Most shows, even big hits, tend not to keep increasing their audience season after season. Continued growth after multiple years on the air is very rare — every show at some point hits a downward trajectory.

Or, at least, almost every show. “Game of Thrones” may at some point dip, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The HBO series, which begins its seventh season Sunday, has increased its audience every year it’s been on the air. Its streak is currently one season longer than that of “The Walking Dead,” which has declined in each of its past two seasons after peaking in Season 5. “American Idol” also peaked with Season 5 and then trended down.

“NCIS” had a five-season run of increased audience from Seasons 6-10 (a remarkable feat in and of itself for a veteran show), but “Game of Thrones” appears to be in very rare territory. (If you count the split final season of “Breaking Bad” as two separate runs, it would also qualify as growing through its sixth season.)

Take a look at “GoT’s” growth over the years:

(We’re focusing on total viewers here rather than adults 18-49 because as a subscription-based channel, HBO doesn’t have to care about demographics as much as ad-supported channels do.)

When the show premiered in 2011, its ratings were considered decent, if not great, for HBO. (Several contemporary articles on the premiere used almost that exact phrase.) It drew smaller numbers than the first season of “Boardwalk Empire,” for instance.

In Season 2, however, it grew by almost 51 percent, from 2.52 million to 3.8 million viewers the day it aired. (Obviously these same-day numbers are a fraction of the show’s total audience, with DVR, on-air replays, on demand and streaming more than doubling each season’s audience.)

It then grew by 30 percent or more in both Season 3 and Season 4. Season 5 was essentially flat, but a 40,000-person increase (6.88 million vs. 6.84 million) is still an increase. Then last year it made another significant jump of about 12 percent to 7.69 million viewers.

Now “Game of Thrones” is surpassed only by “The Walking Dead” in terms of drawing a crowd on cable. Starting Sunday, we’ll find out if the show can continue its ever-upward trajectory.

Season 7 will have a shorter run than previous years — seven episodes vs. 10. Whether that affects the number remains to be seen. On one hand, a big premiere and a couple of heavily watched later episodes could keep the line moving upward. On the other, if it does dip, there’s less chance to make up the shortfall.

History suggests “Game of Thrones” will have a hard time improving yet again. But it also would have suggested a decline last year, and that didn’t happen. The first ratings for Season 7 will be out late Monday or Tuesday.

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

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