Is ‘Game of Thrones’ the Most-Watched Show in HBO’s History?

For so many years, fans of The Sopranos could point to proof that their show was the greatest in HBO’s history. It had the praise of critics, five Golden Globes, a slew of Emmys, and the highest ratings in the premium cable network’s history.

But a few years after Game of Thrones’ 2011 premiere, the gap began to narrow. The Emmys piled up fast (especially in 2015), and now the show has claimed the most Primetime awards ever.

Meanwhile, the show’s popularity has soared to extraordinary levels. By the fourth season (airing in 2014), it seemed a given that GoT would overcome the ratings record of 18.2 million viewers per show, set by The Sopranos in 2002.

However, the measurement had to allow for the difference in eras (i.e., streaming vs. live TV) and packaging (cable add-on vs. standalone subscription). Yet no matter how you measured it, GoT without question has become the most popular show in HBO’s history.

‘Game of Thrones’ topped 30 million viewers per episode in 2017.

Game of Thrones Jon Snow walks with Gendry and others
Game of Thrones | HBO

If GoT viewership narrowly edged The Sopranos in 2014 and hung around the low 20-million range for Seasons Five through Seven (2015-17), someone could have made a case the numbers were too close to call. However, Game of Thrones shattered the earlier records.

With Season Seven, the show averaged well over 30 million viewers per episode. No matter what type of numbers you produced to account for streaming and easier access (with on-demand views), you can’t account for an extra 15 million or so watchers.

What’s more, the numbers have increased every year. Unless the show has reached its absolute peak, HBO can expect GoT to pad its record starting April 14. There’s no telling how much of an audience it can grab in Season Eight.

That debut episode will allow Game of Thrones to pick off the last record The Sopranos holds — for season premiere numbers.

‘GoT’ can bury the final ‘Sopranos’ ratings record on April 14.

Still from the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ | Helen Sloane/HBO

When Season Four of The Sopranos kicked off in 2002, nearly 23 million viewers tuned in for the event. That record still holds as the biggest premiere in the networks history some 17 years later. But that should fall on April 14 when GoT premieres its final season opener.

The numbers showed the Season Seven finale hitting over 17 million viewers, while the premiere totaled 16 million viewers. With the hype for the final season building for months, we’d expect that last Sopranos milestone to fall as the rest have.

Because many viewers will watch afterward on their own time rather than live, it may take a day or two for the numbers to come in. However, for a show we’d expect to average something like 30-35 million viewers per episode, 23 million for the premiere seems safe.

But no matter what happens, Game of Thrones is the most popular show in HBO history. As far as which show’s the best, those debates can commence after the Season Eight finale airs May 19.

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