Hey, ‘The Walking Dead’: If you want acting nominations, follow HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Emmy strategy

As a diehard fan of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Emmy season can be a frustrating time. The series keeps viewers coming back thanks to the engrossing character arcs brought to life by talented performers. So why can’t “The Walking Dead” break through in any acting category at the Emmys? Bias against genre fare is certainly at play, but their Emmy strategy could also use an overhaul. In order to have any performers break through at the Emmys, the ensemble series will have to learn HBO’s lesson with “Game of Thrones”: you can’t submit everyone.

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I would argue that last year was “The Walking Dead’s” best chance yet at scoring acting nominations, thanks to two outstanding guest performers: John Carroll Lynch and Tovah Feldshuh. Lynch, a respected character actor with a resume to kill for, was given a 90-minute two-hander episode that critics went gaga over. Feldshuh is a respected veteran of stage and screen, with four Tony nominations and two Emmy nominations to her name. She made expert use of her limited episodes to chart stunning character growth from weakling to warrior, complete with a heroic death scene.

So how do these two dynamite performances miss out on nominations? There were simply too many guest stars submitted on the Emmy ballot. Besides Lynch, AMC last year submitted five other actors for Best Guest Actor, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s season finale appearance as Negan. Feldshuh was submitted in Best Guest Actress along with two other performers, including series mainstay Alanna Masterson. Comparatively, HBO makes a tough decision every year and often only one “Game of Thrones” performer is selected for each guest category.

In addition, despite the deep roster of thespians bringing Westeros to life, “Game of Thrones” only submits three to five actors in each supporting race. While this is bad news for talents like Gwendoline Christie and Iwan Rheon, who have yet to be submitted, it focuses votes around actors with the best material and hottest buzz to ensure the series is recognized.

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This strategy of whittling down Emmy voters’ choices has proved successful. At the most recent Emmys, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Maisie Williams reaped Supporting Actress bids, Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington were nominated for Supporting Actor, and Max von Sydow turned up in Guest Actor. Thanks to this smart campaign, “Game of Thrones” has received at least one acting nomination for all six seasons.

Imagine if this same practice was put into place over at “The Walking Dead.” As far as I’m concerned, it should be considered a crime against humanity that Melissa McBride didn’t win an Emmy for her Season 4 performance in “The Grove.” But how is she supposed to corral support when every single eligible actress in the series is submitted as well? After all, Danai Gurira and Lauren Cohan give consistently excellent performances and may have siphoned votes.

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This season, the series’ major awards contender is undoubtedly supporting player Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Negan has been divisive to say the least, but whether you love him, hate him, or love to hate him, he has been one of the most talked about TV characters of the year. But “The Walking Dead” is not as beloved within the TV academy as “Game of Thrones.” So if they want a major acting nomination, they simply can’t afford to split what support they have among every male in the cast. Yes Daryl Dixon fans, that means Norman Reedus should probably sit out this Emmy race (I look forward to your hate mail). Reedus simply doesn’t have that magical combination of material and buzz to claim one of the six nomination slots this year.

And over in Best Supporting Actress, which woman are Emmy voters supposed to go for? They could choose Lauren Cohen (Maggie), who turned grief over her husband’s death into the fuel she needed to become a leader. There’s Christian Serratos (Rosita) who let her despair consume her and turn her into a kamikaze rage machine. Or Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) who became a sacrificial hero. And some might throw votes to McBride for her devastating scene when she learns the truth about Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. It’s easy to see how these dynamic performances could split the drama’s support and cancel each other out. The solution: AMC should make the decision for the voters by only submitting one.

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