Though fan disappointment in Season 8 was mounting with each episode and the critics' response to the season overall lukewarm, HBO made its own version of history in the series finale on Sunday, racking up more viewers for Episode 6 "The Iron Throne" than any show it's ever produced and ending the record-smashing final season with some truly stunning numbers.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO amassed nearly 20 million views Sunday night for the series finale. A stunning 13.6 million viewers tuned in initially. When replays and early streaming for the first night are included, the total views are some 19.3 million. "Both figures are records not just for Game of Thrones, but for HBO's entire history," THR notes.
The network's previous high was reached the week before with Episode 5, which drew 12.48 million initial viewers and racked up a total of 18.4 million first-night views. Variety reported at the time that Episode 5 managed to beat the previous initial viewing record set by the Season 7 finale: 12.07 million. Before the series finale, Episode 3 "The Long Night" held the record for total first-night views at 17.8 million.
As THR highlights, five of the six episodes of the final season are among the six most-watched episodes in the history of series, with the Season 7 finale the only episode of a previous season making the top six list.
Through Sunday the final season episodes are averaging a jaw-dropping 44.2 million views, when additional streaming, replays, and on-demand and DVR views are included. "That's more than 10 million people ahead of the average for season seven," the outlet notes.
As The Daily Wire reported Monday, while the final episode inevitably drew a massive number of viewers, the response from viewers and critics has been mixed. Review site Rotten Tomatoes currently scores the episode at 57%, which is three points shy of earning the coveted "fresh" status. "If nothing else this divisively bittersweet — if unfortunately bland — series finale ensures Game of Thrones fans will linger on the fate of their favorite characters for some time," the site's "critics consensus" summary reads. "Will they ever be satisfied by the show's conclusions? Ask us again in 10 years."
"I didn’t particularly like this ending, which felt like a too-neat bow wrapped around a series that was at its most enthralling when it was strange and ambitious and messy," GQ's Scott Meslow wrote in comments echoed by several reviewers. "But Game of Thrones is at least wise enough to close with the implication that all of this is just one chapter in a much greater story, stretching endlessly in both directions, and that’s truer to the spirit of this story than any 'ending' could have been."
Season 8 has been riddled with controversy and widespread disappointment, particularly on the Left, with some feminist fans complaining that the show "betrays" its female characters, particularly Daenerys Targaryen, while others have expressed dismay at how easily the White Walkers were defeated after the show developed a "great parallel" between their threat and global warming. The dissatisfaction after Episode 5 escalated enough that a fan-created petition calling for the "remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers" racked up hundreds of thousands of views in rapid fashion. The petition currently contains nearly 1.3 million signatures.