Game of Thrones is dead, long live Game of Thrones.
It seems that reports of Game of Thrones’ death have been greatly exaggerated. Because? Because House of the Dragon, the first spin-off of HBO’s live-action adaptation of George RR Martin’s beloved fantasy novels, has just become the most-watched series debut in HBO history.
In a press release, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) – the owners of HBO and its sister streamer HBO Max – revealed that the first episode of House of the Dragon drew 9.986 million viewers during its opening night. While that number only represents US households, Warner Bros. Discovery also confirmed that House of the Dragon was the biggest launch of HBO Max series in Latin America, as well as Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) – territories where the streamer is available. There is currently no data available on how it fared on Sky Atlantic in the UK or Foxtel in Australia.
Additionally, interest in Game of Thrones has increased among HBO Max subscribers in the weeks leading up to the release of House of the Dragon. WBD confirmed that the eight-season fantasy series has seen week-on-week growth since June, with total audience engagement 90% higher in the days leading up to House of the Dragon’s premiere than seven weeks before.
Clearly, then, audiences haven’t completely turned their backs on the Game of Thrones franchise, which will be seen as a huge win for Warner Bros. some industry commentators (opens in new tab) – including ourselves – suggesting that, in the wake of the much-maligned eighth season of Game of Thrones, global interest in House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones in general has waned.
The resounding success of House of the Dragon offers a brief respite for Warner Bros. Discovery – the brand created by the recent merger of the two companies – after weeks of bad press. The conglomerate has faced fierce backlash (and rightly so) over the cancellation of the DCEU’s Batgirl movie, in addition to the removal of various fan favorite shows and movies (opens in new tab) from HBO Max.
In the same way that Stranger Things season 4 provided some relief to Netflix amid its recent financial and subscriber woes, House of the Dragon appears to have done the same for WBD. People are talking about House of the Dragon’s most brutal scenes, not corporate problems – the HBO Max series was the top trending topic on Twitter for 14 straight hours after launch.
Martin’s own involvement in the formation of House of the Dragon certainly helped its overnight success as well. The acclaimed author recently revealed (via WSJ magazine (opens in new tab)) that he had a more prominent role in the spin-off than in the later seasons of Game of Thrones. Given that We ranked three of the last four seasons of Game of Thrones as the worst of its season, Martin’s influence on the original series’ structuring, storylines, mature themes, and character arcs played a significant role in its initial success. House of the Dragon will have benefited from Martin’s extensive consulting role in its development, with the show’s initial 10 episodes cashing in on his involvement.
It’s still early days for House of the Dragon, but all signs point to the success of Game of Thrones a decade ago. Warner Bros. Discovery can take heart from its promising start — and not just because it relieves the pressure on the beleaguered organization. The company has other Game of Thrones spin-offs in the works — a series centering on Jon Snow and The Sea Snake, among others — and the early success of House of the Dragon proves that there’s still an audience for Westeros-based programming.
In light of their recent struggles, WBD needed a big win, and House of the Dragon actually delivered two: one for the corporation at large and one for its live-action Game of Thrones franchise. The death knell has yet to be touched on the latter, and we have House Targaryen, its dragons and politically charged drama to thank for it.
For more HBO-based coverage, check out the best HBO Max movies. Alternatively, read what’s leaving the streamer by the end of August.