Game of Thrones has been nominated for a record-breaking 32 Primetime Emmy Awards in 2019, despite the fact that season 8 was mostly negatively received. It was always likely that Game of Thrones would pick up some Emmy nominations, but the scale here is remarkable, especially considering the backlash to season 8 - so why has it happened?
One of the biggest factors is that the Emmys loves familiarity. So far this decade, only three different TV shows have won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series: Modern Family took home the prize five years in a row, followed by Veep for three, before The Marvelous Mrs Maisel broke through last year, when Veep wasn't in contention (and it's likely to reclaim its crown this year). It's the same story in the Outstanding Drama Series race: The West Wing won four consecutive times, as did Mad Men, and Game of Thrones, the current holder, has won in each of the last three years it's been eligible. The Emmys love rewarding that which it already knows and has given awards to in the past, and it also really loves Game of Thrones.
Even prior to this year's Emmy nominations, Game of Thrones held the record for most nominations by a drama series (161), the most wins (47), and the most awards in a single year (12 in both 2015 and 2016, with the former being for another of its weakest years, season 5). Put simply, if Game of Thrones is in contention, as it is in 2019, then the Emmy voters are going to be looking to nominate it. That counts double for season 8, because this is the last time the Emmys can lavish Game of Thrones with awards. To that end, it was never going to matter all that much just how good or bad Game of Thrones' final season was.
HBO made sure to hit the April release date in part so they could go out on a high at the Emmys a few months later, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has responded in kind. The closest comparison is perhaps Lord of the Rings: Return of the King sweeping the 76th Academy Awards. Game of Thrones has received far more recognition from the Emmys already than Lord of the Rings did from the Oscars, but this is nonetheless one last opportunity to recognize the people who work on the show, especially those who have never won an award. That explains why the likes of Gwendoline Christie (Supporting Actress), Alfie Allen (Supporting Actor), and even Carice van Houten (Guest Actress) have all scooped up acting nominations alongside more regular contenders such as Kit Harington (Lead Actor), Emilia Clarke (Lead Actress), and Peter Dinklage (Supporting Actor).
That ties into another reason Game of Thrones has so many Emmy nominations this year: so much of season 8 was really great. While it's true that the writing (which has also been nominated, with "The Iron Throne" in the running for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series) was a step down from the show's peak years, Game of Thrones season 8 also produced some of its best work yet when it came to the rest of its production, including performances. Clarke and Christie were among those to do their best-ever work on the show in season 8, and everything else from the costumes and music to the cinematography and visual effects was up there with the best the series has done, and thus the best on TV. There are some that are questionable, but many of the 32 Emmy nominations Game of Thrones has received are well-deserved, including those categories just mentioned.
Then there's the final point, which is that so many networks saw this coming a long time ago. Game of Thrones has had an almost clear run at the Emmys, because other major series aired later in the year. Whether purposefully because of the Emmys or not, previous contenders such as The Crown, Stranger Things, and The Handmaid's Tale have all missed out on eligibility for this year's awards, both clearing the field for Game of Thrones but also ensuring they weren't steamrolled by it. Fans and critics might not have liked Game of Thrones season 8 too much, but ultimately that was never going to matter at the Emmys.