Let’s make one thing clear: On September 17, when Stephen Colbert hosts the Emmys, you won’t hear any “Game of Thrones” folks among the nominees. (Though, if any casino is taking bets, we’d like to put $20 on him wearing a Daenerys wig in the opening segment.) Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” premiered just too late to miss the eligibility window for this year’s ceremony, but that doesn’t mean the seven episodes’ worth of performances won’t be a huge factor in 2018.
Yes, it’s a year out, but this is a show where a character can experience the totality of the past at once and a reanimated dragon can destroy thousand-year old landmarks. Time and history and logic mean nothing anymore. So in the spirit of highlighting some of Season 7’s standout performances, here are the actors and actresses who should start prepping their campaigns sooner rather than later.
Diana Rigg — Guest Actress
On paper, there’s nothing in particular about Olenna Tyrell that screams Emmys guarantee. So many of the distinguished elders on the show dispense their wisdom in a memorable way. But Rigg’s performance as one of the show’s go-to Emmy noms (she’s been nominated three times previously) is well-deserved. Olenna’s “Be a dragon” pep talk to Daenerys is as believably rousing as her knife-twisting, parting revelation to Jaime is ruthless. Rigg had a special way of letting the audience know she had the upper hand, even when Olenna underplayed the truth of any of her various schemes. She hasn’t won for this role before, but this season you couldn’t ask for a better farewell.
Richard Dormer — Guest Actor
Beric’s flaming sword might have been the surprise breakout star of Season 7, but it’s worth remembering that the man behind the weapon. “Beyond the Wall” turned out to be one of the season’s most divisive installments, but it’s Beric’s speech about the nature of life and death that makes it more than just a wight horror show. Dormer’s delivery of “The enemy always wins” is as central to the show’s shifting philosophies and end game as Cersei’s “You win or you die” proclamation early on. It may have been overshadowed by the climactic battle, but it’s hard to overlook that as one of the key moments in understanding the season (maybe the series) as a whole.
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Peter Dinklage — Supporting Actor
The only actor to ever take home a “Game of Thrones” Emmy (hard to believe there’s only been one, right?), Dinklage will be a perpetual awards season player until the show wraps up. (Even if the opening scene of Season 8 is a starving Rhaegal swallowing Tyrion whole, there’s probably still a Guest Actor nod in it for him.) Like Dormer, Dinklage’s work this season was rarely flashy, but Tyrion’s repeated pleas to Daenerys to believe in her mission and consider the plight of the innocent felt like the series holding on to a bit of its soul as well. Tyrion’s stared death in the face multiple times throughout this series, but Dinklage committed to the idea that his final showdown with Cersei in the finale might be the final blow. Pouring that wine after being spared a Mountain-chopping death is a reel-worthy bit of work on his part.
Lena Headey — Supporting Actress
IndieWire’s Zack Sharf already made a compelling argument for Headey as the series’ best performer. It’s not just based on her wine-guzzling adventures or angry shows of force. Cersei has survived this long by being unforgiving and manipulative in every way possible. That only works with someone who’s as good an actress as her character is.
Emilia Clarke — Supporting Actress
Before the north-of-the-wall activity came to dominate all sides of the struggle, the battle for the throne was waged mostly by who looked and acted the part. Daenerys has had small-scale moments of triumph and secured some key strategic victories, but the season-long effort to sway rival factions under her banner has been as much about Clarke embodying a royal nature more than ever. She’s commanding rooms, asserting strength and in moments of vulnerability, showing her maternal side as well. In whatever part Daenerys plays in the war to come, Clarke has shown that this is a character worth pledging loyalty to.
Maisie Williams — Supporting Actress
Even with Littlefinger’s dispatching towards the end of the finale, much of the season’s goings-on at Winterfell seems like folly in retrospect. Williams, however, did her part to make sense of the growing cloud surrounding Arya’s post-Faceless Men period. The sly look after besting Brienne in a courtyard sparring session, even the threatening “pretty face” monologue directed at Sansa made it seem like her years away from the rest of the Stark family could have really changed her. That final sister scene on the balcony overlooking the Stark stronghold showed that she could play both sides of this evolving Arya, even when the series kept her true nature up in the air.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau — Supporting Actor
One of Season 7’s most satisfying shift was seeing Jaime grapple with his family’s sudden ruin, even as his sister sits in the ultimate seat of power. The terror on his face at the coming dragon threat, the rage at Olenna revealing his son’s murderer, and the heartbreak when he realizes that the last shred of Cersei’s humanity has been swept away: All of them were fundamental in understanding how the Lannister side of the ledger continued to struggle with life after death. Coster-Waldau is the current major cast member it’s most surprising doesn’t have an Emmy nom, but if 2018 brings with it a rising “Game of Thrones” tide, he’s worthy of being one of the boats that’s lifted.
Jim Broadbent — Other…?
Ineligible for Guest Actor, Broadbent almost certainly won’t be considered over the other series heavyweights. But it’s worth remembering that the actor brought incredible warmth to those Oldtown sequences this year, even when they threatened to be overrun by chamber pots and scabrous growths. Not just a redo of his work at another memorable on-screen educational institute, Broadbent’s Archmaester was a rare source of warmth, even when delivering some harsh judgments.