March 24, 2015 12:18 PM EDT

Can Game of Thrones top itself yet again? According to one actress at the show’s San Francisco premiere, the fantasy drama definitely pulls it off.

“It was my favorite season so far,” said Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth on the series. “It’s definitely my favorite. You keep thinking, ‘How can it possibly top each time? How can it achieve more and be more climactic? And I think it achieves it by being more complex and all the subtleties of what [author George R.R. Martin] does and now [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss]. They take the worst thing possible and twist it into something else entirely.”

Christie was on hand, along with most of the show’s huge cast and producers, at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, which held the U.S. premiere of the show’s fifth season Monday night.

Speaking to Page Six, Thrones author George R.R. Martin defended the pace at which he’s writing his books. (The show will eventually reveal content from his saga before his stories come out in print.) “50 years from now, nobody is going to care how frequently the books came out,” Martin said. “They will care if the books are as good as they can possibly be, if the books stand the test of time. That’s what I struggle with as I write.”

After the red carpet (see our post on Maisie Williams’ red carpet strategies), the audience was treated to the first stateside screening of the premiere, titled “The Wars to Come.” A few spoiler-free take-aways:

The much-discussed flashback that starts the season is sufficiently creepy. While the episode is definitely a stage-setter meant to get most of the season’s various plot threads in motion, there’s at least one major event that will have fans talking. The big scene (previewed heavily) between Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) is a classic, pitch-perfect GoT two-hander. This episode is the best performance we’ve seen yet from Ciarán Hinds (who plays Mance Rayder). As previously discussed, you’ll have to wait for the second episode to see Arya.

And, as is often the case with Thrones, the episode ends—and your first thought is, “Wait, no! More!”

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