As we all return to Westeros for another round, it’s hard not to compare the Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon, with its blood-soaked forerunner. While many have focused on the tangible differences between the type of storytelling and the focus of the two shows, it also pays to give some attention to how well they are doing overall in the market. How does House of the Dragon stack up against Game of Thrones in the viewer numbers? Will it manage to surpass the excellent first series, marred only by a quality decline in later seasons? With the run of the first season only halfway complete and at least one more season to come, it is tough to tell, but let’s look at some of the figures.
What is House of the Dragon?
House of the Dragon is an independent spinoff from the original Game of Thrones fantasy drama TV series. Set in the same world (Westeros) as the A Song of Ice and Fire books (written by George RR Martin) that the original takes place in, it follows the tangled Targaryen family tree and is set about two centuries before the original series.
It has a slightly different action focus, too. While Game of Thrones was packed with blood-soaked battles, gore, and a wide canvas of all the surviving Houses fighting it out for the Iron Throne, House of the Dragon focuses only on the Targaryens and has a lot more of a courtly intrigue feel. Not that the blood, gore, and occasionally incest-y vibes from the original are wholly missing. It’s just a tighter and more nuanced look at the same bloody canvas.
How Was the Pilot Received?
When it comes to the pilot, the message is clear: House of the Dragon outperformed Game of Thrones. Of course, we can argue that that’s only because people already know what to expect and are familiar with the world of Westeros and its eponymous dragons, whereas Game of Thrones had to break new ground as a fantasy series.
However, HBO has reported a global audience of 9.986 million viewers on both HBO Max and its linear TV services for the sequel’s first episode when it went live. Game of Thrones only managed 2.22 million viewers across the same platforms. Interestingly, this makes it the largest series premiere of any in HBO history, too. It also crashed their streaming platform, there were so many simultaneous viewers.
So the message there is clear. Despite the disappointing ending and concerns around the rushed quality of the final few seasons of Game of Thrones, fans and curious newcomers alike are more than willing to give Westeros a second chance.
While it is tough to give further stats on a series only halfway through airing, the rough average viewers per episode for House of the Dragon is believed to be around 29 million across the first five episodes. For a premium cable series, which this still counts as, that’s remarkable indeed.
By the eighth and final (albeit disappointingly received) Game of Thrones season, the show was pulling in an average of 44 million viewers, so House of the Dragon still has a way to go to make those numbers. It could be the different setting, the disappointing reception of that same Season 8 of the original, or just changing streaming tastes that have kept House of the Dragon lagging. Or it could just need time to build up a loyal following. For now, we can’t really know.
Nielsen does report that viewership is increasing steadily, with the latest cited figure being about 5% per episode. As the action heats up and the story gets into full swing, this is likely to improve.
A Boost for Game of Thrones
However, the release of the first few episodes in the new show didn’t just work their magic for it alone. We also saw a profound bump in ratings week-to-week for Game of Thrones on the service, too. In fact, it has improved its overall ratings stance by about 30% so far. Not bad for a show that’s long since wrapped and fallen out of the cultural zeitgeist. It now stands only just short of 600 million viewing minutes.
Surprisingly, this was enough to bump its own prequel further down the Nielsen charts. In the latest Nielsen Top 10, we see House of the Dragon take 6th spot, with Game of Thrones snagging itself 3rd place.
While the Nielsen charts are a little incomplete (they only take the US into consideration, and they don’t show mobile streaming), it’s still a very interesting scenario!
A Surprising Competitor
House of the Dragon has one other hurdle to face that Game of Thrones did not: a powerful non-series competitor. We also have The Rings of Power, based on Tolkein’s world of The Lord of the Rings, to contend with. So far, The Rings of Power is managing to beat out both of the Westeros series, having come on top a few times in Nielsen’s lists. It’s notable that Game of Thrones had no such powerful, high-budget, and well-known fantasy series to compete with on its first release, and this will likely affect how the numbers work out for all three series together.
Will Game of Thrones Stay King?
It’s really too early to tell, with the much-anticipated time shift and actor change announced for House of the Dragon only just hitting our streams and screens – albeit very dramatically! Game of Thrones has the advantage of a longer planned timeline and all those eager rewatches it’s getting off the back of House of the Dragon, so they may not tie in numbers completely.
However, it’s very clear that House of the Dragon is being well received, and the fanbase viewership numbers are ticking up steadily. With a second season for the show now confirmed too, we may see even more people decided to start watching. For now, we just have to wait and see.