HBO's Game of Thrones finished off its fantastic third season with the infamous and heartbreaking Red Wedding and the crowning of a new super power in the race for the Iron Throne. But a strong finish won't secure a win for the fantasy series in a landscape that includes Emmy magnets like Mad Men and Homeland, Breaking Bad in its (first half of a) final season, Downton Abbey's tragedy-riddled season, and House of Cards' history-making nomination. In a field like this, is there any chance that a tale of dragons and white walkers could take home the gold?
Author of the books that inspired the series, George R.R. Martin certainly thinks so. Following the devastatingly fantastic Breaking Bad episode "Ozymandias," Martin blogged:
I think GAME OF THRONES may have a shot at upsetting [Breaking Bad] for this year's Emmy (only a shot, though, I think they are the clear favorite), which pits us against their previous season... but there's no way in hell that anyone is going to defeat BREAKING BAD next year, when their last season is the one in contention.
However, the odds are stacked against GoT, beyond the clear competition of Breaking Bad. The competition is beyond steep, but let's take a look at its substance before totally throwing away its shot. This year marks the first in which someone other than Peter Dinklage is being recognized for their efforts on GoT; Emilia Clarke nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Daenerys Targaryen.
But still, with an ensemble as large and varying in talent as GoT's, it's understandable that Emmy voters could overlook the whole lot altogether — even some of the most devoted fans have trouble keeping the character names straight, let alone the sea of actors' names behind those roles. And while handfuls of the show's actors — like Jon Snow-portrayer Kit Harrington — often borrow from the Joey Tribiani School of Smell-The-Fart-Acting, the series does boast some award-worthy acting from Dinklage, Clarke, and youngster Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark.
But does an Emmy-award winning drama have to be chock-full of award-winning actors to be worthy? Can it have a few so-so thespians led by a worthy few? With Mad Men running this category for most of its run, you'd think so, but as it turns out, this award really can be about the big picture.
Back in 2005, Lost nabbed its first and only drama series Emmy for its explosive first season. The series was innovative and new, with a level of suspense and drama unmatched by its competitors. It was science fiction with palpable, emotional human stories. Not unlike GoT in the realm of fantasy, Lost had used fantastic writing and production to bridge a seemingly impossible gap, and while the actors became insta-celebs thanks to the series, they weren't often touted as the show's strong point.
There's even an added promise of a potential pattern repeating itself: it was just after The Sopranos broke The West Wing's Emmy streak that Lost sneaked in for a victory. Homeland just broke Mad Men's streak, and while the Showtime series isn't ineligible the following year (as The Sopranos was when Lost won), it should be after that interesting second season. But pattern or not, if Lost stands a chance, certainly Game of Thrones does too, right?
Let's take, for example, the fact that one of the episodes HBO submitted to Emmy voters — "The Rains of Castamere" — was not only the best episode of GoT this year, but arguably one of the best episodes of television in the past, Emmy-eligible year. While the series could have languished in the violence of the scene in which the Stark family was ambushed, like it has with other more tortuous story lines, this bloody wedding party was more heart-wrenching than violence-porn.
When the episode ended, it was clear that not only was this show adept at making these characters painstakingly real for viewers, it also had the ability to test those emotions by removing the people we cared about without even an ounce of warning, leaving us with only the silence of the ending credits to ease our pain.
But it wasn't just death that GoT delivered so flawlessly. We watched the tepid dance between Sansa and Tyrion as they were forced to wed, but managed to find mutual respect and perhaps even some sense of friendship. We witnessed Arya's first kill, born out of her grief over losing what was left of the Stark family leaders. We looked on fondly as Daeneyrs finally became the mother of not only dragons, but of a people as well. We saw Jamie Lannister regain his humanity and humility (and our hearts). The season delivered in a big way — and in its third season, to boot. But that's not the hurdle we're really trying to get over in order to see a Game of Thrones win at the Emmys.
It's the voters. And if they've shown us anything, it's that President Obama has to endorse a show before they'll change their tune. (Hell, just look at how many winged trophies the stale, but cute ABC comedy Modern Family has by now, while other worthier shows go hungry.) It was one thing to give Lost an Emmy — a bunch of attractive people surviving a plane crash on a beach in not-Hawaii? Bring it on. But getting voters to change it up for direwolves and Melissandre's leeches? That's a whole other ball game. Add to that the pressure to finally give Breaking Bad a mere taste of the Best Drama Emmys shower it deserves, and Game of Thrones is looking at some pretty terrible odds.
But then again, so is any series not named Mad Men.