August 2014: Game of Thrones has 20 million viewers and The Walking Dead has 28 million viewers.
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Walking Dead
HBO’s unsullied army has grown big enough to invade Westeros. And if you actually understand that opener, it’s probably because you’re one of the nearly 20 million people who are caught up on Game of Thrones.
As part of Time Warner’s quarterly earnings report Tuesday, the company noted that Thrones viewership has swelled to a record-high of 19 million viewers. That massive number includes all the different ways the show is consumed—original airings, repeats, DVR playback and streaming. It also represents a major gain on the next-day numbers that are usually reported, which tend to be around 7 million.
Giving context to this audience size is tricky, since Thrones is by far the most-watched show on premium cable. But comparing Thrones to broadcast shows isn’t really fair either, for either party. Broadcast episodes often air only once instead of multiple times, as on HBO. Yet HBO is available in “only” about 29 million households, compared to the average potential broadcast audience of around 115 million U.S. homes. And let’s not even get started on illegal downloading, which Thrones dominates. So with the caveat that this comparison is apples-to-orangutans, CBS’ top-rated The Big Bang Theory averaged 22 million viewers last season, including DVR and streaming. So did the most-watched drama CBS’ NCIS.
That said, there is still one show that’s much higher than any of these, and it’s on basic cable: AMC claims an incredible 28 million viewers per episode for The Walking Dead season 4, including repeats and streaming.
Why Game of Thrones should win: There’s a reason Game of Thrones has more Emmy nominations this year than any other series on TV — and The Walking Dead gets, like, nods for sound editing. Thrones has elevated George R.R. Martin’s near-impossible-to-produce novels onto a level of cinematic storytelling that’s utterly unique to the TV landscape. Thrones‘ writing and acting, in particular, often rank up there with all-time best TV dramas.
Character wise, there’s nobody on TWD that compares to the likes of Tyrion Lannister or Arya Stark, and certainly no action sequence that rivals the battle of the Blackwater or Castle Black. The ambitious global disaster premise of TWD feels hamstrung by its basic cable budget—who wants to spend a whole season on a boring farm or a prison when you can spend it in King’s Landing and The Wall and Slaver’s Bay and the Riverlands? Likewise, TWD‘s revolving door of showrunners has often made it feel like it’s creatively lurching in different directions with every season. Plus, as brutal asThrones is about killing off characters, at least there’s some hope — TWD seemingly has no light at the end of its long dark zombie-filled tunnel.
And really: How many times can you watch some sweaty survivor stab a walker? Thrones has zombies plus White Walkers plus direwolves plus dragons.
Why The Walking Dead should win: In case you haven’t looked at the ratings, TWD has already won — it’s the highest-rated show on TV, by far. And who cares what the old folks at the TV Academy like; they thought the first season of Showtime’s Homelandwas better than the epic fourth season of AMC’s Breaking Bad, and apparently don’t even know who Tatiana Maslany is.
TWD presents a post-apocalyptic vision of humanity on a death march that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It also elevates the overworked and typically cheesy zombie genre into high drama. Unlike Thrones, you can actually follow this story without having a map, glossary, and character list handy. And there are more characters on TWD that you actually like—Rick’s gang are hardly saints, but they’re not (mostly) murderous sociopaths either. Sure, Thrones has more fantasy creatures, but since when is more better? Tyrion on trial doesn’t even seem like it’s on the same show as Bran fighting skeleton creatures. The Walking Dead, however, has a tense, focused story that’s hitting more evocative notes under new showrunner Scott M. Gimple.
Oh, one more thing: Norman Reedus.