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How Succession’s Emmy win for Outstanding Drama honors Game of Thrones

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Succession may not have dragons, but its focus on the political games played by the super-elites makes it the real successor to Game of Thrones.

Last night, HBO’s Succession won the top of award of the night at the 72nd annual Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series. This is the same award that Game of Thrones has won four time, a tie for the record, and even though this was the first ceremony in years not to feature HBO’s fantasy hit, through Succession, it was there in spirit.

On the surface, Succession and Game of Thrones couldn’t be more different. The one is set in modern times, in our world, and follows the exploits of the super-rich Roy family. Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world based on medieval times, and explores the attempts of various houses to stake their claim to power amid the bloody wars of Westeros.

But really, the two shows cover some very similar thematic ground. It’s been joked that Succession is what would happen if Game of Thrones focused on just the Lannisters, but it’s also a pretty good description. The Roy siblings — Kendall, Siobhan, Roman and the hapless Connor — spend a lot of time trying to outflank each other and win the approval of their father, the indomitable Logan Roy. It definitely recalls the dynamic between Cersei, Tyrion and Jaime on Game of Thrones, who as the children of the richest family in Westeros were born into enormous power and responsibility, but spent much of their time trying vainly trying to live up to the expectations of their father Tywin.

Things got even more Game of Thrones in the second season of Succession, as the Roy family made a bid to save its media empire by making an alliance with Pierce family, who run another media empire. They didn’t quite offer to seal the alliance with a marriage, but if they had it wouldn’t have been a shock.

In our world, we assume that important decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars are made by cool-headed individuals who always look at the facts and come to the correct decisions, but they can just as easily be made by people like the Roys, who are as prone to human frailty as the rest of us. At this high a level, the game is personal, much like it is for the lords and ladies on Game of Thrones. In making that comparison, Succession points out how, in some ways, human interaction hasn’t changed much from the days when a king or queen could behead someone to remove them as a potential rival. In Succession, they just get disinherited, or assigned work so thankless they’re driven out of the business.

The super-rich are the kings and queens of our time. Both Succession and Game of Thrones explore their lives, and how their unthinking decisions affect people on the ground. Remember when Roman Roy, the least responsible Roy child (he’s working on it), botched the launch of a multi-million dollar rocket just because he wanted to give his sister a cool fireworks show at her wedding? How is Roman any more qualified to manage a mission to outer space that Joffrey Baratheon was to pass justice? The answer is that neither of them are remotely qualified, but they were born into the job so they have it.

Image: Succession, Game of Thrones/HBO

These shows are both concerned with power: how to get it, how to keep it, and how being born into it doesn’t mean you deserve it. It’s a topic that has more and more relevance to our daily lives as the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to grow, and it’s clearly one that interests the Emmy voters. Plus, both series are made with that signature HBO level of polish, with everything from writing to directing to casting being top-notch.

It may not have dragons, but Succession is a worthy successor to Game of Thrones, and I’m glad to see it acknowledged during awards season.

Next: Game of Thrones still has the record for most Emmys won in a single year

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