Game of Thrones
“Game of Thrones” Season 6, episode 1 marked the returns of the characters Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) as well as a slew of fans illegally downloading the HBO series. HBO

With the return of “Game of Thrones” on HBO comes the inevitable cadre of fans who don’t have access to the pay-television network via subscription and have to get their dragon fix in ways outside the law. Although HBO has taken steps in recent years to combat its heavy illegal downloading problem, pirates appear to have been undeterred in the case of the Season 6 premiere that aired Sunday.

Without a doubt, “Game of Thrones” is the most downloaded and illegally pirated series on TV. According to Forbes, Season 5 of the show broke its own record for the most downloads, with 2.2 million copies of the episode titled “Kill the Boy” downloaded in just 12 hours last May. As the media outlet noted, that figure was extrahigh in comparison with the four episodes that came before it, as they were leaked before they premiered when screeners issued to the press got out.

Although the creators of “Game of Thrones” have routinely told outlets such as Entertainment Weekly that piracy doesn’t hurt their bottom line and is frequently taken as a compliment about the series’ quality, HBO took steps to make sure screeners didn’t leak for Season 6 by not sending any out, with one exception. According to TorrentFreak, however, this season’s premiere is on track to be another record setter in terms of illegal downloads, clocking more than 1 million in just 12 hours. If this number seems low, then note that the 2.2 million figure for “Kill the Boy” was based on its performance at many different piracy sites, while the TorrentFreak calculation centers only on BitTorrent sites. While a complete picture of “GoT” Season 6 piracy won’t be available for some time, the initial number looks in line with its history.

TheWrap noted the increase in piracy goes hand in hand with the show’s ever-increasing viewership, which has consistently risen season after season, with the smallest bump coming after the conclusion of Season 5, which still averaged 9.51 million per episode and marked a 6 percent increase. However, because Season 5 saw the series’ viewership apparently plateau, many were wondering whether that factor, coupled with HBO’s efforts to avoid leaks, would result in a decrease in piracy. While it’s too soon to tell, it doesn’t looks like that’s the case.