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‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes Keep Leaking, but Here’s Why Its Ratings Are Still Breaking Records

Like Drogon, HBO’s fantasy drama is still flying high even after episodes have been made available illegally online.

"Game of Thrones"

“Game of Thrones”


Another episode of “Game of Thrones” has leaked online, but even in this age of piracy and bootleg viewing, the show’s ratings are getting stronger with each episode.

Two weeks ago, an Indian distributor named Star leaked the season’s fourth episode titled, “The Spoils of War.” Despite the leak’s widespread availability, the episode drew 10.2 million viewers, which gave “Game of Thrones” its highest ratings ever at the time. Similarly, a separate HBO hack had leaked a script to an early episode that did not seem to diminish viewers’ appetite for the fantasy drama.

Now, it appears that yet another episode has leaked online, albeit accidentally, when this upcoming Sunday’s episode was published by a third-party vendor.

“We have learned that the upcoming episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ was accidentally posted for a brief time on the HBO Nordic and HBO España platforms,” Tom Krogsgaard Nielsen, VP of public relations for HBO Europe, said in a statement. He added, “This is not connected to the recent cyber-incident at HBO in the U.S.”

Although the episode was only up briefly, that was long enough for piracy sites and torrent networks to get their hands on it.

Despite this additional leak, HBO shouldn’t be worried. This past Sunday’s episode broke records yet again, this time drawing 10.72 million viewers, and it’s very likely that viewership will grow from there with the final two episodes this seasons. Here’s a look at why “Game of Thrones” ratings have proven to be impervious to the leaks:

1. It’s the Blockbuster, Communal Viewing Event of the Summer

Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, "Game of Thrones"

Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Just like with movies, copies leak on the internet all the time, but when it comes to the biggest properties, audiences feel more excitement and more drama when watching them together. This is the same with TV shows. Even if one watches the show alone, the echo chamber of Twitter and other social media amplifies the in-the-moment thoughts and feelings of everyone watching. #GameofThrones is a leading trending topic each Sunday night, and that’s precisely why the #OscarsSoWhite creator decided to target the “Game of Thrones” timeslot for her #NoConfederate campaign.

And while “Game of Thrones” has been consistently drawing eyeballs every season, this year its release schedule has guaranteed it’s the TV event of the summer. Usually it airs in the spring in order to air all of its episodes in time to qualify for the Emmys deadline. It’s a strategy that many shows employed this year, creating a glut of prestige TV. This year, however, production delayed “Game of Thrones,” which pushed its release date to mid-July, long after many of those other shows have ended. With the exception of “Twin Peaks,” which doesn’t reach as wide an audience, there is no show on currently that can hold a candle to “Game of Thrones” as far as buzz. Simply put, the series is one of the rare, non-sports shows that are appointment viewing. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” also enjoys this status, but its season ended back in April.

2. The Leaked Copies Are Low-Quality

Kit Harington, "Game of Thrones"

Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”


“Game of Thrones” lures in some of the best directors and crafts people in the business, making each episode a visual feast. Diehard viewers of the show simply are not willing to sacrifice this sensory experience by watching a grainy, low-quality offering.

The first episode leaked, Episode 4, in particular included a massive battle scene in which a dragon flew overhead and scorched an army. The most recent episode featured Jon Snow (Kit Harington) getting up close and personal with a dragon. And this coming Sunday’s episode will feature another battle, but this time with White Walkers and their mindless wights. Viewers want and need to see the show’s fantastical trappings and that level of epic action in HD, on the biggest screen available.

3. Many Viewers of the Leaked Episode Will Also Watch the Live Episode

Despite the loud outcry over spoilers, studies show that knowing spoilers actually enhances the viewing experience. Knowing the outcome can allow a person to enjoy the overall experience more instead of being focused on the end game. Some fans know this and see viewing the leaked episode as just an appetizer to the main event, which they partake in with their friends or family, in glorious HD quality.

4. Viewers Are Paying for the Experience Anyway

If someone is a fan of watching “Game of Thrones” live, they’re already likely paying for HBO. That investment is an incentive to make the subscription worthwhile. Since it’s appointment viewing also, that time has already been allotted to watching “Game of Thrones,” and therefore there’s no need to sit down at a laptop and squeeze in the illicit viewing.

5. Fans Want to Stretch Their Experience of the Show as Long as Possible

Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones"

Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”

Macall B. Polay/HBO

“Game of Thrones” has infiltrated the lives of so many fans for seven years now, and it will only last for one more season. No doubt fans will mourn the end of the beloved series, much like viewers of the “Harry Potter” films did when it appeared that those eight films would close the door on that world forever. Fortunately, the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” series has revived that franchise, and similarly HBO is planning to commission at least one “Game of Thrones” spin-off. When that will happen though remains to be seen.

A true fan wouldn’t want to accelerate to the end of what has already been a shorter season than usual. What’s the point of rushing? By waiting to watch the episode with the rest of the world, viewers can savor every precious moment of this time in this version of Westeros that is left.

“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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