“Game of Thrones” last week supplanted “The Sopranos” as the most-watched show in HBO history, with an average gross audience of 18.4 million people this season, surpassing the 18.2 million who watched the hit mob drama in 2002.
A New Jersey mob drama and a sprawling fantasy series set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros might not seem to have much in common, but as the Season 4 finale of “Game” approaches Sunday, here are 10 things they’ve helped teach us:
1. Sexy isn’t a height or a weight or a haircut.
There are plenty of conventional beauties — female and male — in “Game of Thrones,” but only one actor’s been as essential to the show as James Gandolfini was to “The Sopranos.” That’s another Jersey guy, Peter Dinklage, who’s stolen every scene he’s been in — and plenty of hearts along the way — as Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf son of one of Westeros’ ruling families.
2. Even hit shows need time to build.
Like “The Sopranos,” which saw its largest viewership in its fourth and fifth seasons, “Game of Thrones” is up from Season 3, when HBO reports it averaged 14.4 million viewers. Credit DVDs and services like HBO Go for letting people catch up on a show that’s hard to start in the middle. (And take all number comparisons with a grain of salt: “The Sopranos” scored its ratings in a different TV universe, without HBO Go but also with less basic-cable competition.)
3. Even hit-producing networks need time to build their next hits.
Before “The Sopranos” cut abruptly to black — this week, it’ll be seven years since the night you thought your cable went out — HBO was already thinking about a tomorrow without the show that helped establish it as a destination for extraordinary original programming.
Yet “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Newsroom,” “Treme,” “Luck” and even the vampire hit “True Blood” have all failed to capture the public’s imagination in quite the way a mob boss with mother issues once did. Who knew it would take dragons to bring viewers roaring back?