Emmy season can feel like "Game of Thrones" -- once you count someone out, they come roaring back to win everything. But this might really be the year for "Game of Thrones."
When we first gave our Emmy predictions two months ago, we said this year's drama race would likely be between the gloomy, hallucinatory upstart "True Detective" and longtime Emmy loves "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."
But that was before "Game of Thrones" tore through its best season to date -- one that inspired fierce arguments and may even have broken more hearts than the show has in past seasons.
Emmy voters typically haven't loved genre shows. But this season's murder mystery -- and Tyrion's trial -- gave "Game of Thrones" a focus that made it easier than ever for even casual fans to appreciate.
So the Emmy race is more complicated than ever. But whatever happens, it's a safe bet plenty of corks will pop at HBO when the nominations are announced Thursday. Here are TheWrap's predictions in the major categories.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
Like we said, it's anyone's game between "Thrones," "True Detective," "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men." If we were going by pure quality, "Breaking Bad" would win. But Emmy voters may decide they already recognized "Breaking Bad" by honoring it in the category last year. And since the meth drama left television, "Thrones" is the Emmy contender that comes closest to taking the place of "Breaking Bad" as our most obsession-worthy show.
Absolutely no one will be surprised, meanwhile, if "Downton Abbey" scores another nomination. And Showtime's widely respected new "Masters of Sex" could also land a nod. "Mad Men" should be back, too, but it already has an armful of Emmys, and voters will get another chance to honor it next year.
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: "Game of Thrones." The last season of "Breaking Bad" was the best season of any show, but Emmy voters may feel they covered it when they awarded the show last year.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Claire Danes is a certain nominee after winning for two consecutive years for "Homeland." Any of last year's nominees could be back as well: They include Connie Britton ("Nashville"), Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey"), Vera Farmiga ("Bates Motel"), Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), Kerry Washington ("Scandal), and Robin Wright ("House of Cards"). Moss, like Hamm, may finally get her due next year. And it will be a serious oversight if Emmy voters don't recognize Lizzy Caplan for her captivating work on "Masters of Sex."
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: Going out on a limb and saying Danes' Showtime colleague, Caplan, will bring it home this year. It would be a good way for voters to acknowledge and welcome the new series.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Matthew McConaughey, fresh off an Oscar win, is a shoe-in for his role in "True Detective," the flashier of the two lead parts. But his co-lead, Woody Harrelson, deserves a nomination as well. So does three-time winner Bryan Cranston, whose last season was also his best on the show. From there, anything can happen. Michael Sheen may score a nod for "Masters of Sex." Jeff Daniels could easily come back after his surprise win for "The Newsroom" last year. And James Spader, an Emmy favorite, is likely to join the category for "The Blacklist." With so much competition, this probably isn't Jon Hamm's year -- but look for voters to recognize his "Mad Men" run next year, after its final season.
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: McConaughey. Not because he was better than Cranston, but because voters will be wowed by the sight of this year's best film actor appearing on the small screen.
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
Can anyone knock off four-time winner "Modern Family"? This year, yes. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" scored in its first year at the Golden Globes, and HBO's "Veep" and new "Silicon Valley" were both on fire and are fresh in voters' minds. So is "Orange Is the New Black," which has the benefit of being the most dramatic of the nominees. (Emmy voters love drama in their comedy.) And "Girls" went out on a high note.
But this might finally be the year for "Louie." First, there's the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder factor: the show returned to FX this year after a year-and-a-half off. And when it came back, creator Louis C.K. went hard in valuing meaning over laughter. The season was largely about gender, and C.K. took on difficult subjects like men's double standards about fat, as well as how even supposedly nice guys can, through horrific misunderstandings, commit borderline sexual assaults. The show was very often painful to watch, but it made viewers think about their own biases -- and made male ones think about how to be better men.
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: If Emmy voters don't give "Louie" the prize this year, they probably never will. Anyway, they should go for it.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Can Julia Louis-Dreyfus threepeat? Probably. The past season of "Veep" gave her more to play with than even the first two. But given the higher profile of "Girls" this season, this is probably Lena Dunham's best chance of taking the prize from her fellow HBO star. Or Amy Poehler may finally get a well-deserved win for an outstanding penultimate season of "Parks and Recreation." "Orange Is the New Black" star Taylor Schilling could also score, given that she anchors the highly respected Netflix series. Past winner Edie Falco will probably also get another nomination for "Nurse Jackie."
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: Louis-Dreyfus, with an outside chance of Schilling.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Expect new faces in the category with two of last year's nominees -- Alec Baldwin and Jason Bateman -- out of the running this year. Expect Golden Globe winner Andy Samberg to join the race and give some real competition to last year's winner, Jim Parsons "The Big Bang Theory." But C.K. could also be a force, for the same reason we expect his show to do well. "Silicon Valley" lead Thomas Middleditch deserves a nod, but voters may not be adventurous enough. Robin Williams may also get a nod for being a movie star who turns to television, but the cancellation of his show -- "The Crazy Ones" -- won't help his odds.
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: Louis C.K. Especially if his show doesn't win. Emmy voters will want to recognize him somehow.
This looks like a lock for FX's "Fargo." Its best competition is FX's "American Horror Story: Coven." Other contenders include "The White Queen," "Dancing on the Edge," and "Bonnie and Clyde."
WAY-TOO-SOON WINNER PREDICTION: "Fargo." It's way ahead of anything else in terms of buzz and critical attention.