Game of Thrones returned after its longest wait yet to the show’s biggest overnight audience ever — by far.
The worldwide hit series delivered an incredible 16.1 million viewers for the highly anticipated kick-off to its penultimate season across all HBO platforms (including repeats and streaming and DVR).
The season 7 premiere number represents a stunning 50 percent increase from last year’s opener — despite the drama airing in the summer for the first time. The number of households watching television is lower in the summer than in the spring when the show typically airs (which is why broadcast networks run most of their original programming from September to May). Even if you exclude HBO’s streaming platforms and just look at Nielsen’s overnight number (10.1 million viewers) the episode tops last year’s finale, which was the show’s previous most-watched episode in the overnight ratings.
The hour-long Thrones return, titled “Dragonstone,” earned rave reviews from critics (read our deep-dive recap) and currently has the show’s first 100 percent score for a season premiere on Rotten Tomatoes. The hour also inspired 2.4 million tweets, making it the show’s most-tweeted episode of all time, according to Twitter. GoT also has the distinction of being TV’s most Emmy-honored drama, though the series is sitting out this fall’s ceremony and the current season will not be eligible for consideration until 2018.
RELATED: Dive Deep Into the Premiere Episode With EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly Podcast
The news is both terrific for HBO and just a tad bittersweet — with only 12 episodes remaining, Thrones is a hugely lucrative property whose popularity has climbed every season that the company will dearly miss after it’s gone (the current season has seven episodes total; the eighth and final season will have six). HBO has multiple prequel series are in development in hopes of finding at least one worthy of continuing the GoT franchise, but they are without showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss or the current cast.
Over the years, the show’s first season averaged 3.3 million viewers including DVR, according to Nielsen. Season 6 averaged more than 25 million viewers per episode across all of HBO’s domestic platforms. The trajectory begs a question … especially since GoT finales tend to perform stronger than premieres… if the peneultimate season is opening to 16 million overnight viewers… what’s the Game of Thrones series finale going to do?
More Game of Thrones premiere coverage: Check out our deep-dive recap, as well as Maisie Williams discussing that cold open shock, our chat with Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy) about the flirty return of his ‘douchebag’ pirate and myself and Darren Franich have our Game of ThronesWeekly podcast (with our “Dragonstone” episode now live).