Emmy Circuit: Can Anyone Beat ‘Game Of Thrones’ in Drama Writing?

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy will reveal their winners Saturday, Sept. 14, while the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.

OPENING STATEMENTS

The Drama Writing category has been a very good predictor for who will win Outstanding Drama Series. Over the past ten ceremonies, the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series winner went on to win Outstanding Drama Series seven times. Of the three times there was a discrepancy, two of the writing winners went to shows that submitted their series finale (“Friday Night Lights” and “The Americans”). This bodes well for “Game of Thrones,” which set a record with 32 Emmy nominations this year. On top of being the frontrunner, it contends here for its series finale. However, fans widely criticized the submitted episode. Will it be able to outlast the haters and win a third Writing Emmy for creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss? Let’s take a look at “Game of Thrones’” competition.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE… 

Now to delve into each of the nominated episodes. Spoiler Alert: These analyses may contain spoilers of the nominated episodes.

NOMINEE #1 – Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz – “Better Call Saul” – Episode: “Winner”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Jimmy turns the page on his reputation; Lalo tracks a loose end in Gus’s operation; Mike is forced to make a difficult decision.

The season four finale of “Better Call Saul” does a fantastic job of juggling the different storylines. We start out in a flashback, as Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) goads his introverted brother Chuck (Michael McKean) into an ABBA karaoke. From there, we go back to the present to see a grieving Jimmy, mourning Chuck’s passing. However, the finale isn’t all about Chuck’s grief.

We find Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) doing some convincing sleuth work trying to locate Werner Ziegler (Ranier Block). Once he finally catches up on Werner, both men confront the fact that Mike is going to have to murder Werner. It’s a beautiful and haunting scene that is as stunningly shot and acted as it is written.

The episode leaves the audience with quite a gut punch. At his hearing, Jimmy breaks down as he supposedly speaks from the heart about how his brother inspired him to become a lawyer. Bob Odenkirk sells the wonderful monologue in a truly moving piece of acting. Just as Kim (Rhea Seehorn) comforts Jimmy after the hearing, he bursts out laughing. His monologue was completely improvised as a way to win back his legal license. He saunters off to reclaim his position as a lawyer. Much like Kim, audiences had their emotions played with and the rug pulled out from under them. 

Of the six nominated episodes, this one ends on the strongest note. The show has been nominated in this category for two of the past three seasons. Though “Breaking Bad” won this category for “Ozymandis,” “Better Call Saul” still has not won here before. In fact, it hasn’t won a single one of its twenty-three nominations. One day, voters will catch up and give “Better Call Saul” the win it deserves. Unless “Game of Thrones” voters decide this is their alternative, it will be an uphill battle for the show to win this year.

NOMINEE #2 – Jed Mercurio – “Bodyguard” – Episode: “Episode One”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): After rescuing a train from a suicide bomber, a Scottish Afghanistan War vet is assigned to protect the UK Home Secretary.

The episode kicks off with a tense altercation on the train. Audiences are introduced to David Budd (Richard Madden), a war veteran who uses his training to talk down a suicide bomber in the restroom. The show does a good job peppering in characterizations of David throughout the episode. It helps that Madden (who was unjustly snubbed in Lead Actor) brings David to life with charisma and intensity in equal measures. This sets up the pairing of Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), the UK Home Secretary that David is assigned to protect. There’s a fire and ice chemistry that’s been seen before but comes off as a solid development for the show.

All in all, the pilot episode of “Bodyguard” does a fantastic job to sell the series. Though the show squanders this promise through repetitive future episodes, this stands as the best installment to submit. Repeated wins for shows like “Homeland” and “Game of Thrones” prove that the writing branch isn’t allergic to voting for action dramas.

Pilot episodes work great as writing nominees. Their entire job is to sell audiences on whether or not to continue watching the series. Most of the time, the pilot episode has been worked on for a much longer time than the following episodes. Finally, voters who aren’t familiar with the show don’t have to deal with backstory they may not be privy to. This decade, both “Homeland” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” won this category for their pilot episodes. Both of those shows also won Best Drama Series. Since “Bodyguard” only has two nominations (Drama Series and Writing), it’s unlikely that it will be able to take home either prize. Still, the nomination is the true reward here.

NOMINEE #3 – David Benioff, D.B.Weiss – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Iron Throne”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): In the aftermath of the devastating attack on King’s Landing, Daenerys must face the survivors.

The big question on everyone’s mind is whether or not poor reception will cost “Game of Thrones” Emmy wins. Of the show’s thirty-two nominations, its writing nomination might be the most criticized. Show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have inspired so much hate that over 100,000 fans have created a petition to try and get them fired from the upcoming “Star Wars” film. Since the nomination is for the much-reviled series finale, it would be hard to not take this criticism into consideration.

Still, fans are not Emmy voters. The show’s record-breaking haul confirms that voters still love the show and wanted to give it a hearty farewell. Series finales are popular in this category, particularly since people in the television industry understand how difficult it is to end a show positively. Do enough voters agree that “Game of Thrones” stuck its landing? If it wins here, there’s no way it loses in Outstanding Drama Series.

Anything the finale gets right is in spite of the poor writing in this episode. Daenerys’ quick transition into a tyrant is only somewhat sold thanks to Emilia Clarke’s performance. The reveal of Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as the new ruler is made less laughable thanks to Peter Dinklage’s pontificating. The ending alternates between ham-fisted metaphors (the dragon burning the Iron Throne) and unsatisfying character resolutions. If voters insisted on honoring “Game of Thrones” in writing, they should have nominated Bryan Cogman for “A Night of the Seven Kingdoms,” which was not even put on the ballot.

