Blessed be the fruit, or all men must die?
One of these television quotes is encoded with subservience, the other with retribution, but each comes from a powerful drama battling for prominence. The 2018 Emmys race will be about many things, but front and center is the smack-down between HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Both have multiple nominations — 22 for “Thrones,” 20 for “Handmaid’s” — and both are previous winners for drama series. But “Handmaid’s” won last year, when “Thrones” wasn’t eligible, so this will be the first time the shows are in competition against each other.
Will Westeros or Gilead prevail?
Scheduled to enter its eighth and final season next year, “Game of Thrones” has been a fixture on the pop cultural landscape longer, to say nothing of the impression it has made on Emmy voters. Since its 2011 debut; the series based on the novels by George R.R. Martin has earned a regal 128 nominations and 38 wins; at the 2016 awards, it became the most decorated fictional series in Emmy history. It has also, rather unexpectedly, become a symbol of the rise of powerful women in the new TV landscape — the infamous brothel and rape scenes that plagued early seasons have fallen away to a battle between queens.
Set amid more contemporary horrors, “Handmaid’s” captured the zeitgeist with a speed to rival “Game of Thrones.” Based on the 1985 novel by revered Canadian author Margaret Atwood, adapted by Bruce Miller and starring Elisabeth Moss, the series has remained a hot topic for examination by audiences and critics alike
Depicting the rise of an oppressive theocracy that views women on the merits of their reproductive value, the series’ dystopia aligned with the 2016 election of President Trump and the renewed prominence of fundamentalist ideals. For many, the recent retirement of the Supreme Court’s Anthony Kennedy and subsequent speculation about the future of women’s rights has made the grim future of “Handmaid’s” far more haunting than the dragons and White Walkers of “Game of Thrones.”
Embattled heroines and violent power struggles are not the only common attributes; both share a lineage in genre fiction that has stretched beyond their source material, and each finds its characters at different points in similar revolutions.
In one of “Throne’s” many story arcs, the once-exiled Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) who spent early episodes traded to her husband like livestock, seems now on the cusp of uniting two warring houses and becoming, perhaps, Westeros’ first just queen.
In “Handmaid’s,” the patriarchal state of Gilead retained its focus on the red-cloaked female breeders as a dark second season began with a flicker of hope but ultimately marked a sort of endurance challenge as viewers were confronted with the depths of oppression and totalitarian rule that seemed all too plausible in the present day.
If there’s a satisfying reckoning to come for the zealots in “Handmaid’s Tale,” it remains more distant than for the concluding “Game of Thrones” (certainly if Hulu has anything to say about it). But after the Season 2 finale proved divisive among the show’s fans, it’s worth wondering how that may impact the show’s Emmy prospects.
There are, of course, potential spoilers in this duel. With 21 nominations despite a second season that divided viewers with another time-skipping plotline, HBO’s “Westworld” should not be counted out, especially with all those acting nods — Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson. And “The Americans” has sentiment on its side — long overlooked by the Television Academy (despite increasingly hysterical commands by critics), the FX show could go out a winner in its final season.
“Game of Thrones” could also be harmed by timing — its most recent season aired last summer, which feels like a lifetime ago, and compared with “Handmaid’s,” it feels removed from the real world. But it too is drawing to a close, and as many have learned, it’s tough to face-off against dragons.
In the face of such heavyweights, how much of a chance can be claimed by fellow Emmy contenders “This Is Us,” “The Crown” and the final season of “The Americans”? It’s hard to dismiss any nominee’s chances entirely, but in 2018, a clear path has emerged toward finding success on nominations day: Make sure the revolution will be televised.
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