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The Last Of Us Did The Unthinkable Against House Of The Dragon

The Targaryens might hold dominion over the Westeros of yesteryear but they've less sway over modern audiences, who seem to prefer found families over families with a different "f" word as their descriptor ("fighting," that's definitely the word). In the wake of the Season 1 finale of "The Last of Us" (Episode 9, "Look for the Light"), which was initially released in early March 2023, The Hollywood Reporter shared that HBO Max's adaptation of Naughty Dog's critically acclaimed video game garnered a higher total viewership than "House of the Dragon." Despite being directly linked to "Game of Thrones," which still holds the record for most-watched streaming series, the dragon-fueled prequel couldn't compete against the cordyceps. 

The Season 1 finale of "The Last of Us" averaged 8.2 million viewers across all of HBO's platforms, the largest opening night audience for the series yet. This consecutive viewership is marginally greater than what the previous episode (Episode 8, "When We Are in Need") experienced with approximately 8.1 million viewers across all of HBO's platforms. HBO told THR that the first six episodes alone are averaging 30.4 million viewers since the mid-January premiere, with the inaugural episode (Episode 1, "When You're Lost in the Darkness") coming closer to 40 million. 

In comparison, "House of the Dragon" averaged 29 million viewers across all of HBO's platforms in the latter half of 2022.

The real winners, hidden in plain sight

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) might be more engaging for audiences than Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock and Emma D'Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith), but it's important to remember that neither of HBO's more recent prestige productions holds even a flickering candle to the viewership that "Game of Thrones" demanded. According to The Hollywood Reporter, its final and most controversial season averaged 44 million viewers across all of HBO's platforms, and that was without the benefit of HBO Max. 

There is a defense to be made for "House of the Dragon," however, because "The Last of Us" didn't have to butt heads with its ideological opposite. Almost perfectly concurrent with the release window of HBO's high fantasy prequel series, Prime Video streamed its own high fantasy prequel series, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." Viewers were asked, if not with explicit words, to pick between the cozy fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien and the aggressive fiction of George R. R. Martin. Not to mention that — controversial final season or not — "House of the Dragon" lived in the mighty shadow of what came before.

And all "The Last of Us" had to do was not anger video game enthusiasts. That said, maybe it isn't even that deep. Maybe Pascal and Ramsey, who both appeared in "Game of Thrones," just know how to pick 'em.