One oft-used and the clichéd saying goes “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This week that proverb rang true for the premiere episode of the seventh and penultimate season of “Game of Thrones”, the popular yet infamous TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s yet-unfinished book series on HBO.

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Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss said that the show will end at season 8 (barring spin-offs) and that this season and the last will have reduced episode counts. As a result, the return to the world of Westeros was three months later than the traditional start of seasons in past years. Perhaps that was the reason this premiere just became the most-watched episode for the entire series run.

Increasing viewers

While purists who prefer the books written by George R.R. Martin might decry the HBO show as a farce after season 3 that did not stop fans of the show version to tune in to watch “Dragonstone”, the season 7 premiere of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday, July 16.

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) interacting with Lannister soldiers without killing them, in 'Game of Thrones' [Image source: Youtube Screen grab]
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) interacting with Lannister soldiers without killing them, in 'Game of Thrones' [Image source: Youtube Screen grab]

It was the longest hiatus between seasons that the series had in its history, and that was enough to have loyal viewers flock to their TV sets or computing devices in droves.

Counting live telecast numbers alone, “Game of Thrones” season 7 started off with an impressive 10.1 million viewers through good old fashioned broadcasting. Add to that the tally from online streaming views – 6 million strong – and the total viewership for “Dragonstone” totals 16.1 million, a far cry from the closest number ever taken by any other previous episode of the HBO show.

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To compare, the series premiere episode all the way back in 2011 pulled in only 2.2 million viewers; while the stars of the fifth (2015) and sixth (2016) seasons got an average of 8 million tuning in for each instance.

Winter has come

Such a spike in HBO viewership for “Game of Thrones” can be attributed to the fact that its promotion stating only two seasons remaining with lesser episodes between them have put in an atmosphere of finality to the proceedings of the show narrative.

Indeed, every faction still active in the struggle for the rule in Westeros is winding up for the grand battle royal to determine who will dominate everyone else, and who will survive the coming of the seeming world-ending threat of the White Walkers.

With the sixth and penultimate book of the “Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin still a long way off despite his assurances, people impatient to learn the final fates of their favorite and hated characters will be ignoring the purists and following the adaptation “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

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It's next episode will be on July 23.

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