Los Angeles, Apr 17 (AP/UNB) — The first episode of the final season of "Game of Thrones" is a record-breaker for the series and HBO.
The pay channel said the 17.4 million viewers who watched Sunday's episode either on TV or online represent a season-opening high for the fantasy saga.
HBO Now also posted its biggest streaming night ever, the channel said Monday.
The episode topped the 16.1 million who saw the seventh-season premiere and the 16.9 million who watched that season's finale.
Reflecting increasing audience fondness for streaming, HBO saw about a 50 percent increase in online viewing compared to last season's finale. In comparison to the season-seven premiere, the streaming audience nearly doubled.
"Game of Thrones" ultimately averaged 32.8 million viewers per episode last season in cumulative TV and online viewership, HBO said.
Los Angeles, Apr 15 (AP/UNB) — Devoted "Game of Thrones" fans who've watched and re-watched all 73 episodes of the HBO series, and read and reread all 4,000 pages of the books by George R.R. Martin, will at long last get the ending they've craved with the series' eighth and final season that starts Sunday.
But will it be the "real" ending?
The plotlines of the show have long since shot past what's in Martin's books, whose own finale may be many years away. While the endings will likely be similar, Martin, the master of this universe, could take a very different path to get there, making the coming end of the HBO show with its showdown between the humans of Westeros and the invading White Walkers possibly just a preview.
For some it all just means twice the fun.
"It doesn't bother me. I don't think they need to be one and the same," said Adonis Voulgaris, a fan of both formats who lives in San Francisco. "For me, it just means more content I get to immerse myself in."
The show premiered in 2011, the same year Martin's fifth book in his "A Song of Fire and Ice" series was released. Fans have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for the sixth, "The Winds of Winter," ever since, and many wonder whether the 70-year-old author will live long enough to finish all seven planned books in the series.
"George is not a fast writer," said book-and-show devotee Andrew Stachler, 44, of South Pasadena, California. "So if you were following along, I think it was pretty evident early on that the show was going to get ahead of the books."
That did indeed happen, and by season six warrior and king-in-the-making Jon Snow had been resurrected and went back to trying to save the world, while he still lies stabbed to death in a mutiny in the books.
Martin, an executive producer on the TV series who has written episodes but is sitting this season out while he works on the book, gave HBO showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss an outline of where his long-planned plot goes, including the fates of characters like Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Arya Stark.
Armed with that roadmap, Benioff, Weiss and other writers have been telling the tale without books to back them. Fans are divided about the results, and how true they are to Martin.
"It doesn't seem any less planned out to me," Stachler said. "It's absolutely a continuation of his vision. I always felt like the show cleaned up the narrative in tighter, better-paced ways anyway."
Other readers feel the showrunners' vision and style have taken over.
"I think you've seen that in the last couple of seasons where you don't have the book as guide, you just go from one big event to another to another, without that feeling of the backstory," said Gabriela Perez, 44, of Mexico City. "It's sort of like drinking a Diet Coke, it has all the flavor and all that, but you can tell the difference."
Voulgaris, 27, said "last season was absolutely on fast-forward. The rate at which people would travel from one place to another was incredible. But that makes it fun to watch, it makes it accessible to any viewer."
But the quibbles seem to go out the window when it comes to the giddy anticipation that comes with the six episodes, most running well over an hour, that make up the final season.
"Oh, I'm still super excited," Perez said. "I want to know what this version of the ending is."
And wanting to be a part of a massive shared event may dwarf any thoughts that this is less than final. Some 12.1 million viewers tuned in to the season seven finale, with 4 million more streaming it the same night and many millions more in the following days. The May 19 series finale is sure to draw a bigger audience, and a social media maelstrom.
"I do think this last season is going to be the largest cultural moment we've had in a long time for any kind of branded property," Stachler said. "I don't know what to compare it to. I don't know when we'll see something this big again."
And with no book to spoil it, readers and non-readers alike get to be, and expect to be, surprised.
"Everybody has an idea," Voulgaris aid. "It literally could go in any direction."
Martin's world probably has a future on TV. He and Jane Goldman have scripted a pilot, set in Westeros thousands of years before the timeline of "Game of Thrones," that is in production for HBO. The cable channel has other possible spinoff scripts in the works, too.
Martin has released sample chapters of "The Winds of Winter" to sate hungry fans, and in them characters are in very different places than where the show put them, suggesting the endings might diverge too.
And the author is subversive enough that he may change his mind about the ending once the show is done.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he went down a totally different path, just because he's bored," Perez said. "For the type of writer he is I can see him doing it, thinking, 'You know what? that's been done. I'll do something else.'"
Los Angeles, Apr 6 (AP/UNB) — TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, who is in a relationship with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, filed for divorce the day after Bezos' divorce was finalized.
Sanchez and talent agent Patrick Whitesell, her husband of 14 years, both filed divorce papers Friday. They're seeking joint custody of their two kids.
The divorce of Bezos and wife MacKenzie Bezos was finalized Thursday.
The billionaire pair announced they were getting divorced in January, shortly before the National Enquirer reported that Jeff Bezos and Sanchez were having an affair.
He later accused the tabloid's publisher of threatening to publish explicit photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained his private messages with Sanchez.
Sanchez has been a news anchor and sports reporter, and hosted Fox TV's "So You Think You Can Dance."
Las Vegas, Apr 2 (AP/UNB) — Winter came to Las Vegas. Fire-breathing dragons held court over the world-famous fountains at the Bellagio casino-resort Sunday, as familiar elements from the TV phenomenon "Game of Thrones" were projected on the rising water. The jets danced to a score incorporating the recognizable theme song before one of the colossal beasts lit up the lake along the Las Vegas Strip in a blaze of pyrotechnics.
The 3½-minute spectacle that left a crowd of onlookers cheering debuted two weeks ahead of the scheduled premiere of the HBO fantasy series' final season.
The streaming water formed the show's iconic throne and crown. A towering 800-foot-long (244-meter) wall of water emerged from the lake.
The display, however, intentionally did not reveal any elements of the new season.
"We didn't just want to portray literally scenes from 'Game of Thrones' here, not like a teaser or a preview of season eight," said Mark Fuller, CEO of WET Design, the company that created the fountains and show. "We want to bring you the emotion."
At the heart of the fountain show is the giant wall of water. It represents the ice wall that defines the TV show, but also serves as a surface onto which the creators project falling snow, the series' logo and the silhouettes of the dragons breathing orange and blue flames.
The company worked with the series' composer Ramin Djawadi to create a special score that along with the dancing water aimed to capture the excitement of the TV hit.
The fountain show begins by dropping musical hints of the TV series, using Djawadi's "Winter is Here" from the seventh season. It comes to full force as the show's recognizable "Main Titles" theme song comes on.
"We have to make sure that the fountain gives the same kind of energy, the same kind of drama, that people are associating this music with," said Peter Kopik, director of design and choreography for WET Design. "(That) was the hard part of the choreography because it's continuously energetic and continuously up and loud and strong, and choreography had to reflect the same thing and not being tiring at the same time."
The spectacle ends as the shadow of the Night King appears one last time, and flames cover part of the roughly 9-acre (3.6-hectare) lake.
Oklahoma resident Josh Elliott stopped by the lake with his wife Sunday as part of their anniversary trip. They were amazed by what they saw.
"We have probably seen a hundred fountain shows, and this is by far the best," he said while waiting for the show to start for a second time. "Oh yeah, we are not moving."
Las Vegas resident Gaile Tiquia is re-watching all seasons ahead of the upcoming premiere. She said she came to the casino-resort after seeing a mention on social media about the special show and wondering if it would include any spoilers.
"I had chills for the entire show," she said. "It's amazing! It's too much."
The "Game of Thrones" fountain show marks the first time the lake has been set ablaze, but artists and others have previously used the fountains for a variety of stunts. Billionaire Richard Branson rode a jet ski on the lake in 2010, and Drake performed one of his hits there during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards.
The landmark at the luxury property owned by MGM Resorts International attracts millions of visitors every year. It has nightly shows with recorded music ranging from Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman's duet "Time to Say Goodbye" to Sin City's unofficial hymn "Viva Las Vegas" sung by Elvis Presley.
"The Bellagio fountain is iconic. It's known around the world, and so is 'Game of Thrones,'" Djawadi said. "So, I think putting them together and seeing the music choreographed to a fountain like that is quite the spectacle. I think it will get everybody really pumped for this final season coming up."
The special fountain show will run nightly until April 13, the day before the eighth season's premiere.
Los Angeles, Mar 31 (AP/UNB) — Beyonce was named entertainer of the year at the 50th annual NAACP Image Awards that highlighted works by entertainers and writers of color.
After Beyonce accepted the award Saturday night, the superstar paid homage to the people who were nominated in the same category as her. She beat out Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, Regina King, Chadwick Boseman and director Ryan Coogler.
"Regina King, I love you so much. You taught us patience, persistence and how to be masterful in your craft," she said. "Chadwick Boseman is teaching children to dream and to be seen as kings. LeBron James has taught us the strength of all forms, leading by example and providing education to our kids. Ryan Coogler tells our stories in a way that celebrates our history and proves we do have power."
Beyonce added: "I'm honored to be included among all of you, and to be a part of a vital and thriving community. Thank you to the NAACP."
Beyonce released a joint album last year with her husband, Jay-Z, called "Everything is Love." The prolific singer also paid tribute to historically black colleges and universities, as well as the dance troupes and step teams during her groundbreaking two-hour Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance. She also performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is known as the national black anthem, at the festival and donated $100,000 to four black universities shortly after her performance.
The awards ceremony aired live on TV One at the Dolby Theatre, the same venue that hosts the Academy Awards.
Jay-Z received the President's Award for the rapper's public service achievements. He was recognized for his efforts through his Shawn Carter Foundation and serving as co-founder of the REFORM Alliance.
The rapper executive produced the documentaries "Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story" and "Time: The Kalief Browder Story," along with an animated documentary short called "The War on Drugs is an Epic Fail." That documentary highlighted the unfavorable treatment of black and Latino people when it comes to drug-related crimes.
Jay-Z quoted Abraham Lincoln after he accepted his award and dedicated his trophy to his 93-year-old grandmother Hattie White, saying: "She's so full of life." He also paid homage to the women in his life, including his wife, Beyonce, who smiled while her husband made his speech.
"It's not the amount of years in your life. It's the amount of life in your years," he said. "That quote embodies my beautiful grandmother."
"Black Panther" was awarded best motion picture. The Marvel blockbuster hit beat out "BlacKkKlansman," ''Crazy Rich Asians," ''If Beale Street Could Talk" and "The Hate U Give."
The superhero film was a cultural phenomenon. It earned $700 million domestically during it theatrical run.
"Black Panther" won in several other categories, including best actor in a motion picture (Boseman), supporting actor in a motion picture (Michael B. Jordan) and directing in a motion picture (Coogler).
Jussie Smollett, who lost to "Grey's Anatomy" star Jessie Williams in the supporting actor in a drama series category, did not attend the awards.
It has been a tumultuous week for the "Empire" star after a felony case against him was dropped in Chicago. The handling of the case, which accused Smollett of falsely reporting to police that he was assaulted by two men in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29, has drawn widespread condemnation.
Actor-comedian Chris Rock took verbal jabs at Smollett before he presented outstanding comedy series to ABC's "black-ish."
"They said no Jussie Smollett jokes," Rock said. "Yeah, I know, but what a waste of light skin. Do you know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair, my career would be out of here. I would be running Hollywood. What the hell was he thinking? You are known as 'Jessie' for now on. You don't even get the 'u' anymore. That 'u' was for respect. You ain't getting no respect from me."
In response to Rock's jokes, "black-ish" star Yara Shahidi made her stance in the Smollett controversy obvious.
"I stand with Jussie," Shahidi said before she handed the microphone to Marcus Scribner and ducked into her crowd of castmates including Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross
Anderson returned as host of the show and won for best actor in a comedy series. He opened the awards speaking about "black excellence" in film, hoping his behavior wouldn't get him removed as host and made several jokes including one about Kanye West not being invited to cookouts.
Anderson brought his mother onstage with him and dedicated his award to "the woman who raised me in Watts (California) and pushed me to become an actor."
"Everything I do on screen is for you momma," Anderson said of his mother, who clutched his award. He also shouted out U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who sat in the first row.
Waters received the NAACP Chairman's Award for public service. She spoke about young voters taking a stance at the polls, her thoughts on getting rid of the Electoral College and President Donald Trump's presidency.
"I still think he needs to be impeached," Waters said of Trump. "This president has defined himself as a liar."
Donald Glover, who won four Grammys this year, won for his directing on "Atlanta." On the music side, his alter-ego Childish Gambino's song "This is America" won for best music video.