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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Actress Performances In Television History

More information is being released about a potential Game of Thrones prequel series, including more of the cast being revealed by HBO. With Naomi Watts set to lead the prequel, she should instantly become one of the best actresses performing on television. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday goes over the best of the best from recent years. Please note, comedies are not included in this, so Julia Louis-Dreyfus did not make the cut for her roles in Seinfeld and Veep.


10. Julianna Marguleis as Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife)

Photo courtesy: Paul Sarkis/CBS Broadcasting, Inc.


Strong network television series have been hard to come by, but CBS’s The Good Wife was an acclaimed hit during its seven seasons thanks in large part to Emmy-winner Julianna Marguleis in the main role as Alicia Florrick. The defense attorney must deal with many responsibilities and scandals, and Marguleis does an amazing job of putting it on the screen to headline the show.


9. Robin Wright as Claire Underwood (House of Cards)

Photo courtesy: David Giesbrecht/Netflix


Netflix was put in a very tough situation when Kevin Spacey’s life and career went off the rails, but thankfully they had Robin Wright as Claire Underwood to keep things relatively afloat to bring one of the better shows in recent memory to an end late last year. By almost all accounts, House of Cards took a step back in later seasons, but Wright helped deliver gripping moments throughout the political drama’s handful of years on the streaming giant.


8. Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison (Homeland)

Photo courtesy: Stephan Rabold/SHOWTIME


Similarly, Homeland has taken a step back by most accounts in the last couple of years, but Claire Danes has delivered top-notch moments as Carrie Mathison. The character has gone through some terrible moments, and Danes helps keep things intense and believable for the Showtime series. Danes is a two-time Emmy winner in the role.


7. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark (American Crime Story)

Photo courtesy: FX


Sarah Paulson might have been at an advantage playing a real-life character with a reference to go off of, but she deserves a ton of credit for the transformation into Marcia Clark for the first season of American Crime Story. The People v. O.J. Simpson included a few transformations like Paulson’s, but she was the only one of her, Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, and John Travolta to win an Emmy for FX’s instant classic.


6. Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)

Photo courtesy: HBO


Emilia Clarke has had to transform herself on Game of Thrones while playing The Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. The last (known) remaining Targaryen has both a red-hot and ice-cold side, and Clarke pulls off the full range of emotions to perfection—often times with just a glare that gives insight into her character’s thoughts. And don’t forget her action sequences, as staying on a fake dragon while performing like you’re on a real dragon is no easy task.


5. Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson (Mad Men)

Photo courtesy: AMC


She won an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale and is excellent in it, but Elisabeth Moss was probably even better as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson. Moss was nominated six times for an Emmy during the series’ seven-season run, and though she never won the award like Jon Hamm did for the final season as Don Draper, Moss held her own as the primary female star and performed just as well as Hamm—when the two were together for key scenes, it was magic.


4. Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark (Game of Thrones)

Photo courtesy: HBO


All the acting in Game of Thrones is great, but Michelle Fairley’s time as Catelyn Stark was probably the most underappreciated of the series. As the wife of Ned Stark and the mother to the Stark boys—along with Jon Snow, whom she delivered a powerful scene while talking about him in Season 3—Fairley performed admirably and emotionally in her scenes.


3. Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano (The Sopranos)

Photo courtesy: HBO


The 20th anniversary of the first episode of The Sopranos is this Thursday, so it’s fitting that Edie Falco makes the top three for best actress television performances of all-time. It’s undeniable that Falco was among the best on TV as Carmela Soprano throughout the groundbreaking series’ run on HBO—she won a whopping three Emmys during six seasons.


2. Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)

Photo courtesy: HBO


How hard is it to imagine someone other than Lena Headey playing Cersei Lannister? As is the case with Emilia Clarke, it’s almost an injustice that she hasn’t won an Emmy for her role on Game of Thrones (though she has four nominations). Headey delivers smirks, cold-heartedness, defiance, ruthlessness, some warmth (for her children), and nasty looks in a way only she could as Cersei.


1. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)

Photo courtesy: FX Networks


The top six in particular all could have been in the top spot for best performance by an actress in a television series, but Keri Russell certainly has a very strong case for No. 1. Russell was the Russian-spy-next-door as Elizabeth Jennings for six seasons on The Americans, delivering exceptional moments as a mother, wife, and steely killer. Her intenseness might never be matched on the small screen or the big screen.


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