Four Sundays ago, Home Box Office premiered the first episode of the penultimate season of their cash cow series, “Game of Thrones.” Said episode, “Dragonstone,” would set a franchise record as the most-watched episode of the series to date. Still, with “Thrones” coming to an imminent end, the chances that this record number of views will be trumped sooner rather than later is a sure bet. But nobody could predict the perfect storm that brewed for episode 4, “The Spoils of War.” HBO tagged it as the shortest run-time for a “Game of Thrones” episode ever, and the week before, a hack attack on the network leaked the chapter in question.

It still did not stop “Spoils” from becoming the most-watched episode of the show, for now.

Records breaking quickly

Game of Thrones” season 7, episode 4 – “Spoils of War” surpassed expectations when it drew 10.2 million viewers on its Sunday, August 6 premiere on HBO. The previous record holder of the series, the season premiere “Dragonstone,” had managed 10.1 million first-showing viewers (beating the season 6 finale). The two episodes between them had only rustled up over 9 million views, so the sudden surge caught watchers by surprise. It was a delicious moment of victory for HBO after a series of troubles besetting it over the previous month.

The most significant problem that HBO faced was the recent hacking of their servers by anonymous perpetrators demanding a ransom to stop them from leaking the media they stole.

At the same time, “Spoils of War” was accidentally put on the internet last Friday, August 4, due to problems with HBO distribution partner Star India. This resulted in a low-quality stream of the episode that was snapped up by impatient “Game of Thrones” fans. But amazingly, the leak may have actually helped to boost the viewership for the latest episode.

Dragon rampage

Spoils of War” is a relatively low-key chapter of the seventh season of “Game of Thrones.” It mostly focuses on Queen Cersei’s plan for domination, King Jon and Queen Daenerys trying to find a good driving reason to work together, and the other surviving Stark siblings reuniting at home. Then the episode closes off on a strong note with the Mother of Dragons unleashing her biggest pet at the Lannister armies in open battle, with Jaime Lannister apparently going down in the river with heavy armor on.

It seems no matter what else may happen, as HBO brings its long-running show to a close, “Game of Thrones” will continue to break viewership records the closer it gets to the end by next year. The fifth episode of season 7 will premiere August 13.