Game of Thrones is likely to win big at the 2019 Emmy Awards, despite the controversy around its eighth and final season. For all the backlash to season 8, Game of Thrones still racked up 32 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama, Directing, and Writing. Game of Thrones is likely to win a number of major awards, and there are two in particular where it deserves to win, just not for the episodes nominated.
Three episodes are nominated for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series: “The Long Night”, by Miguel Sapochnik; “The Last of the Starks” by David Nutter; and “The Iron Throne” by showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss. The latter is also Game of Thrones’ sole Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. These are two big awards that Game of Thrones will quite likely win, and they deserve to, but not for any of the episodes listed, all of which have some big issues that make rewarding them questionable.
In terms of direction, “The Long Night” is the best of three, including the biggest battle in Game of Thrones history. But it was also beset by complaints of darkness, and a much more impressive episode in terms of Sapochnik’s skill is “The Bells”. This fully realizes the true horrors of war, and mixes incredible CGI, massive battle sequences, and character-driven drama all at once. Fans may not have been happy with Daenerys’ Mad Queen arc, but the fault definitely didn’t lie with Sapochnik. In terms of scale and spectacle alongside actual character work, “The Bells” stands above the rest, and deserves to win the Emmy (except, of course, it’s not nominated).
Writing is even more egregious. Not just because that was the weakest part of Game of Thrones season 8, but because one episode clearly stands apart. Amidst all the action, Bryan Cogman’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was a throwback to the show’s peak. Filled with beautiful character moments, touching sequences, and hilarious dialogue, all balanced by an impending sense of dread, it’s arguably one of the best-written episodes of the entire series. HBO could only submit one, however, and they (unsurprisingly) went with the Game of Thrones series finale. But had they gone with “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, they’d be rewarding not only season 8’s best episode, but one of the show’s key figures who hasn’t quite had the recognition he deserves.
Game of Thrones doesn’t have huge competition in either category (partly because other shows tried to avoid such a head-to-head). In Writing, The Handmaid’s Tale is a past winner and Succession has lots of buzz, but they’re not as big as the Game of Thrones finale. It’s a similar story in directing: Game of Thrones’ three nominations might split the vote, but it’s also hard to see much else competing with the biggest battle in TV history, from a previous Emmy winner, in a show that the Academy of Television and Sciences loves. They’re not 100% locks, but as Game of Thrones is going out, they’re the heavy favourites. Game of Thrones is going to win lots of Emmys in 2019, which many people won’t be happy with, but it does actually deserve them - they just got the nominations wrong.