New HBO Series Breaks Ratings Record With Premiere Episode

It looks like HBO has another hit on its hands with The Last of Us. The video game adaptation drew 4.7 million viewers when it premiered on Sunday night, making it the second-biggest TV premiere since 2010 for the cable network. So far, critical reception for the pilot episode has lived up to those views as well.

The only HBO premiere bigger than The Last of Us in the past decade was House of the Dragon, which drew 9.99 million viewers on its first night. In a way, both shows still benefit from the foundation of Game of Thrones, since House of the Dragon is a prequel and The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. Those viewership numbers include live viewers on both HBO's cable channel and the HBO Max streaming service. Presumably, The Last of Us will see many more views this week as fans tune in at their convenience, and another surge at the end of the season when binge-watchers catch up.

The last time HBO had a premiere to match this one was in 2010 with Boardwalk Empire. It had 4.81 million live viewers according to a report by Deadline, without the benefit of HBO Max. Since then, many of the biggest prestige dramas of our era have failed to live up – Euphoria Season 2 premiered in January 2022 with 2.4 million live viewers, for example. Accounting for late viewings, the show averaged 19.5 million viewers per episode. HBO reps told reporters that premiere night views usually account for between 20 and 40 percent of each episode's total gross audience.

The Last of Us has a unique confluence of advantages over other HBO shows. It is led by recognizable stars Pascal and Ramsey, both of whom not only appeared in Game of Thrones but other popular media since then. It is also based on an extremely popular video game released for the PlayStation. On top of that, The Last of Us is the kind of sci-fi story that is resonating with audiences right now.

The Last of Us is set in the near future 20 years after a cataclysm has destroyed modern civilization. Survivors typically live in oppressive "quarantine zones," but Joel (Pascal) is one of the few tough enough and daring enough to leave these areas. He is hired to smuggle Ellie (Ramsey) out, and their task soon becomes greater as they must travel all the way across the former United States.

The game has been praised for its storytelling since its release in 2013, and so far it seems the show will get many of the same compliments. At the time of this writing, it has 99 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.7 out of 10. Episode 1 is streaming now on HBO Max, while Episode 2 is scheduled to premiere on Sunday, Jan. 22.