The Last of Us is a hit for HBO — but it can't top House of the Dragon

(L to R) Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal in front of entrails of an infected in The Last of Us poster
(Image credit: HBO)

HBO is betting big on The Last of Us, and the network's latest prestige television project is off to a fine start with some impressive overnight viewing figures. 

According to a press release from WarnerMedia, The Last of Us episode 1, entitled "When You’re Lost in the Darkness," drew 4.7 million viewers across both linear HBO and the HBO Max streaming service on Sunday (Jan. 16) evening. That’s an impressive figure, especially when you consider that first night viewership usually only represents around 20-40% of a show’s total viewership per episode (according to HBO). 

These figures are almost double the 2.4 mil. viewers the first episode of Euphoria season 2 pulled last January. But they’re only a mere a patch of the premiere of House of the Dragon. The Game of Thrones prequel series managed a mammoth 9.98 mil. viewers on its first Sunday night last August. 

Nevertheless, 4.7 mil. total viewers in its opening frame makes The Last of Us HBO’s second most-watched show in more than a decade. Boardwalk Empire, the last show to do better, debuted with 4.81 mil. viewers in 2010. 

Pedro Pascal as Joel in HBO's The Last of Us

(Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Casey Bloys, Chairman and CEO of HBO and HBO Content, released a statement congratulating the show’s creative team: "We are thrilled to see fans of the series and game alike experience this iconic story in a new way, and we extend our gratitude to them for helping to make it a success. Congratulations to Craig, Neil 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."

The HBO series was written and produced by Craig Mazin (of HBO’s excellent Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann, the co-director of the original video game. The duo also expressed their thanks The Last of Us' warm reception: "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."

The Last of Us is based on the PlayStation video game of the same name and stars Pedro Pascal as Joel, a gruff smuggler, who must transport a young teenager named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a post-apocalyptic United States. The duo start at odds but must quickly learn to rely on each other as the harsh realities of a world inflected by a cordyceps virus test their survival abilities. 

Here at Tom’s Guide, we’re huge fans of both the video game and this brand-new TV series. We labeled it the “best video game adaptation ever” and our The Last of Us review delves deeper into why this is the first must-watch TV show of 2023. 

If you've already watched the first episode of The Last of Us and are hungry for more, you won't have too long to wait. New episodes will premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max for the next eight weeks.  

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.