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It really happened: An entire episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones season 7 has leaked online before its premiere. Sunday’s episode 4, “The Spoils of War,” is now out in the digital wild.
And yet, an HBO insider says the leak is not believed to be part of the major hack of HBO which EW.com first reported Monday morning and contained a script from the same episode.
The new episode has leaked from Star India, one of HBO’s international network partners, which receives episodes in advance of air. (There’s a watermark on the video which revealed Star India as the source).
A Star India spokesperson released this statement: “This confirms the compromise of episode 4 of Game of Thrones Season 7, earlier this afternoon. We take this breach very seriously and have immediately initiated forensic investigations at our and the technology partner’s end to swiftly determine the cause. This is a grave issue and we are taking appropriate legal remedial action.”
In theory, Star India could have been separately hacked by the same person or persons who infiltrated HBO. But content slipping out from HBO’s distributors has occurred occasionally in the past and network insiders believe this is more akin to those previous situations (in season 5, for example, clips from a couple episodes leaked online from overseas vendors; as did a Comic-Con preview trailer just last month).
Still: In a week when HBO has suffered a devasting cyber attack … an episode of the company’s most valuable asset has now leaked from a trusted distributor. When it rains, it pours, and right now, the leaks are pouring.
Earlier this week, the hack exposed pre-air episodes of Ballers, Room 104 and many internal documents. The hackers have threatened to leak more content on Sunday (though now one of HBO’s own partners have beat them to it), and then continue exposing new material each Sunday in a sort of mockery of HBO’s weekly original programming rollout. HBO insiders have been confident that the company’s main email system and Thrones episodes were not exposed as part of the hack.
HBO has a tougher time securing its GoT programming from leaks than, for instance, a movie studio making a highly sought Star Wars or Marvel film, because of its complex distribution network that aims to premiere new GoT episodes on roughly the same day around the globe on different cable and satellite providers. One reason for this “day and date” release strategy is to cut down on piracy — Game of Thrones is the most illegally downloaded show in the world. But the downside is that episodes and clips are distributed far and wide in the days before a new hour premieres, multiplying the possibility of leaks.
The good news for HBO is that GoT is more popular than ever — the recent season premiere has now surpassed an incredible 30 million viewers in the U.S. alone, plus is breaking ratings records worldwide. Here’s HBO’s non-leaked preview of Sunday’s episode:
EW will still post its usual full coverage of Thrones on Sunday night after “The Spoils of War” airs on HBO. Follow @jameshibberd for GoT and breaking TV news, subscribe to our GoT newsletter, check out our GoT podcast.