Here are the Most Upsetting TV Finales of All Time
You’ve found a new TV show you love. You’re sucked into storylines, keeping up with killer characters, and then it’s all over. And you’re left to realize not every ending leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. So if you’re wondering what TV shows to watch all the way through, we’ll try to spare you some upsets.
We asked 1,000 Americans, “What is the most upsetting TV finale you’ve ever seen?”
Spoiler alert: A lot of your favorite shows upset quite a few folks, but for different reasons. Don’t worry, you can choose which finale recaps and opinions to read by opening the drop boxes to avoid spoiling a show for yourself.
The most upsetting TV finales of all time in order
Some could argue that a few of these shows had the best TV finales, like Friends, where the most upsetting thing was that it meant the end of the gang’s adventures. But others see these TV show endings as the worst finales of all time because they seemed to disregard everything audiences loved about the show (way to bend the knee, Game of Thrones).
Game of Thrones
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” —Ramsay Bolton
According to our survey, the most upsetting finale of all time was Game of Thrones’s (available on HBO Max®).
Despite dozens of crucial characters with different motivations and methods making their way to the throne, fans hated how our heroes turned out, with most of the survivors swearing allegiance to the story’s “ultimate” protagonist—Bran Stark?
Sure, the story begins and ends with Bran. He overcomes all odds, sees through time, and fulfills his destiny as the Three-eyed Raven. Blah blah blah.
But Westeros was supposed to change. Danaerys was going to break the wheel. We were hoping to end up with a more fair and just society, right? We lost too many good people along the way to keep up the king-switching game.
On top of disappointing character betrayals and puzzling plot decisions, many fans felt like the writing quality in the later seasons fell harder than a tower on the Lannister twins. Unfortunately for fans, the ending episodes of Game of Thrones could never compete with the masterful seasons of the past.
“Some wounds never truly heal and bleed again at the slightest word.” —Ned Stark
“It doesn’t matter what we do. Whatever happened, happened.” —Faraday
Fans were pretty confused by the ending of Lost. But if you want to go back to the island, you can find Lost on Hulu.
After experiencing different timelines and alternate realities, the characters all reunite in a strange sort of limbo where they were supposed to meet again. But the plane crash, island, and events were all real. And the flash-sideways, where the plane didn’t crash and the passengers and their relationships changed, was the afterlife. Got it?
With over 20 main characters, time travel, mysteries, smoke monsters, and polar bears, it’s hard to keep track of everything that happened both on and off the island—and when.
Audiences left the finale with more questions than answers, seeming to think there was too much going on for the ending to make any sense. But some fans got caught up in solving the show’s puzzles and thought the finale didn’t do enough to tie up all the loose threads.
Either way, people found it hard to love the ending of Lost.
“I’ll see you in another life, brother.” —Desmond Hume
“You can’t just give up. Is that what a dinosaur would do?” —Joey
The Friends finale upset fans, but for the right reasons. You can find Friends on HBO Max.
Phoebe and Joey help Monica and Chandler pack up to become suburban parents of twins. Ross and Rachel reignite their romance after some airport confusion. And the group leaves the apartment for the final time, going for one last cup of coffee together.
The series finale, “The Last One,” stayed true to the series’s roots. And perhaps that’s what left fans feeling blue: they thought they’d never see the Friends together again. But HBO Max brought the group back together in May 2021 for Friends: The Reunion to mixed reviews.
“Well, maybe I don’t need your money. Wait! Wait! I said maybe!” —Rachel
The original finale broke records for advertising pay rates and viewership. But Friends: The Reunion works best for the die-hard Friends fans who weren’t ready to be on a permanent break.
”I can always see other peoples’ problems better than my own.” —Dexter
Haven’t seen it? Trace the serial killer’s steps by watching Dexter on Amazon Prime Video.
Some say the serial killer show went too far past its run time, but the vigilante serial killer with a strange sense of virtue became the victim of his own bad ending.
Dexter’s cold, calculated form of justice always came with some compassion. But in the finale, he pulls the plug on his sister, Deb, then fakes his death and abandons his girlfriend and son to live a new life as a lumberjack in Oregon.
Dexter’s attempts to gain more humanity lead him to exile himself away from it altogether.
“We all make rules for ourselves. It’s these rules that help define who we are. So when we break those rules, we risk losing ourselves and becoming something unknown.” —Dexter
How I Met Your Mother
“Legen…wait for it…dary.” —Barney
The finale to How I Met Your Mother felt strange to fans if nothing else. If you’re not sure who the kids’ mother is, you can find the series on Amazon Prime Video.
Ted recounts his entire dating life to his kids (including a lot of questionable details). But, instead of building up the love Ted had for their mother, the whole story ends up being about his love for “Aunt” Robin to the kids. Oh yeah, and the mom—who the whole show was supposed to be about—is dead.
Plus, the entire last season leads to Barney and Robin’s marriage, only for them to divorce in the finale. Barney immediately returns to his womanizing ways. Independent, career-oriented Robin winds up with Ted, the persistent nice guy. The two never worked together as a couple, but we’re supposed to believe they will now? C’mon.
Still, some argue that Ted and Robin were always meant to end up together. At least Lily and Marshall stayed on course.
“The future is scary, but you can’t just run back to the past because it’s familiar. Yes, it’s tempting, but it’s a mistake.” —Robin
“Father, I may never see you again, and before you go, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time. Your shirt’s on backwards.” —Hawkeye
Audiences said goodbye to the M*A*S*H crew with heavy hearts, but now you can stream the show on Hulu.
