Emmy Circuit: Can Anyone Steal the Emmy for Directing From ‘Game of Thrones’?

Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington from the episode "The Long Night" on HBO's "Game of Thrones"

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 winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14 while the Primetime Emmy Awards aire on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.


Each year the Emmys nominate a group of creatives for their superior work in the art of directing. Directors are responsible for bringing all aspects of production together in order to create a singular vision. This year in the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series category, there are seven nominees that represent five television series. Stephen Daldry won this award last year for an episode of Netflix’sThe Crown.” “The Crown” is ineligible at this years awards, which means a back-to-back win is not possible. Of this group of directors, two are previous winners and four are first time directing nominees. Each are true artists that have crafted seven very distinct episodes of television, making this an incredibly intriguing category.


David Nutter – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”
Miguel Sapochnik – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Long Night”
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Iron Throne”
Daina Reid – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”
Lisa Brühlmann – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Desperate Times”
Jason Bateman – “Ozark” – Episode: “Reparations”
Adam McKay – “Succession” – Episode: “Celebration”

David Nutter – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”

Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead Wright from “Game of Thrones”

Episode Synopsis: The Battle of Winterfell is over and a new chapter for Westeros begins. (From iMDb)

In 2015, director David Nutter won the Emmy for his work on the “Game of Thrones” episode “Mother’s Mercy.” This year Nutter has received a second nomination, an achievement in and of itself. But one may question his choice to submit “The Last of the Starks.” Nutter now finds himself putting his hopes for a second win on his second best outing of the final season.

Two of Nutter’s three directed episodes this season bookend the Battle for Winterfell. While “The Last of the Starks” captures the cast of characters dealing with the fallout from the great war, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” has the characters preparing for battle. The latter is a somber episode, but ultimately wrought with anticipation and many feel a finer entry overall.

Nutter’s submission of “The Last of the Starks” is not without its positive attributes. The episode contains substantial political intrigue. There is a mass funeral, backstabbing, secrets unearthed, a manipulative pregnancy and an execution. Nutter is able to capitalize on this layered plot. He moves the story briskly along and ends the episode with a real sense of impending doom. In that final moment, Nutter ratchets up the drama and sublimely launches the show into its final hours.

Miguel Sapochnik – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Long Night”

Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner in “Game of Thrones”

Episode Synopsis: The Night King and his army have arrived at Winterfell and the great battle begins. (From iMDb)

In 2016, Miguel Sapochnik took home the gold when he won Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his direction of the episode “Battle of the Bastards.” The bloody mess of war was on full display in this marvel of the episode. Sapochnik was able to showcase one of the best battle scenes ever filmed for television and, by many accounts, earned the win.

Sapochnik is nominated again this year for yet another battle-filled episode, “The Long Night.” The horrors of war are palpable in this intense conclusion to the White Walker storyline with the lives of several characters brought to worthy ends. And Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) gets a triumphant moment worthy of her eight year story arch.

“The Long Night” cannot be addressed without mentioning one glaring fault- the lighting. The episode is so darkly lit that audiences around the world believed something was wrong with their televisions. The action takes place in a fog of black. In a way, the anxiety of the battle is enhanced by not being able to see the details. But there is also a sense of frustration that comes from not being able to truly see what is going on.

Overall, “The Long Night” is a strong episode submission for Sapochnik. The fact that he has already won, and for a superior episode, could make this win less likely. However, out of all this year’s nominees, this episode is without a doubt the biggest and most technically challenging.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Iron Throne”

Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones”

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

Being the masterminds behind all eight seasons of HBO’sGame of Thrones,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss chose to showcase their directing chops by closing out the series with “The Iron Throne.” No one can deny the talent these two men have in the art of storytelling. Over the course of the series, they have provided audiences with some of the greatest moments in the history of contemporary television. It’s a shame that this series finale did not live up to their capabilities.

Endings are always challenging. Saying goodbye to a show that has meant so much to so many people in a way that satisfies everyone is an impossible task. But this farewell left fans mostly unsatisfied. The pacing of the episode feels completely unbalanced. There are scenes that feel redundant and extraneous. The episode takes so long to gather any semblance of momentum, and then feels rushed in the last ten minutes. “The Iron Throne” is not a complete disaster, but there are far superior episodes in this series.

This is the first nomination for both Benioff and Weiss in the category of directing. The pair have previously been nominated for writing (with two wins) and for producing (with three wins). With this nomination, the duo are essentially being rewarded for their collective work on an incredibly successful series. We will have to wait until September to see if the academy is more interested in rewarding history over the episode in question.

Daina Reid – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”

Elisabeth Moss in HULU’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Episode Synopsis: 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. (From iMDb)

HULU’sThe Handmaid’s Tale” finds itself in a very interesting situation. The series is one of the few shows that qualified for certain categories at this year’s Emmys due to the “hanging episode” rule. This rule has allowed three episodes from season two that aired outside the eligibility window for 2018 to compete this year. It is astounding that “The Handmaid’s Tale” scored eleven Emmy nominations from those three episodes alone. This good fortune is in large part due to the fact that one of those three episodes is “Holly.”

In “Holly,” director Daina Reid delivers one of the best episodes of the entire series. The installment is simultaneously heart pounding and heartfelt. Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) past history and present day challenges are beautifully juxtaposed. The audience witnesses the birth of both of Offred’s daughters in all their glory. And they are also privy to a deliciously stressful standoff between Offred, her Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and the Commander’s wife (Yvonne Strahovski).

