'Game of Thrones' Swan Song Strikes a Similar Chord to HBO's Other Hit Drama

The finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones will debut Sunday with much fanfare -- and probably a record number of viewers for the pay channel.

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'

Last Sunday’s penultimate episode set a network audience record as 18.4 million viewers tuned in across HBO's platforms (linear, HBO GO and HBO NOW) according to the network, exceeding the previous series high of 17.8 million viewers HBO reported two weeks ago for the April 28 Winterfell war episode.

The excitement surrounding the Game of Thrones finale brings to mind the hype surrounding another HBO series finale more than a decade ago. The Sopranos was itself a cultural phenomenon as well as a critical and audience success for the premium channel heading into its series finale back in 2007.

Like Game Of Thrones today, The Sopranos back then was the network’s most successful show, and was on track to set a network viewership record for a finale. The infamous Made In America final episode eventually drew a record 11.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

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Most industry observers would bet that the audience across HBO’s various platform views for Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode will dwarf The Sopranos’ final episode viewership as HBO and fans bid farewell to television’s top Emmy-winning series. The penultimate episode, "The Bells," drew 18.4 million viewers across platforms.

Sunday’s Game of Thrones will also certainly draw its share of detractors who will dislike how the show finally ends. Already more than 600,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for a rewrite of the entire final season of the series, adding that the show “deserves a final season that makes sense.”

Of course, you can still find people in 2019 who are still talking about the Sopranos’ final restaurant scene that left viewers in limbo on the fate of the series' protagonist Tony Soprano 12 years ago. 

One thing the Game Of Thrones finale will produce: a rare water-cooler moment for a linear television show. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.