HBO’s record-breaking fantasy epic Game of Thrones stormed back onto the Emmys stage on Monday, winning the coveted best drama series prize on a night full of surprises, including an on-air marriage proposal that stunned the audience.
The other big story of the gala, television’s answer to the Oscars, was the huge success of eight Emmys overall for best comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon’s story of a 1950s housewife-turned-stand up comic.
The Handmaid’s Tale—last year’s best drama and an early favorite for more hardware—went home empty-handed from the event at the Microsoft Theater, having won three minor awards handed out a week ago.
The ceremony hosted by Saturday Night Live regulars Colin Jost and Michael Che took on a decidedly political hue, with a barrage of edgy jokes on hot-button issues such as diversity in Hollywood, #MeToo and President Donald Trump.
The gala also saw a handful of sentimental favorites take home their first Emmys.
Matthew Rhys won for best drama actor for spy thriller The Americans, Claire Foy was named best drama actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown and Henry Winkler triumphed for supporting comedy acting on Barry.
But the coveted drama prize went to Game of Thrones, which was ineligible for last year’s Emmys. Peter Dinklage took home the best supporting actor prize for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister.
“Writing for these actors behind us is the honor of a lifetime,” said series co-creator David Benioff. “But we didn’t invent these characters. That was George R.R. Martin. The show could not be without the mad genius of George.”
It won nine Emmys this year, meaning the blood-spattered tale of the battle for the Iron Throne—which returns in 2019 for an abbreviated eighth and final season—now has 47 awards overall. That breaks the program’s own record as the most decorated fictional show since the Television Academy first handed out prizes in 1949.
In the comedy categories, Mrs. Maisel bested all comers in its first year of eligibility, sweeping the female acting prizes (star Rachel Brosnahan and co-star Alex Borstein) and best series honors. Earlier this year, the series won two Golden Globes.
“One of the things I love the most about this show, while I have you captive for another two seconds—it’s about a woman who is finding her voice anew,” Brosnahan said. “It’s something that’s happening all over the country right now. One of the most important ways that we can find and use our voices is to vote. So if you haven’t already registered, do it on your cell phone right now.”
HBO dark comedy Barry notched two acting wins—for Winkler and series star Bill Hader.
The show opened with a daring song-and-dance number poking fun at myriad controversies including diversity in Hollywood. “We solved it!” crooned Saturday Night Live nominees Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson, with backup from pop stars John Legend and Ricky Martin—and even RuPaul.
They then yielded the stage to Jost and Che—who let the zingers fly.
“This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats. Hope you’re excited about that—because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is a bunch of people losing their inhibitions at a work function,” Jost said, a reference to #MeToo.
Looking to boost audience ratings, Emmys organizers said they were hoping to shake up the broadcast—and indeed they did, intentionally and unintentionally.
A surprise marriage proposal from Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss won over the audience—and the internet. As Weiss accepted his award for directing the Oscars, he asked Jan Svendsen, who was sitting in the audience, to marry him.
“You wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife,” he added to cheers, applause and a few teary-eyed actors in the audience. Svendsen then joined Weiss on stage as the director got on one knee and formally proposed.
The moment was especially poignant as Weiss revealed his mother had recently passed away—and offered Svendsen the ring his father had given his mom.
Other big winners included FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which won Emmys for best limited series and best lead actor in a limited series for Darren Criss, who took a dark turn as the designer’s killer Andrew Cunanan.
Thandie Newton won the best supporting actress in a drama statuette for her work on HBO’s futuristic western Westworld. “I don’t even believe in God but I’m going to thank her tonight,” Newton quipped.
Saturday Night Live won the award for best variety sketch series.
In the emerging battle of traditional networks vs. new platforms, streaming giant Netflix and HBO ended in a dead heat at the top—at 23 Emmys each.