Emmy episode analysis: Carice van Houten (‘Game of Thrones’) bows out as Melisandre in ‘The Long Night’

The night is dark and full of terrors, but not at the Emmys, because Carice van Houten just received her first-ever Emmy nomination for playing Melisandre in the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Despite being a “Thrones” cast member since the second season, van Houten is nominated in Best Drama Guest Actress since her character only appeared in a single episode of the season. Hence, the spectacle-heavy third hour, “The Long Night,” will serve as her submission to Emmy judges.

Just when the Dothraki are lined up on the snow-covered open field in front of Winterfell, ready to fight the Army of the Dead, Melisandre appears out of pitch darkness on her horse and lights their swords. As she then betakes herself to the inner courtyard of Winterfell, she exchanges an ominous look with Arya (Maisie Williams) and assures Davos (Liam Cunningham) that she will be dead by dawn. When the wights start nearing the trenches, Melisandre lights them to prevent their trespassing.

But her job isn’t done yet. Following a brutal chase through the Winterfell hallways, Arya encounters Melisandre, who reiterates her prophecy that the former will shut many eyes, including those of the Night King. After Arya deciphers the message, she successfully carries out the destruction of the Night King, giving the living their long-awaited victory. And finally, now that she’s served her purpose, Melisandre drops dead and fades into dust in front of the castle.

Can van Houten ride the massive wave of support for “Thrones” to an Emmy win on her very first try? Let’s dive into the pros and cons:

PROS

“Thrones” made Emmy history after bagging a whopping 32 nominations, the most ever for a series in a single year. Most notably, it produced acting nominations for 10 of its cast members, including four supporting actresses and three supporting actors, which is three more than its previous record of seven actors for the sixth season in 2016. Van Houten could ride the coattails of a “Thrones” sweep, and if the nominations told us one thing, it’s that voters are seemingly in the mood to pay their respects to this show. In her category, she won’t even have to worry about splitting the vote with a co-star, ergo she’d be the only possible recipient of a “Thrones” farewell hug.

This one-episode arc was a satisfying conclusion to Melisandre’s storyline: After not seeing her for nearly an entire season, she makes a surprising return to help bring about the end of one of the series’ biggest bads. Despite giving a rather subtle performance, van Houten is an undeniable presence in this episode that dominates the screen whenever she’s on it. And if not for her work in this episode alone, voters may just check her off for her accumulative seven-season achievement. It helps that Melisandre closes the episode, dropping the necklace that prevents her from aging and bowing out in such bittersweet yet elegant fashion.

CONS

The show may have been great at netting acting noms – eight “Thrones” actors were already nominated before this season – but only Peter Dinklage has ultimately ascended the Emmy throne, three times in fact (2011, 2015, 2018). Just last year, Diana Rigg seemed to have everything working in her favor to finally win Best Drama Guest Actress for playing Olenna Tyrell: As the only “Thrones” actress in the category, she could have benefitted from all three “The Handmaid’s Tale” actresses splitting the vote, she had a drop-the-mic death scene that sent shockwaves through the fandom, and was long overdue for this role. However, she ended up losing to Samira Wiley, who shockingly overcame her two “Handmaid’s” co-stars. Van Houten is in a similar situation this year, just that Cherry Jones is the sole “Handmaid’s” nominee this time around.

With her co-nominees being Jones, Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black”), Jessica Lange (“American Horror Story: Apocalypse”), Phylicia Rashad (“This Is Us”) and Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”), she’s the only first-time Emmy nominee in this category. Yes, with Alexis Bledel (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Wiley being the last two reigning champs, it seems like they’re starting to embrace the newer faces in this category, but Cox and Rashad are overdue for their maiden Emmy statuettes, Jones and Tyson have yet to win for their respective shows, and Lange is competing for reprising a role that earned her an Emmy back in 2012.

PREDICT the Emmys now; change them until September 22

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