The 10 worst TV finales of all time

Top to bottom: Seinfeld finale (NBC Universal), How I Met Your Mother finale (CBS), Game Of Thrones finale (HBO)
Top to bottom: Seinfeld finale (NBC Universal), How I Met Your Mother finale (CBS), Game Of Thrones finale (HBO)
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It’s not easy ending a TV show; wrapping up what can sometimes be several years’ worth of plotlines into one satisfying ending is an incredibly difficult task. So when a truly bad TV series finale rolls around, it’s not always a surprise, but it is always a huge disappointment. Maybe that’s why these 10 finales stick out in our minds: we were rooting for them, but they just couldn’t stick the landing. In the worst cases, bad finales like Seinfeld fundamentally misunderstand the show they’re trying to wrap up, leading to an ending that leaves fans scratching their heads. Other times, a bad finale is just the natural conclusion of a show that had been on a downward slide for a while, like Dexter. Either way, unlike our list of the best series finales of all time, this one has no happy endings. Here, then, are the worst series finales of all time.

10. Lost

Finale date: May 23, 2010

Oh, Lost. We had such high hopes for you. But by the time “The End” rolled around, audiences had already been through a lot with time loops, time jumps, and more questions than the show could reasonably answer. It was either a bold or incredibly stupid decision that Lost decided to go with a deeply ambiguous ending. To be fair, the finale has some staunch defenders—and their passion is nearly as strong as the vitriol from its critics. [Jen Lennon]

9. Killing Eve

Finale date: April 17, 2022

Killing Eve tricked us. For three seasons, it got us invested in the relationship between Eve and Villanelle—and then, in season four, it sidelined that relationship in favor of a needlessly complex plot full of MacGuffins. The show also sprinted toward the finish line at an untenable pace, leaving characterization and believability in the dust. Maybe Eve and Villanelle never could have been together in the long term, but did Villanelle really have to die to prove that point? [Jen Lennon]

8. Gossip Girl

Finale date: December 17, 2012

How you feel about the ending of Gossip Girl depends a lot on your reaction to the reveal of the title character’s identity. The finale wouldn’t have been complete without solving the mystery of who the writer behind the voice of Kristen Bell’s tell-all narrator was, but for some fans it was a poorly reasoned outcome. Co-creator and showrunner Stephanie Savage has said that the writers knew from the start it would turn out to be Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), but that claim doesn’t hold water. If that were true, they’d have written both him and his alter-ego differently from the start. We still don’t fully buy that the Lonely Boy who was considered an outsider within Upper East Side Manhattan society due to his roots in distant, faraway Brooklyn turned out to be the one constantly attacking the object of his affection, not to mention his own sister (who supposedly knew what he was up to all along and still let it happen). That one major flaw ruins what was otherwise a fairly satisfying conclusion for most of the characters. [Cindy White]

7. The X-Files

Finale date: May 19, 2002 (original series)

Technically The X-Files had two finales, but the one that made our list is the two-parter that ended the show’s initial run back in 2002. By the end of season nine it was clear to pretty much everyone that the show had gone on for too long and ending it was the right move. David Duchovny had left after season eight, Gillian Anderson’s role was diminished, and despite the best efforts of their replacements—Robert Patrick as John Doggett and Annabeth Gish as Monica Reyes—the show was never the same without its core duo at the center.

The X-Files had already buckled under the weight of its own lore—if you lost track of the mythology of super soldiers, black oil, alien colonists, and The Syndicate, we wouldn’t blame you—and no amount of exposition recapping it all through the device of a military tribunal, or even the return of Duchovny and the reunion of Mulder and Scully, could make up for that. “The Truth” had its moments, bringing back fan favorites like Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), X (Steven Williams), and the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and did its best to harken back to when the show was still good, but that only served to remind us of the ways in which it went astray.

