The Game of Thrones series finale aired four months ago yesterday, but doesn’t it feel like 14 years ago? Think about everything that’s happened since May 19: a second Thrones prequel series was announced; the world met and promptly fell in love with Forky; 700 streaming services were announced, some with better names than others; Timothy Olyphant joined the cast of Fargo‘s fourth season. All culture-defining moments that were largely met with acclaim, unlike the final episode/season of Game of Thrones.
Do we need to recap what happened? Sigh. OK.
Well, in “The Iron Throne,” Jon Snow killed Daenerys; Drogon didn’t kill Jon Snow; Bran became the king; and in the aftermath of the episode, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss became synonymous with “bad writers,” there was a pointless petition to remake season eight that HBO felt compelled to respond to, and certain members of the cast expressed dissatisfaction with how things wrapped for their characters. “The caliber of writing towards the end and the plots and everything that happens and how they wrapped it up compared to any other season, any other bit, it just feels like it’s been written by different people,” Natalie Tena (Osha) said. “It doesn’t make sense, for me.”
It may not have made sense for her — or Lena Headey — but the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences didn’t see any issues: Game of Thrones was nominated for 32 Emmys this year, adding to its impressive collection of records (the most nominations for any scripted show ever, and the most wins). The series already went 10-for-19 (although three nominations were in the same category, so it’s really 10-for-16) at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards over the weekend, including three wins for the contentious “The Long Night.” This Sunday, Thrones will compete against Better Call Saul (my preferred winner), Bodyguard, Killing Eve, Ozark, Pose, Succession, and This Is Us for Drama Series, along with, among other categories, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Writing.
Chaos is a ladder, but chaos is also what social media will look like if Thrones wins the writing award over Killing Eve or Better Call Saul, fittingly for an episode called “Winner.” (Las Vegas thinks Drama Series is a near lock.) The comically over-the-top anger people felt over the finale, and the final season in general, has finally started to subside; having Benioff and Weiss on stage on Sunday, in their first public appearance since bailing on San Diego Comic-Con, might bring it all back. Which is a shame, because Game of Thrones was a very good show! It was even very good at time in the final six episodes (like “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which should have received the writing nomination), although the moments of transcendence were further apart. But, as Kathryn VanArendonk writes for Vulture, “for the final season of a major show, a congratulatory round of last Emmy awards can feel like a required farewell wave. The acceptance speeches are like valedictorian addresses, or even worse, a retirement-party speech. The resulting applause is less about raucous excitement and more about knowing nods.”
It goes beyond an awards juggernaut competing against fresher contenders, though. Game of Thrones is arguably the most culturally significant show to premiere post-2000, and inarguably had the largest influence on pop culture. Water cooler conversations about TV have dropped precipitously since Thrones went off the air. That’s the show I choose to remember, the “last very piece of the TV monoculture,” but there’s still so much bitterness about the final season. Something about the reaction to Thrones felt personal, more-so than the finales for Breaking Bad or Mad Men, as if Benioff and Weiss stuffed George R.R. Martin in a locker then spray-painted “nerd” on your car. So, what’s the best-case scenario for both those who hated vs. those who loved season eight?
Even the “haters” have to admit that the actors brought it in the final season, Peter Dinklage, Alfie Allen, and Sophie Turner, in particular. They, along with fellow nominees Headey, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Gwendoline Christie, and even Kit Harington, deserve recognition for having to do a lot with a little, so let Thrones dominate the acting categories. It would be a delight to see Brienne up there, after she self-submitted for an Emmy. Or if Sansa wants to vape, #LetSansaVape. Then, hand Drama Series, Directing, and Writing to something else, like Saul or Pose or fellow HBO powerhouse Succession, which stands to command the 2020 Emmys. Thrones wins some awards, but not ALL the awards, because no one show (or Raven) should have all that power. Everyone goes home happy, except for, uh, the losers.
Game of Thrones will probably never be able to live down the reaction to season eight for the same reason that people forget Dexter used to be good (although anyone who thinks “The Iron Throne” is worse than “Remember the Monsters?” should seek professional help). But at least in the scenario above, it won’t have to live down season eight *and* winning Outstanding Drama Series over other, more deserving nominees.