Performer of the Week: Lena Headey

Lena Headey Performance Game of Thrones

THE PERFORMER | Lena Headey

THE SHOW | Game of Thrones

THE EPISODE | “Mother’s Mercy” (June 14)

THE PERFORMANCE | If we hadn’t recognized Lena Headey for her devastating turn in Game of Thrones‘ fifth season finale, we would’ve deserved a walk of shame of our own. During the course of the episode, Headey took the Queen Regent — already at a personal low after weeks held in the High Sparrow’s prison — to Cersei’s nadir. Headey elegantly wove her character’s haughty nature into even the most groveling of confessions; though Cersei admitted to sinning, the actress’ face showed that the royal clearly thought she’d pulled one over on the priest by keeping the worst stuff to herself. Headey’s just-got-slapped reaction to the High Sparrow’s ominous mention of “atonement”? Perfection.

Thus began Headey’s subtle, beautiful portrayal of a woman burning with thoughts of revenge. Sure, the naked (via body double) walk through King’s Landing is what got people talking, but everything worth remembering happened above the shoulders, playing out in Headey’s eyes. We saw embarrassment, fury and disgrace seething behind the actress’ regal carriage, which Headey held together — even through chamber-pot dumpings! — until the gates of the Red Keep. Only there did Headey allow Cersei’s tenuously maintained façade to dissolve into angry tears. Bravo to Headey for conveying so much while saying — and, in a sense, wearing — so little.

AnnaHONORABLE MENTION | As American Odyssey’s Sgt. Odelle Ballard faced her most psychologically damaging crucible to date — staked down in the middle of the dessert and fed a hallucinogen that found her “confronted” by those killed by her or because of her, in the name of self-preservation — Anna Friel showed us every bit of her character’s remorse and, in instances, horror. Week after week, it is through Friel’s fearless performance that we root hard for this hero to get home, if not avenge those who left her for dead and then tried again and again to silence her.

leaHONORABLE MENTION | Orange Is the New Black inmate Carrie “Big Boo” Black is very comfortable in her own skin, and always has been. But, as we learned in Episode 4 of the Netflix dramedy’s third season, Carrie’s lifestyle has made everyone else around her uncomfortable — resulting in years of homophobia, particularly from her parents. During Carrie’s heartbreaking backstory episode, Lea DeLaria took full advantage of a rare opportunity to let her character’s guard down. We could practically feel the exhaustion rolling off Carrie when, even at 42 years old, she was met with her father’s disapproval over her wardrobe choices. “I refuse to be invisible,” Carrie told her dad, after he begged her to put on more feminine attire before she visited her ailing mother. Thanks to DeLaria’s astonishing performance, we’ve never had a clearer picture of who Carrie really is.

JLDHONORABLE MENTION | She may be the leader of the free world, but that hasn’t changed the petty, profane (and incredibly hilarious) ways of Veep‘s Selina Meyer. In the show’s Season 4 finale, “the eight-month president” spent election night in a Maryland hotel suite fretting over poll results, snapping at staff, even sharing in some uncomfortable one-on-one time with her milquetoast daughter — and Julia Louis-Dreyfus found the dark, comic underbelly in every moment of the roller coaster ride. The episode culminated with Selina smugly backing out of a concession call to her rival candidate after learning that pundits had miscalculated polling data from Pennsylvania. But her celebration was short lived when it became clear that an Electoral College tie might wind up handing the presidency to her more popular running mate (Hugh Laurie). Louis-Dreyfus allowed us to see Selina in a rare moment of vulnerability — weeping uncontrollably into her estranged campaign manager’s arms — and then channeling all of her complicated emotions into blind rage. “I might lose this election to my f—in’ vice president?” she seethed, face streaked with mascara, before a final, brutal rebuke of the people she governs. “The rule book’s been torn up now, and America is wipin’ its nasty ass with it!” Just like that, the foul-mouthed heart of Veep leaped back to life — and we can’t wait to see where she goes in Season 5.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!