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‘Game of Thrones’: The Final Season May Still Have an Uphill Battle for Next Year’s Best Drama Series Emmy

Final seasons don't have the best track record at the Emmys, but here's how the HBO behemoth can ascend the throne in Season 8.

"Game of Thrones" Final Season

“Game of Thrones”

HBO

Is it too soon to predict a show’s Emmy odds when the eligible season doesn’t even have a release date? What about when it’s been less than one week since the latest Emmys wrapped up? OK, maybe, but… what if that show is “Game of Thrones”? Right, then it’s fine. After all, everything about the hugely anticipated final season is already under the microscope.

HBO’s two-time Emmy champion in the Outstanding Drama Series category took a victory lap Monday night when it won the 2018 race, beating the incumbent victor “The Handmaid’s Tale” in a much-anticipated showdown between defending champions. Many experts expected the Hulu drama to prevail, while maintaining “Game of Thrones” was far from a long shot.

But with Season 8 set for a debut in the first half of 2019, it’s time to look ahead, not behind — or to climb out of the Slaver’s Bay fighting pits, if you will. What does this win mean for the 2019 race? It makes the climb that much easier, but the final season was already facing a fierce fight for the Emmy throne.

Let’s start with the upside: For one, “Game of Thrones” won quite a few Emmys. It came into the night with the most wins of any 2018 series, after snagging seven trophies at the Creative Arts ceremony on Sept. 8. Throw in the two it won at the Primetime Emmys, and that’s still the third best total the series has seen. Nine wins is second only to the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, when the series’ 12 trophies tied the record for most ever by a single show.

Moreover, the release date should be a benefit for the final season. Assuming it’s eligible — which would mean at least three of its six episodes premiere before May 31 — the window between release and voting will be substantially shorter than this year. Season 7 dropped in July 2017, meaning voters’ passion for the show had to endure an entire year before they could vote for it. That’s a year’s worth of other shows trying to steal favor or at least compete for that coveted No. 1 slot on the ballot. Release dates closer to the voting periods are seen as a smart strategy, thanks to marketing campaigns and press attention boosting awareness while Emmy voters are debating which shows to vote for.

Finally, it will be hard for any show to compete with the sheer fandom surrounding “Game of Thrones'” final season. As silly as it may sound, actually getting eyeballs on your series cannot be underestimated in an ever more crowded field of competitors, and no show has the number of eyes glued to the screen as HBO’s drama. Season 7 saw an increase in viewers, as did Season 6, so there’s no reason to expect a dip in ratings for these last six episodes.

But here’s where the good news might come to an end. Though prognosticators often push the idea that Emmy voters want to honor shows before they’re gone, only a handful of dramas have won in their final season. Specifically, just four dramas since 1950 have won the top prize in their final season. Even though two of those won recently — “The Sopranos” in 2007 and “Breaking Bad” in 2014 — plenty of other would-be contenders fell short. “The Americans” lost in its final season this year, and “Downton Abbey,” “Mad Men,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “Lost” all came up short, too.

Moreover, “Breaking Bad” won Best Drama Series twice for its final season and had never won before. (AMC split the season in half, making each half eligible in different years.) One could argue the voters wanted to give it both trophies because they were late to the game — or that the drama was at the top of its game — more than they felt it was important to honor the end. Meanwhile, “Game of Thrones” saw fewer trophies in its latest season than the previous two and has arguably seen a dip in quality. Given the money going into the final six episodes, technical awards may be a lock while the final season curse could still hang over the rest of the categories.

That being said, “The Sopranos” only won twice, both in its final two seasons. (Season 5 won in 2004, before Season 6 was split in half; the first half lost Best Drama Series and the second half won.) This parallel could be interpreted as a positive sign. After all, that HBO drama took an Emmys break and came back to win one more time before it was all said and done. Granted, “Game of Thrones” would have to win twice in a row after its Emmy hiatus, but that’s doable; usually shows don’t return to the winners’ circle at all after dropping out. “Mad Men” is the most recent example, plus AMC’s series is tied for the most wins all-time in the category and had a critically hailed final season.

Can “Game of Thrones” match? After all these factors, it may come down to the quality of the season, and that’s something we won’t know until 2019; If it’s not too early to gauge “Game of Thrones” Emmy odds, it is too soon to say if the season is actually good or not. So the waiting game is afoot, even if the HBO drama may not want to get too comfortable on its gold throne.

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