Season Five of Game of Thrones is set to premiere Sunday night, but for thousands of impatient fans, even that wasn't soon enough: Four of the fifth season's 10 episodes have already leaked online, where they're readily available as illegal downloads via torrent networks. The New York Times reports that since appearing online Saturday, the four episodes from the HBO series have already been downloaded several hundred thousand times.
Unlike the Sony cyber attack, where many of the studio's upcoming films and private emails were leaked, it doesn't appear that HBO was hacked. Instead, the network suggests that the leaked episodes were culled from screening copies provided to critics and reviewers prior to broadcast. In a statement, HBO acknowledged that Season Five premiere as well as three subsequent episodes popped up online before their airdate. "Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them. We're actively assessing how this breach occurred," the network said.
HBO didn't answer the New York Times' inquiry whether or not the screener copies were watermarked, which would allow the network to figure out who exactly leaked Season Five's opening four episodes. Game of Thrones is a favorite among illegal downloaders as the series is frequently one of the more popular shows on torrent networks.
Anticipation for Game of Thrones is so feverish that even the series' fifth season trailer leaked ahead of its scheduled release date. In an effort to decrease piracy of Game of Thrones, HBO previously announced plans to launch Season Five in over 170 countries and territories simultaneously, but those efforts now proved to be in vain.