Awards juggernauts Game of Thrones and Veep have one last shot at Emmy glory. Last year, HBO lost its most-nominated network title to young upstart Netflix, breaking a 17-year streak. However, the record-breaking 32 nominations for Game of Thrones, coupled with Veep’s respectable nine, helped put HBO back on top again in 2019. HBO will look to capitalize on the final-season celebrations as both Thrones and Veep have won multiple times in their respective series categories. Despite mixed opinions and some very vocal detractors, Thrones is going in as the overwhelming favorite. It won last year, and it's likely to repeat. Meanwhile, Veep has stiffer competition in Outstanding Comedy Series, facing off against current reigning champion The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as well as critical darling Fleabag.
The sprawling Thrones cast has racked up multiple nominations over the years, but only Peter Dinklage has been victorious. He could take home his fourth Emmy for playing Tyrion Lannister, although an upset could occur in the form of his on-screen brother Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (as well as Alfie Allen). The Supporting Actress category is stacked even higher, with four out of the six slots filled with the stars of Westeros. In submitting as leads, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke aren’t going up against any of their co-workers, though it's unlikely that either will win. The last gasp push might gain a few more votes for each actor, however, the series as a whole has the most momentum and the best chance to win.
Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is all but guaranteed a seventh Emmy for playing Selina Meyer. If this happens, she'll break the record for most wins by any performer — she is currently tied at eight with Cloris Leachman. Veep was not a contender last year (production was delayed while Louis-Dreyfus underwent cancer treatment), so this is the rare occasion where a final season doubles as an actress's big return. It's an incredibly competitive category, but even with last year’s winner Rachel Brosnahan and the likes of Catherine O’Hara and Phoebe Waller-Bridge against her, Louis-Dreyfus is the one to beat. However, upsets do happen.
In 2007, The Sopranos was celebrating its final season, and a win for James Gandolfini was all but guaranteed. Gandolfini already had three Emmys, but it was the last chance to give Tony Soprano a victory parade. So when James Spader’s name was announced instead, it was a huge upset, which caused the Boston Legal star to quip, “I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob.”
Final-season wins are also the last hurrah for those who have gone home empty-handed on numerous occasions. It's comparable to those seemingly cumulative Oscar wins for performers for whom it is “their time,” such as Leonardo DiCaprio winning Best Actor for The Revenant, Martin Scorsese’s Best Director win for The Departed, and Kate Winslet breaking her losing streak with The Reader. This isn’t to say a final-season performance hasn’t earned this accolade, but it's also supported by the work that has come before it.
These are the now-or-never Emmy winners from the last 20 years.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon - Sex and the City (2004)
In 2004, Sex and the City and Friends both celebrated their final seasons at the Emmys. Neither won Outstanding Comedy Series — Arrested Development took that prize in an upset — but SATC triumphed in both the lead and supporting actress categories. Paris, it turns out, is a very good look on Carrie Bradshaw, as Sarah Jessica Parker won her first acting Emmy for the series finale, "An American Girl in Paris." (As a producer, Parker had already won an Emmy when Sex and the City won Best Comedy Series in 2001). She beat out several previous winners including Jennifer Aniston and Patricia Heaton.
Parker’s co-star and future gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon was up against cast mates Kim Cattrall and Kristen Davis in Supporting Actress, but splitting the vote didn't end up hampering her chances. (Although maybe she did lose, considering the reality TV star who presented her with the award).
Megan Mullally - Will & Grace (2006)
Unlike the other names on this list, Mullally had won previously for her role as Karen Walker back in 2000. Will & Grace was an Emmys mainstay, as all four regulars were victors before the final season. However, Mullally was the only one of the four to get a repeat win for the final season (probably because Karen is the best character). She also benefited from Everybody Loves Raymond finishing the year before as Doris Roberts dominated this category. It's also worth noting that Mullally is the only member of the core Will & Grace four to get a nomination for the revival last year.
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights (2011)
Kyle Chandler did not expect to win. But just as the Dillon Panthers defied the odds to take State, a Breaking Bad-free year meant Emmy voters finally looked elsewhere in this category. The final season of it all likely factored in, but Chandler is deserving of this accolade. Unfortunately, co-star Connie Britton did not receive the same treatment — a pattern repeated in the final-season acting wins for Mad Men and The Americans — and in his flustered state, Chandler forgot to thank his TV wife. As the broadcast goes to commercial you can see Britton holding up her hands in the most Tami Taylor fashion with a look on her face saying, “Babe, it’s okay.”
Jon Hamm - Mad Men (2015)
“There has been a terrible mistake, clearly,” Jon Hamm joked after literally crawling onto the stage. Hamm had racked up the most nominations without a win (a total of eight), so he had become accustomed to losing to the likes of Bryan Cranston, Jeff Daniels, and Damian Lewis. Thankfully, Emmy voters realized before it was too late that it would be incredibly embarrassing for the Television Academy if they didn’t honor his era-defining performance as Don Draper. Although it is pretty humiliating overall that no other acting Emmys were taken home by the Mad Men cast. They waited until Handmaid’s Tale before giving Elisabeth Moss Outstanding Actress in a Drama.
Matthew Rhys - The Americans (2017)
The Emmys can be slow to honor a show that is a critical darling, which is what happened with The Americans. It wasn’t until Season 4 that stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell were recognized for their excellent performances as spy couple Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. The pair went home empty-handed, until last year when Rhys won Best Actor. Up to this point, Margo Martindale’s Guest Actress accolades were the FX series’ only performance wins. Luckily, Rhys remembered to thank his on-screen wife (and off-screen partner), avoiding Chandler’s blunder. While Russell was beaten by Claire Foy (in her last year as Queen Elizabeth for The Crown), her “and what?” response to the suggestion of proposal (Rhys was riffing off an actual engagement that took place earlier in the broadcast) during Rhys’ speech was a perfectly timed reaction. If only they gave Emmys for most gifable moment.
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.