The 15 Most Controversial TV Series Finales of All Time
The Lost, Dexter, and Game of Thrones finales still have fans arguing.
No TV series finale can possibly satisfy every fan. But there are some finales that are especially divisive: These concluding chapters have fans arguing years after they've aired. Some people love them and some people hate them, but one thing's for certain—everyone has a strong opinion. From Game of Thrones to How I Met Your Mother, these are some of the most controversial TV series finales of all time. (Warning: major spoilers ahead.)
Game of Thrones
The much-anticipated Game of Thrones series finale was received by fans and critics alike with mixed feelings, to say the least. Some were happy to see Bran Stark—AKA the Three-Eyed Raven—take the Iron Throne, while others didn't understand why there had been so much build-up around Jon Snow's lineage if he wasn't going to claim his rightful seat. And if it had to be anyone else, why was it Bran?
But while satisfied fans weren't exactly jubilant about the finale, the people who hated this ending really hated it. Back when it aired in May 2019, one fan even started a petition to "remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers." At the time of writing, that Change.org petition has more than 1.8 million signatures. Oh well—there's always the books.
No, they weren't all dead the whole time! The real reason the Lost series finale was so controversial: people didn't really understand it. What actually happened in the finale was that the inhabitants of the island reunited in purgatory. Some of them had died on the island early on in the show; others survived and only ended up in purgatory after living full lives—lives that weren't scripted or televised.
The confusion—and controversy—came from the fact that many people misunderstood and believed that everyone had died in the plane crash at the beginning of the series. Seeing the reunion of all the characters, including those who had perished previously, made many people furious at the idea that the entire show was just a dream. It wasn't! What they did on the island mattered! How are we still arguing about this!
How I Met Your Mother
Fans of How I Met Your Mother were generally not pleased with the show's series finale. After nine seasons, the show finally revealed to fans how Ted Mosby met that titular mother—only to kill her off and have Ted end up with his ex, Robin, after all.
In an article for USA Today titled "Why I'm Still Mad at How I Met Your Mother, Two Years Later," Kelly Lawler wrote that "the decisions to minimize the woman the show spent nine seasons teasing and deny Ted the happy ending he (and we) had been pining for, coupled with unceremoniously ending the marriage between Robin and fan-favorite Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) outraged many fans." If the title of the article is any indication, people still aren't over this controversial series finale—even though it's been years since it aired.
Gossip Girl fans had a lot of questions they wanted answers to in the series finale, but the most pressing was, "Who is Gossip Girl?" As it turns out, she was a he—"Lonely Boy" Dan Humphrey, to be exact. Wait, what?
Some fans were fine with this explanation—Gossip Girl never really made much sense, anyway—but others were furious. In 2017, Ciara Appelbaum at Insider went so far as to pen a piece outlining 12 times in the show when it was "impossible for Dan Humphrey to be Gossip Girl." Ultimately, those who enjoyed the finale simply chose to ignore the glaring plot holes.
"As the closing scene faded from my television screen, my reaction wasn't shock or sadness. It was anger." This is what Richard Rys had to say about the Dexter series finale in Vulture back when it aired in 2013. And Rys was not alone in his feelings of indignation, though others felt more melancholy than outraged. In a Reddit AMA, the show's star, Michael C. Hall, admitted that the first thing he felt when he read that his title character—a murderous vigilante—would end up as a self-isolated lumberjack was "probably sadness."
"Let's go to work," the title character of Angel (played by David Boreanaz) says before he and his team set out to stop the apocalypse. Then it fades to black. Yes, the show, a spin-off of the iconic series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ended on a cliffhanger—and one where it sure looked like all of your faves were about to die. Fans were divided.
"In the end, Angel got back to its roots while also moving things forward, and the upbeat it ends on isn't really a cliffhanger so much as a statement of purpose for Angel the show and Angel the vampire with a soul," wrote Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya at The AV Club. But as Amanda Bell at TV Guide explained, "for many fans, the fade-to-black … became a major point of frustration because [people] didn't get to see whether they'd emerge victorious or simply go down swinging against this death brigade."
