After a two-year hiatus, Game of Thrones is back with a vengeance. The hit fantasy drama returned to TV screens on Sunday night and shattered a new ratings record for the premiere of its eighth and final season.
If you felt like everyone and their mother was watching, you're correct. According to HBO, the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere clinched the most viewership for a first-run telecast in network history. The episode, which was titled "Winterfell," pulled in a total of 17.4 million viewers across multiple airings (including online streams) — an 8.1 percent spike from last season's debut, which garnered 16.9 million viewers. For comparison, the series finale of The Sopranos (back in 2007) only pulled in 11.9 million viewers.
Game of Thrones also bested The Big Bang Theory's record as most-watched scripted entertainment program of the year. This is a big feat considering GoT is one of the most pirated shows in history, meaning people voluntarily forked out money to watch the premiere. These numbers don't even factor in viewers who watched the premiere multiple times, which is, like, all of us.
And it doesn't end there! HBO proudly announced there was a huge spike in streaming activity. So many viewers streamed the premiere episode on the network's app, HBO Now, that it was HBO's largest night of streaming ever. It's unclear if the figures accounted for Hulu, Amazon Video, and other platforms.
"As a testament to the evolving video consumption habits of subscribers, the HBO NOW streaming service saw a jump of approximately 50% in viewing when compared to last season's finale and nearly doubled (97%) when compared to the seventh season premiere," HBO said in a statement. "Yesterday accounts for the largest night of streaming activity ever for HBO."
Aside from disrupting the airwaves, Game of Thrones also managed to blow up Twitter. Throughout the telecast, five million tweets were posted about the show. The most tweeted about scene? Yup, you guessed it: When Sam told his BFF Jon about his true parentage.
Game of Thrones' viewership is likely to increase dramatically over the course of the season. The show's seventh season averaged 32.8 million viewers per episode — up from Season 6's 25.7 million thanks to added streaming options.
These massive ratings put HBO in an advantageous position. It's free to promote its other programs while viewers tune in to see the fate of Westeros. In addition to that, it's already devised ways to replicate this kind of viewership: The network has already greenlit a prequel, which will reportedly start filming this summer. The promise of an impending series that will keep the franchise alive may convince viewers to hold on to their HBO subscriptions.
"It’s a never-ending game to keep ahead of the others,” Peter Csathy the founder of Creatv Media told CNBC. "We may think that [HBO is] fine in terms of content for the next five years, but we don’t know what the others are bringing out or what will capture the minds of consumers. We just don’t know.”
With such impressive numbers so early on in the season, things are looking good for the series finale. We have a strong feeling viewership will be larger than the Night King's army.