Deadline Awards Columnist and Chief Film Critic Pete Hammond gives his take on contenders in the key categories for the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards. Here, he breaks down the category of Outstanding Drama Series.

This category made history last year by ushering in five first-season nominees in Emmy’s most prestigious and difficult-to-crack category. Of course, it helped that two-time winner Game of Thrones took a year off to help give the new guys a chance. It’s back this year, but so are those five first-timers, who, in typical Emmy fashion, apparently set a course to be players in this category for years to come, as all five got nods for their sophomore seasons—yet another unprecedented moment in Emmy history. With another perennial nominee, Better Call Saul, taking this season off—the first time in years that six-time Drama Series winner AMC has not had a nominee—the real question is whether Thrones can regain the throne. Here’s how I see it…

The Americans
FX

One of the Emmys’ biggest mysteries is why this wildly praised FX series is enjoying only its second Drama Series nomination in an outstanding six-year run. It was pushed out of the race here in 2017 after receiving its only other series nod the year before, in a category that many believe this should have won long ago. More timely than ever, this show about Russian spies infiltrating modern America would seem to have its best—and last—chance at a victory finally this year. 

Netflix

The Crown
Netflix

Receiving its second straight nomination in this category, the Netflix series about the life and times of the reigning Queen of England has once again scored 13 nominations—same as last year, when it won three. The 2017 Golden Globe winner swaps out current star Claire Foy for Olivia Colman, who will take over the next two seasons as the six-year series continues. Whether Emmy voters will want to acknowledge the impressive start with a win here, or wait to see how it navigates the change, is the big question.

Game of Thrones
HBO

HBO

With a hefty 128 nominations overall, 2015 and 2016 wins as Best Drama Series, and a whopping 38 Emmy wins total, Game of Thrones could well regain the crown after sitting 2017 out due to production schedules. In a sense, it is the defending champ, but it has to share that distinction with last year’s winner, The Handmaid’s Tale. This is shaping up to be a battle royal between the two shows, even though Thrones has the edge in nominations, once again leading the Emmy field with 22.

Hulu

The Handmaid’s Tale
Hulu

This incredibly pertinent series is right behind Game of Thrones in the nomination count for this category, having nabbed 20—a significant increase from its first season haul of 13. The Hulu series made Emmy history by becoming the first Drama or Comedy series to score a major win in Emmy’s top two categories; it won eight Emmys last year and looks to repeat the feat in 2018 if it can knock Thrones out.

Stranger Things
Netflix

Netflix

The winner of five Emmys in its debut, all in craft categories, this Netflix series is back with 12 nominations for its second year, significantly down from the 19 it received last year. In its own way, the show may be the most popular of the whole bunch in this category. Although its second season was just as successful with viewers as its first—maybe even more so—it is an uphill climb to crack a win here this time around, especially with Netflix also throwing resources at The Crown.

NBC

This Is Us
NBC

The sole entry from any of the broadcast networks, and only the second to crack this category in recent years, NBC’s little-drama-that-could is back with a strong season that elicited eight nominations—but, again, nothing for its writing or directing. In a category dominated now by cable and streaming competition, it is almost impossible for the big four networks to break through, but NBC did with this popular show, proving that broadcast hasn’t completely thrown in the towel.

Westworld
HBO

HBO

With 21 nominations, this highly complex series from HBO is tied with Saturday Night Live and second only to HBO stablemate Game of Thrones for the most nominations this year. It took five Emmys in its first season, and looks to add to the total for a challenging follow-up in which events took unexpected twists and turns that might have perplexed even the most rabid fans. The series’ sheer audacity and ambition could make the difference for an upset victory this time around.

PETE’S PICK: The Handmaid’s Tale