Don’t look now, but Game of Thrones’ ... let’s say ... “controversial” final season is set to break yet another Emmy record, to go along with its stunning 32 nominations, the most for any one season of a TV show ever.
Having won 10 awards at last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys — which honor elements of TV production like cinematography, editing, visual effects, and other technical aspects — Game of Thrones needs just two more to tie the record for the most Emmys won by a single season of any show. It needs only three to break that record. And you know who currently holds it? That’s right, it’s Game of Thrones, which won 12 awards for its fifth season in 2015.
The series will have ample opportunities to tie or break its own record at Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, having received 14 total nominations across all seven drama series categories whose winners will be announced that night. It’s the only show nominated in every single category, and there’s an outside chance it wins all seven. (Probably not, but you never know.) It would take a catastrophic failure of HBO’s normally reliable voting bloc for the show to not win the three more Emmys it needs, and I’m predicting it wins four, setting a new record of 14 for a single season — a record unlikely to be broken, maybe ever.
Game of Thrones has a leg up in setting records, given how many different categories this huge show can compete in. Not every series features such an epic scale of production that it can effectively compete in every category, from visual effects to interactive programming. The final season won 10 Creative Arts Emmys, but it was nominated for 15, with multiple nominations in some categories. So even though it lost five of the awards it was nominated for, there were still 10 other categories where it could win.
For the record, those 10 categories were casting, costumes, main title design, non-prosthetic makeup, music composition, editing, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects, and stunt coordination. And, look, even as a non-fan of the show’s final season, I can’t really argue against any of those awards. Game of Thrones was really well made! (Okay, maybe I could argue against its casting win. That should have gone to Pose or Succession in a walk.)
That leaves the show with a respectable haul headed into this weekend’s primetime awards; it’s nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, Lead Actress in a Drama, Lead Actor in a Drama, Supporting Actress in a Drama, Supporting Actor in a Drama, Directing for a Drama Series, and Writing for a Drama Series.
So will Game of Thrones set a new record? I’m glad you asked. Here are its chances in each of the seven categories it’s nominated in, ranked by likelihood of a win.
Outstanding Drama Series
With 32 nominations and 10 wins to its name already, there seems no way that this category doesn’t fall to Game of Thrones. HBO has the most voters of any one network within the TV Academy, and even Emmy voters I’ve talked to who didn’t like Game of Thrones’ final season want to honor the show’s overall achievement and how it changed television. This will be an easy win, even if the show somehow loses every other category.
Who might beat Game of Thrones: Nobody? I’ve heard some people suggest Killing Eve is running in second, and sure. I’ll buy it. I also think very performative anti-Game of Thrones voters are probably voting for Pose, which is Game of Thrones’ exact opposite. But the most likely non-Game of Thrones winner would have been Succession, if not for the fact that it’s a little under-nominated (Nobody from the cast was nominated? Really?) and if not for the fact that it airs on the same network as Game of Thrones, with said network pushing Game of Thrones more heavily.
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
The only way Game of Thrones loses here is if its three nominees — Miguel Sapochnik for “The Long Night,” David Nutter for “The Last of the Starks,” and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for “The Iron Throne” — split the vote and allow some other contender to sneak in. That’s theoretically possible, but HBO hosted a huge TV Academy screening for “The Long Night,” perhaps indicating where it’s hoping votes will land. Sapochnik should win his second Emmy, and I’ll pretend it was for “The Bells,” perhaps the best-directed episode in the show’s history. (“The Long Night,” if you’ll remember, was roundly derided as being “too dark,” but it looked amazing at that TV Academy screening, I’m told.)
Who might beat Game of Thrones: I have a sneaking suspicion that Succession will win something, and Adam McKay (nominated for directing the show’s pilot) is an Oscar-nominated director for Vice and The Big Short. I also wouldn’t count out The Handmaid’s Tale, which has won in this category before (in its first season). From that show, Daina Reid is nominated for “Holly,” a very well-directed episode.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Look, Peter Dinklage has won three Emmys for playing Tyrion Lannister, and two of them were for Game of Thrones’ fifth and seventh seasons, when he seemed super bored. (The first was for season one.) The only way he loses for a season when he was actually dialed-in is if his also-nominated co-stars Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) block him.
