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Game of Thrones' final big Emmy win feels a bit off

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Winter came, like, three years ago

So the Emmys were on the other night. In an entertainment landscape where the lines between feature films and television series are becoming blurrier than a drunken Lannister’s vision, these awards are an increasingly big deal.

So while I'm not the biggest shareholder of interest in awards and fanfare, the Emmys unquestionably represent an important voice in the industry, awarded accolades paving the way for future creators, studio investments, and so forth. Like them or not, award shows matter. It's for this reason that Game of Thrones's Best Drama win this past week feels particularly critical, and exposing of the flimsiness of awards programs.

If awards shows like the Emmys are supposed to cut through the murky waters of subjectivity, dispelling the opinions of casual viewers and Internet-authors to present praise for works that meet some objective qualities, how is it that Game of Thrones' eighth season could trot off into the sunset with such a prestigious award?

The eighth season of Game of Thrones, after a hiatus leaving fans clamoring for the finale, was met with something of woeful, petulant outrage by the Internet at large. Cries for reshoots and alterations were made, petitions signed, and generally disappointed fans were heard loud and clear. Critics were often at odds with the final hours of showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss’ baby. There were inconsistencies, puzzling decisions, and weak payoffs for a series that had always excelled at playing the long game.

To be clear, these are opinions, which are a tricky thing to nail down. The negative response to Game of Thrones' final season wasn't unanimous, to be certain, and the simple fact that some did and some did not like a piece of entertainment is hardly worth pouting over. The problem for me arises when it comes down to the little golden statue. 

If opinions are entirely subjective, yet awards programs are supposed to zero in, with some semblance of objectivity, on particular works, how is it that Game of Thrones’ eighth season could walk away with the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series this year?

Make no mistake, HBO’s juggernaut fantasy epic will go down in entertainment history as a landmark series. The production value brought to each episode of the George RR Martin adaptation will no doubt make history as one of the strongest proponents of the move towards “prestige television,” with budgets for some of the later episodes rivaling those of small feature films. The money is one thing, but the array of talent, from directors to technical coordinators (the staging of the infamous “Battle of the Bastards” is a work of brilliance), Thrones pulled from the finest of the industry. And it only got bigger. So what happened with Season 8?

I side with our own Chris Compendio, who wrote a good deal about Season 8's failings. Inarguable lapses in logic and consistency, something the series had excelled at in orchestrating its epic game of fake-outs and political maneuvers, were implemented to move the massive plot along in a mere six episodes. Characters took turns in directions completely opposite from how they'd behaved for years now, while long-running arcs were hastily written up to a mere scene's worth of screen-time. For a series sometimes made fun of for accounting for "travel time" across the vast land of Westeros, Season 8 simply moved too fast.

Whether you come down on the final season as hard as I do, I think it would be fair to agree that Thrones' finale is among the weakest content of the series. With that in mind, an award like Best Drama Series is to be given for the sum of a work’s parts. Maybe this performance didn’t quite get the time to shine, or that episode was a slower-paced affair. But overall, the winning season of television was a terrific feat, one whose final impact outweighs any shortcomings picked out along the way.

How then could a season like Game of Thrones’ eighth be considered remotely deserving? While winner Peter Dinklage (Best Supporting Actor – Drama Series) feels like a valid triumph for his always-terrific turn as the sly, good-hearted Tyrion Lannister, Dinklage is a part of a massive whole. Singled out rightfully, but the award goes for his entire personage, whereas Best Drama is meant to encapsulate all of Game of Thrones

To me, giving the top award to Season 8 of Game of Thrones feels like a condolence the series certainly doesn’t need. It’s not as if it hasn’t already won the same award three times previously, not to mention droves of nominations and other wins for direction and writing. Game of Thrones has been heaped with praise, if you hadn’t noticed; I don’t think anyone will win arguments calling it the unsung gem of our time.

My gripe, if it isn’t clear, is essentially that, for a show praised to high heaven (at times when it has been truly praise-worthy), is it right to heap the same adoration upon it while it (arguably) has been at its weakest? And what does that say about these awards programs then; that they go with a feeling, rather than an attempt at real analysis of what makes something “good?”

An easy counter, and again it’s an opinion, would be to say that the competing programs on their best days just weren't up to Game of Thrones on its worst. It's tough to say, because no one can walk away with the "right" opinion, but I'd call shenanigans.

Better Call Saul gets better with each episode, and its most-recent season featured crucial turning points for both of its leads, paving the way for Jimmy and Mike's futures down darker roads. Glancing across other nominees like Killing Eve and This is Us, it makes some degree of sense that the dragon in the room would take all the spotlight, but then the Emmys would simply become a popularity contest, which is certainly not what we'd want.

And yet the Emmys of the past week have once again instilled that cynicism in me; these awards shows are congratulatory and theatrical, but not to be taken as the bastion of artistic analysis of pop culture. Are my expectations out of place? Perhaps. Nonetheless it feels like a slap to deliver such a blunt defiance of general consensus with Thrones final victory. An analogy would be the way the Academy Awards approached Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first two films won several technical awards at the 2002 and 2003 shows, yet for all of their nominations trotted off without the coveted Best Picture of Actor/Actress awards. When the 2004 Academy Awards came 'round, the third and final film, The Return of the King, swept the show, netting all 11 of its Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Peter Jackson.

The idea is that the Academy and its voters were heaping praise upon Jackson's exclamation mark of a finale to his superb trilogy. My opinion on Lord of the Rings aside (they're okay!), the case seems to be the same with Game of Thrones, only imagine that Return of the King was met with a divided, bordering-on-negative reception. It wasn't. Season 8 of Game of Thrones is a bit of a mixed bag in that department.

I don't want to entirely take the importance out of awards shows. Even if they were to boil down to a popularity contest, there's something to be said for a work like Game of Thrones that can hold the collective attention of millions over the course of nine years, turning the staunchest of non-fantasy hardcore drama fans into debaters of Dragonstone and questionable sibling relations. I said it before: Game of Thrones was a cultural phenomenon that won't fade from memory soon. But really, was its grand finale worthy of such intellectual praise?

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Sam van der Meer
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