After ten long months of waiting for its arrival, the start of Game of Thrones season five was pre-empted by a bit of a hiccup - namely, the first four episodes of the season leaking online before the premiere had even aired on television. It adds a new dimension to the ongoing debate surrounding rampant piracy of the show, since it meant that fans who watch Game of Thrones illegally could see it before those who pay for the privilege.
Neither Time Warner nor the producers of the show have expressed too much concern over Game of Thrones claiming the dubious title of "most pirated TV show" - the general sentiment being that illegal downloads both reflect and feed into the show's popularity. Looking at the ratings for the season five premiere, it seems like their laidback attitude might be justified.
Despite appearing online in advance of its official airing, Variety reports that the initial telecast of the first episode of Game of Thrones season five, "The Wars to Come", was watched by approximately eight million people, according to Nielsen estimates. That's an increase of 1.16 million from the season four premiere, and a clear 800,000 more viewers than any other Game of Thrones episode to date.
"The Wars to Come" marked a relatively slow start to the season in terms of plot movement, largely focusing on re-establishing the various characters' locations and statuses for those fans who had forgotten what happened at the end of last season (and didn't read Screen Rant's helpful reminder post). To briefly recap: Sansa and Baelish are on a road trip (as are Brienne and Podrick), Varys and Tyrion are in Pentos, Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon are at Castle Black, Daenerys Targaryen is in Meereen, and the remaining Lannisters are in King's Landing with the Tyrells.
The fact that Game of Thrones season five has come scorching out of the gate despite the unfortunate leak is further evidence, as if it were needed, that HBO's historical fantasy series is one of the most in-demand properties of the current TV landscape. The network has recently moved to expand its paying audience with the launch of HBO Now: an on-demand streaming service for HBO's series that doesn't require a cable connection (just an Apple device).
There are at least two more seasons of Game of Thrones left to go - and with more viewers getting hooked with each new season, it wouldn't be surprising if this ratings record ends up getting beaten when the season six premiere airs next year.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘The House of Black and White’ @9pm on HBO.