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November 08, 2019

Ice, Fire and Gold

Its conquest complete at the 71st Emmys, Game of Thrones bids a bittersweet farewell.

Liane Bonin Starr
  • The 10 nominated actors from Game of Thrones came together on stage at the Microsoft Theater: (from left) Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Gwendoline Christie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten; Dinklage prevailed in his category, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

    Invision/AP

When a grand piano came crashing down on the host of the 71st Emmys, sending him through the stage floor, it could have meant disaster.

But that would-be emcee was Homer Simpson, and no humans were injured in the animated opening gag. The hijinks then went live as black-ish star Anthony Anderson bounded onstage to save the host-free show, ultimately recruiting six-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston to reassure the crowd.

The absence of a host played for laughs throughout the evening, which did feature actor-comedian Thomas Lennon as an offstage announcer.

"If we let this slide, they'll start using Alexa to present the nominees," deadpanned Stephen Colbert just before the digital device chirped out an announcement of the next award. That playful spirit set the tone for a show that offered many surprising results — but was also surprisingly emotional, as the industry bid goodbye to several beloved series.

As expected, Game of Thrones was dominant in the 2019 Emmys, broadcast live by Fox from L.A.'s Microsoft Theater on September 22.

Early on, the show was the subject of a sly aside by Anderson, who pushed away a Starbucks cup, referencing the very 21st-century coffee cup that was accidentally left in a GoT scene this past season. But GoT could not be denied: it took its fourth win in the Outstanding Drama Series category and 12 Emmys overall, the most of any show this year.

So it followed that HBO, the home of GoT, amassed the most wins of any network — 34 — including those collected during the Fox telecast and at the Creative Arts Emmys the previous weekend. Netflix came in second, with 27 wins, while Amazon Prime Video took 15.

Though GoT 's Emmy wealth was cause for celebration, knowing that the show has wrapped for good made the moment bittersweet for many.

"These last 10 years have been the best years of our lives," said executive producer David Benioff in accepting the Outstanding Drama award. "We did it all together, and it's over, and we shall never see her likes again."

GoT star Peter Dinklage addressed Benioff and his producing partner, D.B. Weiss, as he picked up his record-breaking fourth Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: "David and Dan, we walked through fire and ice for you, and I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Though HBO nabbed the most awards, some new faces from competing outlets triumphed in key categories. First-time nominee Julia Garner of Netflix's Ozark won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama for her turn as the smart and sassy Ruth Langmore. Comparing her Emmy to a piece of chocolate wrapped in gold foil, she gushed, "I want to give a piece to everybody who's been involved in my life."

Her costar Jason Bateman, who won his first Emmy for directing Ozark, picked up on Garner's theme in his own remarks, dedicating various parts of his statuette to Netflix, his family and others.

In a historic win, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series went to first-time nominee Billy Porter, who stars as ballroom emcee Pray Tell in FX's Pose.

The first black, openly gay man to be nominated for — and prevail — in this category, Porter quoted writer James Baldwin: "It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this Earth like I had the right to be here."

In his own words, Porter added: "I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right." With his Emmy win, he edged closer to an EGOT. Already a Tony and Grammy recipient for Kinky Boots, he now needs only an Oscar to complete the set.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama went to another first-time nominee, Jodie Comer of BBC America's Killing Eve, who acknowledged fellow nominee (and costar) Sandra Oh. Comer — who plays Villanelle, a self-centered assassin — then addressed her parents in Liverpool, England.

She hadn't invited them to the Emmys, she explained, "because I didn't think this was going to be my time," adding, "One, I'm sorry. Two, I love you." Gesturing to her Emmy, she said, "I'm going to bring it home."

On the comedy side, Amazon snapped up acting Emmys for its retro critical darling, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the critically beloved breakout Fleabag. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, presented humorously by a grumpy Bob Newhart and a twitchy Ben Stiller, went to Tony Shalhoub for his portrayal of Midge Maisel's beleaguered dad, Abe Weissman.

Shalhoub's castmate Alex Borstein took her second consecutive Emmy for her portrayal of hard-charging talent manager Susie Myerson. After apologizing for not wearing a bra to last year's Emmys, she quipped that this time she wasn't wearing underwear.

In a serious turn, Borstein then related a story about how her grandmother, trapped in a concentration camp during World War II, stepped out of the line of fire, thus saving her own life. "Step out of line, ladies!" she urged the women in the worldwide audience.

But it was Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the 34-year-old hyphenate of Amazon's Fleabag, who collected more Emmys than she could carry. She won for writing, lead actress (she plays the title character, a Londoner struggling to deal with the death of her best friend) and — as executive producer — for outstanding comedy series.

