According to Nielsen, "The Red Woman" was viewed by 7.944 million during its premiere telecast at 9 p.m. on April 24. That's the third highest linear audience in the show's history, falling short of the Season 5 premiere (7.997 million) and finale (8.112 million).
While these are impressive ratings for any show, they end Game of Thrones' streak of audience growth with each season's finale and premiere. The streak dates back all the way to Season 1, which premiered with 2.22 million viewers and bowed with 3.04 million. Season 2 debuted with 3.86 million and ended with 4.20 million. Season 3 opened with 4.37 million and closed with 5.39 million. Season 4 debuted to an audience of 6.63 million and concluded with 7.09 million. Season 5 set new records, with the premiere bringing in 8 million viewers and the finale upping that number to 8.11 million.
"The Red Woman" also slipped slightly in demo rating, earning a 4.0. The Season 5 premiere managed a 4.2, and the finale had a 4.1.
There are some interesting variables in play with the Season 6 premiere. The episode leaked early on Sunday, but leaks didn't seem to hurt the Season 5 premiere. This is also the first season of Game of Thrones will pull out ahead of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, on which the series is based, in terms of place in the narrative, though that only seemed to generate more excitement among fans. Judging by Rotten Tomatoes, "The Red Woman" received less positive reviews from critics than any previous Game of Thrones season premiere, though it's 92 percent positive rating (compared to 97-100 percent for past premieres) is still more than enough for it to be "certified fresh."
It may be digital viewership that detracted from Game of Thrones' traditional ratings. Despite the slip in live viewership, adding in the audiences for the first two encore showings of "The Red Woman," as well as early numbers from HBO Go and HBO Now, brings overall viewership to a new series high of 10.7 million. That's a 9 percent increase over the Season 5 premiere (9.8 million) and beats the previous record set by the Season 5 finale (10.3 million).
Neither metric accounts for viewers who watched as part of HBO's free preview weekend.
There's lots to chew on here in terms of how we track television ratings and the growing effect that streaming services may be having on those numbers. It would be interesting to know if those behind Game of Thrones are more concerned about the Nielsen ratings slip, or excited about the growing overall viewership. Given that the show is not ad-supported, I would guess the latter.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.