Game of Thrones: The staggering numbers behind HBO’s biggest show
It will be a bittersweet weekend for fans of Game of Thrones, arguably one of the greatest television shows in history. After an incredible eight-year run, the HBO show will be bidding farewell Sunday as the last and final season comes to a close.
As diehard fans around the world get ready to indulge in the final episode of GOT — a brand which some analysts estimate is worth over $1 billion — here are some of the crucial numbers that brought together the award-winning series.
Since it first aired on April 17, 2011, the show’s reach has been far and wide. It is currently broadcast in 207 countries and territories and simulcast in 194 countries and territories, according to HBO.
In the U.S., viewership has only been increasing since the premiere — 9.3 million viewers tuned in for season one; 11.6 million watched season two; 14.4 million viewed season three; 19.1 million tuned in for season four, 20.2 million viewers watched season five; 25.7 million people viewed season six, and a whopping 32.8 million watched the penultimate season.
And the final season is smashing all previous records. An estimated 17.4 million viewers watched the premiere episode on April 14, and thus HBO had its biggest night for streaming ever. HBO’s streaming service HBO NOW saw a 50% jump in viewing. “[It] accounts for the largest night of streaming activity ever for HBO,” the company said in a blog post. Additionally, the premiere episode was the most-tweeted about episode in Game of Thrones history. Over the course of the weekend, there were over 5 million tweets and 11 million mentions about the episode.
Last week’s episode “The Bells” broke all previous records after drawing in 18.4 million viewers across all HBO platforms, including linear, HBO GO and HBO NOW. The previous series record was held by the episode centered around the Battle of Winterfell which had 17.8 million viewers. According to HBO, season eight has averaged 43 million viewers per episode in gross audience, which is about a 10 million increase from the previous season.
Lots of awards that didn’t come cheap
Love for Game of Thrones doesn’t just come in the form of viewership. It also comes in the form of awards. Over the course of seven seasons, Game of Thrones received 132 Emmy Award nominations and won 47, seven Golden Globe nominations and one win, 18 SAG Award nominations and seven wins, 17 Critics’ Choice Award nominations and one win and seven AFI Award wins.
The immense praise and massive fanbase did come at a cost, though. The final season of Game of Thrones reportedly has a hefty $90 million price tag. Each of the feature-length six episodes will cost roughly $15 million, according to Variety. So far in season eight, viewers have gotten even more state-of-the-art CGI and dragon appearances, so many argued that the expensive production costs are worth it. At the beginning of the series, the average cost of an episode was a more modest $6 million and has steadily increased since then. Entertainment Weekly reported that the production budget for season six was about $10 million per episode.
But just how does the costly production of Game of Thrones stack up among its peers? According to Statista, as of data collected through 2019, it sits at number five. Netflix’s “The Crown” and NBC’s “ER” stole the top spots with each episode averaging around $13 million. Game of Thrones average cost of $10 million per episode goes head-to-head with NBC’s “Friends.” Five of the 17 television shows on the list were HBO productions.
How much do the Game of Thrones stars rake in for these extravagant productions? Well, HBO doesn’t provide salary or production cost figures; however, a report from the Hollywood Reporter shed some light on how much the stars might be making per episode. Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey reportedly collected about $1.2 million per episode for the final season. This bump comes after the group reportedly banded together for a pay raise ahead of the final season. As of 2017, they were each making about $500,000 per episode, which is up from the $150,000 paycheck they collected in 2013.
Extras, blood, wigs, etc.
Though many have recently pointed out that Lena Headey got paid an extremely high amount for her minimal role during the penultimate episode, the cast has generally worked grueling hours for their paychecks over the course of the past eight years. Looking back at some of the previous epic battle scenes, production was very time-consuming and required all hands on deck. In season six, the ninth episode “Battle of Bastards” took 25 days to film and required 600 crew members and 500 extras, according to Entertainment Weekly.
While, extras play a crucial role in the production of Game of Thrones, they are only paid about $100 per day of filming. In an interview with EW, Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff said, “Obviously they’re called ‘extras’ so there’s not a whole lot of money or respect that comes with that job. But the extras in Northern Ireland were spectacular in terms of their enthusiasm and the realism they brought to it. They work so hard with these insane hours. You think back on how many of our scenes where the extras play such a major part.”
Over the course of eight seasons, there were nearly 13,000 extras just in Northern Ireland alone. During the production process, 4,000 gallons of artificial blood, 20,907 candles, 25 miles of rope, 22,966 feet of waxed cotton fabric to make more than 330 tents and 50 miles of fabric for costumes were used.
Furthermore, Game of Thrones used 12,137 wigs and hairpieces during the entire series. Perfecting the mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen’s, hair was a project in and of itself. According to HBO, her wig color and hairstyle took two months of testing and seven different prototypes.
Now as Daenerys looks to take the Iron Throne in the series finale on Sunday, we can all appreciate the insane amounts of money and fake blood it took to create one of the most-watched television series of all time.
Heidi Chung is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @heidi_chung.