“The Walking Dead” has pushed boundaries over its four-season span but nothing shook the ground quite as much as when Carol (Melissa McBride) made the decision to execute 11-year-old Lizzie after she killed her sister in cold blood. In a world built around a zombie apocalypse, the show's most impactful moments often have nothing to do with the evil monsters but rather the horrific actions the humans take on other humans. This moment was powerful due to the manner it was handled and the actors who bravely took it on. — Justin Kroll
The “Arrested Development” funnyman takes center stage and runs with it as the put-upon son of a divorcing couple.
“House of Lies”
In the Showtime program's third season, Cheadle's portrayal of management consultant Marty Kaan took self-loathing to new heights.
The comic continues to revolutionize television and though he already has four Emmys, he has never won for acting.
“The Big Bang Theory”
Galecki enjoys great chemistry with all his co-stars and is consistently winning as the intelligent but put-upon roommate Leonard.
As one of four senators who live together, Goodman is reliably great as a likable straight-talker who refuses to campaign.
The stage star proves a commanding screen presence as Patrick, a gay video designer in San Francisco navigating relationships.
“Key and Peele”
With partner Jordan Peele, Key makes up one half of the smart, funny duo that delivers bigger laughs more consistently than “Saturday Night Live.”
Playing a twisted version of himself, LeBlanc has never been more daring or hilarious, willing to make himself the butt of some pretty harsh jokes.
Dysfunction never looked as appealing as in the form of the freeloading, useless father of seven Frank Gallagher, perfectly played by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Macy.
Not unlike his fellow comic Louis C.K., Maron is doing TV his way and delivering a sharp, prickly performance as himself.
Nobody does snark with heart better than McHale, and with the show's recent cancellation, this is Emmy's last chance to reward its leading man.
Merchant learned the art of uncomfortable comedy from collaborator Ricky Gervais, and somehow managed to make his shallow singleton slightly endearing.
“The Mindy Project”
Messina is a standout in a talented troupe, and the season finale sealed his status as the show's romantic leading man.
Middleditch seemed to come out of nowhere to shine as reclusive computer programmer Richard Hendriks, ably heading a hilarious ensemble.
“The Big Bang Theory”
One of the year's few sure bets for a nod, Parsons already has three Emmys for his role as prissy Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
“Key and Peele”
He's the best Obama impersonator around, and the sketch show continues to grow in popularity and acclaim.
“How I Met Your Mother”
In nine seasons, both Radnor and the character of Ted have grown tremendously; yet the talent actor has never been nominated — this is Emmy's chance to right this oversight.
He won this year's Golden Globe and his show is one of the new season's few bright spots.
“Parks and Recreation”
Scott more than holds his own against the great Amy Poehler and often steals scenes with his silent reactions alone.
“The Crazy Ones”
His show may have lasted only one season, but don't underestimate the love for two-time Emmy winner Williams.
Bacon makes a commanding lead as a former FBI agent tracking down his greatest adversary in a sure-footed psychological thriller.
The versatile Bell goes from simple farmer to history-changing spy, and nicely pulls off the period wear in AMC's Revolutionary War series.
It's no surprise that Bichir is a commanding presence as Detective Marco Ruiz; it's his warmth and heart that elevates FX's procedural.
As the veddy proper Lord Grantham, Bonneville is the commanding head of a flawless ensemble that always keeps a stiff upper lip.
After four seasons on the Prohibition Era-show, Buscemi has only gotten better as his Nucky Thompson grows more powerful.
He's won three Emmys for his role as teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White and didn't missed a step in a final season that didn't disappoint.
In its second season, “Hannibal” has quietly become a watercooler program, held together by Dancy's portrayal of the rapidly unraveling Will Graham.
Last year's surprise winner could repeat for his performance as newsman Will McAvoy; he has the benefit of Aaron Sorkin-penned speeches on his side.
It's not easy to pull off a legendary Viking who may be descended from Odin himself, but Fimmel is a standout in this History channel hit.
Though the final season was heavily criticized, no one faulted Hall's wonderful work as one of entertainment's most memorable serial killers.
With six nominations for his iconic, star-making turn as Don Draper so far, Hamm has never won — could this finally be his year?
Though co-star Matthew McConaughey got more press, Harrelson is fantastic as a great cop struggling to be a good husband and father.
As the boy who will become the psycho, Highmore walks a fine balancing act creating a tortured soul that never veers into camp.
“Sons of Anarchy”
Hunnam did some of his best work of the series on season 6, culminating in a heartbreaking finale where Jax found his beloved Tara dead.
After a slow start where his Brody wasn't seen much, Lewis came back with a vengeance for the season's final episodes — and a shocking death that devastated viewers.
“The Walking Dead”
While it can be tough for genre shows to get Emmy love, “The Walking Dead” is a critical and commercial success, grounded by Lincoln's confident lead performance.
This year's Oscar winner forayed into TV in a big way, delivering a breathtaking turn as a haunted cop who mixes crime solving with philosophy.
Miller is a welcome addition to a long list of great thesps playing Sherlock Holmes — his is brilliant, sexy and often hilarious.
Aside from a season 2 Emmy nod, Olyphant has been woefully underappreciated for bringing stalwart U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens off the pages of Elmore Leonard's novels.
As a KGB operative posing as part of an American couple, Rhys is equal parts complex and heartbreaking, using various alter egos while always trying to hide his true feelings.
Surely Emmy voters have a soft spot for Schreiber's antihero, a Hollywood “fixer” to the rich and famous who can make anyone's problems disappear.
“Masters of Sex”
As the godfather of sex research William Masters, Sheen strikes the perfect balance of serious drama and dark comedy, alternately prissy and lovelorn.
“House of Cards”
Rather than fall into a sophomore slump, the second season of the Netflix hit brought even more master manipulating from Spacey's delicious Frances Underwood, now the president of the United States.
The three-time Emmy winner is a delight as a brilliant and deadly former CIA agent on the biggest hit of the new season.