“The Bells” wasn’t just a big battle episode. It was the second-to-last episode of the season, which has traditionally been a big one (the so-called “episode nine”, though the term obviously doesn’t apply these last few shortened seasons.) It’s also the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones ever. With those stakes, one would expect the viewership numbers to go through the roof. If they were ever going to, this was the time.
Oh, boy, did they!
As per The Wrap’s report, “The Bells” earned a record-breaking viewership of 12.48 million during HBO’s first airing on the United States. Here’s a pretty chart about it:
At 12.5 million viewers, “The Bells” is, as we predicted, the most-watched Game of Thrones episode on its first US broadcast, finally dethroning the season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf”, which stood at 12.07 million viewers, followed closely by the other battle episode of season eight, “The Long Night”, at 12.02 million.
By breaking the show’s own viewership record, “The Bells” is now also the most-watched episode of any and all HBO TV shows. If anything could surpass all these records, it’ll have to be the only episode of Game of Thrones left: the series finale this coming Sunday. As momentous as a series finale is, it’s not been advertised to be as eventful or explosive as “The Bells”, which was controversial to boot, so a decrease doesn’t seem unlikely.
Though “The Dragon and the Wolf” held fiercely to its first airing record as long as it possibly could, if we account for all the modern ways we watch TV, such as multiple airings overnight and streaming services, season eight broke the season seven finale’s record from the very beginning: first it was the premiere, “Winterfell”, with 17.4 million viewers; then “The Long Night”, at 17.8 million. So, as one would expect, when accounting for overnight airings on HBO and streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now, “The Bells” also breaks the show’s record, drawing a massive 18.4 million viewers!