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Gilmore Girls fans were in for a surprise when Netflix decided to bring it back for another season in 2016. And since creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had left the original iteration of the show after Season 6, this was her opportunity to share the final four words she had planned to end the show with all along: "Mom?" "Yeah?" "I'm pregnant."
Unfortunately, though, some viewers weren't all too pleased with the way Sherman-Palladino decided to end the series. "The moment came as a shock to many fans, who were stuck wondering if they had just witnessed the Sopranos finale all over again—sudden, controversial, potentially infuriating," Laura Bradley wrote in Vanity Fair. What makes the moment all the more maddening is that the identify of the baby's father remains a mystery—and probably always will.
How do you end a show that's "about nothing"? Not easily, evidently. When Seinfeld's final episode aired to an audience of some 76 million people in 1998, it was met with confusion and criticism. The episode—which involved Elaine, Jerry, George, and Kramer going to jail after failing to help a man getting carjacked—was bizarre and unsatisfying. Even Julia Louis-Dreyfus has joked about the fact that it was "hugely disappointing."
Pretty Little Liars
Fans had quite a few thoughts to share by the time the Pretty Little Liars finale was over—and most of them weren't pretty. "I'm left sitting here feeling a bit like I just wasted many hours of my life for a final episode that didn't really deliver," Jennifer Maldonado wrote for J-14 at the time. "It just left me even more confused."
In the finale, the anonymous antagonist known as A.D. was revealed to be—wait for it—Spencer's evil (and British?) twin sister who nobody even knew existed. So yes, fans were mad, and it kind of feels like they had a right to be!
The original run of Roseanne was a good show—until it wasn't. And nothing embodies the show's demise better than the first series finale in 1997.
In this episode, we learn that everything we saw throughout the surreal final season was just a figment of Roseanne's imagination. In reality, Roseanne's husband Dan was dead, and she "began writing about having all the money in the world" through winning the lottery as a way to cope. Brandon Michaels at Ranker summarized it well when he wrote that "Season 9 of Roseanne may go down as one of the worst final seasons in TV history."
Smallville, the WB-turned-CW series about the early life of Clark Kent/Superman, had a strong 10-season run. However, its two-part series finale was far from what viewers were hoping for.
Given that the show was an origin story about Superman, fans expected to finally see the protagonist (played by Tom Welling) fully clad in his Superman suit in the finale. Instead, all they got was a glimpse of the insignia as Kent ripped off his shirt. Welling has defended his decision not to wear the full suit in the show, but that hasn't made the finale any more satisfying in some fans' eyes.
House of Cards
Netflix's House of Cards started off strong, but between a wandering plot and the controversy surrounding star Kevin Spacey, it ended up with a series finale that, as Emily VanDerWerff at Vox put it, "feels more incomplete than anything since Dexter Morgan took to the woods to become a lumberjack." (See above.)
So how did the series wrap up? Well, most of the show's final season revolved around the mystery of who killed Frank Underwood—they had to get rid of Spacey somehow—and it's finally revealed in the last episode that the murderer was Doug Stamper, Frank's former right-hand man. A pregnant Claire Underwood kills Doug in the Oval Office with a letter opener, and fans were supposed to applaud the heroine. Instead, many viewers felt the episode was "a lackluster conclusion to a story that might have been a powerful way to frame a final season."
Does Tony Soprano live or die at the end of The Sopranos? That's what fans were left wondering when the finale cut to black while the mob boss was hanging out with his family at a diner. "Just like that, The Sopranos was over," James Hunt at ScreenRant explained. "Not with a bang nor a whimper, but simply… vast nothingness." It worked for some, but not for viewers who wanted real closure.
There are controversial TV endings, and then there's the St. Elsewhere series finale. The episode starts out normally enough, but at the very end, we watch an autistic child named Tommy play with a snow globe and learn that the entire show—the characters, the hospital, everything—was all just a product of his imagination. Seriously?!
The vampire drama True Blood had one of the most controversial TV finales of all time, but it's not as though the show had been going strong in the years leading up to that. This might be because two seasons before the show ended for good, showrunner Alan Ball bailed, leaving everyone else to tie up the many loose ends. The finale had murder, marriage, and motherhood—and yet, as Melissa Maerz at Entertainment Weekly noted, "something about the blandness of [it] felt almost offensive."