In the Game of Emmys, you win or you sob into your gift basket.
This weekend, everyone’s favorite sprawling bloody fantasy “Game of Thrones” has a chance to wrest the crown of best dramatic series away from the incumbent Kings of Madison Avenue over at AMC: "Mad Men" has taken home the prize for the last four years.
(Warning: spoilers ahead for seasons 1 and 2, and one veiled reference to a forthcoming event in the books!)
Season 2 of "Game of Thrones" primarily focused on the War of the Five Kings, where Stannis and Renly Baratheon, brothers to the late King Robert, vie for the throne in the southern capital of King’s Landing, currently held by everyone’s favorite character to hate, the sadistic Joffrey Baratheon (who, as we found out last season, is actually the product of Lannister siblings Cersei and Jaime). Meanwhile, the rebel King in the North, Robb Stark, seeks revenge for his father’s execution and freedom for the northern lands of Westeros, and Balon Greyjoy, ruler of the Iron Islands, schemes to take the North for his own. To appreciate just how much ground Season 2 had to cover, consider that the previous summary doesn't even encompass Jon Snow's adventures north of the Wall, or Arya Stark's life on the run, or dragon-toting exile Daenerys' travails in a desert cosmopolis.
Last year, the show only had one major Emmy win, a very-well deserved supporting actor in a drama series statuette to Peter Dinklage, for his portrayal of the witty and lecherous Tyrion Lannister. There’s definitely a solid chance Dinklage will recapture the golden statuette. Season 2 moved Tyrion front-and-center to replace the void in King’s Landing left by Ned Stark (Sean Bean), who was struck by an unfortunate case of head-chopping-off in Season 1. And Dinklage rose to meet the spotlight, whether by scheming against his conniving sister Cersei (Lena Headey) or leading soldiers to beat back an invasion from the walls of King’s Landing.
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“Game of Thrones” already won six trophies at the creative arts Emmy Awards this past Saturday, picking up honors in visual effects and costumes – Margaery Tyrell’s bizarre extra-wide turtleneck dress notwithstanding.
But obviously the real prize is Outstanding Drama Series, where “Game of Thrones” is up against some real heavyweights, including four-time winner “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” which you are probably either already watching or refusing to watch out of petulance because your friends are all talking about it constantly while feeling secretly guilty, much as you did with “The Wire.”
According to Hollywood award site GoldDerby.com, HBO offered six episodes to Emmy voters for consideration: "What is Dead May Never Die,” "Garden of Bones," "The Old Gods and the New," "A Man Without Honor," and season-enders "Blackwater" and "Valar Morghulis."
The show’s writers have done an admirable job of condensing George R.R. Martin’s books into television-sized chunks. They took even bolder steps in adapting “Clash of Kings,” which fills more than 1,000 pages in the U.S. paperback edition. They’ve not been afraid to axe minor characters or invent new ones out of whole cloth.
Sometimes the on-screen version has upstaged the books. Robb Stark’s TV love interest, the battlefield healer Talisa, is much more interesting than his book interest, the young noblewoman Jeyne Westerling. Arya Stark’s service as cupbearer to the leonine patriarch Tywin Lannister, which produced some of the most spine-tingling and poignant moments in Season 2, is another major change that works much better, thematically, than her original role serving the “leech lord” Roose Bolton.
However, true to his TV-writing roots, it was Martin himself who delivered the best episode of the season with “Blackwater.” This penultimate episode of Season 2 was refreshing in its focus on a single event. The one drawback to this season was the multiplying plot lines and characters –- 30 new named roles were introduced -- which may make the casual viewer scratch their head in trying to tell one scruffy warrior from the next, or whom is exactly fighting whom.
The odds are not especially favorable for “Game of Thrones” – bettors at GoldDerby are forecasting a close race between “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” which may be able to dethrone the competition thanks to its sheer omnipresence in the zeitgeist of late.
But if Emmy voters fail to crown Game of Thrones this season, fans should not lose heart. There are still three more books to be adapted, with the events in “Storm of Swords” to be split into two TV seasons by HBO. And as those who’ve read the books know, there is a certain major event in the third book – often going by the shorthand ‘RW’ -- that is sure to provide one of the more dramatic episodes of television in some time.