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Well, the verdict is in. Game of Thrones has dug its own grave. After years of brilliant character development, complex plotlines, and stunning CGI, the show's writers have destroyed any last bit of hope we had for a satisfying conclusion—burning it alight like the massacre at King's Landing. What was once the greatest series in TV history has fallen from grace at a rate parallel to the downfall of some of its most iconic characters: last week's particularly notable victims being Daenerys Targaryen and Jaime Lannister.
So what do we do now? We must accept our fate—and prepare ourselves for the inevitable tragedy that is tonight's final offering. Before that though, we might find some solace in revisiting other series that almost made it, before famously falling at the final hurdle. How did their fans cope? Did these endings fade away into history, or tarnish the entire show's memory forever?
Naturally, we must begin at the very worst. The most notorious of all, and in most people's eyes, the long-time occupier of the Iron Throne of bad endings...
It's the year 5000. Long gone is terrestrial TV as we know it, long gone are movie theatres, online streaming, even Netflix. Game of Thrones is just a tiny speck of sand in the colossal egg-timer of cinematic history. But yet, stories are still told of a mythical, legendary TV ending so bad it made grown men and women weep. That ending is, of course, none other than Lost.
Where to even start with this one? Lost began as a worldwide phenomenon that changed the way we consume and comprehend television forever. From its pilot in 2004, right the way through the noughties, the show charted the lives of several survivors of the Oceanic Flight 815 plane crash, including Jack, Kate and Sawyer, and their exploration of the strange island where they found themselves stranded. An island with many unusual features—such as polar bears, smoke monsters, and hidden communities of 'others', all serving as threats for the group to overcome.
The show quickly became popular because of its cliffhangers and twist endings, often featuring supernatural elements, the likes of which hadn't been seen since Twin Peaks a decade earlier. Coinciding with the birth of Internet forums such as Reddit, Lost also spawned a subsection of fans who would log on each week to dissect every episode's mysteries—forming elaborate theories about the show's deeper meaning and eventual ending. The legacy of this can still be seen today as arguably, we wouldn't have obsessive Game of Thrones YouTubers, or coverage about the show's 'meaning' in national newspapers if it wasn't for Lost.
But everything came undone in the show's final episode "The End," where after years of build-up, the survivors were shown in a church that symbolized purgatory... sort of. No, technically they weren't dead all along—but they might as well have been, as most of the events of the final two seasons were actually 'flash-sidewards' that didn't happen in reality. What a disappointment!
Why it was awful: From the very beginning, the show's writers had continuously denied that the island was anything related to heaven or purgatory. So, you can imagine the dissatisfaction of the entire world when this episode hit screens. An over-reliance on symbolism and metaphor also dominated Lost's finale, upsetting viewers who were hoping for concrete conclusions to all the mysteries that had been set up over the years. Sound familiar, Game of Thrones fans?
Hot on Lost's heels is America's favorite serial killer, Dexter. This show first gained recognition in the late noughties, and told the story of a serial killer who, by day worked as a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department, all the while killing his victims at night. The titular character Dexter was intriguing because he lived by a strict code instilled into him by his father: he would only kill other serial killers. This made for gripping drama, especially when Dexter met his match against the most deadly serial killer of all—The Trinity Killer—who ultimately slaughtered Dexter's girlfriend Rita in what is often seen as the show's most seminal moment.
From Season five onwards, however, Dexter began a slow decline that led to a colossal dive in its ratings. Later villains became predictable and dull, Dexter had a string of uncharismatic lovers, including fellow serial killer Hannah, and any other attempt to spice the show up led to unnatural relationships that felt out of character, to say the least. It's not just Game of Thrones that tried to force an unwanted incestuous plot...
This all culminated in Dexter's final episode, 'Remember the Monsters?' (Honestly, I wish I didn't). First, Dexter allows Hannah to take his son Harrison with her to start a new life in Argentina, despite barely knowing the family, and only appearing in two seasons of the show. Dexter's sister Debra—a long time fan favorite—is then killed off after getting shot in the previous episode. Dexter dumps her body in the ocean before a storm comes, ravaging his boat, and leaving him for dead. But wait, we're not done yet! In the last shot of the episode, it appears Dexter has not only survived, but has also, in an inexplicably irrelevant career-move, become .. a lumberjack?
