After its absence from last year’s ceremony, Game of Thrones returned to the 70th annual primetime Emmys to take home the night’s biggest award: outstanding drama series. HBO’s sprawling fantasia, whose upcoming eighth season will be its last, won six other awards for its makeup, costumes, music composition and stunt coordination.
The television academy did manage to spread the love in the drama categories, awarding The Americans for its writing and lead actor (Matthew Rhys), The Crown for directing and lead actress (Claire Foy), Peter Dinklage for his supporting work in Game of Thrones, and Thandie Newton for her role in Westworld. “I don’t even believe in God but I’m going to thank her tonight,” said Newton, who plays the robot mutineer Maeve Millay in HBO’s sci-fi hit.
Before anyone began doling out awards, the night was shaping up to be a two-way horse race between HBO and Netflix, with 108 and 112 respective nominations. Accounting for wins at last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmy’s, HBO began the night with a slim 17-16 lead. Netflix, however, briefly took the lead on the shoulders of strong showings for the limited series Godless (for which Jeff Daniels and Merritt Wever won as supporting actor and actress) as well as The Crown, Black Mirror, Seven Seconds and John Mulaney’s stand-up special, Kid Gorgeous.
Another FX series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, captured several gongs: the show itself won best limited series, while Darren Criss won best actor in a limited series for his tortured turn as the serial killer Andrew Cunanan. Show-runner Ryan Murphy was recognized for directing the show’s pilot, dedicating the award to “Jeff and David and Gianni,” a reference to three of Cunanan’s real-life victims.
Amazon’s period-comedy breakout The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which follows a Jewish housewife turned stand-up comic played by Rachel Brosnahan, took home the big kahuna, outstanding comedy series, and swept the awards for lead actress, supporting actress (Alex Borstein), comedy writing and comedy directing in a year where Emmys juggernaut Veep was ineligible. Surprisingly, FX’s critically acclaimed satirical comedy Atlanta, for which Donald Glover won best actor last year, won just two awards on 13 nominations (for guest actor Katt Williams and cinematographer Christian Sprenger).
Brosnahan, referencing her character Midge Maisel’s journey in the show, used her acceptance speech to encourage viewers to get to the polls this November. “One of the most important ways to find and use your voice is to vote,” said the first-time Emmy winner, who was also awarded for her work on the show at this year’s Golden Globes. In a bit of history-making, showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino became the first woman to ever win the awards for both writing and directing a comedy series.
HBO’s black comedy Barry swooped in to take home two awards where Maisel either faltered or wasn’t nominated – Bill Hader, playing the titular hitman, won for lead actor, while his co-star Henry Winkler finally won an Emmy after being nominated five times before.
Claire Foy, having finished her run as Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s The Crown, took home best actress in a drama series, upsetting co-favorites Elisabeth Moss and Sandra Oh, plus Keri Russell, who many expected to be recognized for her last season as Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans. The Crown won one other award, for the direction of the second season’s ninth episode, Paterfamilias. In the category of lead actress in a limited series or movie, Regina King, nominated for her role in the Netflix crime drama Seven Seconds, came away with a shock victory over Laura Dern, who was heavily favored to win for her turn in the HBO movie The Tale.
Before hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che began proceedings, the show opened with a song and dance courtesy of Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Ricky Martin, Sterling K Brown, John Legend and RuPaul, who joked about Hollywood having “solved” its diversity problem with this year’s crop of nominees.
The night was short on overt Trump barbs but heavy on politics: in their opening monologue, Jost and Che remarked that the first Emmy awards took place all the way back in 1949, “when we all agreed Nazis were bad”. Invoking the cancellation of the ABC sitcom Roseanne after its eponymous star tweeted racist remarks about former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett, Che quipped: “Roseanne cancelled herself but got picked up by white nationalists.” The duo, who together host SNL’s weekend update, recruited Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen to share nuggets of information about Emmy’s history, a task they were (deliberately) woefully unprepared to meet.
Che also appeared in a pre-recorded segment called the Reparation Emmys, in which he gave out belated awards to the stars of black sitcoms overlooked by the Academy such as Marla Gibbs (The Jeffersons), Jimmy Walker (Good Times), and Kadeem Hardison (A Different World).
Eight-time Emmy winner (and 24-time nominee) Betty White made an appearance at the ceremony, reminiscing on a career whose high-water marks, like the sitcoms The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, have cemented the 96-year-old as a titan of comedy. “It’s incredible that I’m still in this business, and you are putting up with me,” she said to a standing ovation, with SNL stars Kate McKinnon and Alex Baldwin to her left. “All I can say is, it’s such a pleasant business to be in, and how lucky can I be?”
But perhaps the most heartwarming moment of the ceremony came when Glenn Weiss, honored for directing the 2018 Oscars broadcast, used his acceptance speech to recognize his mother, who recently passed away. Weiss then proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen, who sat in the crowd unassumingly before taking to the stage as Weiss got on one knee. “You wonder why I don’t call you my girlfriend?,” he asked as the crowd cheered him on. “It’s because I want to call you my wife.”