Was This Game of Thrones Episode the Best TV Hour in Recent Memory?

Sure, the Senate was in session last night, but come 9 p.m. Eastern time few in Washington were paying attention to the last gasps in the upper chamber before the expiration of Patriot Act provisions.

Instead, everyone from journalists to lobbyists were tweeting about that Game of Thrones episode.

I’ve watched the series since the beginning, always giving a shot to new offerings from HBO, Showtime, AMC, and Netflix since they dutifully saved television from the scourge of reality-TV hell. (And when HBO does reality, in the form of its documentaries, the result is top-notch.) On this site some have been critical of GoT’s violence (see The Red Wedding) and a couple of weeks ago some across the web vowed to finally give up on the show after a wedding-night rape scene. I understand the complaints about the show’s gratuitous elements and misogyny, but I see a lot of spirited, tough women characters on the show, from Daenerys Targaryen to Brienne of Tarth to Arya Stark and basically every Wildling.

Let’s face it: the cable shows have better writing, acting, directing, art direction, cinematography and all the other assets to trump network fare. They also have the budgets to do all of the above.

And if these shows mean every Sunday night is like watching a part of a movie premiere, last night was definitely popcorn-worthy — if anyone had been able to consume a bite while staring gape-mouthed at the screen. It was like The Walking Dead invaded Game of Thrones, a stunning special-effects display as the zombie horde of the White Walkers broke into a Wildling fortress on their way to the wall. These were not the ambling zombies of AMC or George Romero, but the wickedly fast, cliff-diving undead like 28 Days Later. And that’s not all: Tyrion and Dany met and plotted for the first time, Sansa found out her brothers are still alive, and evil Cersei was licking water off a dungeon floor.

But what’s nice about this show — and I say this as someone who has never read the books, but has seen enough horror movies to often predict the next devious turn — is that it takes risks or goes all-out to surprise viewers. How many shows get away with bumping off the main character before the conclusion of the first season?

There are only two GoT episodes left this season. But then the second True Detective begins. Thank you, HBO.