material or time to give their characters impressive endings. 

And this was the major issue with all of season eight: Every storyline was forced. Daenerys’ descent into madness was impulsive and excessively barbaric, a caricature of hysteria when she was once carefully painted as a pioneering and empathetic female leader. Jaime trekked an unimaginable journey from the show’s first villain, the attempted murderer of unassuming children, to the sensitive and tortured knight many came to love. But in this final season, his trajectory towards complete absolvement and a better future was lazily thrown to the side and exchanged for his short-lived reunion with Cersei. And Cersei, one of the most compelling and demonic villains to grace our television screens, barely even deigned to make an appearance in this shindig we called the final season of “Game of Thrones.” 

What was the point of the Azor Ahai prophecy? What purpose did Cersei’s pregnancy serve? How on earth did Euron Greyjoy swim to shore so fast after having his boat blown apart by a dragon? Benioff and Weiss didn’t seem to care, as they clearly had other things on their minds (cue the “Star Wars” theme). And yet, even with all these loose ends and unsatisfying conclusions frustrating many of the show’s devoted fans, “Game of Thrones” is nominated for its eighth consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. 

But it doesn’t seem as though a season that was widely disliked, sometimes even hated, can possibly be representative of the most outstanding drama series of the year — or at least it shouldn’t be. And as a result, the Television Academy has a crucial choice to make —  reward a show for its reputation or reward a show for its genuine quality. 

Maisy Menzies covers television. Contact her at [email protected].