The 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards were handed out this past weekend, and if you’re like me, you’re probably still a bit annoyed by some of the results. While the Television Academy has been prone to some more out-there choices as of late (Jeff Daniels for Best Actor, anyone?) this year’s show marked a pretty significant snub of a show that was once an Emmy Darling: Mad Men. The series fell out of favor in its fifth season, failing to break The West Wing’s record and land five Best Drama Series Emmys in a row. But few could have predicted that the Season 4 win would be the AMC series’ last Best Drama Series win ever.
This year, with Breaking Bad having concluded and no longer in the mix to give Mad Men a run for its money, most seemed to figure that Matthew Weiner’s soon-to-be-classic drama would be rightfully rewarded for a terrific final season. AMC and Weiner even went so far as to split the final season in half, ensuring that it would be eligible in a race that didn’t include Breaking Bad as a competitor. But as the night wore on, it became abundantly clear that Mad Men wasn’t going to win the Best Drama Series Emmy—Game of Thrones was.
The HBO fantasy series is undoubtedly the most-watched show of the nominees, and it’s not exactly a newcomer, having been nominated in the big category four times before. A Game of Thrones win in and of itself actually doesn’t seem too wild of an idea, except that not only did the show win opposite Mad Men’s last season, it won for what is widely considered its most uneven season to date.
Sure Game of Thrones Season 5 finished strong with the spectacular “Hardhome” and some show-stopping moments in “Mother’s Mercy,” but overall the season suffered from uninteresting character pairings, divisive story choices, and too much wheel-spinning (case in point: the finale has Daenerys’ story taking one step forward and 20 steps back). Basically, if you’re going to give any Game of Thrones season thus far an Emmy, Season 5 is the last one you’d choose.
So how did this happen? What’s to account for Game of Thrones’ massive presence on Sunday, which not only took home Best Drama Series but also Best Supporting Actor for Peter Dinklage (for a season in which Tyrion had very little to do), Best Writing for “Mother’s Mercy” (over two Mad Men episodes, including the series finale), and Best Director for David Nutter? (Actually, that win was pretty deserving). The main culprit, it appears, is a significant change in how the Emmys were voted upon this year.
As a result of a new rule change for 2015, virtually the entire TV Academy was allowed to vote on the winners this year, as opposed to a traditional blue-ribbon panel-style voting concept. Not only did the pool of voters expand considerably, but this year voters were not required to prove they had actually watched the individual episodes that were submitted for each category; they used the honor system. So to vote in Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, you didn’t actually have to watch the Better Call Saul episode “Five-O” that Jonathan Banks submitted. You could just see the name “Peter Dinklage” and check that box, knowing full well you already like that show and hadn’t really bothered with any of the others.
So, given the new rules, it’s really not a surprise that the only show that nearly every voter already watches won most of the major awards. “Hardhome”, this Game of Thrones season’s best episode, wasn’t even submitted for Best Drama Series consideration, though you can bet most of the voters had already seen it. Maybe they never got around to Mad Men, or maybe they gave up during Season 5 and never returned. Even Dinklage seemed to know it was kind of messed up that he beat someone like Jonathan Banks in his category (as he alluded to in his acceptance speech) for what was a very Tyrion-lite Game of Thrones season. Regardless, Game of Thrones had a huge night, Mad Men only took home an acting win (the first acting win in the show’s history, I might add), and given this new rule change, we may be in for a series of populist-filled choices in the years to come.
That’s not to say the rule change resulted in entirely bad choices for wins. We have this to thank for the brilliant Veep finally putting a stop to the Modern Family madness, and Jon Hamm’s win for Best Actor remains a wonderfully deserved honor. But it may be time to start preparing for a slew of choices that don’t necessarily match up with an individual season’s quality and have more to say about how well-liked a series is overall. Mad Men solidified its legacy long ago and didn’t necessarily need the Best Drama Series win to secure its place in history as one of the television’s best shows ever, but that doesn’t make its snubbing over a subpar season of Game of Thrones any less frustrating.