When you play the game of Emmys, you win or you ... well, lose. But winning will be a lot easier this year, since past favorite Game of Thrones went long enough between seasons to fall outside the eligibility guidelines for 2017's Emmy Award contest. Add in a surprising number of upsets and snubs across the categories, and this is one of the wildest and most wide-open years in recent Emmy history.
In that light, who will go home with the gold? Who really deserves the top honor? And who had their rightful throne stolen away? Below you'll find our take on the favorites, potential surprises, and deserving underdogs of yet another year of extraordinary television. Don't touch that dial!
Better Call Saul
The Handmaid's Tale
House of Cards
This Is Us
WILL WIN: We're entering a strange new Westeros-free world, which means anything goes. But oddly enough, the shows that racked up the most nominations in Game of Thrones' absence were two other sagas from the sci-fi/fantasy side of the spectrum: Westworld and Stranger Things. We'll give the edge to Westworld, which would keep the trophy in HBO's hands and reward a work that at least seems serious, compared to Stranger Things' popcorn thrills.
SHOULD WIN: Out of this odd group of nominees, Better Call Saul's emotionally punishing third season was the best of the bunch, no question.
ROBBED: Where to begin? The Americans was typically excellent: Mr. Robot took the risk of being an enormous downer, a move that looks especially prescient post-election; and The Leftovers aired one of the greatest seasons of television ever, full stop. With the possible exception of Saul, it's miles better than every show that actually got nominated.
Master of None
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
WILL WIN: Veep took down seemingly perpetual winner Modern Family two years ago, and has fended off strong rookie challenges from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None, Black-ish, and the now-absent Transparent. Atlanta seems like a credible threat, but the Emmys tend to dance with the ones what brung them, so assume Julia Louis-Dreyfus and company will reign supreme once more.
SHOULD WIN: Much respect to the house that Armando Ianucci built – but Donald Glover created a weird and wonderful world with Atlanta; it's the kind of work you'd like to see Emmy reward.
ROBBED: Emmy seems to have no love for auteur comedies when the auteur in question is a woman: Neither the impressive first season of Issa Rae's Insecure nor the final and best season of Lena Dunham's Girls got the nod.
Big Little Lies
Feud: Bette and Joan
The Night Of
WILL WIN: Big Little Lies and Feud each racked up a redonkulous number of nominations, making Emmy voters' sympathies clear but divided. Star power, often a deciding factor for the Academy, is pretty much a wash here. So we're giving the edge to Big Little Lies, which was arguably the better show pound for pound.
SHOULD WIN: The third season of Noah Hawley's love letter to the Coen Brothers, Fargo, got under our skin with its timely portrait of disaster capitalism like few other shows this year.
ROBBED: So sayeth the Lord: The failure of the Emmys to recognize The Young Pope is a cardinal sin.
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
WILL WIN: Here's a Drama category in which the absence of Game of Thrones actually doesn't wreak havoc, since HBO nominates everyone from Peter Dinklage to Kit Harington in the Best Supporting Actor slot. Plus, last year's winner – Mr. Robot's Rami Malek – isn't even nominated this year, so the field is wide open. Our guess is that the mass appeal of This Is Us gives the excellent Sterling K. Brown an edge over the star power of Anthony Hopkins on Westworld, whose show has plenty of other opportunities to take home trophies.
SHOULD WIN: Matthew Rhys and Bob Odenkirk are both plumbing such depths of unhappiness on The Americans and Better Call Saul that their performances should come with an antidepressant prescription; we'd give either of them the gold, particularly over such "well, we've got to nominate these guys again, I guess" choices as Schreiber and Spacey. Let's go with Odenkirk, thanks to his material's higher degree of difficulty this year.
ROBBED: Rami Malek won the Emmy in 2016 for his indispensable work on Mr. Robot; this year he wasn't even nominated. The yeoman's work that Justin Theroux has done on The Leftovers for years deserved recognition. And while we realize the networks decide which actor is submitted for which character, it's nutty that Jeffrey Wright got tapped for Westworld's Best Supporting Actor and Sir Anthony got Best Actor, rather than the other way around. But tops on the list is Michael McKean on Better Call Saul, delivering a performance of such profound misery that you'll forget Spinal Tap and Laverne & Shirley within minutes.
