Based on the overwhelming buzz this Sunday’s depiction of the Red Wedding earned online, “Game of Thrones” is obviously a huge success for HBO. But exactly how big is the increasingly popular epic fantasy series? According to new numbers from HBO, this season of “Game of Thrones” is the cable channel’s second-most popular show of all time, right behind “The Sopranos.”
Looking at the numbers (visualized in an excellent graph by Vulture), “Game of Thrones” comes pretty close to “The Sopranos” in the overall ratings, and handily beats out nearly every other HBO show. The average episode from the third seasons of “Game of Thrones” receives 4.9 million viewers in its premier airing at 9 p.m. on Sundays. That puts “Game of Thrones” above other wildly successful HBO shows like “True Blood,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Sex and the City.”
An average of 4.9 million viewers sounds like a pretty decent number, but it’s actually only a fraction of the total viewers for any given episode of “Game of Thrones.” The 4.9 million number only represents viewers watching the show right as it premiers. As Vulture notes, HBO plays the same episode several times throughout a given week as well.
When you add those together with viewers catching up on their DVRs, “Game of Thrones” actually has an average of 13.6 million viewers each episode. By comparison, the fifth season of "The Sopranos" brought in 14.4 million viewers per episode. Less popular current shows like "The Newsroom" draw in 7.1 million viewers. That’s an impressive number even for a broadcast network, meaning that “Game of Thrones” has some serious cultural clout at the moment, but the show wasn’t always that successful.
When it first premiered in 2011, “Game of Thrones” was averaging only 2.5 million viewers for the initial Sunday night premier. Those are good numbers, but not excellent ones. Word spread about the show, however, and by the second season’s 2012 premier dwarfed even the most popular season one episodes. On average, season two brought in 3.8 million viewers each episode. Now, the same thing has happened again, making season three a ratings giant. This season’s most popular episode, “The Climb,” drew in 5.5 million viewers on its Sunday night premier. Those numbers would have been unthinkable even a year ago.
With that in mind, there’s still a fair chance that in time, “Game of Thrones” might manage to dethrone “The Sopranos” as the most popular HBO show of all time. After all, “The Sopranos” hit its peak in season five, and “Game of Thrones” still has two more years to hit that milestone. If the show can continue to manage the kind of sustained growth it’s seen the past two years, it should have no problem