'Game of Thrones' goes head-to-head with 'Handmaid's Tale,' and 3 other Emmy Award storylines

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by Daniel Arkin /
Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones," Milo Ventimiglia in "This is Us" and Donald Glover in "Atlanta."
Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones," Milo Ventimiglia in "This is Us" and Donald Glover in "Atlanta."HBO; NBC; FX

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The television landscape has never been more crowded, teeming with hundreds of dramas, comedies and guilty-pleasure reality shows. But on Monday night, only a select handful of acclaimed series and stars will get the glory at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards (8 p.m. ET on NBC), co-hosted by “Saturday Night Live” players Michael Che and Colin Jost.

Here’s a look at the big storylines and themes heading into TV’s big night.

Gilead vs. Westeros

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu’s grim vision of a totalitarian future, made history last year when it became the first series distributed by a streaming service to nab the best drama prize. “Handmaid’s” could score a repeat victory on Monday — but it will have to vanquish its top rival, HBO’s fantasy epic “Game of Thrones,” a two-time winner in the category.

“Thrones” is a pop culture juggernaut with a massive following, but its most recent episode aired in August 2017 — a virtual eon ago in a world in which Netflix drops a new series seemingly every day. “Handmaid’s,” with its sorrowfully topical look at sexual violence against women, might strike most voters as more socially relevant and award-worthy.

The other nominees in the best drama category: FX’s espionage drama “The Americans,” which wrapped up its sixth and final season in May; Netflix’s glossy period piece “The Crown”; Netflix’s horror yarn “Stranger Things”; NBC’s ensemble melodrama “This Is Us”; and HBO’s sci-fi brainteaser “Westworld.”

‘Grey’s’ alum could make history

Sandra Oh is a familiar face to fans of “Grey’s Anatomy,” the ABC medical drama for which she received five supporting actress nominations. (She’s also a reliable big-screen character actress who cropped up in Disney’s “The Princess Diaries” and “Sideways.”)

If the Korean-Canadian actress wins the lead drama actress award for BBC America’s feminist spy thriller “Killing Eve,” she would become the first performer of Asian descent to triumph in that category. Oh’s win would also be a big deal for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the 33-year-old English writer and actress (“Fleabag”) who created “Killing Eve.”

Let’s talk politics

It’s not uncommon these days for Hollywood events — from the Golden Globes and the Oscars to red-carpet premieres — to double as real-time commentaries on the heated sociopolitical moment or referendums on President Donald Trump.

Che and Jost, the co-anchors of the faux "Weekend Update" on “Saturday Night Live,” will almost certainly inject their opening monologue with a healthy dose of ripped-from-the-headlines riffs. The same might be expected from Alec Baldwin, who could win his second Emmy in a row for his florid, orange-hued impersonation of Trump on “SNL.”

The streamers cement their rise

Netflix grabbed headlines when the Emmy nominees were announced in July because the streaming platform racked up 112 nominations, making it the most-nominated network in contention and breaking HBO’s nearly two decades of dominance.

It's partly a matter of volume: Netflix reportedly eyed around 700 original series in 2018, whereas HBO has only about a dozen original primetime shows on air at any given time.

It seems unlikely that Netflix, however, will edge out its rivals in most of the top categories. But two of its fellow players in the streaming game could have a good night.

Hulu, once widely seen as a second-tier platform, could walk away with more gold for “Handmaid’s Tale.” Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, could score with a best comedy actress win for Rachel Brosnahan, the star of its “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a 1950s-set comedy that claimed two Golden Globes this year.

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