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Emmys Get Sentimental on the Way to Saluting ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

Wins for Henry Winkler, Claire Foy, ”The Americans“ and ”RuPaul’s Drag Race“ set the tone for a show in which it made sense for one winner to propose onstage


Who knew that Emmy voters were such softies?

The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards was supposed to be “Game of Thrones” v. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” v. “Atlanta” — but from the first award of the night, which handed Henry Winkler his first Emmy after four decades in television, voters turned it into a feel-good, four-hankie affair.

So Winkler won for “Barry.” And “The Americans,” long acclaimed but just as long ignored by Television Academy voters, got two shiny parting gifts in the form of Emmys for star Matthew Rhys and writer/creators Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg for the series’ final season. And Claire Foy scored an upset victory for “The Crown,” which will have a new actress playing an older Queen Elizabeth next year.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Foy when she won. And it wasn’t, if you bought the conventional wisdom that the award was likelier to go to defending champion Elisabeth Moss for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Sandra Oh for “Killing Eve” or Keri Russell for “The Americans.”

(For the record: Yes, I bought the conventional wisdom.)

But Foy was a deserving choice who also happened to be the sentimental choice, as was Rhys, and Winkler, and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in the reality-competition category long dominated by “The Amazing Race” and “The Voice.”

So when “The Oscars” director Glenn Weiss decided to use his acceptance speech to propose to his girlfriend, it made perfect sense on a night that was dominated by awards that felt good. (As John Oliver later pointed out, the ceremony would have felt very different if she’d said no.)

Sure, it would have been even more sentimental to give the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series award to the final season of “Portlandia” rather than the 44th season of “Saturday Night Live” — but let’s face it, “Portlandia” was always a little too weird for voters to fully embrace, as was “Twin Peaks” in the movies/miniseries categories.

And yes, it would have been more sentimental to give the night’s final award, Outstanding Drama Series, to “The Americans” or “The Crown.” But nothing on TV has the scale and drama of “Game of Thrones” — and even though voting took place in a year in which the show wasn’t on the air, voters remembered the last season and let habit take over.

Warning to every other drama on television: At next year’s Emmys, you’ll probably be competing against the final season of “Game of Thrones.” You will not win.

As usual, the night’s trends only emerged slowly, as voters doled out mostly-expected wins for the first hour, starting with Winkler and then going into a “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” streak with consecutive wins for supporting actress Alex Borstein, director and writer Amy Sherman-Palladino and lead actress Rachel Brosnahan.

The real surprise didn’t come until almost an hour into the show, when Merritt Wever took the supporting actress in a limited series award for “Godless” over Penelope Cruz and Judith Light in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.”

In fact, “Gianni Versace” had already lost five times (it had that many nominees in the two supporting categories) by the time it won its first award, for director Ryan Murphy — but then Darren Criss won for his leading role, and as expected, “Gianni” took the Outstanding Limited Series prize.

Despite a record number of non-white nominees, and African-American winners in all four guest-acting categories at the Creative Arts Emmys, this was not a particularly diverse evening, with Regina King (“Seven Seconds”) and Thandie Newton (“Westworld”) the only winners of color in the 12 acting categories.

At the end of the night, there was almost no suspense over which show was going to win the Outstanding Comedy Series award: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had rolled through the earlier comedy categories so easily, with only supporting-actor Tony Shalhoub not winning, that its victory was all but preordained.

But the Outstanding Drama Series category was a real question mark, because the defending champion, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” hadn’t won a single award all night, and “Game of Thrones” had only won the supporting actor award for Peter Dinklage.

But that didn’t matter. And while it might not have been the most sentimental ending to the night, it made sense and maybe even felt right. Even on a night of sentiment, there’s a place for a few dragons.