The Emmys Overreaction to Game of Thrones Explained
And Why There Might Still Be Hope for an Upset
There’s one last aspect about the final episode of Game of Thrones that I’d like to note for this article, and that as the official fan ranking for the series at imdb.com
Now, while imdb.com has many virtues, I’m not always wild about their system of ranking television. This is, after all, a system that has so few safeguards its easy to imagine the millions of die-hard fans coming aboard to buck up a series they love against all reason. However, that very shortcoming may illustrate better than anything else just how badly Game of Thrones screwed the dragon.
For comparison, I’ll list the final marks for the four series finales I previously mentioned:
The Sopranos, ‘Made in America’: 9.2
Lost, The End: 8.2
Mad Men, Person to Person: 9.3
Breaking Bad, ‘Felina’: 9.9
And for Game of Thrones, The Iron Throne’ (drum roll please…) 4.2.
Consider that for a very long moment. Some of the most divisive finales in history were still regarded very highly by their fan base. But ‘The Iron Throne’ was so loathed that it has the rating of badly made porn movies. Hell, this is literally at the same score that Plan 9 From Outer Space. Which means this episode was considered nearly as bad as the worst film ever made.
And it’s actually more astounding than that. For the previous four series finales, I mentioned, the average number of critics was between 1500 for Mad Men and 75 thousand for Breaking Bad. ‘The Iron Throne’ had over two hundred thousand people critiquing the final episode. It’s pretty clear that even the most rapid of Game of Thrones followers, the writers clearly and truly took a dragon-sized dump on what millions previously had considered one of the greatest series of all time.
So, if critics hated how the series ended, and the fans loathed how the series ended, why the hell did the Emmys go so overboard to recognize the show with 32 nominations? I’ve racked my brain for weeks trying to come up with a solution, and I can come up with only one plausible explanation.
The narrative coming out of Hollywood for the nearly two years leading up to the final season of Game of Thrones was that this was going to be a flashpoint in modern culture. Game of Thrones was, in the minds of many, the last true ‘water cooler’ series we would ever see on TV, the last show that would be a critical and ratings hit for the entire world. (I could make a strong counter argument for The West Wing or Lost, but let’s that go.) When it came to an end, it would be the end of an era for television. And when the final season turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in the history of television, the Emmys decided, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
That and the overall laziness of the Academy voters in general. As I have mentioned over and over, Emmy voters have the habit of nominating the same series year after year, no matter how much the quality of the series declines. It was true for House of Cards, for Will & Grace, and The West Wing (the series whose record the Emmys broke), and there’s no particular reason the Emmys should stop now when they’re considerably behind the curve.
So, this begs the question: will the Emmys follow their own track record, and decide to give Best Drama to the final season that alienated people so much that any hope HBO has of continuing the franchise in prequels may be seriously damaged?
Well, let’s consider as an example the four previous series. It worked for The Sopranos, which prevailed in 2007. (Hell, the voters even gave ‘Made in America’ the Best Writing award.) They were more than willing to give Breaking Bad its due. However, the final season of Mad Men didn’t do as well (mainly because Game of Thrones was the big winner the last year.) Lost had its best year at the Emmys, getting twelve nominations, but the stigma of the finale may have loomed so large that the Emmys didn’t recognize it. (Then again, the competition included Breaking Bad and Mad Men both of which had enjoyed superlative seasons, so it’s hard to say here.)
Casual observers may say: well the Emmys gave the show 32 nominations, so it’s a done deal. But this is not necessarily the case. The series that set the original record that Game of Thrones broke — NYPD Blue in 1994 — was an even larger groundbreaker than Game of Thrones ever was. Yet it ended up losing Best Drama to Picket Fences that year. The very next season ER — which was a far bigger popular success than Game of Thrones can ever claim to be — got twenty nominations, but lost Best Drama — to NYPD Blue. The Emmys is notorious for setting up overwhelming favorites in the nominations, and then having them end up doing very badly when it comes to the big prize. Game of Thrones knows that better than most: during the years the series was at its peak — the first four seasons — it would constantly dominate the nominations, but end up losing –twice to Breaking Bad.
And there are signs that many critics feel the same way. As I mentioned in an earlier article, the TV Critics Association chose not to even nominate the series for Best Drama and give its top prize to Better Call Saul. The Peabodys chose to honor Killing Eve and Pose. And earlier this year, the SAG Awards chose to give their top prize to This is Us. All of these series are up for Best Drama, and all have a better argument for winning than Game of Thrones does, much of which comes down to Game of Thrones has won three times. None of them have.
So, is it likely that Game of Thrones is going to end up winning the prize for Best Drama in about six weeks? Unfortunately, it is. But it is possible that Emmy voters, having seen the episode, and more importantly, knowing just how bad the critical response is, might decide to go with another, better series? You can’t rule it out, which is one of the reasons I like the Emmys so much. Let’s hope that they remember the Starbucks cup in Westeros before they decide just how great this series was.