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‘The Last of Us’ Viewership Has Been First-Rate

No apocalypse to see here: "The Last of Us" is quickly becoming one of HBO's highest-rated series ever, both by Nielsen and by TV critics.

Pedro Pascal in "The Last of Us"

Pedro Pascal in “The Last of Us”

Courtesy of HBO

If you thought the last “Last of Us” — also known as the HBO drama’s series premiere — reached a large audience, get a load of Sunday’s initial numbers.

Episode 2 of “The Last of Us” landed 5.7 million viewers in the U.S. on Sunday night, according to a combination of Nielsen data and HBO’s internal streaming metrics, up 1 million viewers — or +22 percent — from the previous weekend’s series debut. That growth (on a percentage basis) marks the largest Week 2 audience increase for an HBO original drama in the history of the network. Drama is a key word here, so IndieWire dug a little deeper into the archives for context.

In 2009, “Hung,” a comedy, experienced a greater Week 2 engorgement, rising nearly 41 percent from its own series premiere. “Hung” Episode 101 drew 3.7 million viewers; 102 soared to 5.2 million viewers. Those “Hung” episodes followed Season 2 episodes of hit vampire drama “True Blood.” At the time, linear HBO was the only option for the programming, and word-of-mouth still mostly happened by mouth. (HBO Go launched in 2010, HBO Now in 2015, and HBO Max in 2020.)

These days, streaming reigns supreme and the water cooler is really just social media, which really only quenches all the wrong things. But there, “The Last of Us” Episode 101 trended No. 1 in both the U.S. and worldwide on premiere night.

In addition to the show’s success, its companion podcast reached the top spot on Apple’s TV & Film chart in the U.S. within 24 hours of its Episode 1 release. The podcast is hosted by Troy Baker, who plays “Last of Us” hero Joel Miller in the PlayStation games, a role now occupied on TV by Pedro Pascal.

The first “Last of Us” episode earned 4.7 million viewers on premiere night, January 15, 2023. That tally made it HBO’s second-largest debut, behind only “House of the Dragon,” since “Boardwalk Empire” bowed in 2010.

HBO saw this coming to some degree: “The Last of Us” teasers and trailers amassed more than 100 million views globally before Nielsen was even able to measure the actual television episode.

Neil Druckmann on "The Last of Us" set

Neil Druckmann on “The Last of Us” set

Courtesy of HBO

“We are thrilled to see fans of the series and game alike experience this iconic story in a new way, and we extend our gratitude to them for helping to make it a success,” Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO & HBO Max Content, said after “The Last of Us” first etched itself into HBO’s record books. “Congratulations to [executive producers Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin] and the brilliant cast and crew who worked tirelessly to bring this show to life. We look forward to fans around the world enjoying the rest of the season.”

Enjoying they are. As of this writing, “The Last of Us” has a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes among critics; it’s at 96 percent among the audience. IndieWire has hailed the HBO adaptation as the best video-game adaption in (at least) recent memory; read our Episode 1 review here. Our Episode 2 review can be found here; both are by Steve Greene. And if you want to know what (probably) makes “The Last of Us” so great amid such a flop-heavy history, read our interview with the PlayStation Productions chiefs here.

A day later, viewership for “The Last of Us” debut episode more than doubled, climbing north of 10 million viewers, per HBO. With one full week of availability, Episode 1 has now been watched by an estimated 18 million viewers across all platforms, the premium-cable platform says. HBO says its Sunday programs usually get 20-40 percent of their “total gross audience per episode” on premiere night. Thus far, the “Last of Us” series premiere started with about 26 percent of its audience on Night 1; that will decline as time — and catch-up viewing — go on.

“The Last of Us” is a series adaptation of the hit Sony PlayStation video-game franchise. The game and show take place in the aftermath of a global pandemic that destroys civilization. The series follows hardened survivor Joel Miller, who takes charge of humanity’s last hope, a 14-year-old girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Gabriel Luna also stars.

New episodes of “The Last of Us” debut each Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and are available to stream on HBO Max. The Season 1 finale is set for March 12.

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