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Spoilers ahead for Episode 3 of Game of Thrones Season 8.
Game of Thrones broke records right out of the gate when Season 8 finally premiered after more than a year and a half of hiatus, and the numbers for the latest episode prove that the show almost certainly isn't done setting new highs. Episode 3 of Season 8, called "The Long Night," ran for nearly an hour and a half of fiery action, and a whole lot of people tuned in for the long-awaited Battle of Winterfell.
"The Long Night" hit a new series high in gross audience for the night of Sunday, April 28 was a whopping 17.8 million viewers. The 17.8 million places it on top of the previous record for gross audience high, which was held by the Season 8 premiere just a couple of weeks ago. That episode attracted 17.4 million viewers.
The 17.8 million is actually a cumulative number for the whole night rather than just the initial 9 p.m. ET airing, although that airing certainly won a huge audience. 12 million of the 17.8 tuned in for the 9 p.m. ET broadcast, and that marks a season high for the time slot broadcast. The big 17.8 million milestone takes numbers from the two linear airings on Sunday night as well as streaming viewership on HBO NOW and HBO GO.
Game of Thrones is a rare show insofar as it is known to gain viewers the older that it gets. Other TV juggernauts, such as The Walking Dead, can experience plummeting ratings as time passes and the show gets long in the tooth, and long hiatuses for other shows might result in reduced interest. Game of Thrones not only survives but flourishes despite long hiatuses, reduced episode counts, and controversial plot twists.
Unfortunately, it won't flourish for much longer. With the Battle of Winterfell concluded, the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is officially halfway over, although the final three episodes' total runtime will exceed the first three. "The Long Night" may have been nice and long, but the premiere and second episode ran for under an hour each.
Still, for me, the build to the battle was pretty great as it reestablished why we should care about these characters, and the saga of the war against the White Walkers came to a satisfying (if somewhat darkly-lit) end. The big question now is how the next few episodes will fare in the ratings. There will certainly be fewer characters in the mix after the "Long Night" bloodbath.
Episode 2 of Season 8 experienced a dip down to 15.9 million, according to TVLine, but that wasn't altogether unexpected. Premieres almost always score higher viewership than subsequent episodes, and the Battle of Winterfell was always going to draw a huge audience. The numbers of the second half of Season 8 may reveal how many people were in Game of Thrones for the White Walkers and how many are in it for the actual political game of thrones as well.
All things considered, Thrones didn't kill off a lot of major characters, so any dip in viewership probably can't be attributed to characters like Dolorous Edd Tollett and Lyanna Mormont meeting their ends in the Battle of Winterfell. Still, we'll have to wait and see. Tune in to HBO on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET for new episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones.