How Game of Thrones Managed to Win Big at the 2019 Emmys Despite Its Controversial Final Season

Though 1.7 million fans signed a petition demanding a re-do of the eighth season, the HBO fantasy hit took home 12 Emmys, including Oustanding Drama Series

By Tierney Bricker 23 Sep, 2019 4:02 PMTags
Related: Emilia Clarke Admits It Took Time to Process Final "GoT" Script

Their watch has officially ended.

Game of Thrones took home one of the night's biggest awards at the 2019 Emmys on Sunday, winning Outstanding Drama Series for the HBO juggernaut's eighth and final season. It should've been a joyous occasion backstage then as the cast and executive producers fielded questions in the press room before popping champagne bottles, right? Well, when one of the first questions is about how they've all handled the negative response GOT's final six-episode swan song received last spring, it's not exactly your typical victory lap.

"I'll take this one," Kit Harington said, channeling Jon Snow, his protective character, before going on to downplay the idea that any "controversy" negated the overall experience of being on the biggest show in the world had for the cast and crew over the last 10 years. 

"Controversy. I still haven't seen the show, so that's how I dealt with that controversy. I haven't seen the final season, but I know what it took to shoot it and it was hard, and everyone put their love and effort into it," the show's leading man, who was nominated for Outstanding Performance By an Actor in a Drama Series, began.

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Game of Thrones Cast Takes the 2019 Emmys Red Carpet By Storm

"Controversy for us—we knew what we were doing was right story-wise and we knew that it was right for the characters because we lived with them for ten years. Controversy for us—didn't really effect us."

And ultimately, that controversy—which included a petition signed by over 1.7 million fans demanding HBO re-do the entire final season—didn't stop Game of Thrones from coming away from TV's biggest night with the top prize, as well as a win for Peter Dinklage in the Outstanding Performance By a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, his fourth (record-setting) trophy for his turn as Tyrion Lannister. 

Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Nominated for 32 total nominations—a record-breaking number—GOT's final outing took home 10 trophies at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend, including Outstanding Casting, Outstanding Costuming and Outstanding Main Title Design, before its two big wins on Sunday night.

Given the huge outcry from fans voicing their , some Hollywood insiders were unsure if goodwill and global domination would be enough to help GOT take home the big win, especially when HBO's beloved and critically acclaimed comedy Veep was defeated by Fleabag, with the show and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who had won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for seven straight seasons) both losing in some of the night's biggest upsets for its recently-wrapped final season.

But back in July, HBO president Casey Bloys wasn't all that concerned by the backlash Game of Thrones' final season received, including that pesky petition demanding a do-over. 

"There are very few downsides to having a hugely popular show. One I can think of, when you try to end it, many people have opinions on how to end it," he told reporters. "I think that comes with the territory. The petition shows a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the show, but it wasn't something we seriously considered. I can't imagine another network would."

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Emmys 2019: Candid Moments

Still, despite the fact that HBO has no interest in giving into the demands of the people who signed the petition, fans are continuing to voice their frustrations over how the show ended, even pitching their ideas to the stars. 

"I get a lot of theories. I get a lot of , 'If I had done It, I would do it like this,'" Emilia Clarke told E! on the carpet at the Emmys of fans still approaching her about the ending. "'Can I get a selfie and also can I pitch you a new season?'"

And maybe they are pitching the actors because showrunners Dan Weiss and D.B. Benioff went radio silent toward the end of the eighth season, opting out of doing any postmortem interviews following the polarizing series finale in May.

Then, just days before Game of Thrones' final panel at San Diego Comic-Con, it was announced that the pair would no longer be attending. 

While their stars had defended them and the final season in various interviews, with Sophie Turner calling the petition "disrespectful," Weiss and Benioff finally broke their silence in August in an interview with a Japanese TV network, Star Channel.

HBO

In their first public interview in almost five months, Weiss and Benioff, who are currently working on a Star Wars movie, admitted they found the record number of Emmy nominations GOT received "kind of surprising."

"I did not know that we expected that. At least in my mind, I thought that the [previous] season would have been the peak and that we would've ended up with maybe a couple less [nominations], at best," Weiss said. "I felt very happy for all of our team of people, all of the actors and all of the crew who got recognized. Each made us feel really proud of them and happy for them, because we know first-hand how hard they worked; we saw it every day for many years."

While they didn't talk about the negative fan response (and reviews, with the final episode netting a series-low 57 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), they did address one of the biggest controversies of the final season: the damn Starbucks coffee cup that was left in a scene, the mistake heard 'round the Internet. (It even received a shout-out during the Emmys' opening sequence.)

"It's, like, you know, I think in Persian rugs, it's tradition that you make a little mistake when making the rug, because only God can do anything perfect," Benioff joked, before Weiss continued, "That's why I put the coffee cup there," Weiss added. "Conscious, concerted statement of our imperfection."

Helen Sloan/HBO

All jokes aside, Benioff did say the goof was  "an embarrassment," explaining, "We were concentrating so much on Daenerys and Jon Snow that we just didn't see this coffee cup right in the middle. So, at first I couldn't believe it, and then it was embarrassment. 'How did we not see this coffee cup in the middle of the shot?' And then, eventually, it was just kind of funny. This one is just a mistake, and it's kind of funny to us now."

It's still funny to us, too.

And while its final season was underwhelming (to put it mildly), Game of Thrones' overall impact on television cannot be overstated, as the HBO series' is one of the medium's most successful, ambitious and expensive endeavors. In an era of streaming and endless options, GOT's last hurrah was a pop culture event, with the series finale bringing in a record-breaking 19.3 million viewers in its first airing (with the season overall averaging 44.2 million viewers once all forms of viewing are counted).

So think of the eighth season winning Outstanding Drama Series as a career achievement award for the epic series, with the Academy choosing to judge it based on its overall 73-episode run rather than its final six outings. Rather than break the wheel by giving the honor to HBO's new favorite child Succession or your uncle's favorite show Ozark, voters let it spin one last time, with the Emmys even bringing the main cast out earlier in the night to bid a final farewell (they received a standing ovation). 

"These last 10 years have been the best years of our lives. For everyone who worked with us on it, I can't believe we finished it," Benioff said. "I can't believe we did it, we did it all together and it's over. We shall never see the like again."

At least until those prequels come along...