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Game of Thrones Season 5 finale breaks previous ratings record

Even a hotly contested NBA Finals game couldn’t stop Game of Thrones from breaking its own records in the Season 5 finale on Sunday. Variety reports that the episode averaged 8.1 million viewers, slightly eclipsing the previous record holder, the Season 5 opener, which saw 7.99 million viewers. It solidifies an upward trend for the blockbuster HBO series which is now the second most popular show on cable TV behind AMC’s The Walking Dead.

The dramatic season finale, entitled Mother’s Mercy, drew 14 percent more viewers than last year’s finale (7.09 million viewers). In the important 18-49 demo, the episode averaged a 4.1 rating (or about 5.2 million of its 8.1 million viewers). That rating in the coveted demographic is the second highest ever, only behind the aforementioned season 5 series opener, which scored a 4.19 rating.

Related: Game Of Thrones Recap: Vengeance Is Paid For The Watch

As Variety reports, the show’s upward ratings trend has been slow and steady through its first five seasons. Game of Thrones first hit 3 million viewers in its season 1 finale. And the new GoT devotees have piled up ever since: 4 million viewers watched the Season 2 finale, 5 million were watching midway through the third season, and then it hit the 6 million mark in its Season 4 premiere. Midway through Season 4, viewership reached 7 million for the first time.

While Mother’s Mercy drew record numbers on cable, the episode also set a new piracy record. The episode was downloaded 1.5 million times within eight hours, according to TorrentFreak. The blog estimates that the download count is expected to reach upwards of 10 million “during the days to come.”

Game of Thrones fans will be eagerly awaiting Season 6, which will premiere on HBO sometime in 2016. And this time there’ll be no way to spoil it — for a while anyway. The series has finally eclipsed the books when it comes to plot, though author George R. R. Martin claims he’s hoping to finish the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, before the Season 6 premiere.

Literature aside, die hard fans needn’t wait too long for more GoT news. Next month’s Comic-Con will probably include some hints on the upcoming season.  In the meantime, fans will have plenty of time to ponder the season finale’s surprising plot developments — and the shocking final death scene.