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld
Robin Wright, House of Cards
WILL WIN: You've got to give it up to Evan Rachel Wood, whose complex work tied together the plotlines and timelines of Westworld. But we'll say Elisabeth Moss, the best thing about the much-ballyhooed adaptation The Handmaid's Tale, and a virtual guarantee of a barn-burner political acceptance speech.
SHOULD WIN: If Keri Russell doesn't grab the gold at some point, we deserve whatever Vladimir Putin throws at us.
ROBBED: You could field a whole separate slate with snubbed actresses alone this year, even discounting the funky eligibility guidelines that ruled out past winner Tatiana Malsany's work on Orphan Black this year. Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis, the women of Halt and Catch Fire, get better with each passing season. Winona Ryder's highly emotive turn in Stranger Things was easily the show's most talked-about performance. And topping the list: Carrie Coon, whose livewire performance as Nora Durst on The Leftovers this year is the stuff of of legend, Emmy recognition or not.
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets
Donald Glover, Atlanta
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
WILL WIN: There'd be little reason to suspect Jeffrey Tambor wouldn't repeat last year's win for Transparent ... except for the fact Transparent itself is no longer nominated for Best Comedy. We smell upset, and Atlanta visionary Donald Glover deserves to do the upsetting.
SHOULD WIN: Imagine having done everything from 30 Rock's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" to Childish Gambino's "3005" and still not having pulled the biggest rabbit out of your hat. That's Donald Glover's position with Atlanta. Give him the gold.
ROBBED: Unless/until micro-comedies like Tim Heidecker's politically prophetic turn on the right-wing action spoof Decker gets properly recognized, we'll reiterate our support for Andy Daly as the accidental anti-hero of Review.
Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie
Allison Janney, Mom
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
WILL WIN: At this point the trophies might as well come with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's name pre-engraved.
SHOULD WIN: Even though Louis-Dreyfus is a talent we're lucky to be alive to witness, this is a very strong field. Assuming Fonda and Tomlin would split votes regardless, Pamela Adlon and Tracee Ellis Ross are actors who deserve recognition.
ROBBED: It's frankly bizarre to overlook Lena Dunham in her final season of Girls, or Issa Rae in her first season of Insecure. Gina Rodriguez and Rachel Bloom, the title characters of Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend respectively, are the CW's answer to the aforementioned HBO standouts.
Riz Ahmed, The Night Of
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: The Lying Detective
Robert DeNiro, The Wizard of Lies
Ewan McGregor, Fargo
Geoffrey Rush, Genius
John Turturro, The Night Of
WILL WIN: Want to show how far TV has come? Just take a look at the nominees for this category, who could pass for a Best Actor Oscar slate without anyone thinking twice about it. But despite the veteran competition, Riz Ahmed's star turn in The Night Of was better than the material he was given, and echoes his equally strong work as a guest-starring surfer dude on the final season of Girls. We'd love to see this rising star shine.
SHOULD WIN: Fond as we are of McGregor's twin roles, Ahmed made his name here.
ROBBED: Jude Law in The Young Pope. Kiss the ring, heathens.
Carrie Coon, Fargo
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan
Susan Sarandon, Feud: Bette and Joan
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
WILL WIN: Tough, tough call here. The sheer star wattage of the Feud and Big Little Lies nominees is offset by vote-splitting; Carrie Coon's strong Fargo star turn is eclipsed by her even better but inexplicably overlooked work on The Leftovers. If it weren't for her bad rep as a Bernie Bro, we'd say Sarandon; we'll go with Kidman instead, with the copious caveat that this is one of the strongest Emmy slates of all time.
SHOULD WIN: Coon deserves a dang Emmy, don'cha know.
ROBBED: Given that the standout Black Mirror episode "San Junipero" snagged a separate Best Movie nomination, the absence of its two leads, Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is hard to forgive.
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Ron Cephas Jones, This Is Us
Michael Kelly, House of Cards
John Lithgow, The Crown
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jeffrey Wright, Westworld
WILL WIN: Last year's winner, Bloodline's Ben Mendelsohn, is out of the running – which makes this a wide-open field. So we'll tap The Crown's John Lithgow, playing world-historical figure Winston Churchill.
SHOULD WIN: Jonathan Banks held down what seemed like a solid third of Better Caul Saul's screentime with barely a word, using only his face and his aura of weariness to tell his story. Give him any damn award he wants.
