We asked HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo about this topic during a Thrones interview, and he suggested the show’s fantasy setting and high production values might distract from the talent on display. “What frustrates me about the show is people really love and connect with the characters — but somehow, [the voters] don’t put two and two together that there are great actors embodying those roles,” Lombardo says. “There seems to be a disconnect. This would not work without compelling writing and unbelievable acting and superb direction. And I think that’s part of the challenge of a show that’s a genre show. I think people think the show is carried along on its production values.”
Indeed, Dinklage gives a tremendous performance, and the show’s current fourth season is almost certainly his best. But there are others amid Thrones‘ sprawling cast that one would think would get recognized as well – Emilia Clarke received an Emmy nomination last year, and Diana Rigg had a guest actress nod. But there’s also Charles Dance, Lena Headey, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, among others, doing consistently excellent work. There’s also the show’s writing, led by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. “David and Dan are not just good — they are exceptional writers,” Lombardo says. “Their scripts are as dazzling as anything I’ve ever read. This isn’t pulled out of a book.”
The direction on Thrones is also stunning. Hollywood recognized the talent of long-time TV director Alan Taylor’s work on Thrones’ first season, and snatched him up to helm Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming Terminator reboot. Yet the TV Academy didn’t nominate his work (and likewise snubbed David Nutter, who directed last year’s heart-stopping Red Wedding episode). The only Emmy nomination for outstanding direction that Thrones has received, oddly enough, was for its stiff, heavily re-shot pilot.
“I look at it relative to other shows, and these are artists working at the absolute top of their game,” Lombardo says. “Peter Dinklage is as good as any actor on TV. Lena is phenomenal. I guess they’re so good you’re not aware of it. And it’s not about getting awards for HBO, but for them. Behind the dragons and costumes and landscapes there’s unbelievable talent at work. And none of it would be be emotionally relatable if not for artistry in the writing, directing and acting.”