“The Last of Us” ended its first season with another triumph. With an audience of 8.2 million people for episode 9, the series broke its own viewership record — a significant feat, given that the finale aired during ABC’s telecast of the Academy Awards.
A combination of Nielsen data and first-party data from Warner Bros. Discovery, this figure accounts for those who tuned in on Sunday nights that aired on HBO’s cable channel as well as streams on HBO Max overnight. WBD also shared that the first six episodes of the series are now averaging 30.4 million viewers, with episode 1 approaching 40 million. In Europe and Latin America, “The Last of Us” has become the most watched program in HBO Max history.
This isn’t the first time “The Last of Us” has outdone itself while competing at a major awards show. Episode 4, titled “Please Hold to My Hand,” brought in 7.5 million viewers when it aired at the same time as the Grammys, which was then a series high.
When “The Last of Us” debuted in January, it trailed “House of the Dragon” to become the second-most watched HBO premiere in over a decade with 4.7 million viewers. Episode 2 marked HBO’s biggest ever increase between a series’ first and second episodes with 5.7 million viewers. The series then brought in 6.4 million viewers with Episode 3.
WBD also released new audience data for episodes 5-7 of “The Last of Us” that was previously unavailable.
Episode 5 was watched by 11.6 million people, which, while impressive, Variety does not consider a series highly due to its unconventional release. Because the episode’s originally scheduled airing on Sunday night was set to coincide with the Super Bowl, HBO chose to release the episode on HBO Max two days early. Therefore, this number points to viewing figures over the entire weekend 10-12. February instead of a single night. Episodes 6 and 7 were watched by 7.8 and 7.7 million people respectively.
The most comparable series in terms of viewership has been season 1 of “House of the Dragon,” which aired in 2022. And while “The Last of Us” has yet to surpass “House of the Dragon,” the former has a steeper course than the latter.
Beginning with 4.7 million viewers and ending with 8.1 million, “The Last of Us” viewership increased 75% throughout Season 1. In contrast, “House of the Dragon” was watched by 9.99 million with Episode 1, 10.2 million with episode 2 and 9.3 million with its finale. (WBD did not release exact audience figures for episodes 3 through 9.) That’s a 6.9% drop. And while ratings for the “House of the Dragon” finale were certainly hurt by the episode being leaked online two days before it aired, it’s almost impossible that it could have increased at the rate that “The Last of Us” did even without the leak. Despite the fact that many of the episodes’ specific tallies were not available, it is still known that they followed a smoother path: Variety could confirm that viewership for “House of the Dragon” increased by 5% with episode 4, by 3% with episode 5 and by another 3% with episode 6.
It should also be noted that “House of the Dragon” had the advantage of serving as a prequel to “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s biggest hit of all time, while “The Last of Us” is the first screen adaptation of its source material ( the PlayStation games of the same name). “House of the Dragon” also never aired in competition with a major awards show.
“The Last of Us” received an early renewal for a second season, which was announced when only the first two episodes of Season 1 had aired. And given the success the series has become, a third season already seems likely: Creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann expressed Monday that they intend to stretch the storylines of the second “The Last of Us”- video game for more than one season of television.
Read Variety‘s final interview with Ashley Johnson, who played Ellie in the video games, and a final interview with production designer John Paino.