TV Ratings: 'Game of Thrones' Season Three Premiere Sets Record

UPDATED: Against AMC's "The Walking Dead" and History's "The Bible," the HBO series returns to 4.4 million viewers in its inaugural 9 p.m. broadcast.

Facing daunting competition from the Walking Dead season finale and TV's typical Easter evening shrinkage, Game of Thrones returned for its third season Sunday night with 4.4 million viewers, up 4 percent from its previous series high and up 13 percent when compared with its season-two premiere.

The 9 p.m. ET broadcast was up from the sophomore run's premiere haul of 3.9 million viewers -- and its finale's 4.2 million viewers. Over the course of three broadcasts, Game of Thrones brought in a combined 6.7 million viewers. That's up 7 percent from the previous best gross of 6.3 million viewers.

While Game of Thrones did face stiff competition on Sunday night, and a less than promising holiday debut, the HBO series has ramped up promotions considerably compared with the previous seasons.

The previous season of Game of Thrones saw episode viewership reach an average 11.6 million viewers in gross plays. That includes linear plays, DVR, On Demand and HBO's increasingly popular HBO Go platform. The freshman season averaged 9.3 million viewers.

Created by David Benioff and Dan Weiss and based on the best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones ranks as HBO's third-most-watched series in network history.