Ratings prediction: 'Walking Dead' finale vs. 'Game of Thrones' premiere

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There is a crazy night of epic TV coming your way: The wildly anticipated Walking Dead finale on AMC vs. the wildly anticipated Game of Thrones premiere on HBO vs. the not-wildly-anticipated-yet-surprisingly-popular The Bible finale on History.

It’s zombies vs. dragons vs. crucifixion!

Now I’m not a fan of making ratings predictions. Because I’m not a fan of being wrong. And my last prediction, for the American Idol season 12 premiere, was spot-on. So why mess with that? I guess I’m messing with that because tonight’s TV lineup is the stuff that trips to Best Buy for a new TV are made of. All three of these shows have become pop culture phenomenons in their own way and now have major episodes this evening. In fact, this is the first time that Walking Dead and Thrones — two geek titans — have ever gone head-to-head. Plus it’s Easter Sunday, a holiday where TV ratings tend to go down, and that messes with everything — but it might spike The Bible. So making predictions is like playing chess while kite-boarding. Here are mine:

AMC’s The Walking Dead. The previous record-high for this show is 12.3 million viewers for its return last February. I’m predicting 12.9 million viewers. That’s right, yet another series high — despite the Easter holiday, during which TV viewing levels typically dip 5 percent at 9 p.m. My reasoning: The first two seasons of The Walking Dead set new ratings records for their final episodes. And that included the season where everybody was stuck on a farm shouting at each other. Season 3 has been, overall, more compelling than last year. Characters have died in prior finales, so fans are trained to watch this show the night it airs, or get spoiled the next day. So the show’s trend of spiking to a new level for the finale should continue despite the holiday. UPDATE: Walking Dead ratings are in!

History’s The Bible. The Bible is expected to — spoiler alert! — kill off its main character in its ninth episode tonight (yes, just like on the first season of Game of Thrones!). Then the character rises from the dead in episode 10 (yes, just like on The Walking Dead!). Both episodes air tonight, starting at 8 p.m. Moreover, The Bible is event TV that will drive viewers to watch it live just like TWD and Thrones because it’s Easter Sunday, so The Bible is the timely family viewing choice. The previous record high is 13.1 million for the show’s premiere, but lately it has been between 10-11 million. I’m predicting 12.6 million — a surge from last week, but not quite a new record. The 8 p.m. hour tends to be hard hit by the annual holiday viewership dip. Still, Walking Dead vs. The Bible is going to be a close race for the most-watched scripted show. Either could win. And as one ratings analyst put it: “Hard to argue with Jesus on Easter.” If I’m underestimating one of these, this will be it. UPDATE: Bible ratings are in!

HBO’s Game of Thrones. HBO announced this premiere date long before AMC made its Walking Dead second-half-of-the-season plans. Other than the Super Bowl, The Walking Dead finale is probably the very last episode of anything you would want to premiere a fantasy cable drama against. Combined with the Easter holiday, it makes me wonder why HBO didn’t blink and push the Game of Thrones premiere back a week [Thrones fans everywhere are now screaming at me to shut up]. If you’re a fan of both shows, you’re probably going to watch Walking Dead first, because even if you prefer Thrones you know TWD finale is going to have spoilers galore and the sooner you watch the sooner the Internet will be safe again. At least one expert I emailed with predicted that between Thrones and Walking Dead “there will likely be some cannibalization.” I loved that he was so focused on the numbers that he used the word “cannibalization” without realizing his zombie pun.

So I’m tempted to bet against a surge for the Thrones premiere (my recap is now live here). But the anticipation for Thrones has felt like it’s gone up significantly after last season and it would take so little to set a new record. The season two premiere had 3.9 million for the first airing; 6.3 million for the night after three airings. The season two finale had 4.2 million for the first airing; 5.1 million for the night after two airings. It’s tough to imagine that Thrones, after rising 74 percent from its season one to season two premiere, not rising a mere 10 percent from last year’s premiere to set a new 9 p.m. record even with the other factors stacked against it. So the premiere airing might not hugely spike, but I think the full-night tally (three airings) will be a record (and the 10 p.m. repeat, in particular, will be surprisingly high thanks to TWD at 9 p.m.). So I’m predicting a possible record at 9 p.m. — 4.3 million — and a definite record for the night — 6.7 million. UPDATE: Game of Thrones ratings are in!

Have fun watching. If you’re a Nielsen family, do me a favor and check out all three, okay? I’ll be the one drinking nervously in the corner (and posting a Thrones recap as soon as the East Coast telecast ends, along with giving away another fancy Thrones box set and posting a quickie producers interview about the first episode).

UPDATE: Not too shabby. The broad strokes were all correct — The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones each set a new series record, while The Bible ratings increased but stopped short of a record. The Thrones numbers were pretty much spot, Walking Dead was very close and The Bible was off a bit.

17 DAYS OF THRONES COUNTDOWN

17. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers Q&A: Why season 3 is the most epic yet
16. Lena Headey on Cersei’s season 3 fears
15. How Kit Harington conquered his injury to keep Jon Snow fighting
14: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne
13. John Bradley defends fantasy fans
12. HBO: ‘Thrones’ piracy is ‘a compliment’

11. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on casting Mance Rayder, Lady Olenna
10. Sophie Turner on fans bashing Sansa

9. Jack Gleeson on Joffrey’s season 3 romance
8
. Maisie Williams talks Arya’s season 3 adventures
7. Peter Dinklage on Tyrion’s season 3 survival
6. Richard Madden teases Robb Stark’s season 3
5. Emilia Clarke says Dany gets fast-paced season 3
4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks Jaime’s season 3 struggle
3. Rose Leslie: You know nothing about Ygritte’s catchphrase
2. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on season 3 dragons: They’re not cute anymore
1. EW Cover: ‘Game of Thrones’ wildest season yet! Jon + Dany, an ice and fire pairing


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