Game of Thrones ended its epic eight-season run three years ago as the most-watched show in HBO history, an unlikely outcome given how it started back in April 2011. While network suits always had confidence in the show’s long-term prospects — hence the massive investment in production and marketing —they were also fairly certain it would not be setting any records out of the gate. In fact, they weren’t even thinking it would be their biggest hit of the season. “No one is expecting it to hit Boardwalk Empire numbers,” an exec at the network emailed me at the time. Perhaps it was a case of preemptive spin, but those internal predictions turned out to be right: Game of Thrones opened with 4.3 million linear viewers, about a half-million fewer than watched the series premiere of Terrence Winter’s mob drama seven months earlier.
More than a decade later, HBO is once again getting ready to launch an adaption of a book from George R.R. Martin’s GoT universe, and once again, the expectations for the project are sky-high. The difference now, of course, is that rather than being the first of its name, House of the Dragon is following an icon. What’s more, the entire TV universe has changed, not just compared to 2011, but even when measured against the landscape of just three years ago, when GoT ended. House of the Dragon is undeniably a blockbuster event on the TV calendar, but it will be sharing the spotlight with a dozen other big shows rolling out of the next few weeks — including an even more elaborate fantasy-adventure series (Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power).
And yet, this is still the Game of Thrones franchise we are talking about. More than 44 million Americans watched the show’s finale, and its fandom remains incredibly active. Plus, given the rapid growth of HBO Max and all the free time folks had during the early days of the pandemic, many millions more likely binged GoT for the first time after the final episode aired in 2019. There may be a lot of big deals in TV land nowadays, but few carry with them as much anticipation as House of the Dragon. Ahead of its 9 p.m. ET Sunday debut, here’s a look at some of the pressing questions surrounding its launch.
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