"This is just getting ridiculous," Waller-Bridge said as she accepted her third statuette, having joked that she was only motivated by awards when accepting her two previous honors. "Fleabag started as a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014, and the journey has been absolutely mental to get here."

But, as with GoT, fans will have to comfort themselves with reruns or shows saved on DVRs — Waller-Bridge has long said Fleabag is finished. She reaffirmed that backstage, saying, "This feels like the most beautiful way to say goodbye. You can't get higher."

One of the few comedy-acting awards that didn't go to Amazon was another win for HBO. Bill Hader won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for a second consecutive time, for his title role as an assassin (and truly awful wannabe actor) in Barry.

Backstage, the SNL alum allowed that the next season of Barry might be even darker than the most recent one, though he claimed to have no idea how the new season will start or end. "We just met on it last week," he said.

A heartfelt acceptance came from Jharrel Jerome, named Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. The 21-year-old won for his role as Korey Wise in the Netflix series When They See Us, Ava DuVernay's take on the true story of the men known as the Central Park Five, who were convicted of rape and, much later, exonerated.

Jerome was the sole actor to play both the teen and adult versions of his character. "I feel like I should be in the Bronx right now, chilling, waiting on my mom's cooking," he said, before praising the real-life survivors of the unjust incarceration: "This goes to the Exonerated Five." Netflix also scored a win for Outstanding Television Movie with the choose-your-own-story Bandersnatch.

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie went to Patricia Arquette for her transformative role in Hulu's The Act, based on the true story of the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard by her daughter Gypsy Rose.

"I'm grateful to be working, and I'm grateful at 50 to be getting the best roles of my life," Arquette said, before admitting to lasting sadness over the 2016 death of her sister, trans actress Alexis Arquette. "Trans people are still being persecuted, and I will be in mourning for the rest of my life.... They're human beings," she said plaintively. "Give them jobs."

Michelle Williams also collected an Emmy for her portrayal of a real person, singer-dancer-actress Gwen Verdon, in FX's Fosse/Verdon. Accepting her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Williams addressed pay equity.

Having made headlines last year when it was learned she was paid less than $1,000 for reshoots of All the Money in the World while costar Mark Wahlberg made $1.5 million for the same task, she expressed her gratitude to FX for offering her pay equal to that of her costar Sam Rockwell.

Yet another winner who used stage time to shed light on an urgent issue was RuPaul Charles. After his RuPaul's Drag Race was declared Outstanding Competition Series, the executive producer and host rallied the audience with a simple request: "Go and register to vote!"

But for some, personal issues prevailed. "I'm hungover," confessed Ben Whishaw, who won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his role as Norman Scott in Amazon's A Very English Scandal. "My agent took me out for drinks," he said with a wide smile, before thanking costar (and fellow nominee) Hugh Grant.

Of his real-life character — the victim in an attempted murder plot conceived by a British politician — Whishaw quipped backstage, "I hope he's happy, and maybe feels like a little bit of justice has been done."

HBO, meanwhile, continued its winning streak with Chernobyl, racking up 10 wins for the limited series based on the 1986 Soviet nuclear disaster. Coexecutive producer Johan Renck won for directing, while creator–executive producer Craig Mazin won for writing and later returned to the stage when Chernobyl was named Outstanding Limited Series.

"I hope that, in some small way, our show has helped remind people of the value of the truth and the danger of the lie," Mazin said, before referencing his earlier speech. "I said, vichnaya pamyat, which means 'eternal memory.' And I like to think that in television, we can do that with stories like When They See Us.

"We can make stories be known permanently, and that's a remarkable power and responsibility for us all."

The awards for variety programming went to longtime Emmy favorites and resulted in some of the funnier acceptance speeches of the night — but emotional moments, too. HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which has won the category since 2016, took home the award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series.

Host and executive producer John Oliver accepted the show's award for Outstanding Variety Series, saying, "Thank you to Game of Thrones for the lead-in over the years.... It's been so fun working out how to lose your audience each week."

NBC's Saturday Night Live, which has received a record-breaking 270 nominations over the years, was named Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. Executive producer Lorne Michaels accepted, recalling that this year's nominated episode was hosted by former cast member Adam Sandler and featured a tribute to the late comedian Chris Farley.

"It's rare that you see a cameraman tear up or a boom crew crying, but it was a very, very chilling moment and very powerful. Those kinds of moments are why we're going into our 45th season. And that sort of thing is what keeps us there — that and the politics."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2019

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