17 TV Plot Twists That Completely Blew Our Minds
From "Game of Thrones" to "Jane the Virgin," we'll never forget these shocking moments.
If you watch a lot of TV shows, chances are, the times when a series can really, truly surprise you are few and far between. Spend hours and hours on Netflix, and you'll get to know the formulas and come to realize what to expect. But every once in a while, a jaw-dropping plot twist that totally changes the course of a series comes around. We looked back at some of those shocking moments to bring you this list of the ones that (for better or for worse) transformed their shows. Obviously, there are spoilers galore, so read about these TV plot twists with caution. And for more game-changers, check out The 15 Most Controversial TV Series Finales of All Time.
The time jump in the This Is Us pilot
In the very first episode of the tearjerking hit drama This Is Us, several seemingly disparate plot lines are revealed to be connected. The pilot cleverly keeps the period setting of the story of expectant couple Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) hidden until the last minute, so it can drop the bomb on us that they are actually the parents of Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Randall (Sterling K. Brown), whose adult lives we had previously thought were playing out at the same time. This is only the first of the many twists for which the series has become known—and fiercely loved. For more series everyone will enjoy, check out 23 Great TV Shows to Watch as a Family.
Will's death on The Good Wife
It was a gut punch to fans of The Good Wife when Will (Josh Charles), Alicia's (Julianna Margulies) former colleague and off-and-on love interest was shockingly and fatally shot by a client (Hunter Parrish) in Season 5. The death was all the more twisty because producers had managed to keep it a secret that Charles, who'd been a part of The Good Wife since the pilot, was leaving the show.
The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones
Viewers who read the books saw it coming, but those who didn't were totally unprepared. In Season 3's "The Rains of Castamere," frontrunner for the Iron Throne, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), walks right into a bloody trap along with his mother (Michelle Fairley), his pregnant wife (Oona Chaplin), and all of his men. While Walder Frey (David Bradley) pretends to welcome them, his intent is a massacre, which left audiences traumatized.
They're in The Bad Place on The Good Place
In the first season of this existential comedy, the premise (or so we were told) was that deceased "Arizona dirtbag" Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) ended up in The Good Place by mistake and had to learn to become a better person in order to keep her secret. The conclusion of that first year revealed the truth: Eleanor—and Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto)—are exactly where they belong. Michael (Ted Danson) is a demon, and all of their trials so far have just been a part of their torture. For more funny recommendations, check out 17 Underappreciated TV Comedies That Are Available to Stream Right Now.
Olivia helped rig the election for Fitz on Scandal
Frankly, this whole list could be twists from this Shonda Rhimes series alone. But keeping it to just one, we're still shook by the fact that white-hat-wearing Olivia (Kerry Washington) was part of the cabal that rigged the presidential election that got Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) elected. Her role in this treason would haunt her throughout the show, and indirectly get quite a few people killed.
The flash forward on Lost
The finale of the third season wouldn't be the last time that Lost, the fantasy thriller about group of plane crash survivors stranded on an island, utilized a flash forward instead of a flashback. But it is the first, and arguably the most effective. Fans were dropped into the hiatus with a sequence that has future-Jack (Matthew Fox) on another Oceanic flight, reading a mysterious obituary in the newspaper. (And that's really just the start.) It raised many more questions than it answered, but wasn't that kind of Lost's whole thing?
Derek is married on Grey's Anatomy
Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey)—or MerDer, if you prefer—are established early on as Grey's Anatomy's central power couple. So it was certainly a shock for audiences and the pair when the first season finale featured Kate Walsh making her debut as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd—a neonatal surgeon new to Seattle Grace and Derek's spouse. Unfortunately for Meredith, she wants him back.
Angel goes back to the dark side on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Back in the '90s, one of TV's hottest teen (well, one of them was at least) romance was between a reformed vampire (David Boreanaz) and a vampire slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar). But in Season 2, their relationship hits an impasse. After they consummate their love for the first time, Angel loses his soul—the result of experiencing a moment of true happiness. This turns him back into a ruthless killing machine, and puts Buffy in the position of potentially taking down the man-beast she loves. For more shows to binge, check out 13 Amazing TV Shows You Can Stream in Just One Weekend.
Evil Dale Cooper escapes the Black Lodge on Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks has its moments of quirky comedy, but the conclusion of the original series is straight-up nightmare fuel. Our hero, the good and noble Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), slips into the mysterious Black Lodge, which seems to exist in a dimension outside of our own, to save his girlfriend Annie (Heather Graham) from his old partner, killer Windom Earle (Kenneth Walsh). Also in the Black Lodge? BOB (Frank Silva), the malevolent force that possessed Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), and killed his daughter Laura, setting up the whole trippy story. BOB traps the real Coop in the Lodge with him, letting his possessed doppelgänger back into our world in his place. Good Dale is still being held prisoner there—his evil twin wreaking havoc in reality—when the 2017 revival series, Twin Peaks: The Return begins.