“Holly” was Reid’s first outing as a director on this series and quite the introduction. One would hope that even though the series is not eligible in any of the “top categories” this year, that voters will let this episode stand alone and speak for itself. “Holly” is one of the strongest episodes in this group of distinguished nominees, and in a perfect world, Reid would win gold.

On a side note, if Reid (or Lisa Brühlmann, below) were to win the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, they would only be the fourth woman to win in this category. Previous winners are Karen Arthur (1985) for “Cagney & Lacey“- “Heat,” Mimi Leder (1994) for “ER“- “Love’s Labors Lost” and Reed Morano (2017) for “The Handmaid’s Tale“- “Offred.”

Lisa Brühlmann – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Desperate Times”

Jodie Comer in “Kiling Eve”

Episode Synopsis: After the discovery of another dead body, Eve and her new team make a break in their case. (From iMDb)

Lisa Brühlmann worked as an actor on the Swiss series “Tag and Nacth” (2008) and started her career as a director this past decade making short films. She eventually would direct her first feature film “Blue My Mind” in 2017.  Brühlmann has finally made her transition into the world of television with BBC America’s “Killing Eve.”

Brühlmann was hired to direct back-to-back episodes of the series, “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “Desperate Times.” The Emmys have rewarded her work with a nomination for “Desperate Times.” This episode four in season two is a terrifying display of a psychopath with a broken heart.

Shot in Amsterdam, but unable to use the actual red-light district, a set was constructed to create a similar, but eerie stage in which Villanelle (Jodie Comer) showcases her most diabolical murder yet. According to an interview with Vanity Fair, Brühlmann used the painting “The Corpses of the DeWitt Brothers” by Jan de Baen as inspiration for the episode. Her prime eye for detail has brought her work to the forefront in a crowded television landscape. Brühlmann’s nomination speaks volumes of her talent and her bright future.

Jason Bateman – “Ozark” – Episode: “Reparations”

Laura Linney and Jason Bateman in “Ozark”

Episode Synopsis: Ruth’s dad gets out of jail. Approval for a riverboat casino calls for Wendy’s political skills. The Mexican cartel demands reparations from the Snells. (From iMDb)

Last year, Netflix’sOzark” scored two Emmy nominations for directing, one for Daniel Sackheim and the other for series star, Jason Bateman. Bateman is back this year for directing the second season premiere, “Reparations.” He is also nominated for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Voters may be more inclined to see Bateman as an actor who directs sometimes as opposed to a fully realized director. This philosophy would hurt his chances of a win in this category.

“Reparations” feels like a new start for this series. The relationship between Marty (Bateman) and Wendy Bryd (Laura Linney) has transitioned from one of contempt to one of true partnership. Actress Julia Garner effortlessly slides from a supporting player to a co-lead, and “Ozark’s” villain gains a new face with the brilliant Janet McTeer.

With this episode of “Ozark,” Bateman manages to strike a tone that is both fresh and consistent with the show’s first season. The blue hue is still present and metaphorically filters out most of the bright light the characters may be looking for. Bateman’s “Reparations” has the audience asking if escape and hope are truly in the Bryd family’s future.

Adam McKay – “Succession” – Episode: “Celebration”

Hiam Abbass, Alan Ruck, Kieran Culkin, Brian Cox and Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Episode Synopsis: Media magnate Logan Roy shocks his family with a stunning announcement on his 80th birthday. The news shatters his son Kendall, the heir apparent who’s in the midst of negotiating the purchase of digital-media venture. (From iMDb)

Succession” began its first season in the summer of 2018 with an episode entitled “Celebration.” The pilot was the only hour of the show directed by Academy Award nominee Adam McKay (2015’s The Big Short” and 2018’s “Vice”). When an individual of this caliber (and name recognition) is one of the featured directors working on a television series, it is a clear choice when deciding which name to put forward for Emmy consideration.

For many years, McKay was creative partners with comedian Will Farrell. Their works, which McKay directed and co-wrote, included 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and 2010’s “The Other Guys.” His work took a dramatic shift in 2015 when he ventured off on his own. McKay started telling politically significant stories. While “Succession” is not a film, this HBO series falls right in line with McKay’s change in pace.

Show beginnings can be incredibly challenging due to their need to achieve so much in a short amount of time. Pilots must introduce every character, jump start the plot and captivate an audience enough so that they will want to keep watching. “Succession” is staged beautifully. Every shot is crisp and ripe with detail. McKay leaves nothing hidden in regards to the family’s physical assets, but keeps their internal motives veiled in secrecy. His pilot manages to lay a sturdy foundation for this series about an unlikable, but compelling mogul family.


  1. Miguel Sapochnik – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Long Night”
  2. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Iron Throne”
  3. Daina Reid – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”
  4. Adam McKay – “Succession” – Episode: “Celebration”
  5. David Nutter – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”
  6. Lisa Brühlmann – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “Desperate Times”
  7. Jason Bateman – “Ozark” – Episode: “Reparations”

WILL WIN: Miguel Sapochnik – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Long Night”

SHOULD WIN: Daina Reid – “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Episode: “Holly”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Sam Esmail- “Homecoming” – Episode: “Protocol”

Who do you think will win Directing for a Drama Series this year? Let us know in the comments below.