It was the script so shrouded in secrecy that it was printed on red paper -- to prevent photocopies from being made -- and handed to the cast in person.
Fittingly titled "Super Bowl Sunday," the long-anticipated episode of NBC's hit drama "This Is Us" finally provided the answer to the central mystery that has loomed over the show since its debut season: How did Jack Pearson, the beloved patriarch of the Pearson clan, die?
"We all know now," Ventimiglia, who plays Jack, said by phone after the episode aired. "'I'm happy the year and a half, or however long we've had to hold it, of silence of Jack's death is done."
In a separate call Monday morning, Mandy Moore, who plays matriarch Rebecca Pearson, said she's relieved that this piece of the puzzle is finally out in the world.
"It frees us to continue telling this story of this family and the aftermath," she said.
The groundwork had been laid when the current sophomore season premiered last fall and hinted that a fire took Jack's life. The circumstances came into focus with the Jan. 23 episode, which showed a faulty slow cooker sparking flames in the Pearson home -- giving weight to speculation that Jack, indeed, perished in a fire. But Sunday's episode saw Jack walk away from the blaze after saving his family -- and the dog ... and photo albums ... and a moon necklace -- the night of Super Bowl Sunday, Jack's favorite day -- in 1998.
His death, instead, came later at the hospital after suffering a heart attack caused by smoke inhalation.
"It was kind of what was just always in my brain of what happened to them -- from inception," "This Is Us" creator Dan Fogelman said of Jack's cause of death. "I thought as it related to Jack -- he is the hinge for this family. I always thought it would be a fire. And after this big, heroic escape, he would have this small, quiet death. That was always in my head."
The fire sequence, which was filmed about 90 minutes outside Los Angeles in Newhall Ranch, was shot over three days in December, with the whole exterior and top half of the Pearson home rebuilt. There were stunt coordinators, stunt doubles -- atypical for a show like "This Is Us" -- because, well, they were working with actual fire.
"Even though we were as safe as we could be away from it, there were moments where the booming force of this fire was real and it was right on the other side of the door from us," Ventimiglia said. "It was pretty terrifying."