© 2017 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved. Eukaryotic gene transcription requires the assembly at the promoter of a large preinitiation complex (PIC) that includes RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and the general transcription factors TFIID, TFIIA, TFIIB, TFIIF, TFIIE, and TFIIH. The size and complexity of Pol II, TFIID, and TFIIH have precluded their reconstitution from heterologous systems, and purification relies on scarce endogenous sources. Together with their conformational flexibility and the transient nature of their interactions, these limitations had precluded structural characterization of the PIC. In the last few years, however, progress in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has made possible the visualization, at increasingly better resolution, of large PIC assemblies in different functional states. These structures can now be interpreted in near-atomic detail and provide an exciting structural framework for past and future functional studies, giving us unique mechanistic insight into the complex process of transcription initiation.