As we reported yesterday, overnight ratings for Game of Thrones broke records for HBO, generating over 16 million viewers, including 10 million live viewers and an additional 6 million who watched it on DVR.
So, how does that stack up against The Walking Dead, the highest rated show on cable for the last five years? It depends. A one-to-one comparison between the seventh season premiere of The Walking Dead and the seventh season premiere of Game of Thrones gives the AMC series a slight edge, 17 million viewers to 16.1 million viewers.
However, ratings for the season premiere of The Walking Dead are somewhat misleading. It was after the season premiere that the AMC series began losing viewers. The series lost 5 million overnight viewers after that first episode and never regained them. Week 2 fell to 12 million viewers. Overnight ratings are also misleading, however, because The Walking Dead regularly added a few million more viewers on DVR throughout the week. In fact, for the season, The Walking Dead average around 15.5 million viewers a week after live ratings and DVR were accounted for.
However, 15.5 million viewers is less than the 16 million viewers Game of Thrones scored in its season premiere, and those ratings are for the first day of viewers (and they don’t even include the 130,000 people who downloaded Game of Thrones illegally). As noted by Variety, weekly viewership on all platforms reached 25 million viewers last season, and given that this season’s premiere of Game of Thrones doubled the overnight ratings of last season’s premiere, it’s safe to say that weekly viewership will most certainly reach 25 million or more viewers again this season, which is significantly more than the 15.5 million viewers The Walking Dead averaged in its 7th season. Moreover, ratings for The Walking Dead are on the decline, while ratings for Game of Thrones are increasing as it nears the end of the series.
In short, for all intents and purposes, The Walking Dead is no longer the highest rated show on cable. That title belongs to the HBO series now, and Game of Thrones is not likely to relinquish the crown again until it goes off the air, at which point The Walking Dead will be in its 9th season and may ultimately find itself competing with Game of Thrones’ spin-offs for highest rated show on cable, assuming of course that Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen, Westworld, or Better Call Saul don’t squeeze past a declining The Walking Dead in upcoming years.
Regardless of how Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead currently stack up, however, they are still easily the two most watched shows on cable and third place — currently Fear the Walking Dead — isn’t even close.