A funny thing happened this week on Game of Thrones, one no one expected. As the show settled into their mid season run, with a steady ratings pulse that was only slightly down from the premiere's record shattering numbers, the fourth episode leaked. This suggested that piracy (a problem that has bedeviled the show since the beginning) would siphon off eyeballs, with fans who had seen the episode already opting for something else, like Sharknado 5. But instead, ratings rose, causing Game Of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 to record breaking numbers for the second time this season.
But how? And why? If anything this was the week Game of Thrones would have been down, leak or no leak, because it was the only instance where they had actual competition from another Sunday night show. (Sorry Twin Peaks revival, but you just don't rank.) Though the leak was not actually staged by the HBO hackers, this is exactly the sort of thing they would do if they had gotten the episodes, in order to hurt HBO's numbers. (Proof, in case we needed it, that they don't have them.)
But instead, the leak seems to have lifted the numbers to break the previous HBO record, which Game of Thrones notched all of four weeks ago.
As Entertainment Weekly notes:
The HBO fantasy hit scored 10.2 million viewers for its debut airing Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET of 'The Spoils of War.' That number edges out the show's previous all-time record holder, the recent season 7 premiere, 'Dragonstone' (which premiered to 10.1 million episodes and has since climbed to over 30 million viewers in repeats, streaming and DVR playback).
Why? Let's run down the reasons:
The Leak Was In Standard Definition
You may think this a silly thing, but audiences, especially ones who pay through the nose for HBO, are very accustomed to their high definition TV, thank you very much. Seeing the episode ahead in standard merely gave superfans the realization that this week's episode was going to be mind-blowingly epic, and they needed to see it on the biggest and best screen they owned.
The Leak Was Watermarked To Hell
I don't know if you've seen the screenshots from the leak, but it's ugly. "For Internal Viewing Only" in one corner, copyright claims and ownership details in another, and a big honking timer countdown square in the lower center of the frame. That's no way to watch an episode with a battle of that caliber. Anyone who saw the leak only wanted to see it again, and without all that schmutz all over it.
The Leak Hyped The Coming Battle
Season 7, Episode 3 "The Queen's Justice" had been hyped with endless images of marching Lannister soldiers, and fighting Unsullied armies. And it was all one big fake out. The former was at Highgarden, taking it without a fight, and the latter was at Casterly Rock, wondering where the fight was at. Fans have been waiting (and waiting) to see the real clash of armies between the two Queens of the Andals. Once it got out this was it, everyone was tuning in.
Watching Your Friends Faces Who Hadn't Seen The Leak
It's what Game of Thrones fans are famous for. Sitting on the couch, holding up their phone to record the horrified reactions of our friends who don't know "xyz" is about to happen in Westeros. (You know how I knew which of my friends watched the leak? They were the ones throwing "come over and watch the new episode with us" dinner parties last Sunday. I kid you not.) Blame our smugness from years of having read the books. But it worked.
Please note, we are not advocating here that leaking is at all a good thing for HBO, or for Game of Thrones. But in this case, there were enough factors that for once, it all worked out in HBO's favor. And it's about time too.