The Wire Knows Who Will and Who Should Win the Emmys: The Drama Categories

Breaking Bad and True Detective face off, with Game of Thrones as a spoiler. Who should win? Who will?

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Did you know that the Emmy Awards are this Monday? If that sounds a little weird, it is—the Emmys are strangely early this year, and while most award shows (including this one) tend to favor Sunday airtimes, the Seth Meyers-hosted TV awards are trying to avoid (preseason) football. So we get Monday Night Emmys! While we’ve already gone in-depth on the acting races and seen many trophies handed out (including the Guest Acting awards) at the Creative Arts Emmys, here’s a comprehensive look at the big show. Let’s break down every category and tell you who should win and who will win, starting with the drama nominees.

Outstanding Drama Series

Breaking Bad 
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

[Last year's winner: Breaking Bad]

In 2013, the Emmys handed Breaking Bad its first Drama Series trophy as the show’s hype was at its absolute peak. It had just aired a solid but dangling first half of its fifth season, and anticipation was at fever pitch for the second half. While there was maybe a little whining that the final episodes finished a little too cleanly, in general, acclaim was basically total. Downton Abbey (meh) and Thrones (genuinely electrifying TV and my personal pick for show of the year) have solid pockets of support but will never have enough to win. House of Cards and Mad Men both feel like they’re past their hype. True Detective feels like the biggest challenger—it generated genuine excitement and aired much more recently—but it hasn’t been in the news for the best reasons as of late. Breaking Bad’s tapes should win out.

Will Win: Breaking Bad
Should Win: Game of Thrones

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective 
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

[Last year: Jeff Daniels]
The Wire's analysis of episodes submitted to voters.

Daniels’ win last year was a total shock, but his tape this year doesn’t have quite the same epic, rant-y quality, so a repeat would be twice as shocking. Hamm’s tape is a little underwhelming (he’ll have a better shot next year, but the ship may have sailed), Spacey’s villainous politician is impossible to love, and while Harrelson did underrated work on True Detective, his submission helps McConaughey by showing more sides of his co-worker’s performance. Cranston (who has three trophies, but hasn’t won in a couple years) will always pose a huge threat, and his work in “Ozymandias” is staggering even by his high standards. But McConaughey is a movie star who did something genuinely special in True Detective.

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: Bryan Cranston

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Claire Danes, Homeland
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal

Robin Wright, House of Cards
[Last year: Claire Danes]
The Wire's analysis of episodes submitted to voters.

The steep decline in Homeland’s popularity should bar Danes from three-peating. That would seem to open the field to two previous nominees the Academy loves: Wright and Washington. But Wright’s submission (and character) is so cold and doesn’t give her enough to do, while Washington probably had a better shot last year (Scandal is already well off the rails), although history remains on her side. Caplan feels like she’s lucky to be nominated for Masters of Sex, although her work on the show (including the excellent pilot, which she submitted) is wholly deserving of attention. Dockery submitted a very weepy episode, but she’s also lucky to be here at this point. Margulies submitted a quiet but powerful turn, and her arc over the season is my runaway choice to win, but she doesn’t get to show a ton of emotion as Alicia Florrick. The safe bet is Wright, as a chance to reward a genuine star and well-liked show, and I’m making it.

Will Win: Robin Wright
Should Win: Julianna Margulies

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Josh Charles, The Good Wife 
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad 
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

[Last year: Bobby Cannavale, for Boardwalk Empire]
The Wire's analysis of episodes submitted to voters.

Never count out Aaron Paul. His performance as Jesse Pinkman is a masterful, showy work and a character that is so easy to love. He didn’t have a ton to do in Breaking Bad’s final episodes because he was catatonically depressed for some of it and locked in a dungeon for another part, but he submitted “Confessions,” the one where he freaks out at the end, and it’s a pretty intense watch. The likeliest showdown is between two former winners: Paul and Peter Dinklage, who had a year with a lot of big powerful speeches that provided emotional punctuation to Thrones’ fourth season. Josh Charles is my pick even though Will didn’t appear in the whole season, because his arc was just as incredible when he raged at Alicia’s betrayal (in “Hitting the Fan,” his submission) or stewed sadly (in episodes like “The Decision Tree”). Charles is at best a dark horse (wanting to leave a TV show doesn’t help you in the eyes of voters), but the other three are just happy to be here.

Will Win: Peter Dinklage
Should Win: Josh Charles

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Christine Baranski, The Good Wife 
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones

Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

[Last year: Anna Gunn]
The Wire's analysis of episodes submitted to voters.

Guess who’s gonna win? Anna Gunn! Breaking Bad’s grip on other categories is far less absolute, but Gunn is the best-known quantity to voters and she submitted “Ozymandias,” where among other things, her baby gets kidnapped by her lunatic of a husband. Headey was nominated on the back of a strong year on Thrones, Froggatt and Smith submitted well (Hendricks had little to highlight on this year’s Mad Men, through no fault of her own), and Christine Baranski will always be a beloved actress for Emmy voters. But none of them have the knockout blow to deliver here. Gunn’s a deserving two-time winner.

Will Win: Anna Gunn
Should Win: Anna Gunn

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series

David Evans, Downton Abbey (“Episode 1”)
Carl Franklin, House of Cards (“Chapter 14”)

Cary Joji Fukunaga, True Detective (“Who Goes There”) 
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad (“Felina”)
Neil Marshall, Game of Thrones (“The Watchers on the Wall”)
Tim Van Patten, Boardwalk Empire (“Farewell Daddy Blues”)
[Last year: David Fincher, House of Cards]

There’s a few obvious contenders here that did different things with the form—Gilligan’s very satisfying Breaking Bad series finale versus Marshall’s epic Game of Thrones battle on the Wall versus Fukunaga’s crazy-long action scene done in one take on True Detective (and remember, he directed the whole series). Without a Hollywood name like Fincher in the mix to bigfoot everyone else, I’m giving this to Fukunaga’s eight-episode achievement in a tight squeeze over Gilligan. But series finales can be tough to reckon with.

Will Win: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Should Win: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Moira Walley-Beckett, Breaking Bad (“Ozymandias”)
Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad (“Felina”)
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones (“The Children”)
Beau Willmon, House of Cards (“Chapter 14”)
Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective (“The Secret Fate of All Life”)

[Last year: Henry Bromell, Homeland]

The big battle this year will be internal: Breaking Bad vs. Breaking Bad, as creator Gilligan’s finale goes up against the finest episode of the last season, “Ozymandias.” Will voters pick the show’s auteur or its most outstanding script? Everything else feels like an also-ran, especially since Nic Pizzolatto hasn’t done himself many favors talking to the media in recent weeks. This is a category where high quality is often recognized, so I’m going to make the call that “Ozymandias” takes it, but it feels like a coin flip.

Will Win: “Ozymandias”
Should Win: “Ozymandias”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.