Emmys 2019: Who Will Battle Game of Thrones For Best Drama?

The field is wide open in anticipation of GoT's final steamroll. Who stands to benefit?
  • The Game of Thrones cast celebrate their Emmy dominance, circa 2016 (Photo: ABC)
    The Game of Thrones cast celebrate their Emmy dominance, circa 2016 (Photo: ABC)

    With Emmy nominations scheduled to be announced July 16th, anticipation is building among industry insiders and fans alike. In the leadup to the nominations, we'll be looking at the top contenders and offering our thoughts on who is most likely and/or deserving to take home Emmy gold. First up, the big kahuna: Best Drama.

    Intentionally or not, the majority of last year's Best Drama nominees will not be in contention this year, having seemingly cleared the stage for Game of Thrones and its final season. Perhaps if those runners-up had known GoT would end so controversially, some of them might not have made the decision to flee the 2019 race. But flee they did! Out of 2018's seven nominees in the top Emmy category, only two remain in competition this year: Game of Thrones and This Is Us.

    2018: Outstanding Drama Series
    Game of Thrones (WINNER)
    The Americans
    The Crown
    The Handmaid's Tale
    Stranger Things
    This Is Us

    The Americans, of course, ended its run last year. Both The Crown and Westworld took extended hiatuses in order to prepare for what seem like significant reboots going into their respective third seasons. Stranger Things picked a different holiday weekend to premiere on, skipping Halloween 2018 in favor of July 4th 2019. And in perhaps the slickest dodge of all, The Handmaid's Tale pushed its premiere a month later than last year, comfortably debuting five days after the Emmy eligibility window closed. No one's saying these shows didn't have legitimate, production-based reasons for delaying their new seasons, but the upshot is the same: nearly all of Game of Thrones' top Emmy rivals are ineligible to compete this year.

    On the one hand, it's disappointing that the top echelon of prestige TV is essentially ceding the Emmys to Thrones, but on the other hand, this is a real period of excitement, as it leaves a huge vacuum at the top of the pyramid, and a bunch of shows that wouldn't normally have had a chance at nominations can join the fray. (This isn't just true for the Drama Series category, either. In the four Dramatic acting categories, only 7 out of last year's 25 nominees are eligible to be nominated again. Three of whom -- Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Nikolai Coster-Waldau -- are Thrones actors.)

    So who are the new possible contenders for Best Drama?

    Besides Game of Thrones, the only returning shows which received top-tier nominations last year (including acting, writing, and directing) are This Is Us, Killing Eve, and Ozark. The latter of which will receive the significant benefit of being Netflix's top Emmy push. I would expect all three of them to end up in the Drama Series category. Additionally, while Emmy alum Better Call Saul wasn't nominated last year, that's only because its fourth season aired after the eligibility window closed. Chances are strong it will be back.

    That still leaves at least two slots open. HBO will be putting its weight behind last summer's freshman series Succession, which enjoyed strong word of mouth as its season went on, and will be premiering a highly anticipated second season in the thick of Emmy voting.

    The temptation is to think that these open slots will be filled by new shows. In today's Peak TV landscape, new is what gets talked about. There's only so much oxygen for a fourth-year show that the Emmys haven't previously embraced. Among new series, there is hope for FX's Pose, a critical hit from last year which will also be airing its second season during voting. The passion is there among Pose's fans, and it has brought home other statues this year, but AFI and Peabody Awards don't necessarily carry much weight with the Academy. Cross those fingers, queens.

    There's also Netflix's Bodyguard, which won a Golden Globe for Richard Madden (though the Globes are not nearly the predictor of Emmy success that they can be for the Oscars), as well as Amazon's star-headlined twosome of Jack Ryan and Homecoming. Amazon has seen much success in the Comedy categories recently with shows like Transparent and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but they've yet to crack Outstanding Drama. This is their best chance yet.

    There's also the possibility that this newfound space at the top will mean that some previously overlooked shows will get their due. Here's where fans of Showtime's Billions can begin to take hope (however slim). Maybe, too, this is the year CBS All Access breaks through the ceiling and gets a much-deserved nomination for The Good Fight. (A nod for Star Trek Discovery seems a good bit less likely.) Or maybe this is the year that the TV Academy makes it up to David Simon for snubbing The Wire and recognizes The Deuce.

    Perhaps the biggest wild card of them all, FX's longstanding Emmy-bait American Horror Story will be competing as a Drama Series this year instead of a Limited Series. The season was a creative rebound for the show, and it was packed full of actors Emmy favorites, Sarah Paulson chief among them.

    Bottom line: Assuming seven nominees, here are my predictions:

    2019: Outstanding Drama Series
    Better Call Saul (AMC)
    Game of Thrones (HBO)
    Jack Ryan (Amazon)
    Killing Eve (BBC America)
    Pose (FX)
    Succession (HBO)
    This Is Us (NBC)

    I worry I've jinxed it for Pose now. And I may be underestimating Netflix's ability to nab nominations for multiple series (which they've done in three out of the last four years). Likewise, there's always the possibility that the suddenly un-buzzy This Is Us fails to make the cut. That said, I wouldn't bet on any potential nominee beating Game of Thrones for the win.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Game of Thrones, HBO, 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, American Horror Story: Apocalypse, Better Call Saul, Bodyguard, Killing Eve, Ozark, Pose, Succession, This Is Us, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan