After skipping the seventh season, director Miguel Sapochnik returned to “Game of Thrones” for the eighth and final season to direct the third and fifth episodes, “The Long Night” and “The Bells,” respectively. With the former serving as his submission, he received a second Best Drama Directing Emmy nomination and could now win his second statuette for bringing yet another battle-heavy “Thrones” episode to life.
He won his first Emmy in 2016 for his monumental directorial achievement in the Season 6 outing “Battle of the Bastards.” Considering that the one-hour episode brought about not one but two long-awaited battles, and took an estimated 25 days to film, it’s not surprising that Sapochnik ended up snagging the gold. The directors’ branch often gravitates towards the biggest, splashiest achievement. And if that’s anything to go by, Sapochnik may need to get his Emmy speech ready once again.
“The Long Night” saw the hotly anticipated battle between the living and the Army of the Dead in an 80-minute nail-biting installment that required 55 night shoots and nearly 750 cast and crew members. But per “Entertainment Weekly,” the production went well beyond the reported 55 nights, as those were only for the battle’s outdoor scenes. Therefore, the episode features one of the longest consecutive battle sequences in film and TV history, surpassing the 40-minute clash at Helm’s Deep in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002), which served as an inspiration for Sapochnik. With the details about the production well-known long before “Thrones” aired its final season, Sapochnik could get a significant boost from voters checking him off on sheer respect for taking on this tremendous challenge.
Sapochnik broke the episode into different genres — Act 1: suspense, Act 2: horror and Act 3: action — the episode does have it all, from nonstop battle sequences to moments of eerie silence. At the center of it are character-driven moments that close off season-long arcs and/or see the last stands of fan-favorite characters, like Theon (Alfie Allen), Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Jorah (Iain Glen). But arguably its biggest focus is Arya’s (Maisie Williams) journey, from her entering the battle in gratifying fashion to the destruction of the Night King at her hands. Balancing the many necessary beats of this episode while upping the ante both visually and technically is a high-wire act that Sapochnik executed to the best of his ability.
Also, bear in mind that his other Season 8 episode (“The Bells”), while polarizing, was another battle-heavy installment that produced the complete annihilation of King’s Landing and the deaths of yet another handful of fan favorites. But if not the one-two punch of spectacle-heavy outings, he could cash in goodwill from his past work on the show, especially with the directors’ names on the ballot and he himself now slowly becoming a household name.
With eight below-the-line noms, and serving as an episode submission for Allen, van Houten and Williams, “The Long Night” is well-regarded across the board. In fact, it could claim the title of the most rewarded single episode in Emmy history, beating out “Boardwalk Empire’s” pilot and its very own “Battle of the Bastards,” both of which reaped six wins. Plus, with its 32 overall noms this year, “Thrones” already broke the record for the most nominations for a show in a single year. If a farewell hug from voters translates into a sweep, Sapochnik looks strong to be part of it.
Yes, “The Long Night” is the episode that was denounced for being too dark, which has since become a meme, but Sapochnik is not to blame, or at least entirely, for that, but rather cinematographer Fabian Wagner, who’s repeatedly defended the darkness by telling viewers it’s their problem they didn’t adjust their TV settings. It should be noted that the episode was not nominated in cinematography, the only category in which it was submitted and failed to earn a bid.
But Sapochnik also isn’t the only “Thrones” director gunning for the Emmy throne: Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are competing for the series finale “The Iron Throne,” and David Nutter for “The Last of the Starks.” Despite 13 previous bids and five wins under their belts, Benioff and Weiss are celebrating their very first nominations in this category, and could benefit from directing the series closer, which finally named the ruler of the Seven, or ultimately Six, Kingdoms. Yes, they’re also nominated for writing this episode, but the branches only vote in their own branch categories, in addition to all the program races, so there might be an urge by both to reward them for the many hats they’ve worn throughout the show’s run. And Nutter, a very well-respected veteran director, shouldn’t be underestimated either, as he’s already a two-time Emmy winner for co-directing “Band of Brothers” and directing “Thrones’” “Mother’s Mercy.”
Sapochnik ranks in first place in our combined Emmy odds, but in the event of a vote-split with his fellow “Thrones” directors, the other nominees — Jason Bateman (“Ozark”), Lisa Brühlmann (“Killing Eve”), Adam McKay (“Succession”) and Daina Reid (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) — could benefit. But don’t worry, with Benioff, Weiss, Nutter and Sapochnik having served as executive producers on the final season of “Thrones,” they might all walk away with statuettes regardless since the show is the heavy favorite to nab the drama series prize.
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