The Last of Us is already a huge hit – but it couldn’t make HBO Max history

It’s official: The Last of Us TV show is as infectious as we expected it to be.

The eagerly anticipated post-apocalyptic drama series is the second most-watched TV premiere in HBO and HBO Max history, with 4.7 million viewers tuning in to watch it last Sunday (January 15) in the US.

In a press release, HBO revealed that its live-action adaptation of The Last of Us, which stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, drew in twice as many viewers as Euphoria season 2’s opening episode. The Zendaya-starring drama show went on to average 19.5 million viewers per episode, so the early performance of The Last of Us suggests it could fare even better.

The show’s excellent start is to be expected. The Last of Us, which is largely based on Naughty Dog’s award-winning video game series of the same name, was met with critical acclaim ahead of its premiere. We mostly praised it in our The Last of Us review and, with 99% and 96% certified fresh critical and audience ratings on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, everyone is in agreement over how good it really is. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone, then, that we’ve already added it to our best HBO Max shows list.

Don’t look so glum, Joel and Ellie! (Image credit: HBO)

In a statement released alongside the show’s impressive viewing figures, co-showrunners and executive producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann said: “Our focus was simply to make the best possible adaptation of this beloved story for as big an audience as we could. We are overjoyed to see how many fans, both old and new, have welcomed ‘The Last of Us’ into their homes and their hearts.”

Unfortunately, no data has been provided by non-HBO sources, such as Sky in the UK, so it’s hard to determine how popular The Last of Us has been in other world regions – but if those numbers are anything like the figures it pulled in in the US, The Last of Us could be the biggest TV hit of 2023 so far. 

Analysis: dragons beat fungi

House of the Dragon still reigns supreme on HBO and HBO Max. (Image credit: HBO)

As impressive as The Last of Us’ performance is, the viewing figures for its premiere paled in comparison to one of its HBO cousins, House of the Dragon.

The Game of Thrones prequel series drew in nearly 10 million viewers when it debuted on HBO Max in August 2022; a roaring success that proved HBO’s live-action take on George R.R. Martin’s literary works wasn’t dead just yet. House of the Dragon continued to fly high in the weeks that followed, with the high-fantasy show averaging between nine and 9.5 million subscribers per episode, including a 9.3 million haul for its season 1 finale.

So The Last of Us has some way to go if it has any hopes of beating House of the Dragon and wrestling its crown from its fiery head – and it’s unlikely to achieve that aim.

Why? Despite its extremely divisive final season, Game of Thrones is still an incredibly popular show and franchise. As a prequel to events that occur in that TV series, House of the Dragon already had a pre-established TV fanbase, meaning it was always likely to draw in viewers, even if it ended up being terrible.

The Last of Us can boast its own devoted supporters base. However, while video games are becoming increasingly popular in mainstream culture, they’re not as ingrained in the public consciousness as TV shows are. It’ll take time, then, for The Last of Us series to increase the franchise’s fanbase.

Still, if it’s any consolation, the very first episode of Game of Thrones only attracted 2.2 million viewers in the US in April 2011. The Last of Us’ premiere blows that figure out of the water, so it can take comfort in the fact that it’s beaten one Game of Thrones live-action series. If The Last of Us receives more instalments – and, based on its audience share, it’s nailed on to do so – expect it to give House of the Dragon a proper run for its money in season 2 and beyond.

For more HBO-centric coverage, find out how to watch The Last of Us episode 2 before it airs in your world region. Additionally, read up on why its showrunners decided to alter The Last of Us timeline for its TV adaptation, and check out our Game of Thrones seasons ranked article.

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