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Game of Thrones caps off its final season by breaking an Emmy record

The show closes out its controversial eighth season by scoring 32 Emmy nominations.

Game of Thrones’ record-setting number of Emmy nominations puts it in elite company.
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Game of Thrones’ staggering 32 Emmy nominations — yes, 32 — has blown past the previous record for total Emmy nominations received in a single year. That honor previously belonged to the groundbreaking drama NYPD Blue, which snagged 26 nominations in 1994.

Game of Thrones’ accolades included a nomination for Outstanding Drama — an award it’s won three times already — as well as for cinematography, editing, directing, and many acting nods. The show’s record-breaking season crowned a stellar year for HBO, which racked up 137 nominations overall for acclaimed limited series like Chernobyl and Sharp Objects, popular comedies like Veep and Barry, and dramas like Succession.

As dazzling as those numbers are, however, Game of Thrones fans might not want to celebrate prematurely: After all, NYPD Blue only took home six awards on Emmy night. And while Game of Thrones presides over an interestingly sparse drama race — several acclaimed dramas seemed to choose not to compete against it — it will be hard for Emmy voters to overlook the amount of fan backlash and critical disappointment that the show’s final season brought with it.

Game of Thrones has been nominated every season it’s aired, but has only won for its last three seasons — seasons five, six, and seven, each one with critical receptions that have ranged from scathing to lackluster. In other words, the more the show’s quality declines, the more awards it seems to win. And the inverse relationship between the show’s quality and its quantity of award nods hasn’t been lost on TV critics and fans. Many have pointed out that the episodes HBO chose to submit for this year’s Emmys were among season eight’s worst — most notably the meltdown-inducing finale, “The Iron Throne,” and the long-awaited battle episode, “The Long Night.”

Four different directors received nominations for individual Game of Thrones eps: showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for the series finale; David Nutter for the fourth episode, “The Last of the Starks,” forever infamous as the episode that gave us a wayward craft services cameo; and Miguel Sapochnik for “The Long Night.” These episodes may have been among the season’s most bitterly divisive, but Emmy voters clearly seem to err on the more positive side. Still, the nominations have generated plenty of side-eying from fans.

Others have noted that HBO snubbed perennial series writer Bryan Cogman, who wrote season eight’s most popular and most critically praised episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Despite writing more episodes than any other Game of Thrones writer (other than showrunners Benioff and Weiss) Cogman has never received an Emmy nomination for writing; his three wins are as a producer.

This season, of course, would have been the show’s last chance to acknowledge Cogman’s contributions as a writer. But rather than acknowledging that Cogman was responsible for penning the season’s best-received episode, HBO instead submitted the finale, with its much weaker writing by Benioff and Weiss, which was then nominated.

Additionally, fans have loudly expressed disappointment that HBO didn’t submit actor Rory McCann for a supporting actor nod. McCann played the Hound, a perennial fan-favorite character, and featured in one of season eight’s biggest moments, the long-awaited Cleganebowl.

For the most part, though, Game of Thrones dominated the acting categories with nods for its huge ensemble cast. Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke each received nominations for Lead Actor and Actress in a Drama, while Alfie Allen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams all received supporting nominations.

While there’s sure to be plenty of tension to come on Emmy night — after all, only one actor can take the iron Emmy throne — fans were quick to celebrate the actors they love, despite their beef with the show itself. Especially excited were fans of Lena Headey, who has been nominated five times but who has so far never won for her magnificent performance as Cersei. Also celebrating were fans of Gwendoline Christie and Alfie Allen, who have each played major supporting roles in all eight seasons without ever receiving Emmy nominations until now.

And as Peter Dinklage’s supporters pointed out, the actor who played Tyrion Lannister may have more to celebrate than anyone.

All in all, it’s not a bad haul for this cultural behemoth. But Game of Thrones’ controversial series finale might mean that when we look back in a few years, the 2019 Emmys will seem more like a strange anomaly than a true commemoration of the best entertainment 2019 had to offer.

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