It’s hard to say goodbye, especially when you’re saying goodbye to a television show.
Hey, we’re being serious. TV is an important part of our lives, and given that we’re living in the Golden Age of Television, we’re not ashamed of the hundreds of hours we spend on the couch. We love a great story, and we’re certainly not alone in that regard; the average American household watches nearly eight hours of TV per day.
Given that we’re investing a huge percentage of our lives, we expect a great story. Nothing’s worse than an unsatisfying series finale—and nothing’s more fun than complaining about the mistakes that showrunners make when they don’t quite stick the landing.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the worst finales of all time (and consider whether or not they really ruined the show).
Spoiler warning: We’re going to be discussing the ending of each of these shows, so if you haven’t watched them yet and you intend to…well, look, you know what a spoiler warning means.
How it ended: Expectations were high for Seinfeld’s last season, and for the most part, the show came through. The last episode, however, failed to live up to expectations.
In the series finale, Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George end up on trial for failing to help a man who was being mugged. Many of the show’s secondary characters take the stand to criticize the main cast, and the episode ends with our heroes wearing orange jumpsuits in a New York correctional facility.
In one of the last scenes, George and Jerry share the same conversation they’d had in the pilot episode. The studio audience falls silent. It’s all pretty depressing.
Why it sucked: Seinfeld’s writers famously adhered to a “no hugging, no learning” policy, and while other ‘90s sitcoms had occasional overly sentimental episodes, Seinfeld’s characters were gleefully selfish.
However, they weren’t unsympathetic characters, and that’s an important difference. Fans felt like the last episode was a slap in the face—sure, we’d been rooting for these awful humans for the last decade or so, but they weren’t really that terrible, were they?
More importantly, the finale didn’t have a lot of great jokes. For a show that always prized comedy over character development, that was pretty unforgivable.
Was it really that bad? Despite the controversial premise, the Seinfeld finale had some high points. For months leading up to the finale, fans speculated about what would happen; maybe the characters would die, or Jerry and Elaine would start a relationship, or Jerry would announce that it was all a ruse and the show would return next season.
The finale slyly refers to many of those predictions. In one scene, the gang’s plane almost crashes, and Elaine starts to confess something to Jerry before nonchalantly dropping it. In the last scene, Jerry says, “So, just a year, and we’ll be back,” which might have been added to the script to mess with fans. That sort of meta-humor was one of Seinfeld’s best qualities.
Still, most viewers didn’t like the poor pacing and weird plot. As far as bad finales go, this isn’t the worst, since it didn’t retroactively ruin the show—but it as a definite low point for one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Don’t take our word for it: Ask Jerry Seinfeld.
“There was a lot of pressure on us at that time to do one big last show, but big is always bad in comedy,” he said of the finale in 2017. He clearly learned his lesson, as his next major project, Bee Movie, is considered one of the greatest films of all time (by us).
2. How I Met Your Mother
How it ended: The plot of How I Met Your Mother revolves around…wait for it…how Ted met his wife. Future Ted is telling the entire story to his kids, and he’s quite the storyteller, given that he takes years to get to the point.
Of course, that’s part of the fun; the sitcom features plenty of twists and turns that lead you to think you know who Ted will marry, but there’s enough ambiguity to keep fans guessing. In the early seasons, the most obvious mother would have been Robin, Ted’s on-again, off-again love interest.
By the time we get to the finale, however, we know it’s not her. They’re clearly not meant for each other, and besides, Robin married Barney. She’s helped him become a better person, and they seem perfectly happy together.
Before the finale, the show introduced the identity of the mother (played by Cristin Milioti). The question was how they’d get together, and the last episode didn’t disappoint in that regard: Ted and the nameless mother do get married, after several detours that threaten their budding relationship.
The wedding itself is quite the romantic moment—until the narrator explains that the mother died several years later. Also, Robin and Barney divorced, because, well, the writers of the show needed that to happen to enact their final twist.
Urged on by his kids, Ted heads to Robin’s apartment, and it’s implied that they live happily ever after. It was all very dumb.
Why it sucked: To be fair, the show’s writers were kind of hamstrung since they’d filmed the kids’ scenes back in 2006 (the finale aired in 2014). They couldn’t simply refilm the scenes without explaining why Ted’s children were now significantly older. They had to either drop the footage entirely or rewrite the ending they’d prepared in the show’s second season.
But How I Met Your Mother had changed significantly since those early years, and by the ninth season, Ted and Robin made no sense as a couple. Also, fans had grown attached to Robin and Barney, so to have them suddenly divorce was jarring—and it was even more jarring to hear about how the mother had died offscreen.
Was it really that bad? Yes. The two-part finale, “Last Forever,” was almost universally panned by critics and fans.
To their credit, the showrunners seemed to have recognized their mistake; they released an alternate ending on the show’s DVD, which has many of the same plot points, but without the death of the Mother. There’s also a voiceover that hints at a romantic future for Barney and Robin.
That sort of reinforces our point: When your finale’s so bad that the fans make you do it over again, it’s definitely one of the worst endings of all time.
