“The Last of Us” takes place in a nightmarish apocalypse, but its audience seems alive and plentiful. 4.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the video game adaptation’s premiere episode during its first day of availability, HBO announced Monday.
The viewership data is based on Nielsen figures and HBO’s own internal figures, and includes both linear viewers on HBO proper and views from HBO Max on Sunday, January 15, when the episode premiered. The figure makes “The Last of Us'” first episode, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” the second biggest premiere episode for HBO since 2010’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which debuted with 4.81 million viewers. If that seems like a weird show to remain un-beat for over a decade, recall that this was back before the launch of HBO Max or its predecessor HBO Now, when content from the channel wasn’t as broadly available on streaming and premiere day viewing was much higher. According to HBO, Sunday night viewership now accounts for roughly 20 to 40 percent of a show’s total audience per episode.
The largest premiere audience since “Boardwalk,” was, of course, the one for “House of the Dragon,” which attracted 9.986 million viewers when it premiered last August. For comparison, “The Last of Us'” premiere viewership is just slightly higher than that of “House of the Dragon’s” parent series “Game of Thrones,” which debuted to 4.2 million viewers in 2011 before steadily exploding in viewership over the course of its run. Incidentally, “Game of Thrones” eventually featured “The Last of Us'” lead actors — Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay — in its sprawling cast, so maybe being “Thrones” adjacent is the magic touch an HBO series needs to score big with its premiere numbers.
“The Last of Us” also managed to nearly double the Season 2 premiere numbers for “Euphoria” when it debuted last year. The Zendaya-led teen drama is currently HBO’s second-largest hit after “House of the Dragon,” averaging 19.5 million viewers per episode in the U.S. during its sophomore run.
“Our focus was simply to make the best possible adaptation of this beloved story for as big an audience as we could,” “The Last of Us” executive producers and showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann said in a statement. “We are overjoyed to see how many fans, both old and new, have welcomed ‘The Last of Us’ into their homes and their hearts.”
Based on the video game series created by Druckmann for the Playstation video game consoles, “The Last of Us” stars Pascal as Joel, a smuggler in a post-apocalyptic United States who is hired to journey with 14-year old Ellie (Ramsey). Recurring actors in Season 1 include Gabriel Luna, Anna Torv, Murray Bartlett, Melanie Lynskey, Nick Offerman, Storm Reid, Jeffrey Pierce, Lamar Johnson, Graham Greene, Elaine Miles, Nico Parker, Keivonn Woodard, and Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, who played Ellie and Joel in the original games. Mazin and Druckmann executive produce the series for HBO with Carolyn Strauss, Evan Wells, Asad Qizilbash, Carter Swan, and Rose Lam. Sony Pictures Television co-produces the series with HBO, while PlayStation Productions, Word Games, The Mighty Mint, and Naughty Dog serve as additional production companies.
“The Last of Us” and its premiere episode “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” has received critical acclaim. In his review of the first episode, IndieWire critic Steve Greene called it “pretty much a best-case scenario for an opening episode of a sprawling TV adaptation.”