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'Game of Thrones,' 'This Is Us' or 'Handmaid's Tale'? Emmy acting races could tip the scale for TV's best drama

'Game of Thrones,' 'This Is Us' or 'Handmaid's Tale'? Emmy acting races could tip the scale for TV's best drama
Stills from "This Is Us," "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Game of Thrones." (George Kraychyk / Hulu via AP / Ron Batzdorff / NBC / AP)

If you’re looking for some insight into the Emmy race for best drama series, you might want to count the number of acting nods “The Handmaid’s Tale,” "Game of Thrones” and “This Is Us” pull in when nominations are announced next month. I’m not going to say the drama series outcome comes down to a battle between Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joseph Fiennes, but that supporting actor race is one spot to put your finger to the wind.

Here are early predictions for the drama acting races.

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Ann Dowd and Elisabeth Moss in "The Handmaid's Tale."
Ann Dowd and Elisabeth Moss in "The Handmaid's Tale." (George Kraychyk / Hulu)

LEAD ACTRESS DRAMA

Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Claire Foy, “The Crown”

Keri Russell, “The Americans”

Mandy Moore, “This Is Us”

Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”

Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”

Possible spoilers: Laura Linney, “Ozark”; Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”; Claire Danes, “Homeland”; Caitriona Balfe, “Outlander”; Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Deuce”; Viola Davis, “How to Get Away With Murder”

In the mix: Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”; Angela Bassett, “9-1-1”; Christine Baranski, “The Good Fight”; Winona Ryder, “Stranger Things”; Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”

Analysis: Among last year’s nominees, Moss, Foy, Russell and Wood figure to repeat. Robin Wright won’t because “House of Cards” won’t be eligible until it returns next year for its eight-episode finale. And though Davis has earned nominations for the first three seasons of “Murder,” the show saw a dip in both its ratings and storytelling. Davis’ run is likely over.

Who will slide in? “This Is Us” picked up seven acting nominations last year, and Moore wasn’t among them. If enough voters watched that post-Super Bowl episode (after carefully unplugging their chili-crusted Crock-Pots) where Moore’s matriarch grieves through the earth-shattering news we all knew was coming and still broke our hearts, then she should join her castmates.

The final spot will probably go to Clarke, but it should belong to Oh. And who knows? Maybe it will. But voters liked Oh enough back in the day to give her five consecutive nominations for “Grey’s Anatomy” and with “Eve,” she has a career-first lead role and a wildly entertaining show. She’s superb, as is her young costar Comer playing the series’ free-spirited assassin. They belong on this list.

Freddie Highmore stars in "The Good Doctor"
Freddie Highmore stars in "The Good Doctor" (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

LEAD ACTOR DRAMA

Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”

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Freddie Highmore, “The Good Doctor”

Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us”

Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”

Possible spoilers: Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”; Jason Bateman, “Ozark”; J.K. Simmons, “Counterpart”; Jonathan Groff, “Mindhunter”; Ed Harris, “Westworld”

In the mix: Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”; Donald Sutherland, “Trust”; Jason Mitchell, “The Chi”; Sam Heughan, “Outlander”

Analysis: Last year’s close vote resulted in seven nominees. Of those, three — Anthony Hopkins (“Westworld”), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”) — aren’t eligible this time around. That may be why HBO shifted “Westworld’s” Harris and Wright from supporting to lead. Wright earned a nod last year for his dual performance and could well make the leap here.

Among the newcomers, Highmore should be a sure thing for his turn as the savant autistic surgical resident in ABC’s breakout hit “The Good Doctor.” The fact that he was consistently overlooked for “Bates Motel” makes this recognition even more of a no-brainer. The young man’s due.

A couple of veterans have strong cases too. Like Wright, Oscar winner Simmons has a juicy dual role in Starz’s underappreciated “Counterpart,” and it was fascinating to watch him connect his two characters inhabiting parallel worlds. And the 82-year-old Sutherland, recipient of an honorary Oscar last year, gave us a J. Paul Getty even more monstrous than the scoundrel we saw in “All the Money in the World.” More human too. Sutherland’s so good you’re thankful “Trust” isn’t a limited series.

Thandie Newton earned an Emmy nomination last year for "Westworld."
Thandie Newton earned an Emmy nomination last year for "Westworld." (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS DRAMA

Thandie Newton, “Westworld”

Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”

Lena Headey, “Game of Thrones”

Chrissy Metz, “This Is Us”

Alexis Bledel, “The Handmaid's Tale”

Possible spoilers: Vanessa Kirby, “The Crown”; Uzo Aduba, “Orange Is the New Black”; Yvonne Strahovski, “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

In the mix: Margo Martindale, “The Americans”; Maisie Williams, “Game of Thrones”; Sophie Turner, “Game of Thrones”; Constance Zimmer, “UnReal”; Connie Britton, “9-1-1”; Hilary Swank, “Trust”

Analysis: Dowd won this Emmy last year and could well prevail again for her brilliantly twisted turn as the authoritarian Aunt Lydia. At least one of Dowd’s costars will likely join her and, with new episodes still airing, it’s difficult to know which woman will ultimately own the best story line. Bledel won the guest actress Emmy for the series’ first season (an honor that could well go to Marisa Tomei this year) and had a great early showcase in the episode “Unwomen,” which revealed her character’s gut-wrenching backstory. That hour alone should earn her a nomination.

David Harbour looks to earn a second Emmy nom for "Stranger Things."
David Harbour looks to earn a second Emmy nom for "Stranger Things." (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

SUPPORTING ACTOR DRAMA

David Harbour, “Stranger Things”

Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”

Justin Hartley, “This Is Us”

Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”

Brendan Fraser, “Trust”

Possible spoilers: Noah Schnapp, “Stranger Things”; Joseph Fiennes, “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Matt Smith, “The Crown”

In the mix: Richard Schiff, “The Good Doctor”; Jon Voight, “Ray Donovan”; Delroy Lindo, “The Good Fight”; Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”; Christian Slater, “Mr. Robot”

Analysis: Look for more turnover here than any other acting category with three of last year’s nominees (winner John Lithgow, Jonathan Banks, Michael Kelly) ineligible and two shifting to different categories. (“Westworld’s” Wright, as mentioned earlier, lands in lead, while Ron Cephas Jones moves to guest, befitting his reduced role on “This Is Us.”) “Thrones’” Harington, likewise, is shuffling to lead after campaigning in supporting for six seasons.

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Harington’s costars should help fill the vacuum with Coster-Waldau earning his first nomination alongside Emmy perennial Dinklage. Schnapp, playing the long-suffering Will on “Stranger Things,” merits a spot for his first full season on the show. But voters don’t typically reward kids (costar Brown is the rare exception), which might be good news for the well-liked Fraser, making a career comeback on “Trust.” Tip of the (cowboy) hat, pardner.

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