The finale of M*A*S*H is upsetting because it’s sad, not a letdown. The movie-length episode “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” is seen as one of the best TV finales of all time and was a massive commercial success.
We follow the characters during the last days of the North Korean war with traumatic realizations and sad goodbyes, but it wouldn’t be M*A*S*H without some laughs either.
A lot happens in the two-and-a-half-hour finale, but perhaps the most shocking moment comes when Hawkeye recounts a story in the psychiatric ward.
He recalls helping a bus full of people who have to avoid the opposing forces. They fear being caught and must stay silent, and he screams at a woman to shut her chicken up, so she smothers it. But as he recalls the memory, he realizes the woman had killed her baby, not a chicken. The devastating realization speaks to the traumatic effect war has on each character.
“Look, I know how tough it is for you to say goodbye, so I’LL say it. Maybe you’re right, maybe we WILL see each other again, but just in case we don’t, I want you to know how much you’ve meant to me. I’ll never be able to shake you; whenever I see a pair of big feet or a cheesy mustache, I’ll think of you.” —Hawkeye
“I don’t get art. It always has to be explained to me, then I have to have someone explain the explanation.” —George Costanza
The finale of Seinfeld is notorious for having divided fans. It’s not streaming for free anywhere at the time of this writing, but you can buy it on Apple TV.
For the finale, the “show about nothing” turned into a very real recount of their selfish sins throughout the series, which overwhelmed fans who didn’t feel like it struck the right tone.
Instead of the gang’s funny and flippant follies without major repercussions, the two-part series finale features Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer on trial facing the friends and foes they’ve made along the way. While there were plenty of jokes, fans were hoping for one more hilarious hoorah, instead of walking down memory lane with a bunch of clips.
They end up in jail in seeming karmic retribution, but the series concludes with the characters learning nothing.
However, plenty of fans thought the selfish characters’ recap and purgatory-like ending was perfect for what some consider to be the best sitcom of all time.
“I can think of nothing more fitting than for the four of you to spend a year removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves. I know I will. This court is adjourned.” —Judge Arthur Vandelay
“People only see what you allow them to see.” —Dr. Jennifer Melfi
The Sopranos finale gave a severe stop to the show and some fans’ expectations. To follow the mafia family, check out HBO Max.
In the finale, Tony sits in a diner to eat with his family as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” plays with the credits. Our suspicions of strangers are heightened by a few clues that imply Tony’s death, but right as his daughter Beth enters with a bell, Tony looks up, and we cut hard to black.
Some say it was a brilliant move, but many felt cheated of the chance to see the defiant and deadly dad meeting his demise. Instead, the show fans left with the same uncertainty and uneasiness Tony Soprano would sit with for the rest of his life–even if it was just for a moment longer.
We’re not going to stop believing that The Sopranos journey ended as it should’ve—with uncertainty, even if it takes a while to process.
“All due respect, you got no f—g idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f—g thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.” —Tony Soprano.
Sons of Anarchy
“Every time I think maybe I’m heading in the right direction, I end up in a place I never even knew could feel this bad.”
― Jax Teller
If you want to ride with the rebellious bikers, watch Sons of Anarchy on Hulu.
Fans praised the Sons of Anarchy finale, even if it meant the biker show built up to a beautiful but tragic ending.
After getting revenge and realizing his life can’t carry on the way it has, Jax rides away from the cops, arms outstretched, welcoming his death in the form of an oncoming truck. And the ending hit fans just as hard.
“But I know what hate does to a man. Tears him apart. Turns him into something he’s not. Something he promised himself he’d never become.” ―Jax Teller
“My advice would be if you want to pursue a career in the music business, don’t.” —Simon Cowell
The karaoke talent show is usually something to keep up with as it’s happening, but you can stream the latest season on fuboTV.
Can you believe Kelly Clarkson poisoned Justin Guarini after finding out they were orphaned twins? Just kidding. There’s only one way American Idol ends in an upset: your favorite singer doesn’t get picked.
Which American Idol contestants should’ve won?
Take your pick of any season, and there will be fans clamoring that someone else should’ve won. Here are a few of the alternate-American idols:
- Clay Aiken (Season 2)
- Jennifer Hudson (Season 3)
- LaToya London (Season 3)
- Katharine McPhee (Season 5)
- Elliott Yamin (Season 5)
- Melinda Doolittle (Season 6)
- David Archuleta (Season 7)
- Adam Lambert (Season 8)
- Todrick Hall (Season 9)
- Crystal Bowersox (Season 9)
- Pia Toscano (Season 10)
- Lauren Alaina (Season 10)
- Jessica Sanchez (Season 11)
- Jena Irene Asciutto (Season 13)
“Just the title of ‘American Idol’ is something that people can look up to. I’m not Saint Scott, I’m not Mr. Perfect, but I want to be that role model.” —Scotty McCreery
The best TV series finales stay true to the show’s themes and characters, if nothing else. Thus, a Friends ending may have you bawling because it’s over, but a Game of Thrones ending may make you wonder why you ever pressed play.
If you’re looking for a new show to stream, or need a new way to watch, we have a few recommendations:
Using Pollfish, we conducted a survey of 1,000 people aged 18+ to ask about their views on different cable and streaming services along with their opinions on TV shows they’ve watched.
This content was produced by CableTV and is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with HBO, Warner Brothers, ABC, Disney, CBS, Fox, Sony, or other mentioned properties.