When it comes to the industry’s biggest awards, Game of Thrones is almost always the bridesmaid. The HBO fantasy hit has racked up a hugely impressive 42 prime-time Emmy and Golden Globe nominations across its first three seasons. It’s also won 11 of those awards, mainly for categories like visual effects, make-up, costumes and sound effects. Yet in the major categories — best series, acting, writing and directing — Thrones has taken home just two statues (a Globe and Emmy for Peter Dinklage as best supporting actor).
We asked HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo about this topic during a Thrones interview, and he suggested the show’s fantasy setting and high production values might distract from the talent on display. “What frustrates me about the show is people really love and connect with the characters — but somehow, [the voters] don’t put two and two together that there are great actors embodying those roles,” Lombardo says. “There seems to be a disconnect. This would not work without compelling writing and unbelievable acting and superb direction. And I think that’s part of the challenge of a show that’s a genre show. I think people think the show is carried along on its production values.”
Indeed, Dinklage gives a tremendous performance, and the show’s current fourth season is almost certainly his best. But there are others amid Thrones‘ sprawling cast that one would think would get recognized as well — Emilia Clarke received an Emmy nomination last year, and Diana Rigg had a guest actress nod. But there’s also Charles Dance, Lena Headey, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, among others, doing consistently excellent work. There’s also the show’s writing, led by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. “David and Dan are not just good — they are exceptional writers,” Lombardo says. “Their scripts are as dazzling as anything I’ve ever read. This isn’t pulled out of a book.”
The direction on Thrones is also stunning. Hollywood recognized the talent of long-time TV director Alan Taylor’s work on Thrones’ first season, and snatched him up to helm Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming Terminator reboot. Yet the TV Academy didn’t nominate his work (and likewise snubbed David Nutter, who directed last year’s heart-stopping Red Wedding episode). The only Emmy nomination for outstanding direction that Thrones has received, oddly enough, was for its stiff, heavily re-shot pilot.
“I look at it relative to other shows, and these are artists working at the absolute top of their game,” Lombardo says. “Peter Dinklage is as good as any actor on TV. Lena is phenomenal. I guess they’re so good you’re not aware of it. And it’s not about getting awards for HBO, but for them. Behind the dragons and costumes and landscapes there’s unbelievable talent at work. And none of it would be be emotionally relatable if not for artistry in the writing, directing and acting.”
It’s not the first time a ground-breaking top-rated HBO genre series has had Emmy struggles. The Academy was also long accused of undervaluing The Sopranos, though the mob drama actually performed better in its early years in the top categories than Thrones.
Adds the executive: “We’re so pleased with the show, and I would hate to sound the least bit sour grapes, because the response from fans is so spectacular. But [greater awards recognition] would be nice.”
Game of Thrones returns Sunday night for its eighth episode of the season — “The Mountain and the Viper.” We’ll have full coverage of the showdown on EW.com, including a live recap starting at 9 p.m. ET. In the meantime, here the showrunners tease up (spoiler free) the Oberyn vs. The Mountain contest: “The fight delivers beyond our expectations.”
UPDATE: ‘Game of Thrones’: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s big Viper vs. Mountain episode