As fans still absorb the various body blows delivered by Sunday’s season finale, some are no doubt wondering whether “Game of Thrones” – a four-time Emmy best-drama nominee – can break its drought in terms of actually winning? If history is any guide, it’s an uphill battle.
The imposing wall the HBO drama has to scale can be traced to a variety of factors and historical precedents. The most obvious – one that’s griped about with annual reliability – is a perceived bias against so-called genre shows, those set in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy or (in the case of “The Walking Dead”) horror. Throughout its history, the Emmys have nominated relatively few programs representing that area, and honored one: ABC’s “Lost” a decade ago.
What has changed, in recent years, is the inordinate popularity of certain programs from those genres, reflecting their mass appeal – and not incidentally, their attractiveness to Emmy producers as a way of enticing viewers to the broadcast. Yet while “Thrones,” and before it “The X-Files,” harbored enough support within the TV Academy’s voting ranks to keep garnering nominations, neither could get over the hump in terms of claiming the crown.
Seeking to explain why, however, is more complicated than the common argument: that the makeup of the academy, which skews older, tips the scales against series that play better with younger audiences. That’s been a consistent lament through the years, from “Battlestar Galactica” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
While that’s almost certainly a factor, it’s only part of the reason that a show like “Thrones” is handicapped. Another is the tough, often brutal nature of its content. If genre shows have been underrepresented at the Emmys, when it comes to winning the grittiest premium cable dramas have been as well. “The Sopranos” is obviously an outlier, but its pair of victories in 2004 and 2007 is almost the exception that proves the rule.
In that regard, the controversy this season and last with some critics decrying the treatment of female characters is mainly emblematic of a larger challenge the program faces. While the series boasts a vast fan base, many viewers – and possibly a disproportionate number in the Emmy-voting ranks – simply find it too grisly or disturbing to enjoy. Academy members might be older, but for some, getting all medieval goes too far.
So will George R.R. Martin’s books-turned-TV-behemoth join other memorable series that garnered multiple Emmy bids but never won? Actually, “The Sopranos” might offer a small ray of hope there as well, having earned its second Emmy in its final season, as did “Breaking Bad” last year. And while the Oscars and Emmys don’t necessarily overlap much, it’s worth noting “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” took home best picture, one suspects, to a significant degree as a means of recognizing director Peter Jackson’s overall achievement with the entire trilogy.
Given that, it’s certainly possible that whenever “Game of Thrones” reaches its final season – which won’t be for a while yet – members of the academy might feel compelled to consider the totality of what it has accomplished over its run – allowing for the fact that the drama category remains the most brutally competitive race, which really does make just being nominated no small feat.
Of course, given a famous line from the show’s first season – Cersei’s admonition to Ned Stark that when you play the Game of Thrones, “You win or you die. There is no middle ground” – there is something a tad ironic about this scenario. Because at this point when it comes to the Emmys and HBO’s signature drama, to win, it just might have to die.