ROBBED: As a key ingredient in white-collar crime thriller Billions' much-improved second season, gender-nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon more than earned their slot in this slate, pioneering status notwithstanding; this goes double in light of gender-bending cis-male nominees Jeffrey Tambor and Louis Anderson elsewhere. Westworld's bad guy Ed Harris and white-knight James Marsden both ought to have blazed their way toward the gold next to Wright. And there's a special place in our heart for the quiet intensity of Noah Emmerich on The Americans and Michael Mando on Better Call Saul.
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale
Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Samira Wiley, The Handmaid's Tale
WILL WIN: Award shows love a good human-interest story, which is why we suspect very very young nominee Mille Bobby Brown will win, and hold down Stranger Things' big-time presence across the nominations.
SHOULD WIN: We consider Ann Dowd's nomination as a villain in The Handmaid's Tale a make-good for her superior bad-guy stint on The Leftovers; by contrast, Thandie Newton is enormously engaging as a sentient cyborg in Westworld.
ROBBED: Rhea Seehorn's drum-taut turn as Jimmy McGill's ill-fated professional and personal partner Kim has been a subtle marvel for three seasons and counting, while Mr. Robot's Portia Doubleday, Grace Gummer and Charly Chaikin are are object lessons in doing more with less.
Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep
Matt Walsh, Veep
WILL WIN: Louis Anderson took the category for his turn as a her in Baskets last year. But given the Emmys' unprecedented love for Saturday Night Live this year, we predict Donald Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin will get the gold – ironic, considering the show's normalisation of our racist-in-chief when it made him a guest host during the campaign. Apparently, after a few "bigly" jokes, all is forgiven.
SHOULD WIN: If reaction gifs were Academy votes, this would be Tituss Burgess's trophy in a walk.
ROBBED: Once again, it's extraordinarily difficult to justify ignoring the Girls guys: Adam Driver, Andrew Rannels, Alex Karpovsky and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Bryan Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield serve similarly overlooked roles on Atlanta.
Vanessa Bayer, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Judith Light, Transparent
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
WILL WIN: If SNL is gonna dominate the slate the way it does this year, it may be time to separate sketch/variety shows from series with ongoing narratives, since they're doing fundamentally different things. For now, at least, look for Kate McKinnon singing "Hallelujah" as Hillary Clinton to win big from a voter body who watched that sketch and thought, "IT ME."
SHOULD WIN: How are you supposed to weigh jills-of-all-trades like Bayer, McKinnon and Jones against the satirical work of Chlumsky against the drama-tinged stuff of Hahn and Light? We'll opt for Light, just to show who's the boss.
ROBBED: Allison Williams is so perfect as Girls' resident faildaughter Marnie it makes your teeth hurt.
Bill Camp, The Night Of
Alfred Molina, Feud: Bette and Joan
Alexander Skarsgård, Big Little Lies
David Thewlis, Fargo
Stanley Tucci, Feud: Bette and Joan
Michael K. Williams, The Night Of
WILL WIN: What's your price for flight? Alfred Molina's stint on Feud will make him Mr. Right this year, as best we can guess.
SHOULD WIN: Despite the strong work of Riz Ahmed and the twitchy, quirky performance of John Turturo, Bill Camp was the best thing about The Night Of, hands down. Even so, David Thewlis's oily Fargo antagonist V.M Varga belongs in the annals of small-screen villainy, for his final scene opposite Carrie Coon alone.
ROBBED: Michael Stuhlbarg starred in one of the Coen Brothers' finest films, A Serious Man; despite being initially portrayed as comic relief in the Coen-verse's Fargo this year, he wound up being the season's beating, bleeding heart. And over in the Vatican, The Young Pope's Silvio Orlando (scheming Cardinal Voiello) and Javier Cámara (Monsignor Gutierrez) earned a shot at the top.
Judy Davis, Feud: Bette and Joan
Laura Dern, Big Little Lies
Jackie Hoffman, Feud: Bette and Joan
Regina King, American Crime
Michelle Pfeiffer, The Wizard of Lies
Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
WILL WIN: Will Emmy consider a single win for Regina King enough? Given the star power arrayed against her this year, we suspect so. Look for David Lynch muse Laura Dern to win the category for her work in Big Little Lies.
SHOULD WIN: As is custom with actress slates of all sorts recently, this is an embarrassment of riches, but Dern deserves every award she can get her cryface on.
ROBBED: Mary Elizabeth Winstead's trajectory from low-stakes grifter to angel of vengeance in Fargo was a marvel to behold. And when I find myself in times of trouble, Sister Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: Nominate Diane Keaton for The Young Pope!