Here’s a fun fact: The first ever Emmy that Game of Thrones won was for its title sequence. (The irony being that fans quickly came to dread sitting through the monotonous, lengthy opening for two minutes before every episode started.) That was back in September of 2011 at the Creative Arts Emmys, days before Peter Dinklage’s shocking Best Actor in a Drama Series win at the main ceremony, and the same year Martin released his last book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga (so far).
This was a time when HBO Go was barely even a thing yet. Streaming services hadn’t taken over the Emmys entirely. Barack Obama was still in his first term. And Game of Thrones was just known as the boobs and dragons show—a fancy, slow moving, fantasy soap opera that stayed faithful to George R.R. Martin’s books. It was the beginning of a new era in television, when the show itself would pull a Daenerys Targaryen by becoming the ruler of everything, only to take a very shitty turn in the end.
Since then, Game of Thrones has been nominated for 160 Emmys and won 57. It has been a major player at every Emmys since it premiered, except for the 2017 show, when Thrones took a break between its seventh and eighth seasons. That year, the Emmys were glorious. Stephen Colbert’s opening performance never once mentioned dragons or sex. Jimmy Fallon was nowhere to be found in a Daenerys wig. There was no big Thrones-inspired Weird Al Yankovich song. No limp Colin Jost jokes about fandom. And, more importantly, after back-to-back years of winning for Outstanding Drama Series, it was a year where Game of Thrones didn’t dominate the winners list. With Thrones out of the way, some worthy fresh contenders were able to win deserving awards. The Handmaid’s Tale (then a haunting warning of things to come in Trump’s America) won Outstanding Drama Series, while Elisabeth Moss and Sterling K. Brown took home top honors in the drama category for acting.
Now, going into the 2019 Emmys, Game of Thrones has an astounding 32 overall nominations, including 10 in the acting categories and yet another nod for Outstanding Drama Series. Of these acting nominations three Thrones guys are nominated in the supporting actor category and four women are nominated for supporting actress. The odds of Thrones taking home the most trophies on Sunday are overwhelming.
But, to be completely honest, Game of Thrones doesn’t deserve any of them. Not a single one.
For the majority of its run, Game of Thrones was an incredible television show, the likes of which had never been seen on premium or network cable. As someone who loves fantasy and science fiction, I’m genuinely thrilled that Thrones kicked off a peak era of the genre on television—with everyone from Netflix to Amazon to Apple dumping millions of dollars into creating the next Game of Thrones. It’s a golden era for nerds to watch TV—and it wouldn’t have happened without Game of Thrones.
But, that era of Game of Thrones ended long before the show itself did. In fact, you can trace it back to somewhere near the end of the fifth season, when the show had officially passed the books. From there, Thrones went from an unexpected fantasy epic with a focus on character development and patient narrative world building, to just another TV show (albeit with a massive budget). The characters were abandoned, the writers gave up, the showrunners put all their time and energy into sensation. Big battles! More dragons! Fan service! All the things that made Martin’s books and the shows early seasons were gone. The show gave up, but disappointed, yet loyal fans kept watching because they had invested seven years into it.
Just look at the script for the series finale “The Iron Throne” for which David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. This is the climactic moment where Jon Snow kills Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon burns the Iron Throne:
We look over Jon’s shoulder as the fire sweeps toward the throne ― not the target of Drogon’s wrath, just a dumb bystander caught up in the conflagration. We look through the blades of the throne as the flames engulf it, and blast the wall behind it. We see the throne in the flames, turning red, then white, then beginning to lose its form. We get tight shots of the details melting in silhouette: the armrests, the iconic fan of swords on the backrest. The fire stops. The smoke clears revealing a puddle of smouldering slag where the throne once stood. Who will sit on the Iron Throne? No one.
There you have it. The big moment where the Iron Throne burned, because the dragon just accidentally hit it with fire. No intention, no meaning behind one of the most important moments of the series. Eight years of TV, and that’s it. That’s what they came up with.
The issue is not just about Game of Thrones being a bad show that no one can see, that has no logical time jumps, that’s littered with coffee cups, that is more akin to fan fiction—it’s that Game of Thrones has spent years winning the major Emmys categories, and this is a year for the Academy to truly recognize a worthy and diverse group of shows and artists.
This year, the Outstanding Drama Series trophy should go to Pose. And if not, to Succession or Killing Eve. Sandra Oh should finally get her Outstanding Lead Actress trophy. Outstanding Lead Actor should be Billy Porter. And if it goes to Kit Harington, I’m throwing my TV into a furnace just to watch it burn.
The Game of Thrones era is over—at least until the prequels dominate the Emmys in the 2020s. So, let’s start the next era right now. Let’s let the Killing Eves and Poses and Successions get the credit they deserve.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.