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Season 6 of Game of Thrones got off to a promising start thanks to one of the craziest and most suspenseful premieres of the show so far. Luckily, more viewers than ever tuned in to see this particular premiere. HBO broke a major record and hit a ratings milestone for the show with “The Red Woman.” A whopping 10.7 million viewers were glued to their screens to see Sansa’s big escape, Cersei’s meltdown, and Jon Snow’s rigor mortis.
The 10.7 million viewers is a combination of those who watched live on Sunday night, those who caught the first two repeats of the episode, and those who caught the premiere via one of HBO’s streaming services, according to EW. HBO Go and standalone streaming service HBO Now have been helpful options for those of us who have wanted to catch some HBO content but haven’t had access to a premium cable package at a given time. The number does not take into account viewers who tuned in as part of HBO’s free preview weekend.
10.7 million viewers for the Season 6 premiere was a 9% increase on the 9.8 million viewers from the Season 5 premiere. Even better, it tops the previous record for all-time series high. The Season 5 finale had 10.3 million viewers watching as Jon Snow was left bleeding to death in the snow. Evidently, the cliffhanger combined with all the buzz over hiatus was enough for an increase that is atypical for a show in its sixth season.
As it happens, however, the record-breaking number of 10.7 million for "The Red Woman" isn’t as record-breaking if only the traditional Nielsen ratings are taken into account. Without the streaming numbers, the premiere was viewed by only 7.9 million, which was down 1% from the Season 5 premiere. The difference increases to 4% when the numbers for the two HBO repeats are added.
On the whole, the disparity doesn’t look too great, but it definitely doesn’t spell disaster for HBO. The convenience of streaming video compared to live viewing has meant that the ratings have been able to grow rather than peter out as sometimes happens with a long-running series. Considering how rough it can be to keep track of all the characters and places and plots of the show, it’s a mark of how stellar Game of Thrones has been that viewers are sticking around and attracting even more.
Game of Thrones is HBO’s most popular series of all time, so it’s no surprise that the series has already been renewed for Season 7. The early renewal should make it somewhat easier for some of us to endure all of the twists and turns of Season 6. At least we can count on the series not ending on a terrible cliffhanger due to cancellation anytime soon.
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. To see when your other favorite shows are returning to the airwaves, check out our summer TV premiere schedule.