Oh man are you guys gonna love this one.

So, we’re three episodes into a new season of Game of Thrones. The halfway point is closer than you think, and more than once the season’s been called slow by viewers (yes, even me). But, as you may recall, I’ve defended the show. I’ve said that often the early episodes are about putting new pieces of the puzzle together so the payoff can come, and it’s all being done so elegantly that I don’t care much about the pace. Well, the “slow” criticisms stop here. “And Now His Watch Is Ended” is not only the most exhilarating episode of this season so far. It’s also got the potential to be one of the most pivotal episodes in the history of the show.

Note: Once again, I’m writing an advance review here, so no big plot spoilers for the episode will follow. However, there will of course be spoilers for the rest of the season so far.

In King’s Landing, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Olenna (Diana Rigg) continue to work their charms on Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), though Cersei (Lena Headey) is still suspicious. Meanwhile Varys (Conleth Hill) has his own business with Olenna, as well as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), and Cersei has business with her father (Charles Dance). In the North, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) ventures deeper into his dreams with the help of Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), while Arya (Maisie Williams) must find new courage among the Brotherhood. Still lost somewhere in Westeros, Theon (Alfie Allen) laments his choices. Beyond The Wall, the rifts within the Night’s Watch grow deeper. In the Crown Lands, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is reeling from the aftermath of his punishment. And in Astapor, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) makes good on her bargain with the Unsullied slavemaster.

Again, there are a number of highlights that I just can’t talk about because you haven’t seen them yet, but I can tell you a bit more broadly about what I loved. I talked a lot last season about my love for the complex and often deceptive relationship between Varys and Tyrion, and this episode contains the very best scene between the two of them yet, and because of the nature of their relationship it’s one of those things that could turn out to be exceptionally important or could just be more smoke blown from either of them. But hey, that’s part of the fun, and Hill and Dinklage are both at their absolute best.

I also, for some reason, really noticed in this episode just how detailed the regional differences are in the show’s production design. Watch Margaery walk next to Sansa. Their costumes each say different thing about the wearer, but they’re also part of a larger landscape of costume design, armor design, weaponry, food and everything else that makes up this world. It’s the same level of detail that made the design work in The Lord of the Rings so good, and it’s never been applied to television in quite this way before. It struck me particularly hard watching this episode, so take a moment and savor that.

But more importantly (and again, I can’t spoil anything for you), this is the episode where everything about this season really begins to move forward in a really energetic, proper badass way, particularly in the final minutes. It’s the sort of episode that leaves you absolutely invigorated and makes you flat-out angry that you can’t watch what happens next right now. I think we’ll look back on this episode and call it one of the most important of the season, and certainly one of the most fun.

Note: This is the last of my advance reviews for this season, so if you’re reading my reviews, look for the next one on Sunday night after I’ve watched it right along with the rest of you.

(Advance screening courtesy of HBO)

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