It’s a good thing, then, that the story of The X-Files didn’t actually end with the original series finale. Going back to it now, it feels more like a soft launch for a movie franchise that didn’t quite turn out as expected, with just one more film in 2008 (the first was released in 1998, between seasons five and six) and then a two-season revival beginning in 2016. Fortunately it takes more to kill off a seminal cultural phenomenon than one weak series finale. [Cindy White]

6. House

Finale date: May 21, 2012

There was no way that Gregory House could have kept going the way he had been until “Everybody Dies.” In that sense, House did a good job of building toward a breaking point for its finale. So it’s really a shame that the last episode tried to have its cake and eat it, too. By having House fake his own death, the show allowed him to squirm his way out of any sort of real reckoning with the friends and colleagues he’d wronged over and over again for eight years straight. As always, House gets away with it. And that could have been a pretty strong commentary if the show had presented this as a bad thing instead of a good thing; instead, it tacitly absolves all of House’s bad behavior. [Jen Lennon]

5. The 100

Finale date: September 30, 2020

In the seventh and final season of The 100 the writers made some bizarre choices—like having one half of the show’s most popular pairing kill the other for reasons that didn’t make any narrative sense—that ticked off the fan base so much that by the time it got to the series finale in episode 16 (which also happened to be the 100th episode overall), many longtime viewers had already checked out. And then, in “The Last War,” it leaned into its worst tendencies. What started as a story about a group of young delinquents trying to survive on a post-apocalyptic Earth turned into a morality tale about humanity’s capacity for violence and ability to evolve. It left us with a group of newly introduced and thinly drawn alien beings judging the main character, Clarke (Eliza Taylor), as unworthy after she’s spent the entire series fighting to protect others. It’s one of those endings that makes you wonder whether you and the writers were watching the same show all this time. [Cindy White]

4. Game Of Thrones

Finale date: May 19, 2019

How did such a cultural juggernaut lose all its goodwill so quickly? Maybe it was never quite as good as we thought. Or maybe, as author George R.R. Martin and several HBO execs implied about the canceled spin-off Bloodmoon, it had to do with the source material: namely, that there wasn’t any. By roughly halfway through season five, Game Of Thrones had eclipsed Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire novels. And that’s when the show really started to go off the rails.

It’s not that the story “The Iron Throne” told was bad, necessarily. It just wasn’t earned. For a series that really took its time meandering through plot points in its first seven seasons, season eight slammed on the accelerator and never let up. Sure, it ended up at the correct finish line, but we have absolutely no idea how it got there. And, unfortunately, neither did the show. [Jen Lennon]

3. How I Met Your Mother

Finale date: March 31, 2014

There’s no other way to put it: How I Met Your Mother’s ending felt like a betrayal. From the beginning, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays claimed that they knew how the show was going to end. It was a defense against skepticism about the show’s narrative device, of a father explaining to his teenage kids the story of how he met their mother. Thomas and Bays even filmed the ending with the teenage actors in 2006, so they wouldn’t age out of the roles by the time the show ended. How I Met Your Mother went on for seven more years after that. Carter and Bays had seven years to reconsider that ending, yet they still went through with it. Whether it was a dedication to their original creative vision or just sheer stupidity that led them to stick with the ultimate reveal that the mother died and the father was in love with his best friend all along, we’ll likely never know. [Jen Lennon]

2. Seinfeld

Finale date: May 14, 1998

“No hugging, no growing.” That was Seinfeld’s guiding principle, the thing that made the show so unique. It wasn’t interested in character development; it was more than content to sit back and just let the characters live their self-absorbed lives. And sure, you could argue that, even after Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer get thrown in jail for being terrible people in “The Finale,” they still don’t learn anything. They still see their situation as horribly unfair. But it also feels unfair to punish them.

Seinfeld was fun because of its moral escapism, but by finally passing judgment on its characters, the show was, by extension, passing judgment on its audience. That kind of commentary can be extremely powerful in the right situation, but come on—this is Seinfeld. The way the show ended almost feels like a poorly executed twist. “They’re bad people, actually” wasn’t a revelation; it was self-evident from the start. Jerry George, Elaine, and Kramer were fine with it. The audience was fine with it. And, until “The Finale,” the show was fine with it, too. [Jen Lennon]

1. Dexter

Finale date: September 22, 2013

Dexter had been on a downward slide for a while before its finale, so maybe we should’ve been prepared for it to be a letdown. Still, it would’ve been nearly impossible to brace for just how badly “Remember The Monsters?” botched the landing. Unlike Seinfeld, Dexter was a show, and a character, that was begging for a reckoning. Instead of a final moment of catharsis, though, audiences got literally nothing—just Dexter Morgan living a quiet life as a lumberjack. Were we supposed to believe that he just gave up killing? Was it a metaphor? We have absolutely no idea, because Dexter just dropped that bombshell and walked away. New Blood did its best to give the show a better send-off, but it still wasn’t exactly the triumphant return fans hoped for. [Jen Lennon]