'Game of Thrones' season debut breaks HBO rating records

This image released by HBO shows Emilia Clarke, left, and Kit Harington in a scene from "Game of Thrones," premiering on Sunday, April 14. The first episode of the final season of "Game of Thrones" is a record-breaker for the series and HBO. The pay channel said the 17.4 million viewers who watched Sunday’s episode either on TV or online represent a season-opening high for the fantasy saga. (HBO via AP)

The first episode of the final season of 'Game of Thrones' is a record-breaker for the series and HBO

LOS ANGELES — The first episode of the final season of "Game of Thrones" is a record-breaker for the series and HBO.

The pay channel said the 17.4 million viewers who watched Sunday's episode either on TV or online represent a season-opening high for the fantasy saga.

HBO Now also posted its biggest streaming night ever, the channel said Monday.

The episode topped the 16.1 million who saw the seventh-season premiere and the 16.9 million who watched that season's finale.

Reflecting increasing audience fondness for streaming, HBO saw about a 50 percent increase in online viewing compared to last season's finale. In comparison to the season-seven premiere, the streaming audience nearly doubled.

"Game of Thrones" ultimately averaged 32.8 million viewers per episode last season in cumulative TV and online viewership, HBO said.

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