[SPOILERS ahead for those not caught up on Game of Thrones.]
According to HBO, Sunday's massive season 7 finale of Game of Thrones was, unsurprisingly, the most-watched episode in the history of the show.
If it wasn't already before this year, this is the season that Game of Thrones became a blockbuster event, the equivalent for television to what Star Wars or The Avengers is for film. With the series rapidly approaching its conclusion, the penultimate season featured big moment after big moment, a bombastic collection of major character interactions, shocking twists, and massive battles. A show that was known for its patient storytelling and small bursts of big moments has become weekly event television, making the need to see the episode as soon as possible for the rapidly-growing fanbase even more crucial.
With this change in pacing with the storytelling and the big special effects extravaganzas each week, viewing numbers for the series have gone up every week, and they hit another high this past weekend. Per Entertainment Weekly, a total of 12.1 million viewers tuned into the initial airing of "The Dragon and the Wolf" at 9 PM EST on Sunday, with a total of 16 million viewing the episode overall when you add in streaming numbers and replay audience (up to this point). This is a marketed improvement upon the previous high, when 10.7 million people tuned into "Eastwatch" two weeks ago. It continues the season's theme of topping itself, as "Eastwatch" also bested the high of the week before it, edging the 10.2 million of "The Spoils of War".
To put those numbers in context, these numbers would be marginally impressive if Game of Thrones was a major network show on CBS, NBC, FOX or ABC. For example, The Big Bang Theory took home a huge 15 million per week on initial viewings of new episodes last season, partially because it's a show with broad humor and a large following, but also partially because almost every household with a television has access to these major networks. Given that Game of Thrones airs on HBO, which is a subscription-based network and is not readily available for everyone, these numbers are extremely impressive and speak to the show's immense blockbuster-esque popularity.
"The Dragon and the Wolf" was a fitting cap-off to a record-breaking season for Game of Thrones, which has been averaging around 31 million viewers per week when all numbers are accounted for, up 8 million viewers from the average for the comparatively subdued season 6. This also doesn't take into account the people who are watching the show illegally, so the total unofficial number is likely much higher than that. While these numbers seem ultra-impressive now, it will be no surprise to anyone when season 8, the final season, shatters these totals when it premieres sometime (hopefully) in 2018. The relatively long hiatus will build a feverish anticipation among the currently-anticipating fanbase and give those curious about the show sufficient time to catch up, awarding Game of Thrones with an even bigger cult of followers as it enters its sure to be dramatic and fiery finale.
Game of Thrones season 8 premieres in either 2018 or 2019.