Why it was awful: The finale's first major mistake was slaughtering not only Debra, but her entire character arc. Debra was easily the most relatable character throughout the show's duration, and most fans thought she deserved a happy ending. After an earlier mental breakdown, things had started to look up for her—rendering her eventual death upsetting and nonsensical. But the biggest issue here is that Dexter himself remained alive. As Breaking Bad demonstrated, the most satisfying endings for anti-heroes involve them finally paying for their crimes. Realistically though, what did we think would happen? Any chance of Dexter following in Walter White's footsteps was murdered back with Rita in Season four, along with the show's writing...
3. 'How I Met Your Mother'
Dramas are notoriously difficult to conclude, especially those with plotlines as delicately interlaced as Game of Thrones, but comedies generally are not. That's not to say they are simpler, or easier to write, but that there is usually less to consider when tying up loose ends. The main two aspects a sitcom needs to manage when crafting its finale, are the audience's expectations, and overall character development. Just look at Friends, generally considered to have one of the best endings of all time, which executed both brilliantly. How I Met Your Mother, or as it should really be called, How I Met Your Mother For LITERALLY ONE SCENE Then Went Back To Your Aunt Robin—did not.
The show recounts the lives of five friends in New York: Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall, and Lily—charting their romances, friendships, careers, and humorous situations they would get into, over the course of a decade. The central romantic pairing for the first few seasons was Ted and Robin, but Robin later got together with comic-relief character Barney—subsequently ending his womanizing ways—in what most fans agreed was a much better match.
How I Met Your Mother had all the ingredients of a perfect sitcom—but what truly set it apart was its unique framing device. The story was told retrospectively by main protagonist Ted to his children in the year 2030 to explain how he met their mother. This not only gave the show a central mystery akin to those seen in sophisticated dramas like Lost and Dexter—but led fans to believe, quite understandably, that the focal point of the story was the enigmatic mother figure. Alas, how wrong we were.
In a twist that satisfied absolutely nobody, and was not only predicted but actively dreaded—Ted did meet the mother in the final two-part episode 'Last Forever'—only for her to die from a terminal illness years later. Meanwhile, Barney and Robin got divorced, allowing future Ted—equipped with terribly dyed gray hair and egged on by his confusingly enthusiastic children—to profess his love for Robin, and loiter outside her window, in what can only be described as one of the most pathetic climaxes of all time.
Why it was awful: In a move eerily similar to how Game of Thrones has played out, the pacing here was atrocious. Season nine of How I Met Your Mother spanned 24 episodes, but covered the events of just three days, culminating in Barney and Robin's wedding. Yet all of a sudden in the final episode, years passed and characters were getting divorced, having children and dying left, right, and center! Any sense of immersion was lost as everything unraveled at an unrealistic pace. Whole character arcs were disregarded too—with Barney the most notable victim. After eight seasons of growth, from an arguably sexist misogynist to loving husband—the writers stripped Barney of his long-term relationship, because obviously, it was more plausible for him to father an illegitimate child with a woman he'd just met...
The ending's true Achilles Heel though was its inability to understand and fulfill its audience's expectations. Viewers had once shipped Ted and Robin, but that ship sailed long ago, and critically, the ending should have reflected this. Perhaps not filming it eight years ago would have solved the problem.
So there we have it.
Game of Thrones is up against some stiff competition! But despite all the misery, anguish, and resentment these finales caused, not one of them led to a petition with over one million signatures begging writers to remake the whole thing... Nope, not even Lost! It certainly looks like Game of Thrones will soon unanimously become the worst ending of all time. That is—until The Walking Dead finally kicks the bucket.
In an interview earlier this year, Kit Harington explained that the final season of Game of Thrones was going to change TV forever. At the time, we didn't think anything of this seemingly innocuous comment. But tonight, my friends, it's looking like it just might...