Who might beat Game of Thrones: Any time multiple people from the same show are nominated in one category, the possibility for vote-splitting exists. But I genuinely don’t know who would win here if not one of the Game of Thrones trio. Jonathan Banks for Better Call Saul? (Did you know that show has never won an Emmy? It hasn’t!) Chris Sullivan for This Is Us? It’s remarkable that nobody from Succession earned a nod in this race, is all I’m saying.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
I think the three categories above are all pretty securely in Game of Thrones’ pocket, which is all it needs to set a new record. These remaining four might be trickier, but I do think the show will eke out a win in Supporting Actress — despite having four nominees (which carries so much potential for vote-splitting). My pick is Maisie Williams, whose character Arya killed the Night King, after all, but maybe the Emmys will finally take pity on poor Lena Headey after Cersei had nothing to do in the final season despite giving the best performance across the show’s first seven seasons. (Also nominated from Game of Thrones are Gwendoline Christie, who played Brienne, and Sophie Turner, who played Sansa Stark.)
Who might beat Game of Thrones: This is a category where some Emmy prognosticators think there’s a real chance somebody else might win. That somebody is Ozark’s Julia Garner, who plays a teen would-be crime lord. With so many Game of Thrones folks potentially robbing votes from one another and Garner’s rising profile in the entertainment industry, well ... it could happen!
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
Game of Thrones has but one nomination in this race, for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s script for the series finale, and I think they’re going to lose. I might be wrong. I’m probably wrong. But that finale — to say nothing of the writing across the final season in general — left a bad taste in enough Emmy voters’ mouths that I think they’ll look elsewhere for a winner here. Of the five awards, most Emmy predictors think Game of Thrones will win. This is the one I’m predicting will end in an upset. After all, even when Game of Thrones won several Emmys for its seventh season, it lost this very category to The Americans.
Who might beat Game of Thrones: Boy, who might not? The best case for Game of Thrones winning in this category might be that you can make a good case for almost every other nominee in this race (outside of Netflix’s Bodyguard, which feels like a weirdo outlier). The anti-Game of Thrones vote really needs to rally around one choice here, and I’m not entirely sure it will.
I think the best options are, in rough order from most likely to least, are the following: Succession, Better Call Saul, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Killing Eve. I’m slightly favoring Succession because it’s nominated for its season one finale, and that episode’s heady blend of comedy and tragedy is exactly the sort of script that usually wins Emmys. (With that said, I’m probably underestimating Killing Eve. Lots of Emmy voters seem to have caught up on its superior first season, even though its disappointing second season is the one that’s eligible this year, and season one may sway their vote.)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
This category and the next one are the two that even the most diehard Game of Thrones predictors think it will lose, but allow me to make a case for why Emilia Clarke might win this award. This category is truly up in the air (see below), and Clarke came through the final season with flying colors, despite plenty of folks feeling her character was mistreated. If the Game of Thrones voting bloc is consistent enough and nobody else can agree on who to vote for, well ... this might work out in Daenerys Targaryen’s favor. (Also: My wife, Libby Hill, is the TV awards editor for IndieWire and therefore way smarter than me about this, and has made the exact argument above to suggest Clarke will win. Her suspicions are often correct.)
Who might beat Game of Thrones: The most likely contender is Sandra Oh from Killing Eve, who would make Emmy history if she wins, becoming the first winner of Asian descent in this category. But this is also the one category where a show other than Game of Thrones might fall prey to vote-splitting — because Oh’s co-star Jodie Comer is also nominated, and she arguably had a better season than Oh. Meanwhile, don’t dismiss Ozark’s Laura Linney; she already has four Emmys (for four completely different programs, no less), and the Emmys love rewarding their favorites over and over again.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
I just don’t think poor Kit Harington — Game of Thrones’ sole nominee in this category, for the role of increasingly beleaguered Jon Snow — has a chance. If he wins, then Game of Thrones has won 16 or 17 Emmys, and I should probably retire.
Who might beat Game of Thrones: This is a category with a contender slightly out in front who’s not from Game of Thrones: Pose’s Billy Porter. Every year since 2011, this category has been won by someone whose show is in its first or last season, and Porter is nominated for Pose’s first, the only actor nominated for a first season in the bunch. (He’s also, y’know, excellent, but it’s always nice to have a weird Emmy stat on your side.) Yes, Harington is nominated for the final season of his show (the only nominee from a final season in this category), but I’m still picking Porter. If it’s not him, maybe this will finally be Bob Odenkirk’s year for Better Call Saul. You never know!