‘Game of Thrones’: The best (and worst) TV finales ever
It’s with mixed emotions that we say farewell to HBO’s Game of Thrones. The low-fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s epic bestselling novel series The Song of Ice and Fire enjoyed four seasons of superb storytelling and sweeping world-building before Martin left and the project descended into a nighttime fantasy soap for the latter half of the series.
Game of Thrones‘s heavily criticized final season was topped off with an especially lackluster finale that aimed to tie up loose ends, but really just let all the fans down. A season finale can be tricky to pull off. The creator is forced to provide a conclusion that is original, gripping, and yet satisfying – while staying true to the show’s purpose. Over the years, there have been many triumphs as well as defeats.
With this in mind, here are some of the best and worst TV finales of all time.
Best: The Americans (2013 – 2018)
Bringing the FX drama to a tense and satisfying close – Spoiler alert! – Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) return to the Soviet Union after the FBI finally figured out they’re sleeper agents, thus concluding their journey without submitting to the temptation for a cutesy end.
That’s not to say the episode is not without heartache: the Jennings are forced to abandon their son Henry (Keidrich Sellati), while their grown-up daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) opts to stay behind, a decision that unfolds in a truly devastating sequence.
While there were some loose ends, according to CNN, creators Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields announced they wanted viewers to draw their own conclusions about many of the potentially ambivalent moments:
“Weisberg did note that the notion of the tragedy ultimately playing out in the breakup of the family ‘felt exactly right to us’,” something we and much of the fandom agree with. It was a fitting finale for a show that remained of a consistently high quality throughout, and while we were sad to see it leave, we’re also elated it was given a more-than-worthy sendoff.
Best: Six Feet Under (2001 – 2005)
Never has a show’s finale provided so much closure to a story without completely overdoing it. Not only does it walk the line of uplifting and depressing when it comes to the Fishers dealing with Nate’s death from two episodes before, but we are also provided with a tear-jerking series of flash-forwards that reveal how the rest of the family and loved ones live out their days. A fantastic end to a fantastic show.
Worst: Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)
It might be twenty years since Jerry Seinfeld’s sardonic sitcom about a group of New York misanthropes said farewell, but we’re still not over the finale in which Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) are put in jail for being bad Samaritans. A total cop out and a great example of how to disappoint your fans with a flop of a finale.
Best: The Leftovers (2014 – 2017)
Even the most beloved shows can fuck up when it comes to the finale, which is what makes the final flourish from Damon Lindelof (Tomorrowland), Tom Perrotta (Little Children), and Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) all the more impressive. “The Book of Nora” ends the show on a smaller portion of faith.
Instead of trying to answer all the questions, wrap up the stories of each character, and detail the fate of the Guilty Remnant, it simply and perfectly focused on Kevin and Nora, stripping the episode down to its core characters and ultimately conveying the message of finding connection and love within a bleak and unforgiving world.
Worst: Girls (2012 – 2017)
For many who tuned into the final season of HBO’s comedy, it seemed “Goodbye Tour” was the perfect end, wrapping up the four key characters’ journey as they all danced together yet separately at a New York apartment. Which is what made “Latching” all the more confusing, featuring Hannah upstate with Marnie as she struggles to feed her newborn Grover.
Moreover, we felt dissatisfied with where the entire season had taken us up to this point – for a show that was about terrible people doing a terrible job of navigating their terrible lives, it felt a bit of a lame ending to portray the central narcissist finally growing up because of an unexpected pregnancy.
To finish the show on this point was a little insulting and for a sitcom with a primary purpose to be funny, it was overly cutesy and melodramatic. We’re still not vibing it and think there are many other avenues this show could’ve taken instead.
Best: Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
It was very unlikely Mark Frost (Fantastic Four) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet) were not to provide us with anything short of extraordinary and as is the case with many of the more successful endings, there were numerous questions left unanswered for the characters of Twin Peaks: The Return.
As we know, when the second season of Twin Peaks ended on a cliffhanger, not a lot was solved in the follow-up film Fire Walk With Me. While the 2017 Showtime revival still did not completely wrap everything up and instead was left wide open for speculation (particularly with regards to Agent Dale Cooper and Laura’s doppelganger’s last journey).
What the finale did was balance some of the narrative elements while providing a satisfying end in that we could easily imagine the characters continuing their surreal life journeys (perhaps on another dimension, perhaps not).
Worst: Lost (2004 – 2010)
That’s it!? They were in purgatory this whole time and after six seasons of dedication, we’re shown this schmaltzy finale in which the characters are given a happy ending in the afterlife? Some argue it’s a quenching send off, but we say it was a load of old tosh and a cop out for those who had stayed with the show until the bitter end (we commend you).
Best: Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
While many of us sweated over how the heck Vince Gilligan (The X-Files) was going to finish of his hit crime drama about a man whose journey had seen him go from a meek & sick chemistry teacher to a ruthless drug baron, the team did it in the most perfect way.
Making amends for his wrongdoings, Walter (Bryan Cranston) leaves a sizeable inheritance for his family while saving Jesse (Aaron Paul) from his captors and the episode ends on Walter dying from injuries sustained in the bust up, his life slowly fading to the tune of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”. Tragic yet perfect.
Worst: Dexter (2006 – 2013)
Granted, the Michael C. Hall (Game Night) -starring serial-killer drama had been in decline before its finale hit. Still, for a show about murder, mayhem, and carnage, to watch Dexter fake his own death and take up life as a somber lumberjack and thus enjoy a “happy ending” just did not fit the bill. As such, “Remember the Monsters?” has gone down in history as one of the most terrible season finales. Ever.
Best: The Sopranos (1999 – 2007)
Breaking the boundaries of what a good finale should consist of, The Sopranos did something rather unusual when it wrapped up its sixth and final season with “Made in America”. While some argue it is one of the most disappointing in terms of providing closure to HBO’s hit mobster show – everyone was geared up for a bloodbath – it instead went against audiences’ expectations.
While several characters make personal and professional adjustments, we see Tony deal with familial concerns involving his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), son A.J. (Robert Iler), and daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and its beguiling climax was left so open that many still debate and speculate over it today.
A true masterclass in how to make a show memorable without resorting to desperate techniques, The Sopranos was and still is considered to be one of the greatest shows in TV history.