By James Hibberd
April 11, 2019 at 10:38 AM EDT
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  • TV Show
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The first prediction is a no brainer: Game of Thrones season 8 will premiere to its biggest ratings ever.

But how big, exactly?

GoT is the extremely rare drama that has managed to grow its audience every single season. AMC’s Breaking Bad was another. And AMC’s The Walking Dead was on the same track for its first five seasons (but now seems like a series that the network wants to squeeze every last rating point from whatever life it has left — it’s down to 5 million viewers a week from its peak of around 17 million).

But Walking Dead is relevant in another way too as it’s the only drama that’s really given GoT a run for its money in the adult demo ratings the last couple seasons. This year, there will be no contest. So here’s a second prediction that’s also easy to make: GoT will have the highest ratings any scripted show, including broadcast champs like The Big Bang Theory and NBC’s This Is Us, despite HBO being available in far fewer homes (GoT will definitely rule the adult demo, and very likely in total viewers as well).

The biggest overnight rating for a Game of Thrones episode is 2017’s season 7 finale, which racked up 12.1 million viewers in the overnight Nielsens, up 36 percent from the season 6 finale. When overnight streaming was added, that number climbed to 16.5 million and well over a 5.0 rating among adults 18-49. That’s way higher than an average episode of current chart-topper Big Bang Theory which does around 13 million viewers but “only” a 3.0 rating in the overnights (not counting streaming).

Streaming and catch-up viewing play a big role in GoT’s numbers. HBO says season 7 ballooned months later to well over 30 million viewers per episode and has risen higher since then as new viewers got on board to check out that dragon show they kept hearing about to watch the final season. But we’re going to stay focused on the overnights.

Last week, the UK Daily Mail wrote a story claiming the return of Game of Thrones could rack up a billion viewers worldwide, a wildly inflated number the paper seemingly invented purely for headline clickbait value — even HBO doesn’t know how many viewers their show gets globally given all the various methods of distribution, but the number will be far closer to 100 million than 1 billion. (NCIS was calculated in 2016 to be the “most watched drama in the world” with 47 million viewers).

So what’s the premiere really going to get?

It’s tricky. HBO lost Dish subscribers in December due to their contract dispute. And half of HBO’s streaming data comes from subscribers who watch the show through partners like Amazon, Hulu, Roku — and that data is not going to be immediately available. So the first numbers we see will only be part of the story.

The prediction: Let’s say maybe 13 million viewers in linear viewing, then add another 6 million in same-night streaming for a record-shattering 19 million viewers.

On one hand, this is “only” about 20 percent higher than the season 7 closer, which is actually modest despite being, yes, insanely high for a premium cable TV show (or any show nowadays). If it were 20 or even 21 million (the latter being the first number that came to mind before I went down the rabbit hole of data), that wouldn’t surprise either.

But I’m also committing a ratings analysis sin of comparing the upcoming premiere to last season’s finale (you normally compare premieres to premieres). The season 7 premiere (which was about 10.1 million viewers in overnight linear viewing) wasn’t nearly as high as the finale. But I suspect GoT might be the rare case where looking to a finale for how a premiere might perform might make sense. And, of course, as more data comes in this number will surge.

And all of this makes you wonder, however: If this is anywhere close to the actual premiere viewership … what’s the season 8 finale going to get?

After watching each new episode of Game of Thrones be sure to check out EW.com as we’ll have deep-dive recaps plus interviews with cast members breaking down some big moments posted through Monday. Also bookmark our GoT content hub for easy access. 

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 8
episodes
  • 73
Rating
  • TV-MA
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  • 04/17/11-05/19/19
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