Many spoilers ahead for the series finale of Game of Thrones, called "The Iron Throne."
The grand saga of Game of Thrones has come to an end, and the finale has been divisive to say the least. Season 8 faced enough criticism that a petition for a redo that has accumulated more than 1.3 million signatures at the time of writing. That hasn't stopped Game of Thrones from crushing its own records throughout the season, and the series finale broke a major viewership record that has been unbeaten for nearly 20 years at HBO. The finale is now the most-watched single telecast in HBO history.
In Live+Same day calculations, "The Iron Throne" was viewed by 13.6 million people in the 9 p.m. ET airing alone. That beats the previous record held by the Season 4 premiere of The Sopranos, which won 13.4 million viewers when it aired back in 2002. Season 8 is currently averaging 44.2 million viewers in gross audience, which marks an increase of more than 10 million. The series finale numbers will likely boost that average.
Beating the Sopranos record is a big deal for more than just the fact that it was a record that held for 17 years. In 2002, HBO was still years away from launching HBO Go and HBO Now as post-live viewing options for fans, so viewers pretty much had to tune in live. In 2019, when appointment television isn't as much of a thing anymore, Game of Thrones fans have lots of options for watching and streaming the episode later than the 9 p.m. ET time slot on May 19.
Instead, a record-breaking number of folks tuned in to watch live. Hey, maybe they just really, really didn't want to be spoiled! Former Thrones star Richard Madden could relate.
The series finale of Game of Thrones also beat one of Thrones' own records, although not a record that has been standing at HBO for nearly 20 years. Across all HBO platforms -- meaning linear, HBO Go, and HBO Now -- "The Iron Throne" was watched by 19.3 million people. That puts it above the 18.4 million viewers who tuned in to see Daenerys roast King's Landing in the game-changing "The Bells."
It's certainly not surprising that Game of Thrones has been crushing in viewership this season. Thrones is a unique series for many reasons, not the least of which has been its ability to actually grow its audience as the years pass. Most shows lose viewers after peak viewership relatively early in their run (see: The Walking Dead) before dipping. The Season 8 premiere made history despite the episode's early leak online, pulling in a linear audience of 17.4 million.
The third episode of Season 8, which featured the climactic Battle of Winterfell, broke the linear viewership record again with 17.8 million viewers. Throw in the impressive DVR numbers, and HBO has a lot of reasons to be happy, even if a lot of people aren't the biggest fans of Season 8. The upcoming Game of Thrones documentary probably won't deliver nearly the same kind of numbers as the series finale, but it could definitely destroy the competition on April 26.
Assuming a spinoff or two does make it to the airwaves, it should be interesting to see how its ratings compare to the parent show. A lot may depend on how much time passes between the end of Game of Thrones and the premiere of the spinoff. The long hiatus between Thrones' seventh and eighth seasons may have resulted in the sky-high ratings in Season 8, but interest could die off if too much time passes before the first spinoff hits the airwaves.
I can see HBO wanting it sooner rather than later, though. Game of Thrones was likely a once-in-a-generation hit, but surely any other series set in the same universe would be good for the premium cable network! We'll have to wait and see. The first spinoff has begun to assemble a promising cast to take fans thousands of years before the action of Game of Thrones kicked off.