Game of Thrones may be over, but its impression on television history will live on after the series finale set an all-time HBO ratings record on Sunday. The same night, HBO also broke series records with the season finale of Barry, showing considerable growth all-around.
Feeding into Game of Thrones‘ massive finale viewership was almost certainly the equally large amount of controversy surrounding the last-minute direction of the story, as fans were up in arms and petitioning for a rewrite before the final episode had even aired. Though errors big and small have caused the show’s ending to receive intense judgement from viewers, the ratings numbers speak much more loudly than an angry audience ever could. In fact, the finale’s ratings were so high that many doubt that the premium network can ever manage to top it.
Last night, Game of Thrones was watched by a colossal audience of 19.3 million people across all HBO platforms, meanwhile a record 13.4 million watched the telecast. These numbers are not only a record high for the series, but they also crown Game of Thrones as the record-holder for the highest viewership of any broadcast on the network before it. The series finale even beat out the season 4 premiere of The Sopranos, which had held the top spot for nearly 17 years. Sunday night was a great night for HBO in general, as Bill Hader’s dark comedy, Barry, shattered series records with 2.7 million viewers across all platforms. Though Barry‘s unprecedented ratings performance can likely be partially attributed to a knock-on effect brought on by Game of Thrones’ huge death throe, the show definitely earned many of last night’s viewers by merit.
Now that Game of Thrones sits atop an Iron Throne of its own, however, there’s likely one question on everyone’s mind at HBO: how can they ever possibly top ratings like that? Clearly, the network (and TV in general) has continued to grow in the face of previous doubts over the medium’s future thanks to the spread of the internet and social media’s ability to transform entertainment into proper cultural events. Still, there always has to be a ceiling to these things, and HBO has likely been left to wonder if it just hit it. By 2021, the Game of Thrones prequel series is slated to pick up the slack after a year of the main series’ absence, but only time will tell if it can ever hope to draw crowds of this magnitude.
This question is made even more complex when calculating all of the furious fans that have been left with a sour taste in their mouths over how things ended in Game of Thrones. A premium network like HBO has nothing without a loyal audience that’s willing to buy in for quality TV experiences, and public perception seems to be strongly leaning toward incredulity that HBO is capable of following through on its biggest players. HBO may have just raised Game of Thrones onto its widely coveted network throne, but it’s going to have to hope that the show didn’t weld itself to the seat on its way up there.