We have three words for you: “Hitting. The. Fan.” In the show’s seminal, game-changing Episode 5, Charles channeled every emotion in the book — fury, heartbreak, desperation — to show how deeply Alicia’s betrayal cut him, and the audience felt every ounce of his pain. In fact, Charles did such an incredible job in the first half of Season 5 that he graciously let his character die to give his co-stars the opportunity to deliver their own Emmy-worthy performances as they reacted to his untimely death. What a guy.
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
While it’s true that Tyrion has never turned down the opportunity to deliver an epic speech, his incredible declaration of “guilt” during his murder trial in Season 4 put all previous endeavors to shame. He managed to condense a lifetime of pain and suffering into a powerful monologue, delivered with such gut-wrenching honesty, you couldn’t help but pity the poor little rich boy — unless, of course, your name is Tywin Lannister.
Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal
Mikkelsen’s erudite, shark-eyed Hannibal is the smartest — and scariest — guy in the room. But it’s the quietness of his performance — the slight twist of a smile when he’s talking about nuns dying in a collapsed chapel or the professorial curiosity in his eyes when he’s watching a fellow sociopath arrange bodies into a mural — that makes his performance so frightfully wonderful. From the outset, it seemed a Herculean task to make folks forget Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning turn as the big-screen Dr. Lecter, but Mikkelsen’s interpretation is so tingling with horrible, flatly rationalized possibility, that it stands alone… in the shadows… with a blade and a clear plastic suit. (It also now stands in a different category, as Mikkelsen has thrown himself into the Lead Actor race this year instead of Supporting — a fact we missed when compiling our picks. Our belief in his Emmy-worthiness, however, remains unchanged.)
Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing
The role of death-row inmate Ray Seward was, in many ways, an inscrutable one — a man who was possibly innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, and yet carrying a lifetime’s worth of guilt for sins both physical and cosmic. When Ray finally confronted his horrifying fate during a walk to the gallows — a walk that happened without a final face-to-face with his estranged son — Sarsgaard painted a harrowing portrait of a man literally collapsing under the weight of his grief, rage and regret. It was, undoubtedly, the most indelible image of the show’s resurgent Season 3.
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Voight very easily could've phoned in his performance as Mickey Donovan, the morally corrupt gangster father of Liev Schreiber's titular fixer. But in the Showtime drama's rookie season, the 75-year-old Oscar winner tore into the complex role like his career depended on it, adding surprising depth, emotion and humor to one of Hollywood's most enduring archetypes.
Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire
The highest compliment we can pay Wright is that we literally can't imagine any other actor playing Dr. Valentin Narcisse, Boardwalk's impeccably attired and aggressively proper "philanthropist." His special brand of elegant terror also scared the bejesus out of us — and we do not scare easily.