‘Game of Thrones’ season 7 premiere ratings smash records

Game of Thrones returned after its longest wait yet to the show’s biggest audience ever — by far.

The worldwide hit series delivered an incredible 16.1 million viewers for the highly anticipated kick off to its penultimate season across all HBO platforms (repeats and streaming and DVR).

That represents a whopping 50 percent increase from last year’s premiere — despite the show airing in the summer for the first time when the number of households watching television is lower than in the spring (which is why broadcast networks run most of their original programming from September to May).

Last year the season 6 premiere averaged 10.7 million viewers including streaming (7.9 million viewers without).

The hour-long Thrones premiere, titled “Dragonstone,” earned rave reviews from critics (see our deep-dive recap). The episode also inspired 2.4 million tweets, making it the show’s most-tweeted episode of all time. GoT also has the distinction of being TV’s most Emmy-honored drama, though the show is sitting out this fall’s ceremony and the current season will not be eligible for consideration until 2018.

The news is both terrific for HBO and also a tad bittersweet — a network always wants huge ratings, of course, but with only 12 episodes remaining (the eighth and final season will have six), this is a hugely lucrative property whose popularity has climbed every season that the company will dearly miss. Multiple prequel series are in development out of hopes of finding at least one worthy of continuing the GoT franchise, but they are without showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss or the current cast. Over the years, the first season averaged 3.3 million viewers including DVR, according to Nielsen, while season 6 averaged 10.6 million viewers — with well over 25 million eventually watching per episode across all of HBO’s various domestic platforms.

More Game of Thrones season 7 premiere coverage: Check out our deep-dive recap, as well as Maisie Williams discussing that cold open shock, our chat with Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy) about the flirty return of his ‘douchebag’ pirate and myself and Darren Franich have our Game of ThronesWeekly podcast (with our “Dragonstone” episode now live).