By James Hibberd
May 17, 2016 at 08:39 PM EDT
Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

Game of Thrones ratings are on fire.

Sunday's fourth episode of the season, "Book of the Stranger," climbed to 7.8 million viewers at the 9 p.m. hour, which is just shy of matching the season 6 premiere's debut number (7.9 million). The HBO hit also delivered a 3.9 rating among adults 18-49, which will likely make Thrones the week's top-rated scripted show across all of television this week. By comparison, broadcast TV's top shows — Fox's Empire and CBS' The Big Bang Theory — delivered a 3.7 and 3.4 in the demo last week (of course, HBO doesn't actually care about broadcast and pay cable's vaulted 18-49 demo — because HBO has subscribers instead of advertisers — but it's amazing that a premium channel that's only in roughly one third of TV homes can compete and even beat the ad-support channels at their own game).

Though Thrones‘ season premiere episode was down a tad from last year in the overnight Nielsen returns, the loss was more than compensated by a steep boost in streaming viewership on HBO Go and HBO Now. Plus, the season's second and third episode (which each delivered 7.3 million viewers according to Nielsen) showed less decline than season 5's post-premiere hours. And now episode 4 has actually gone up.

In other words: Thrones season 6 is off to the strongest start in the show's history on Sunday nights. The fantasy drama still has some distance to go, however, before it matches last year's cumulative full season average of more than 20 million viewers per episode, a tally that takes months to accumulate (and includes repeats, DVR playback, streaming — everything except piracy, basically).

For more on "Book of the Stranger," here's our interview with Emilia Clarke on her firey nude scene, our chat with Sophie Turner about her big reunion, our deep-dive recap, and the latest episode of our podcast is below. More coming on Sunday, so follow @jameshibberd for the latest and subscribe to our GoT email newsletter. <iframe width="540" height="540" src="" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" class="" allowfullscreen="" resize="0" replace_attributes="1" name=""></iframe>

Episode Recaps


Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

  • TV Show
  • 8
  • 73
  • TV-MA
  • David Benioff
  • D.B. Weiss
  • HBO
stream service