WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As Philip found himself tested by the task at hand during Season 3 — seducing a teenage girl just one year older than his own daughter in order to get intel — Rhys captured his character’s moral conflict in quiet glances, uncomfortable movements and believably faked flirtations. The actor also delivered a powerful scene in which he silently took off his wig to win back the trust of his fake wife Martha. No words were even needed for the moment, with Rhys a master at saying it all without saying anything.
BOB ODENKIRK, BETTER CALL SAUL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: The freshman season of Better Call Saul gave Bob Odenkirk the rare opportunity as a performer to redevelop a character that was really only a facade in its previous iteration on Breaking Bad. As conman-turned-lawman Jimmy McGill, Odenkirk impeccably exemplified the fear and indignity of a man living under the shadow of his by-the-books brother and a squandered past. In just 10 episodes, his character’s moral compass was consistently rerouted by his inability to land an honest-to-god win, and by the end, Jimmy and his portrayer seemed primed to — dare we say it — break bad.
CHARLIE HUNNAM, SONS OF ANARCHY
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Although Hunnam’s seven-season run as Jax Teller ended in December, his performance in Sons‘ final ride remains just as haunting today as it did months ago. Despite Jax’s best efforts to mask the grief he felt over Tara’s death, Hunnam allowed his SAMCRO prez to slowly unravel across 13 remarkable episodes. All of that culminated in the series’ final three installments, in which Jax learned the true identity of Tara’s killer, and Hunnam brought months of repressed anguish to the surface at last. The actor conveyed such raw emotion in his series-ending arc that we had trouble separating fiction from reality.
FREDDIE HIGHMORE, BATES MOTEL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Frankly, we’ve thought since Season 1 that Highmore has been doing Emmy-caliber work as the future “psycho” who’s alternately unaware of and horrified by his descent into madness. But this past season, as Norman began trying on his mother’s clothes as well as her mannerisms, his portrayer made us realize that all of his previous performances were just his way of warming up. As the character became more and more unhinged, we found ourselves marveling time and again at how Highmore was able to make the breakdown as heart-crushing as it was spine-tingling. So to even suggest that he isn’t worthy of his first nomination is just… well, crazy.
SAM HEUGHAN, OUTLANDER
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Over a dramatic and at times heartbreaking season-long arc, Heughan proved that he was more than just the show’s embodiment of a hunky female fantasy. In his whirlwind romance with Claire, Heughan imbued Jamie with so much palpable devotion and love that it was no wonder why she would leave behind her 1940s husband for the Highlander. But it was the new and gut-wrenching depths that the actor brought in the season’s final episodes, as Jamie dealt with the sexual, mental and emotional abuse that Black Jack inflicted upon him, that truly revealed the actor’s extraordinary talent.
GRANT GUSTIN, THE FLASH
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Just as The Flash’s Barry Allen speeds headfirst into life-threatening situations, danger be damned, Gustin is similarly unafraid to take huge risks as an actor. For proof of that, one needs only to look at the CW drama’s flawless season finale, which found Barry at both his most brave (that tornado!) and at his most vulnerable (we still well up just thinking about Barry saying goodbye to his mother, as well as a potential-goodbye to surrogate father Joe.) Gustin is whatever he needs to be at any given moment, and he makes no apologies for it. You might even say Gustin, the actor, is as much a hero as his scarlet-suited persona.