‘Game of Thrones’ wasn’t always an Emmy darling. How times have changed

Emilia Clarke portrays Daenerys Targaryen on "Game of Thrones"
(Helen Sloane / HBO)

It hasn’t always been a gold rush for the cast of “Game of Thrones.”

The show has set several Emmy records, including by scoring 32 nominations in its final season. Coming into the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards this Sunday, it is the leader among scripted series: “Game of Thrones” has amassed 160 nominations, according to the Television Academy, with 57 wins — including 10 at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys — thus far. But in its first four seasons, HBO’s fantasy epic collected only one major prize — supporting actor, for Peter Dinklage’s performance as Tyrion Lannister in Season 1. Since then, of course, “Game of Thrones” has become an Emmy darling, including three wins for drama series. Here, we take you through the series’ Primetime Emmy history.


Were they ever that young? Maisie Williams' Arya Stark, left, behind her father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), in Season 1 of "Game of Thrones."
Were they ever that young? Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark, left, behind her father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), in Season 1 of “Game of Thrones.”
(Helen Sloan / HBO)

The series’ first season received four Primetime Emmy nominations (plus nine more Creative Arts nods), including drama series, directing and writing. However, it got only one nod for acting. Peter Dinklage, already a respected performer and multiple award winner for the film “The Station Agent” (2003), won the supporting actor prize on his first try, for his portrayal of sardonic not-so-favorite son Tyrion Lannister.


Peter Dinklage received his second Emmy nomination for playing Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones" Season 2.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) after defending the capital from a siege by superior forces in “Game of Thrones” Season 2.

For Season 2, Dinklage was again the only acting nominee, losing out to Aaron Paul for “Breaking Bad.” “Homeland” topped the drama series category as “Thrones” received only two Primetime nods. However, the show received 10 Creative Arts nods and would never again receive fewer than 13.


Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley, left) makes a desperate attempt to save her son's life in "Game of Thrones" Season 3.
(Helen Sloan / HBO)

The series climbed back to four Primetime noms, cementing a pattern it would follow for its entire run: Each of its seasons has been nominated for drama series and Dinklage for outstanding supporting actor. He was joined for Season 3 by Emilia Clarke, nominated in the supporting actress category for her performance as the emerging Queen of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. (Bobby Cannavale of “Boardwalk Empire” and Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad,” respectively, were the winners in those categories.) Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were again nominated for writing, an honor they would miss only once during the show’s run. And Diana Rigg picked up the first of four guest actress nominations for her performance mastermind matriarch Olenna Tyrell, among the show’s many Creative Arts nominations.


The climactic battle sequence of "Game of Thrones" Season 4, in "The Mountain and the Viper."
(Macall B. Polay / HBO)

Season 4 saw “Thrones” begin to emerge as an Emmy juggernaut, with five Primetime noms. Apart from nods for drama series, writing and directing, Lena Headey joined Dinklage as a supporting honoree for her work as the scheming queen-to-be Cersei Lannister, while Rigg received her second guest actress nod. While the show was again shut out of Primetime Emmy wins, it collected a total of four Creative Arts trophies to push the series’ total to 14 wins overall.


Season 5 featured an arc so rough it almost made you root for Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). She would have her revenge.
Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, center, in a scene from the record-breaking Season 5 finale of “Game of Thrones.”
(Macall B. Polay / HBO)

The series finally claimed the Golden Throne for Season 5, winning the Emmys’ flagship drama series prize — as well as awards for supporting actor (Dinklage again), direction and writing, from seven Primetime nominations. Clarke and Headey were again nominated, with Rigg receiving her third straight guest actress nod (with no wins). Counting Creative Arts prizes, the series’ 12 total wins left its Emmy treasure heap at 26.


Kit Harington in a scene from "Game of Thrones" Season 6.
In a series boasting some of the most epic combat scenes in TV history, Season 6’s “Battle of the Bastards” would prove one of its greatest — and most emotionally satisfying.
(Helen Sloan / HBO )

With nine Primetime nominations, “Thrones” started to look like a dragon guarding its gold with Season 6. It won its second consecutive prize each for drama series, direction and writing. Dinklage, Clarke and Headey were each nominated again, joined by Kit Harington as intrepid pin cushion Jon Snow and Maisie Williams as youthful assassin-in-training Arya Stark. The storied Max von Sydow picked up a guest actor nomination as the Three-Eyed Raven.


Season 7 hurtled toward the saga's conclusion with a finale that knocked fans around the world off their thrones.
Vladimir Furdik as the Night King in the Season 7 finale of “Game of Thrones.”

After a yearlong hiatus, “Game of Thrones” returned with a vengeance, picking up seven more Primetime Emmy nominations. It scored its third win for drama series and Dinklage picked up his third supporting actor trophy. Headey collected another nomination for playing Cersei , who was joined by her (very, very) dear brother, Jaime Lannister, as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau earned his first nod. Rigg received her fourth (and final, thanks to Jaime) guest actress nod as Olenna Tyrell.


In the final season, someone did take the Iron Throne - but it turned out to be a hot seat.
Emilia Clarke in a scene from the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
(Helen Sloan / HBO)

In its final season, “Game of Thrones” ran up the score, with a record 32 overall nominations, a stunning 14 of them in the Primetime categories — including 10 acting nods. Clarke and Harington moved into the lead categories (the ensemble show’s first-ever lead nominations). Dinklage, earning his eighth nomination as Tyrion Lannister, was joined in the supporting actor category by the returning Coster-Waldau and newcomer Alfie Allen as OK-guy-bad guy-redeemed guy Theon Greyjoy. An impressive four of the six slots for supporting actress were taken by women of Westeros, with fixture Headey back again (her fifth nod) and Williams honored for the second time. They were joined by Stark sister and emergent Queen in the North Sophie Turner and Gwendoline Christie as one of the series’ noblest warriors, Brienne of Tarth. By the way, Christie and Allen weren’t submitted for Emmy consideration by HBO: They had to submit themselves and pay the fee out of their own pockets. Carice van Houten had to pull off the same magic trick as red witch Melisandre for her guest actress nod.