The Last of Us TV show has set a new HBO Max record that will never be broken

Joel and Ellie smile at one another on a rooftop in The Last of Us episode 9
The Last of Us season 1 has set an unbreakable HBO Max viewership record. (Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

The Last of Us has set an unbreakable new record on HBO Max ahead of the streaming service's shuttering in late May.

HBO's hit TV adaptation of The Last of Us video game series is officially the platform's most-watched show of all time, according to Warner Bros Discovery's (WBD) Q1 2023 earnings report

Just as impressive is The Last of Us' cross-platform viewership per episode in the US. According to WBD, 32 million people have tuned into each of the post-apocalyptic survival horror series episodes – on average, it should be noted – across HBO and HBO Max.

However, there are caveats to these record-breaking numbers. The Last of Us' 'most-watched show' record will only stand the test of time in particular world regions where HBO Max is available. Per WBD's latest earnings report, The Last of Us season 1 is only the most-watched TV series in Latin America and Europe, meaning HBO Max's US-specific viewership record – currently held by Game of Thrones – remains intact.

Ellie and Joel look at someone off camera in The Last of Us episode 6

Hey, did you both hear? You're the most-watch TV show on HBO Max in non-US territories! (Image credit: Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Furthermore, its 32 million episodic viewing average only covers the series' first 90 days on HBO and HBO Max. Given that The Last of Us season 1 premiered on January 15, 2023, it's likely that the data compiled by WBD – both first-party data and that sourced from Nielsen, the world-renowned market measurement firm – likely only takes viewing figures into account up to April 14 (that date being the 90-day cut-off point for the usable data).

Even with these qualifiers, The Last of Us' performance is no less impressive. House of the Dragon, the critically-acclaimed prequel series to Game of Thrones, averaged 29 million viewers per episode in late 2022. Before that, Euphoria season 2 was the only other first-party show to reel Game of Thrones in, with the Zendaya-starring drama racking up 16.6 million average viewers every episode (per Variety) in early 2022.

For a TV series based on a video game franchise – admittedly, an extremely popular and multi-award winning one from Naughty Dog – then, The Last of Us' success isn't one we should easily dismiss. And, with WBD set to shutter HBO Max in the coming weeks and replace it with Max, the entertainment giant's new super streamer, on May 23, it appears that The Last of Us' HBO Max streaming record is one that'll never be beaten.

Analysis: a glimpse into a Max-filled future

JB Perrette gives a talk standing in front of the Max logo on a big screen

Max is the super streamer replacement for HBO Max and Discovery Plus. (Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/Warner Bros. Discovery)

The Last of Us' stunning viewership figures are further proof that HBO is one of WBD's most important assets. And, as the entertainment behemoth instigates numerous seismic shifts across its studios portfolio, it'll need programs like The Last of Us to a) attract new subscribers and b) steer it through the industry's currently choppy waters.

As well as the aforementioned forthcoming launch of Max – which will see WBD combine HBO, HBO Max, and Discovery Plus content into a single entity – another of WBD's main companies, DC Studios, is in the midst of its own major restructuring. 

The appointment of James Gunn and Peter Safran as the new co-CEOs of WBD's comic book movie/TV show division in October 2022 was a huge fillip for the conglomerate. The duo have already announced the first phase of their new-look DC Cinematic Universe (DCU), too, which is officially known as Chapter One: Gods and Monsters. And, while this all seems like good news for DC Studios, the jury is still out on whether the reborn DCU can truly take on Marvel in the comic book movie stakes. While you're here, find out which DCU Chapter One films and TV series we're most excited for.

Elsewhere, the ongoing writers strike, which began on May 2 after a breakdown in talks between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Association of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) over working conditions, is heavily impacting WBD's movie and TV show output. Early in-development series, including The Penguin, a TV spin-off of Matt Reeves' The Batman, are facing the prospect of production delays, with the industrial action preventing anyone from writing new scripts or treating pre-existing ones. Others, such as House of the Dragon season 2, which is currently filming in the UK, appear to be largely unaffected.

A bar chart showing the various movie and TV show audience demand share among the world's biggest streaming services

HBO Max currently lags behind Netflix and Hulu in the TV show audience demand share race (Image credit: Parrot Analytics)

WBD can ill-afford to see the writers strike run for many months. As the bar graph image above shows (per Parrot Analytics), HBO Max only holds a 6.2% audience demand share of the TV show streaming market. If WBD wants Max to close the gap to its nearest rivals in Netflix and Hulu, and stay ahead of Disney Plus and its other competitors, it'll need to pump must-see series like The Last of Us at a rate of knots.

Luckily, the combination of HBO Max and Discovery Plus into Max will boost Max's audience demand share to 10.5% (adding HBO Max's 6.2% and Discovery Plus' 4.3% together), which would tie it with Netflix. Its total audience demand share (a combination of movie and TV demand) would make it the outright leader among the best streaming services for the time being, too.

It's the final part of that sentence – "for the time being" – that's most crucial here, though. By combining its two main streamers, WBD will finally lead the way in audience demand among the globe's most popular streaming platforms. However, given the frenetic competitiveness of the market, it can't rest on its laurels. It'll need The Last of Us season 2, House of the Dragon season 2, Euphoria season 3, and a whole host of new first-party shows to continue dominating the sector. Fail to capture the hearts and minds of viewers worldwide, and Max might not be top dog for long.

For now, WBD can fall back on its catalog of the best HBO Max shows, best HBO Max movies, and best HBO Max documentaries (plus its suite of Discovery Plus content) when Max launches later this month. After that, though, the game is well and truly on.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across. Got a scoop, interesting story, or an intriguing angle on the latest news in entertainment? Feel free to drop him a line.