No apocalypse to be seen here: “The Last of Us” is quickly becoming one of HBO’s highest-rated series, both by Nielsen and by TV critics.

    If you thought that last “Last of Us” — also known as HBO’s drama series premiere — reached a massive audience, get a load of Sunday’s early issues.

    Episode 2 of ‘The Last of Us’ drew 5.7 million viewers in the US on Sunday night, according to a combination of Nielsen data and HBO internal streaming metrics, up 1 million viewers – or +22% – from the previous weekend’s series debut. This growth (in percentage) marks the largest Week 2 viewership increase for an HBO original drama in network history. Drama is a keyword here, so IndieWire dug a little deeper into the archives for context.

    In 2009, “Hung,” a comedy, saw bigger bottlenecks in week 2, rising nearly 41% from its own series premiere. Episode 101 “Hung” drew 3.7 million viewers; 102 soared to 5.2 million viewers. These “Hung” episodes followed the Season 2 episodes of the hit vampire drama “True Blood.” At the time, linear HBO was the only option for programming, and word of mouth was still mostly through the mouth. (HBO Go launched in 2010, HBO Now in 2015, and HBO Max in 2020.)

    These days, streaming reigns supreme and the water cooler is really just social media, which just turns off all the bad stuff. But there, “The Last of Us” Episode 101 was No. 1 in the United States and worldwide on premiere night.

    Adding to the show’s success, its companion podcast reached No. 1 on Apple’s TV & Movie charts in the United States within 24 hours of the release of Episode 1. The podcast is hosted by Troy Baker, who plays “Last of Us” hero Joel Miller in the PlayStation games, a role now filled on TV by Pedro Pascal.

    The first episode “Last of Us” drew 4.7 million viewers on premiere night, January 15, 2023. That tally made it HBO’s second-biggest debut, behind only “Howee of the Dragon,” since “Boardwalk Empire” bowed out in 2010.

    HBO saw that coming to some extent: teasers and trailers for “The Last of Us” amassed over 100 million views worldwide before Nielsen could even gauge the actual TV episode.

    Neil Druckmann on "The last of us" Position

    Neil Druckmann on the set of “The Last of Us”

    Courtesy of HBO

    “We are delighted to see fans of the series and the game live this iconic story in a new way, and we express our gratitude to them for helping to make it a success,” said Casey Bloys, President and CEO of HBO & HBO Max Content, after “The Last of Us” first carved itself into the HBO record books. “Congratulation to [executive producers Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin] and the brilliant cast and crew who worked tirelessly to bring this show to life. We look forward to fans around the world enjoying the rest of the season.”

    Benefiting they are. As of this writing, “The Last of Us” has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes among critics; it’s 96 percent among the public. IndieWire hailed the HBO adaptation as the best video game adaptation in (at least) recent memory; read our review of episode 1 here. Our review of Episode 2 can be found here; both are by Steve Greene. And if you want to know what (probably) makes “The Last of Us” so great amid such a heavy story, read our interview with the heads of PlayStation Productions here.

    A day later, viewership for the first episode of “The Last of Us” more than doubled, soaring north of 10 million viewers, per HBO. With a full week of availability, Episode 1 has now been watched by approximately 18 million viewers across all platforms, according to the premium cable platform. HBO says its Sunday programs typically get 20-40% of their “total gross viewership per episode” on premiere night. So far, the “Last of Us” series premiere has started with around 26% of its audience on Night 1; this will diminish over time – and catch-up viewing – continue.

    “The Last of Us” is a series adaptation of the hit Sony PlayStation video game franchise. The game and the show take place in the aftermath of a global pandemic that is destroying civilization. The series follows hardened survivor Joel Miller, who takes care of humanity’s last hope, a 14-year-old girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Gabriel Luna also plays.

    New episodes of “The Last of Us” debut every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and are available to stream on HBO Max. The Season 1 finale is scheduled for March 12.

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