Riz Ahmed took the Emmy home tonight for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for HBO’s The Night Of. Bowing early in the season last year, The Night Of felt like it was trailing the race as more recent shows made big impacts. But Ahmed’s performance as Nazir ‘Naz’ Kahn, a Pakistani/Iranian-American college student for whom a night of rebellion becomes a living nightmare when he wakes up to discover the girl whose apartment he slept in has been murdered, stayed in Emmy voters’ minds.

When his character is sent to jail, Ahmed transformed as the season unfolded, and so Naz changed, from the weedy, naive boy of the earlier episodes into a hardened prisoner, frustrated with the world he finds himself in.

On stage, Ahmed shared the award with John Turturro, his co-star who was also nominated in this category. “It’s been amazing getting to watch him up close,” he said, before addressing Turturro. “I share this with you, brother, and it’s amazing to take this ride with you.”

He saved a final thank-you for one of the show’s executive producers. “He’s a man I believe single-handedly changed television, and I hope he’s proud of us right now. That’s the late, great James Gandolfini.”

Gandolfini was originally planning to play the Turturro role before his untimely death.