Game of thrones

Show caps its highest-rated season to date by growing nearly 30% above last year's closer

One week after a vocal minority of “Game of Thrones” fans vowed to bail on the series after its especially violent “red wedding” episode, the epic fantasy show drew its second-largest audience to date for its third-season finale Sunday night.

Nielsen estimates that 5.4 million tuned in Sunday for the first telecast of the season-ender, up 3% from last week’s 5.22 million and behind only the show’s May 5 episode, which drew 5.5 million — this despite facing the NBA Finals on ABC. Among all current HBO series, only “True Blood” has drawn a larger audience than “Game of Thrones,” peaking at 5.53 million in August 2011.

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A second airing Sunday drew about 900,000 viewers, for a cume total of 6.3 million viewers.

This year’s finale of “Game of Thrones” surged 28% over last year’s 4.2 million.

According to Nielsen data supplied by HBO last week, this season of “Thrones” has averaged 13.6 million viewers when you add in encores, DVR playback and viewing done via the HBO Go streaming app. The only season of an HBO series to draw a larger cumulative audience per episode was the 2004 season of “The Sopranos,” which drew 14.4 million.

For the season, “Game of Thrones” averaged 4.97 million viewers for its 9 p.m. Sunday telecast — a gain of 30% from its second-season average (3.8 million) and nearly double its rookie-season average of 2.52 million.

Demographic data wasn’t available Monday, but Sunday’s season finale was expected to be on par with the 2.9 that “Thrones” earned on May 5. “True Blood” has eclipsed a 3 demo rating on three occasions.

HBO has renewed “Game of Thrones,” which is based on “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, for a fourth season of 10 episodes.

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