c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Backed by near-unanimous critical praise, insistent social media conversation and intense coverage on every form of talk show, “Breaking Bad” soared to its highest ratings ever — and one of the top ratings all time for a drama on cable television — in its finale Sunday night on AMC.

The final episode reached 10.3 million viewers in its first airing, at 9 p.m., despite ferocious competition elsewhere on television. That was an enormous increase from the show’s previous high, 6.6 million viewers a week ago.

The finale also scored a powerhouse number in the audience that advertisers pay most to reach — in this case a reported cable record of $400,000 for each commercial — with 6.7 million viewers in the audience between 18 and 49 years old.

The only other cable drama to attract more viewers for its finale was “The Sopranos” on HBO, which totaled 11.9 million. But “The Sopranos” always had big ratings numbers. “Breaking Bad” was truly a late finisher, growing every year, especially over its last 16 episodes, driven largely by so-called “binge viewing” as fans caught up with the series by streaming on Netflix or by playing DVDs.