Game of Thrones received 32 Emmy nominations for the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, smashing the previous record of 26, which was set by NYPD Blue in 1994. A significant chunk of those nominations were for acting, with the Academy spreading the wealth beyond the usually recognized Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey. This year, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke are nominated as Male and Female Leads, while, in a cruel twist, Alfie Allen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams are all vying for Outstanding Supporting Actor/Actress awards.
In addition to all of those acting nominations, the show's has been nominated for Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Writing. That's despite the massive backlash to the final six episodes. On Rotten Tomatoes, Season 8 of Game of Thrones barely earned a 58% from critics, and was eviscerated by the audience with a 33% freshness user rating.
A lot of the criticism of Season 8 was directed at the writing, which started to suffer in Season 5 when showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ran out of George R.R. Martin’s developed material. Some have attributed the decline in quality to a switch in how Benioff and Weiss focused on the narrative, failing to capture the intricate tapestry of plot threads and cruel but realistic cause and effect Martin had emphasized in his sociologically-attentive series in the process.
However, the acting and the technical quality of the show remained excellent until the series finale, which is one of the reasons it earned to so many nominations. Game of Thrones is nominated in pretty much every production-related category possible. Despite some dodgy ice dragon CGI here and there, Game of Thrones was still an undeniable technical and visual achievement. The Creative Arts technical nominations are absolutely deserved and represent not only the cinematographic prowess of this season, but of the whole series.
If there’s backlash, it will probably come in the final round of voting, though it'll probably be more directed at the Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Drama awards. After all, there are some very strong dark horse contenders this year, like Killing Eve or Bodyguard, that could end up beating out Game of Thrones.
However, it's totally possible Game of Thrones will end up sweeping the category. For all of its problems, the excitement that every season premiere generated was real. These nominations, and potential awards, may end up being a salute to the cast and crew more than anything else. There's definitely precedent for this, though probably the best parallel is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won 11 Oscars in 2003, a salute to the final chapter of the fantasy series that had a clear influence on Game of Thrones.