Game of Thrones remained as popular as ever in its season 8 premiere, which set new ratings and streaming records for the series and HBO alike. Last night's episode marked the beginning of the end for the network's mega-popular adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels. The show, which has run for seven seasons thus far, kicked off its final half-dozen episodes with a chapter that slowed things down as members of the Stark family reunited, Danerys Targaryen made her way to Winterfell, and the North at large readied themselves for the impending arrival of the Night King and his army of White Walkers.
Suffice it to say, the season 8 premiere was a major TV event unto itself, and hinted at even bigger developments to come in the remaining five episodes. Of course, Game of Thrones premieres have been pop cultural "events" for some time now, and managed to earn increasingly large ratings (and, in more recent years, streaming numbers) with each passing installment. Unsurprisingly, that continued to be the case with the show's final season opener.
In an official press release, HBO announced that the Game of Thrones season 8 premiere was watched by a record 17.4 million viewers on Sunday night, exceeding the previous series' high (16.9 million) set by the season 7 finale. Those numbers include the viewers who watched the show live on HBO, as well as those who checked it out through the HBOGo and HBO Now streaming platforms. The rest of HBO's Sunday evening programming (like the comedy series Barry and Veep, as well as the late night show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) enjoyed a visible boost from Game of Thrones, and succeeded in attracting some of their highest viewership numbers in some time (years even, in the case of Veep and Last Week Tonight).
While those numbers are pretty dang impressive, they're not even remotely unexpected. There was an extended two-year break between Game of Thrones season 7 and 8, in order to give the latter season the extra time it needed for shooting and post-production. As a result, demand for the show only had more room to grow between seasons, especially as more people decided to finally take the dive and start watching (or, rather, catching up on) Thrones during the prolonged intermission. Meanwhile, HBO's refusal to reveal anything but the bare minimum of images and footage from season 8 ahead of time sent fans into theory-making overdrive. Indeed, by this point, there's a reasonable chance that someone out there has all but figured out how the series will end for real and posted the "spoilers" online.
Then again, coming up with elaborate theories and playing the guessing game is all part of the fun of Game of Thrones. The series has spent years now trying and frequently succeeding at pulling the rug out from audiences' feet, be it by revealing the game-changing truth about Jon Snow's heritage, delivering shocking character deaths, or leaving everyone to wonder what the heck a Three-Eyed Raven is, anyway. It's a big part of the reason why the TV show's become so popular, and why the masses are eagerly tuning in to find out how the fight between the living and the dead (not to mention, the battle for the Iron Throne) ultimately pans out.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday, April 21 @9pm on HBO.