James Hibberd
June 06, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Can Game of Thrones top itself once again? The HBO fantasy hit is already arguably having its best year: Critics are swooning over season 4 (it’s averaging an astonishing 94 out of 100 on review aggregator Metacritic), fans are watching in record numbers (it’s averaging 18 million across all platforms), and it’s coming off a brutally buzzy head-squishing episode on June 1. (You also don’t need Melisandre to foretell that there’s a shower of Emmy nominations ahead on July 10. If there’s any justice, Peter Dinklage will have to make more room on his mantel.) But June 8’s penultimate hour is Thrones‘ most ambitious ever, ditching the usual location-hopping format to focus on one thing: the biggest war sequence in the show’s history, as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) protects the Wall from wildling forces, including his ex-love Ygritte (Rose Leslie). ”It’s tricky [to film], because there is no Wall [in real life],” says exec producer David Benioff. To do that, producers expanded the show’s usual Wall set to allow for running and fighting on the structure, which is designed to appear as if it’s 700 feet high, and there are also staged ground battles that include CGI monstrosities such as giants. ”The scale is bigger than anything I’ve seen on Thrones,” says Harington, whose character takes on a desperately needed leadership role during the bloody battle. ”Normally fight scenes are kept minimal and realistic, but we were able to get flashier and show some of our skills.” For the finale, Thrones will then spread out to the rest of Westeros. Showrunners Benioff and D.B. Weiss promise they won’t hold back there, either. ”It’s the best finale we’ve ever done, bar none,” they tell EW in a joint email. ”We’re immensely proud and a little intimidated by the episode, because now we have to get back to the business of season 5 and figure out a way to [beat] it.”

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