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After well over a year of hiatus that left fans dying for news of what would happen after the crazy Season 7 cliffhangers, Game of Thrones finally returned for its eighth and final season on April 14. The odds were always good that Thrones would kill in viewership in Season 8, but there was no saying if the show would make history right out of the gate. Well, HBO has big reasons to be happy about the Season 8 premiere despite the episode's early leak.
In Live+Same day calculations courtesy of HBO, the Season 8 premiere was watched by a whopping 17.4 million people across all HBO platforms, which include linear, HBO GO, and HBO Now. That makes the first episode of Season 8 the highest-rated episode in the entire series, not just premieres. The 17.4 million beats the previous series high that came in the Season 7 finale, which hit 16.9 million viewers. The Season 8 premiere may not have been great for all the characters, but it was a hit for the show and HBO!
To break that 17.4 million down into categories, 11.8 million came from linear viewers, which could have been impacted by HBO's ongoing dispute with Dish. Whatever the reason, the linear viewership of 11.8 million beats the linear viewership for the Season 7 premiere, which hit only 10.1 million. It does fall behind the Season 7 finale, though, with 12.1 million.
HBO GO and HBO Now were clearly a big help with Game of Thrones making viewership history with the premiere. The night was the largest night of streaming ever for HBO, with a jump of 50% of viewing on HBO Now over the Season 7 finale.
Of course, the 17.4 million calculation is likely to change in the coming days when post-live viewership can be tallied. The seventh season averaged 32.8 million viewers per episode thanks to post-live bumps. I would be very surprised if the Season 8 premiere doesn't experience a huge bump to set the stage for a record-breaking average.
Now, it was always likely that Game of Thrones would easily dominate the competition and perhaps set records that will not be beaten any time soon by an ongoing drama, but it was possible that the numbers could be impacted by the leak of the Season 8 premiere ahead of time.
The good news is that the leak was close to the official air time and somewhat more contained than leaks in years past. The episode released only to DirecTV Now users, who received notifications around 5 p.m. ET on the premiere date that the first episode was available. That places the leak at only four hours ahead of the premiere, and spoilers were pretty avoidable for fans as long as they weren't all over social media in the final hours before the episode.
The leak was addressed by DirecTV owner AT&T (via THR):
Apparently our system was as excited as we are for Game of Thrones tonight and gave a few DirecTV Now customers early access to the episode by mistake. When we became aware of the error, we immediately fixed it and we look forward to tuning in this evening.
It's impossible to say if the early leak impacted the official HBO viewership; it is safe to say, however, that the leak didn't damage the premiere's ability to make series history. As much as a lot of people probably weren't very happy with DirecTV Now for the leak, the premiere was still a success in the viewership.
This isn't the first time Game of Thrones has had to deal with leaks. The first four episodes of Season 5 hit the web early, and Season 7 saw some episodes leak ahead of time as well. None of the leaked episodes were a finale, so at least the biggest twists of the season weren't spoiled ahead of time, although I could have used some time to prepare myself for that incestuous union at the end of Season 7.
One Thrones veteran actually accused HBO of deliberately leaking the episodes; I very much doubt that's the case for Season 8. The much-hyped eighth season would attract huge crowds even if it held off on releasing any new footage beyond the initial trailer. If anything, perhaps the leak of the first episode will result in HBO taking even more measures to prevent the episodes from hitting the web early.
We'll have to wait and see. Spoilers ahead for the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones. The Season 8 premiere was a doozy, even though it wasn't packed with as much action as fans may have expected after the epic way Season 7 ended. The White Walkers did do some damage to the unlucky living in their path, as the young Lord Umber discovered to his doom, but it went down off-screen, and all viewers saw was the super creepy aftermath.
Still, the episode delivered some long-awaited reunions, especially for Arya. She finally got to see her beloved brother/cousin (although she doesn't know about the cousin part yet) Jon Snow for the first time since they went their separate ways way back in the beginning of Season 1, and she got to see Gendry again as well.
Some sparks flew when Gendry and Arya finally met again after being split up back in Season 3, and not just because Gendry was hard at work in the forge making weapons. Could one of the wild theories about the series' end actually come true? They are both all grown up now. Or maybe Arya was just smiling and happy at the prospect of getting her new weapon from her long-lost blacksmith pal.
Arya even got to see the Hound again, which was honestly only slightly colder than Jon's reunion with Bran. All things considered, I may never not be amused by everybody's reactions when they realize that Bran Stark is now the bizarro Three-Eyed Raven. Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven may be a good thing for Jaime, who arrived at Winterfell at the end of the episode.
The Three-Eyed Raven may be a bit more understanding of the guy who flung Bran out of a window for catching him hooking up with his own twin sister. Oh, Season 1. He could even explain why Jaime deserves a second chance, if Brienne can't convince others on his behalf. If Winterfell is doomed and a whole bunch of characters are going to die, I'm glad to get my laughs where I can.
New episodes of Game of Thrones air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The episodes will run for different lengths, and the first long episode raised an intriguing and kind of awesome possibility. Be sure to tune in to see what happens in what remains of Game of Thrones.