3. Game of Thrones
How it ended: We couldn’t really write this list without addressing the elephant (er, dragon) in the room. Critics are divided over Game of Thrones’ finale, but at the very least, the show’s final season is a massive disappointment to many fans.
In the penultimate episode, Daenerys Targaryen suddenly turns ruthless, burning down the city of King’s Landing. Jon Snow (who’s also a Targaryen) ends her reign with a knife while mumbling, “Yuh will ahlways beh mah kween.”
The other characters meet to choose the next king of Westeros, and Bran Stark—who’s been a weird, quiet mystic for the last few seasons—accepts the crown. The North secedes from Westeros, and Jon Snow is banished to the Wall for committing treason.
In one of the last scenes, Tyrion assumes his new role as the Hand of the King, and reviews a history of the entire war called A Song of Ice and Fire. This will be the only time that any fan of the long-running franchise sees an actual completed copy of that book (sorry, George R.R. Martin).
Tyrion is shocked to learn that he’s not in the book. It’s intended as a joke, but it’s a bad one: Tyrion is integral to nearly every major plot point in the War of the Five Kings. It’s a minor detail, but it shows how little the showrunners cared about attention to detail by this point.
Why it sucked: No epic story could tie up all of its loose ends, but Game of Thrones made some ridiculous leaps that ignored some of its best moments.
The biggest surprise of the last few seasons was the reveal that Jon Snow was the true king by blood, but that…didn’t matter. Jaime Lannister gradually worked his way from under his sister’s thumb to become a hero, then…went right back to his sister. Bran became king because he…had a great story? What?
Was it really that bad? The last few seasons of Game of Thrones didn’t deliver the thrills or political intrigue of the early seasons. The finale doesn’t ruin the show, but it will leave fans wondering forever: Would this have been better if George R.R. Martin actually finished the books before the show started filming?
(And if you’re looking for alternate endings, by the way, we’ve got you covered. Here’s what happened when we asked a computer to automatically generate Game of Thrones stories.)
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Bran as “Bran Snow.” We fixed the error—he’s now Bran Stark.
How it ended: Showtime’s Dexter was a great anti-hero story, and over the years, viewers grew to love serial killer Dexter Morgan. Some were hoping for a happy ending—they just didn’t want to see him ride off into the sunset as a lumberjack.
That’s exactly what happened. Dexter’s finale, “Remember the Monsters,” was the culmination of a terrible season of television, and it was incredibly sloppy; the titular character commits crimes in full view of security cameras, but he doesn’t get caught. His sister dies, but by this point, we’re given the impression that Dexter doesn’t really care all that much. Then, he does care, but he shows it by faking his own death, leaving his child fatherless.
Then, the final scene reveals that Dexter is actually alive, and he’s a lumberjack now. Nothing makes sense, and everything is terrible.
Why it sucked: The last season of Dexter totally demolished the character, and according to some fans and critics, it ruined the entire show.
“It’s a feat for a finale to make you regret having watched a single moment of the series,” wrote Joshua Alston of The AV Club, “but ‘Remember The Monsters’ made it look easy.”
Was it really that bad? Yes. We’d go so far as to say that most people don’t know much about Dexter, except that it starred that guy from Six Feet Under and it had a terrible ending.
Fans of the show pretend that the last season never happened, and when the finale aired, the Dexter subreddit fan community held discussions about Breaking Bad instead. You can’t fall much lower than that, unless you’re, say, ALF.
How it ended: Look, we realize that you haven’t thought about ALF in years (if you’ve ever thought about ALF at all). Most of the shows on this list are fairly well known; ALF is just a weird cultural artifact from the 1980s.
The show deserves this spot on this list for the utterly gruesome way it ended. Just to be safe: Major spoilers warning for anyone watching through every episode of ALF for the first time in 2019. We know there are millions of you out there.
For the uninitiated, ALF is the story of the Tanner family, who find themselves housing a wisecracking extraterrestrial puppet that eats cats (it was a weird running joke—blame the ‘80s). He avoids detection by donning goofy costumes and staying mostly out of sight, but after four seasons, it was pretty inevitable that the government would eventually find him and end his life.
That’s the exact plot of “Consider Me Gone,” the final episode of ALF’s final season. ALF makes plans to have his people pick him up, but before they can make it, the insidious Alien Task Force captures him. They plan to perform tests on ALF and eventually euthanize him.
The Tanner family tries to help their friend, but the Alien Task Force prevails. As they take ALF away, the show ends. Seriously.
Why it sucked: Look, we’re not big ALF fans, but a family-friendly show probably shouldn’t conclude with the literal torture of its muppet-like main character. In the creators’ defense, they thought their show would be greenlit for a fifth season, so they had no idea they were writing such a dark last episode.
They did try to properly conclude the story six years later with the made-for-TV movie Project ALF, but serious fans of the original series hated it, as it didn’t include the Tanner family. If you only watched the ALF TV show, it officially ended with the titular alien despondently accepting a cruel, inescapable fate.
Was it really that bad? That really depends on how you feel about ALF. We actually think more shows should end with the government euthanizing puppets, but we’re somewhat sadistic in that regard.
If you’re a normal human being, then yes, the ALF ending is horrifying. RIP, ALF, btw.