If you’re one of the many people still seething in rage over the eighth and final season of HBO’s hit fantasy series, I urge you to keep your TV off Sunday night. That’s when the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony will be held, and Game of Thrones has a record-breaking 32 nominations, more than any show in Emmy history. Chances are, it’s going to win a lot of them even though its last season could most kindly be described as “polarizing.”
These awards are going to once again kick the hornet’s nest of furious fans who were only just starting to calm down after the show’s finale, which is a shame for two reasons. The first is that the rest of the planet — those of us who were only mildly disappointed or even genuinely entertained by the Game of Thrones finale — will have to endure the vitriolic freak out all over again. (Pity the show’s cast, crew, and social media assistants on Sunday night.) The second reason is that it’s about time we all remembered that, by and large, Game of Thrones was very good.
Unfortunately, there are people so obsessed with hating the final season that they’ve forgotten that the better parts of the show exist at all. This is, of course, not just a Game of Thrones’ problem. There have been plenty of great shows that didn’t manage to stick the landing — Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and True Blood all come immediately to mind — and their fans also had a hard time separating their disappointment with the ending from their enjoyment with the story preceding it because of, well, how story endings work. As the audience, we watch the narrative tension build episode after episode, season after season, in hopes that, in the end, the story will reach a satisfying climax.
Game of Thrones was, and is, so much more than its final season, and that’s why we should forgive it.
When things go awry at the very end, and the audience doesn’t feel fulfilled, it’s disappointing. And as I’ve talked about before, the more people love a show — or a book, movie, or person, for that matter — the more hurt and upset that disappointment makes them. Given how deep Thrones mania went, of course fans were going to lose their minds if the show didn’t perfect the ending. (Fan entitlement — the demand for reality to somehow bend to their will and provide a better ending to a TV show about dragons — is something else entirely, and absolutely moronic.) For some fans, a bad ending seems to invalidate all of the episodes that came before.
It’s time to remember that Game of Thrones is more than just its final season. Yeah, it messed up. Yeah, Daenerys’ high-speed character arc was not supported by the narrative, robbing many major events of the emotional impact they should have had. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t experience the incredible satisfaction of Sansa watching Ramsay get eaten by his own dogs. Or that we didn’t love Tyrion and Bronn’s bromance. Or stare in awe at the battle of “Hardhome” (still, for my money, the best episode of the season, and one of my favorite episodes of television of all time). Or lose our minds during the “Red Wedding.”
Game of Thrones was, and is, so much more than its final season, and that’s why we should forgive it. The upcoming Emmys are the perfect time to do so.
Because when Game of Thrones inevitably wins this year’s Outstanding Drama award, it won’t be winning for actually being the best show of the 2018–19 TV season. Like most entertainment awards shows, winners are not always chosen based on quality. There’s a popularity contest element to it, of course (unless you think Frasier truly was the funniest show in the world for five straight years), but as TV Guide explained when announcing all of Game of Thrones’ nominations, “final seasons of major shows tend to win big. Emmy voters often give a huge show of support to final seasons as a bit of a legacy vote, so we can probably expect a fair amount of these nominations to turn into actual awards.”
If Game of Thrones does win Outstanding Drama this Sunday, this will be the reason. Emmy voters won’t be voting for seven episodes of rushed storytelling or unsupported character actions. They’ll have voted for the entirety of the series, its achievement, and the legacy it’ll leave on pop culture in general and TV entertainment in particular going forward.
Shows deserve to be recognized for these sorts of things, and I believe Game of Thrones is certainly one of them. However, I will say commemorating this accomplishment with a statuette whose plaque reads “Outstanding Drama 2019” is a pretty terrible way to do it, not least because Game of Thrones was not the most outstanding drama of the last year. (Killing Eve, anyone?) If Thrones wins, the show will be getting an award for something it did not earn, while not getting properly recognized for what it achieved.
This is, obviously, quite stupid. However, by doing their jobs wrong, these Emmy voters have inadvertently stumbled upon the right idea. It’s time to think about Game of Thrones in its entirety, both good and ill. Please, feel free to continue hating seasons seven and eight all you want — I mean, try not to be an asshole about it — but remember, if you’re still angry about the end, it’s because of how much you loved the show leading up to it. You can’t separate the two, because you can’t have one without the other — just like you can’t reach a destination without going on a journey first.
Yes, Game of Thrones’ destination left much to be desired, but it was a fantastic journey to get there. And the show’s truest satisfaction was in the friends, dragons, ice monsters, and emotionally devastating character deaths we saw along the way.
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