WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Remarkably, King made her character as sharp an actress as she herself is. When we met the Murphy family during the HBO drama’s Season 2 move to Miracle, Tex., we at first believed that Erika was happy, that she had her s— together, that she was exactly what she appeared to be. But before we knew what hit us, King revealed that her doctor was just putting on a show. She was miserable — so miserable, in fact, that she was planning to leave husband John. By the time the season was through, King — a TVLine Performer of the Week for “Lens” — had made us totally reevaluate our first impression of Erika… and had given us an even greater appreciation of her own formidable skills.
MELISSA McBRIDE, THE WALKING DEAD
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: After Carol survived the loss of her daughter back in Season 2, we thought that nothing could break her. She was “a force of nature,” as Rick put it. A badass, cookie-baking killing machine. But, in Season 6, McBride shattered us by revealing the high price that her character was no longer willing to pay for her toughness. In “The Same Boat” in particular, the actress shone a light on Carol’s inner conflict, as she did everything in her power to avoid taking out Paula, the Savior who, beneath the stone-cold façade, reminded her so much of herself. If McBride’s moving, vulnerable work in that episode doesn’t prove to Emmy voters that she deserves a nod, odds are they’ve already turned.
MIRANDA OTTO, HOMELAND
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: To put it bluntly, Otto was the best thing about Homeland‘s uneven fifth season. In CIA turncoat Allison Carr, the actress gave us one of the year’s most fascinatingly complex villains, one whose internal struggle between good and evil proved as engrossing and suspenseful as the season’s terror-themed A-story. Never was that conflict more apparent than in Episode 7, when Allison learned that she was about to be outed as the CIA’s mole. For 60 silent seconds we looked on as Otto deftly conveyed Allison’s paralyzing fear and despair without uttering a single word. It was panic-attack performance art so real and so raw that it rendered us speechless.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE, NASHVILLE
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Even when Juliette’s troubles were murkier and less appetizing than the bottom of a whiskey bottle passed around during a night of post-concert debauchery, Panettiere was transcendent as the tormented country singer. Even when the actress’ own personal issues meant her scenes became fewer and farther apart, Panettiere was the ABC drama’s brightest light, packing so much meaning and feeling into even a passing, leading look (or an ironic tooth-pick). Juliette grew up the hard way this season, and Panettiere imbued the former brat’s acceptance of adulthood with a wry, hard-won grace. She did similar work in previous seasons, yet never garnered any Emmy love. C’mon, Television Academy, don’t let Panettiere’s Nashville career end on a heartbreaking cliffhanger, too.
MAURA TIERNEY, THE AFFAIR
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Of all the savvy storytelling choices made in Season 2 of The Affair, the Showtime drama’s wisest move was the introduction of two additional perspectives — that of Maura Tierney’s Helen and Joshua Jackson’s Cole. Without the inclusion of Helen’s POV, we never would have been treated to Tierney’s stunning performance as her single mom navigated a messy divorce, the dating world and complicated legal proceedings. Over the course of 10 episodes, Tierney masterfully painted every color of Helen’s heartache, from the embarrassment brought on by her wine-and-marijuana-induced DUI to the sobering realization that she may still be in love with Noah. Though we know Alison and Noah are the focus of The Affair‘s titular romance, Tierney succeeded in making Helen’s storyline last season’s most compelling.
ALISON WRIGHT, THE AMERICANS
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: A few seasons back, who would’ve ever thought that FBI receptionist Martha — she of the mousy blouses, fussy updos and lovestruck inability to see what’s sporting a wig right in front of her — would turn out to be theAmericanscharacter most likely to win the Cold War for our hearts? In Wright’s hands, the woman who started off as a joke and often seemed pathetic in her devotion to her frequently absent hubby Clark became a tragic victim, noble in her role as collateral damage caused by Phillip and Elizabeth’s KGB skullduggery. Also, thanks to Wright’s talent, we bought it this season when Phillip/Clark mourned his other wife’s absence: Because Martha was kind of awesome, and he figured that out far too late. Here’s hoping the Emmy nominating committee doesn’t make the same mistake where her skilled portrayer is concerned.
CONSTANCE ZIMMER, UNREAL
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Over her career, Zimmer has played her fair share of empowered, hardass bosses. But none were as riveting, challenging or frightening in their bluntness as Everlasting showrunner Quinn. Whether manipulating the contestants on the dating-show-within-a-show for peak drama or molding producer Rachel into her protégé, Zimmer commanded the screen, making sure everyone – viewers, included – knew who was in charge. The actress proved a master at a sharp, wickedly funny retorts while she moved through the bachelor mansion, firing off zingers like a machine gun. But in her twisted and toxic relationships with Rachel and boss/fiancé Chet, Zimmer also gave us glimpses of the love and vulnerability underneath her brusque surface.