Game of Thrones has seen its ratings decrease steadily since the first episode of season five, “The Wars to Come.” This past week’s episode, “Hardhome,” however, enticed a horde of seven million to tune in. It didn’t hurt that the episode gave those people a big dose of zombie-killing chaos, but the ratings victory may be pyrrhic. Recently, the show has been pinned against the NBA Playoffs in the Sunday night slot. Fortunately for GoT, the NBA Conference Finals wrapped up in time for a free spot, leaving Keeping Up with the Kardashians as its only competition and there’s probably not a ton of overlap there.
This Sunday, Thrones will have to compete with Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Viewers will now be faced with a choice: does last week’s battle-centric episode mean this week’s will be more tepid, or does it mean that the action will keep ramping up? There is at least one Frankstein-y monster about to tear up King’s Landing - so that’s something.
If the viewership dips again — and it likely will - the numbers will illustrate a worrying trend for Thrones. Ratings indicating that viewers want battles more than they want dramatic story lines could put the show runners - who care enormously about the books - the author of the books, and the fans of the books, in a tough spot. If they know they can fight their way out of a ratings jam, and they may be tempted to do so.
If this was network television — it isn't tv at all, it's HBO — the numbers would foretell future bloodshed. But prestige programming is harder to predict. The show got big by being good, so leaving it alone is a viable management strategy. But if viewers leave it alone for too long Jon Snow is gonna have to take his shirt off and pick up a sword.