Peggy is pregnant on Mad Men
It doesn't take long for one of the agency's resident slime balls, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), to seduce Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) after she starts working as a secretary at Sterling Cooper. It also doesn't take long for Peggy to show an aptitude for copywriting, which opens doors for her that previously hadn't been accessible to female employees. Her professional rise is threatened, however, when she learns that there's a reason beyond stress that she's been putting on weight and feeling ill. Peggy has been pregnant with Pete's child for most of the season. She has it in almost complete secret, only telling her mentor Don (Jon Hamm), who has his own skeletons, and puts the child up for adoption.
Michael is alive on Jane the Virgin
Like the telenovelas that inspired it, Jane the Virgin encompasses everything from high comedy to the deepest tragedy. It was the latter when Michael (Brett Dier), Jane's husband, died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition. The series jumped forward in time and became about Jane grieving him and moving on with her life, even embarking on another chance at romance with old flame Rafael (Justin Baldoni). Her world comes crashing down around her again when Rafael invites her over to meet… Michael, who's alive, but has no memory of her. Every good soap needs an amnesia storyline!
President Bartlet steps down on The West Wing
Series creator and showrunner Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing after four seasons, and boy did he leave the incoming writers room a mess to clean up. In the last two episodes of the fourth season, the president's daughter Zoey (Elisabeth Moss) is abducted, and Bartlet (Martin Sheen) decides to invoke the 25th Amendment, temporarily stepping down to give control of the country to a more emotionally stable leader. But his former VP's recent resignation leaves a Republican (John Goodman), with beliefs at odds to the Democrat's entire administration, next in line. For more acclaimed series, check out 23 Emmy-Winning TV Shows You Can Stream Right Now.
Walt lets Jane die on Breaking Bad
Up until this moment in Breaking Bad, you could still make a case that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was a conflicted guy who still possessed some morals. All of that goes out the window when he stands idly by and watches Jane (Krysten Ritter), true love of his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul), choke on her own vomit and die. As it happens, we understand that Walt will do anything to neutralize a threat to himself and his business. And Jane—as she and Jesse intended to get out of town and clean after one last trip—was definitely that.
The snow globe reveal on St. Elsewhere
You'll rarely see a list of all-time great series finales that doesn't include St. Elsewhere. In the last episode of this medical drama, we learn that the entire show has been taking place in the imagination of an autistic boy gazing at a snow globe. If you want to take it even further, you can. St. Elsewhere crossed over with other TV series that then crossed over with each other, creating a sprawling, interlocking grid of shows, from Cheers to The X-Files, that one could reasonably posit also sprang from Tommy Westphall's (Chad Allen) mind.
Mr. Robot is also Elliot on Mr. Robot
In addition to talking to us, his "friend," Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) talks regularly with an older man the audience only knows as Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), an anarchist hacker who needs Elliot to help him bring down a media conglomerate called E Corp. Toward the end of the first season, Elliot "remembers" and we learn that "Mr. Robot" is another identity that Elliot has taken on. He looks and sounds like Elliot's real father but possesses all of Elliot's reckless, nihilist instincts. The show followed this up with a Season 2 twist that didn't hit quite as hard—most viewers were able to guess it—but came back with another whopper involving Elliot's relationship to his real father in Season 4. For more small-screen goodies, check out The Most Famous TV Show That Took Place in Your State.
Sydney is working for terrorists on Alias
Alias is another show that offers up several twists deserving of inclusion on this list. This one occurs in the pilot, when secret agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is horrified to find out that her employer, SD-6, isn't actually CIA black-ops but an arm of a terrorist organization. Her life turns on its head once again when her father Jack (Victor Garber), who she thought was a villain, informs her that he is CIA—a double agent who's infiltrated SD-6. That puts Sydney on the path to get on the right side, and sets five seasons of action into motion.
The Mother dies on How I Met Your Mother
It takes nine seasons for Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) to find the future mother of his children in this flashback comedy. When he finally does, their happiness is brief. How I Met Your Mother threw fans for a loop by saddling Tracy (Cristin Milioti) with a generic terminal illness and killing her off in a time jump. Not satisfied with that, the series also breaks up Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) and has Ted's kids—to whom he's been telling this tale—inform him that he's been in love with "Aunt Robin" all along. With a few exceptions, viewers were, uh… not pleased.