NOMINEE #4 – Bruce Miller, Kira Snyder – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Offred faces a grueling challenge alone as she recalls her life as a mother; Serena and the Commander deal with the fallout of their actions towards Offred.

It is true, “The Handmaid’s Tale” competed last year for season two, where it earned three wins from nineteen nominations. While the show began prior to the Emmys May 31st deadline, the final three episodes aired after the Emmy voting deadline. Thus, they are considered hanging episodes. This makes them eligible for episode specific categories, such as writing, directing, guest acting and various craft fields. 

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is the highest-profile show to employ this rule to reap nominations in multiple years. It remains to be seen if it can use this tactic to pick up some Emmy hardware. It’s the only other previous winner in the category other than “Game of Thrones.” Still, despite a number of nominations, “The Handmaid’s Tale” saw fatigue in voters in its second season which led to fewer wins. Those who felt tired of the show last year won’t be swayed to vote for the final straggling episodes.

A chief complaint about the recent season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was its repetitive nature. “Holly” features much of what one expects from the series. There’s plenty of grim misery, followed by a cheeky music cue. Yet, the episode’s condensed setting allows for it to take more storytelling risks. It spends much of its time fleshing out three generations of June’s (Elisabeth Moss) family. As she gives birth to her newest baby, June thinks back to the birth of her first daughter and her own relationship to her mother (Cherry Jones). Once the Waterfords return to the home, the episode expertly ratchets up the tension. Still, “Holly” manages to not lose character development as it continues to underscore the evil world of Gilead.

NOMINEE #5 – Emerald Fennell – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Nice and Neat”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Villanelle finds a Good Samaritan to take her in, while Carolyn introduces Eve to her new team.

Last year, “Killing Eve” only made it into Best Actress (Sandra Oh) and Writing, despite mountains of buzz leading up to nominations. At the end of the day, it was still a niche BBC America show with an off-kilter sense of humor. Though creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge was not the showrunner on season two, the increased level of nominations and the rise of “Fleabag” shows the Emmys are now increasingly receptive to these shows. Many had touted “Killing Eve” as the most likely underdog to the “Game of Thrones” behemoth. If there’s any category where “Killing Eve” can stake claim to that title, it would be by beating the show here.

One issue that permeates that narrative is the overall quality of the season.  “Killing Eve” season two left some viewers disappointed after an incredible season one. Still, the season started off incredibly strong, and “Nice and Neat” was the highlight of the season. What makes this episode great is the heavy reliance on Jodie Comer’s Villanelle. The deliciously sociopathic serial killer seeks aid after leaving the hospital with her wounds not fully healed. She finds her mark in Julian (Julian Barrett), a sheepish looking man that seems perfect for Villanelle to control. When she gets to his place, she finds he lives in a house populated by creepy dolls. At that moment, Villanelle realizes she’s going to be held captive by Julian. What ensues is a wonderfully tense and riveting episode as a convalescing Villanelle attempts to outmaneuver her MRA captor. 

As fun as the episode is, it also serves as a powerful portrait of domestic abuse. Even as a highly trained assassin, Villanelle falls prey to an abuser who wants nothing more than to infantilize her like one of the dolls on his wall. A win here would not only be a great win for the show, but it would reward a sly action-comedy that also knows how to make the stakes real, heartbreaking and dramatic at the drop of a hat.

NOMINEE #6 – Jesse Armstrong – “Succession” – Episode: “Nobody Is Ever Missing”

Episode Synopsis (IMDb): Roman faces technical difficulties. Tom marks his territory. Kendall hits rock bottom with tragic consequences.

“Succession” feels more akin to “Veep” than any of its other drama competitors. The acid-tongued HBO show revolves around squabbling siblings looking to take control of their father’s right wing news corporation, using hostile means if necessary. This means the show takes great glee in writing some creative and memorable barbs for the siblings to toss around. In a writing category, that definitely makes the show stick out from some of its more traditional nominees.

We discussed the track record of new shows in this category in the “Bodyguard” section. While “Bodyguard” submitted the pilot, “Succession” opted to submit the season finale instead. This might be a tough play if the show was looking to introduce new voters to the show that don’t already watch regularly. Overall, the show earned five nominations, including Drama Series and Directing. Though that’s an impressive haul for a freshman series, many expected the show to pick up multiple acting nominations as well. This signals pockets of passion for the show. Still, it might not have widespread viewership throughout the entire TV Academy. 

On its own, the finale works well as a writing sample for the series. The first half of the episode finds Kendall (Jeremy Strong) about to stage a hostile takeover of his dad’s (Brian Cox) company during the wedding of his sister, Shiv (Sarah Snook). There are plenty of scene-stealing moments from the family’s resident screw-up, Roman (Kieran Culkin). Then the show takes a hard turn in its second half, as a drunk and high Kendall gets in a car wreck that kills one of the wedding caterers. This all leads to a touching father and son moment that ends the season on a high note.

CURRENT DRAMA WRITING PREDICTIONS

  1. Emerald Fennell – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Nice and Neat”
  2. David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Iron Throne”
  3. Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz – “Better Call Saul” – Episode: “Winner”
  4. Bruce Miller, Kira Snyder – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”
  5. Jesse Armstrong – “Succession” – Episode: “Nobody Is Ever Missing”
  6. Jed Mercurio – “Bodyguard” – Episode: “Episode One”

WILL WIN: Emerald Fennell – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Nice and Neat”

SHOULD WIN: Emerald Fennell – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Nice and Neat”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Ryan Murphy – “Pose” – Episode: “Pilot”

What do you think will win Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series this year? Let us know in the comments below.

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!