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Emmys Preview: Who's Got the Edge in Best Supporting Actress?

The Game of Thrones actresses are coming for that Emmy, but will they end up being their own worst enemies?
  • Patricia Clarkson, Julia Garner, Alex Borstein (HBO, Netflix, Amazon)
    Patricia Clarkson, Julia Garner, Alex Borstein (HBO, Netflix, Amazon)

    The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are coming at us in just a short few weeks. And whether you're gearing up for an office pool, or just playing a private game of "told ya so" with the know-it-alls on Twitter, it's good to know how the races are shaping up. It's so much better to go into an awards show being able to tell the favorites from the underdogs. Then, when a Melissa McCarthy, a Merritt Wever, or a Kyle Chandler end up winning, you'll have an even better appreciation of what this moment means to the people involved.

    With that in mind, Primetimer is breaking down this year's major Emmy categories. Who are the favorites? The underdogs? What's the story in each of these competitions.

    The supporting actress races this year are largely clustered around an inner circle of Emmy-beloved shows: Game of Thrones got a whopping four nominations, the most in a single acting category since The Normal Heart scored four supporting actor nods in 2014. Also very popular were Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and When They See Us. These can be indicators of strong Emmy support, but they can also be areas where vote-splitting can lead to upset victories.

    Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

    • Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    • Anna Chlumsky in Veep
    • Sian Clifford in Fleabag
    • Olivia Colman in Fleabag
    • Betty Gilpin in GLOW
    • Sarah Goldberg in Barry
    • Marin Hinkle in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    • Kate McKinnon in Saturday Night Live

    Last Year's Winner: Alex Borstein won for Mrs. Maisel's first season, ending Kate McKinnon's two-year streak.

    The Frontrunner: The experts at Gold Derby see it as a two-horse race between Borstein, looking for back-to-back wins, and Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, who could ride in on her sudden uptick in name recognition

    The Likeliest Spoiler: After Colman, the most excitement seems to be for her Fleabag co-star Sian Clifford, though vote-splitting among the Fleabag fans in the TV academy could hurt both actresses' chances. There's also the fact that Betty Gilpin returned with a new season of GLOW at exactly the right time, with the Emmy voting window about to open as enthusiasm for her turn as wrestler/producer Debbie Eagan is at its highest.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: This will be the Emmy voters' last chance to award Anna Chlumsky for her years of excellent work on Veep. She remains a longshot, but it would be such justice to reward her for Amy Bruckheimer's final-season pivot into Kellyanne Conway-esque grotesquerie.

    Stat to Chew On: Much like Mahershala Ali's nomination for True Detective, Olivia Colman could become only the fourth actor (after Helen Mirren, Helen Hunt, and George C. Scott) to win an Oscar and an Emmy for acting in the same calendar year.

    Prediction: This feels like a category where the votes could be spread out to a lot of different actresses, so I'll play it conservatively and bet on Alex Borstein to repeat.

    Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

    • Gwendoline Christie in Game of Thrones
    • Julia Garner in Ozark
    • Lena Headey in Game of Thrones
    • Fiona Shaw in Killing Eve
    • Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones
    • Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones

    Last Year's Winner: Thandie Newton won this award last year for Westworld, which is taking its sweet time returning to HBO, and thus isn't eligible for these Emmys.

    The Frontrunner: The Gold Derby pundits couldn't settle on which Game of Thrones actress to get behind, so Julia Garner ends up as the consensus choice. This is a dynamic that could absolutely repeat itself in Emmy voting, with each of the four Thrones actresses offering voters a reason to cast ballots in their favor. Ozark (a more popular show than the media would have you believe) is going to win something this year, and it might just be here.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Among the Game of Thrones actresses, Headey is the sentimental choice, as many think she should have won by now. The problem is, the final season didn't give her much to do beyond glower from the Red Keep. Maisie Williams got the most to do this season, and she might end up winning for Arya killing the Night King, the season's last unanimously-approved triumph. Gwendoline Christie has the edge on episode submission, since she's such a heavy emotional focus in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" (the title of which refers to Brienne's big moment).

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: All of the above seems to leave poor Sophie Turner without a strong hook beyond the fact that she's great and Sansa Stark deserves everything good in this world.

    Stat to Chew On: None of the nominated actresses in this category have won an Emmy before, a statistic that will remain true on Emmy night, unless Fiona Shaw ends up winning Guest Actress in a Comedy for Fleabag at the Creative Arts Emmys a week earlier.

    Prediction: The logic that the Thrones women will split the vote and Julia Garner will reap the benefits is strong, and I wouldn't advise picking this way, but I've had a gut feeling about Lena Headey's inexplicable triumph in this category for months, and I won't abandon that now.

    Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series

    • Patricia Arquette in The Act
    • Marsha Stephanie Blake in When They See Us
    • Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects
    • Vera Farmiga in When They See Us
    • Margaret Qualley in Fosse/Verdon
    • Emily Watson in Chernobyl

    The Frontrunner: The Gold Derby pundits are almost unanimous on this one: Patricia Clarkson will nab Sharp Objects its one major award as the emotionally manipulative and devious Adora Crellin.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Now that Patricia Arquette has become an awards magnet, some folks may throw her some votes for her excellent work on Hulu's malevolent Munchausen's miniseries.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Remember the late '90s, when Emily Watson was an awards magnet and an eminently castable film actress? Let's remember that we owe her one for Breaking the Waves.

    Stat to Chew On: Arquette (Bringing Out the Dead), Clarkson (Shutter Island), and Farmiga (The Departed) have all starred in Martin Scorsese movies. Arquette (Boardwalk Empire), Clarkson (Six Feet Under), Blake (Getting On), Watson (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), and Qualley (The Leftovers) have all starred on previous HBO productions.

    Prediction: There doesn't seem to be much need to complicate this. Patricia Clarkson's performance was a formidable hurricane, and none of the other nominees have a whole lot of momentum behind them anyway.

    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, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Fleabag, Game of Thrones, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ozark, Sharp Objects, Alex Borstein, Gwendoline Christie, Julia Garner, Lena Headey, Maisie Williams, Olivia Colman, Patricia Clarkson, Sophie Turner