When the producers of “Game of Thrones” decided to delay its production, it was a practical move: They needed more snow for their storytelling. But the move to postpone their season seven debut had a trickle-down effect on the 2017 Emmy race: The July premiere date meant the reigning champion wouldn’t be eligible in the hotly contested drama race.
It had an even more seismic impact in the supporting categories: opening up two slots in the actor race, pulling Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington out of contention, and three in the actress race, eliminating Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Maisie Williams.
To heighten the drama even more, last year’s winners aren’t eligible, either: Ben Mendelsohn of “Bloodline” is competing in the guest race this year (spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet caught up with the Netflix drama yet), and “Downton Abbey” signed off last year, which means we’ve heard Maggie Smith’s last clever bon mot for now.
So in an ever-more competitive year (thanks again, peak TV), it means the “Game” is on to fill those supporting slots.
Looking at the actor race, the only clear answer is this: six slots are simply not enough. John Lithgow somehow transformed his tall lithe frame into the famously stout Winston Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown,” and Jared Harris found the heart beyond the stammer as King George. (And can we give an honorable mention to Matt Smith’s ever-conflicted Prince Philip?)
Jonathan Banks has been nominated twice for AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” a richly deserved recognition for his turn as the taciturn Mike Ehrmantraut, a role he’s personified through two critically acclaimed series. And this third season, Michael McKean has found new emotional depths as the electronically challenged lawyer battling sibling rivalry (and so much more), while Giancarlo Esposito made a triumphant return as the not-quite-yet-so-evil Gus Fring.
HBO’s “Westworld” is packed with Emmy-worthy turns — from Ed Harris’ mysterious “Man in Black” to Jeffrey Wright’s (in)human Bernard. How to choose between Mandy Patinkin’s Saul, the conscience of Showtime’s “Homeland,” and yet ignore F. Murray Abraham’s Dar Adal, the very embodiment of evil?
Decisions aren’t any easier on the women’s side of the board. Mandy Moore and Chrissy Metz both scored nominations in the supporting category at the Globes — ultimately losing to “The Night Manager’s” Olivia Colman. This time out, Moore is competing in the lead race, as are castmates Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia, leaving Ron Cephas Jones and Justin Hartley to vie in the supporting races.
There’s a face-off brewing, too, for the women of “Stranger Things”: veteran Winona Ryder is vying against newcomer Millie Bobby Brown. Both were nominated at the Screen Actors Guild awards; “The Crown’s” Claire Foy took home, well, the Crown.
Among the “Orange Is the New Black” ensemble, only Uzo Aduba that has broken out among prognosticators; but last season also saw standout work from Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley. In fact, Wiley’s in awards chatter for yet another role: Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” where she’s competing alongside the fiercesome Ann Dowd.
But no discussion of the category this year could be complete without addressing the conversation stirred up by “Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon. Dillon, who identifies as non-binary, didn’t want to have to be defined by their gender in their Emmy submissions. Dillon ultimately decided to enter as supporting actor.
While the MTV Movie and TV awards have moved to gender-netural categories, such a shift is probably not realistic for the Emmys — if not out of inclusiveness, then simply to accommodate the sheer number of worthy contenders.