More than 17 million people watched the record-breaking season premiere
After a nearly two-year wait, Game of Thrones roared back on Sunday night and shattered its own ratings record with its Season 8 premiere.
The opening episode of the final season was watched by a record 17.4 million viewers, including viewership through its digital channels, according to TV network HBO. That number surpassed the 16.9 million viewers who watched the show's Season 7 finale in August 2017－a previous record for a single episode of the series.
After Sunday night's premiere, all the top social media trending topics in the United States were Game of Thrones-related. According to Headline Planet, the series and its characters sat atop the trending topics on Twitter, following the premiere on Sunday night. It was also the most-tweeted episode of Game of Thronesever. There were more than 5 million tweets, and over the weekend 11 million mentions.
The show also caused a global sensation. Anticipation for the new season in China is nothing less than soaring, with a discussion topic on Weibo racking up 96 million views on Sunday afternoon.
"I was very excited last night because I've been waiting for too long. And I really enjoyed it," Matthew Rayburn, a longtime fan, told China Daily. "Overall, it was a satisfactory season premiere. I wish the first episode was a little longer, as I do feel that certain scenes were rushed."
"It's a solid episode. But I guess my expectations after almost two years of waiting got too high to be satisfied by this one," Yujie Yang, who lives in New York, told China Daily.
The new episode, Winterfell, received a score of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer, which measures the percentage of "Approved Tomatometer Critics" who gave a positive review. It also received an average rating of 7.78 out of 10.
The Season 8 premiere was streamed online in China on Monday morning by Tencent Video, a unit of Chinese tech giant Tencent, which gained exclusive distribution rights to the show from HBO in 2014.
"After a two-year wait in the 'cold winter', finally it comes!" wrote Weibo user Mishi Meng Meng. "I just finished watching it and I want to give it a 12 out of 10－it's really worth the wait!"
Last season, HBO said an average of 32.8 million viewers per episode watched Thrones after months of streaming viewership were calculated. With 47 Emmy Awards, the show has won more Emmys than any television drama in history.
Based on the novel series by George R.R. Martin, Game of Throneswas created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It tells the story of several families from different kingdoms scheming to sit on the Iron Throne. Its cast includes Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner and Lena Headey.
The final season of the epic comes at crossroads for HBO. Last year, the network's parent company, Time Warner, was acquired by AT&T in a deal worth $85 billion. Time Warner was renamed WarnerMedia and, within the year, all top executives at the company have stepped down and been replaced.
There are only five episodes left in the series, with four of the last five episodes having run times of around 80 minutes. What will HBO do as a follow up when Thrones runs out on May 19?
"I think they need a prestige show on this level to remain HBO," Bill Carter, a media analyst, told The Associated Press. But "more than ever, it's really hard to find a hit show and to break through in this marketplace".
"I'm not going to argue that we won't miss Game of Thrones. It's been a fantastic show for us, but life does go on," HBO programming chief Casey Bloys told the AP.
One possibility is an untitled prequel to Game of Thrones, created by Martin and Jane Goldman and starring Naomi Watts, that is scheduled for filming in June. Bloys said it is among several potential "Thrones" with discussions at HBO about "how many is too many?".
"We have high hopes for the pilot," he said. "But I want to be clear …we're not trying to do the same show again."