The HBO series produces just 10 episodes a year, so each one is a precious gem to its fans. After waiting more than nine months for a fresh hour, roughly 6.6 million of them showed up for its fourth-season premiere, according to Nielsen estimates — up 50% from its year-ago opener (4.37 million) and triple the 2.2 million who watched the show’s inaugural telecast in April 2011.
It was also 22% more than the audience for the show’s third-season finale last June (5.39 million).
This is the largest audience for any HBO program since the finale of “The Sopranos,” which drew 11.9 million in 2007. The highest in recent years had been 5.53 million for “True Blood” in August 2011.
The previous high for “Thrones” was 5.5 million for an episode in the middle of last season.
A second airing of Sunday’s season premiere of “Game of Thrones” added 1.6 million viewers for a gross audience of 8.2 million. Season 3 grossed 14.4 million viewers per episode across various platforms.
“Game of Thrones” was big on social media as well, with Facebook reporting that 1.9 million people participated in the conversation about the show, with more than 2.8 million interactions (posts, likes, shares) related to “Thrones.”
HBO on Sunday also bowed Mike Judge comedy “Silicon Valley,” drawing about 2 million viewers at 10 p.m. — the largest audience for a new half-hour on the network since “Hung” in 2009 (2.8 million).
The third-season opener of “Veep” followed at 10:30 p.m. (955,000 viewers), down a smidge from last year.
Also bowing Sunday night was AMC’s Revolutionary War drama “Turn,” whose 90-minute series premiere drew a modest 2.1 million viewers and skewed older as might be expected (garnering a 0.53 national rating in adults 18-49). Starting next week, “Turn” will lead into “Mad Men,” which kicks off its final season on Sunday.