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The 15 Most Shocking Season Finale Cliffhangers In TV History

January 25, 2021 455 votes 92 voters 2.5k views15 items

List RulesVote up the season-ending twists that made you jump out of your seat.

Cliffhanger endings are how television series trick us into coming back to watch every week. Season finale TV cliffhangers sneakily serve the purpose of securing our return for the following season by dangling a high-stakes plotline over our head. It's one thing to have to wait one whole week to find out the resolution, but some of these shows had us waiting months, even years to find out the fate of our favorite characters, especially when they've been left in precarious situations. 

From "Who shot J.R.?" to "Who did Negan kill?" these are the most shocking end-of-season cliffhangers in TV history that left us perpetually biting our nails.  

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  • 1. Season 6 Of 'The Walking Dead’ Ends With Negan Taking A Bat To The Head Of A Main Character We Can’t See

    Photo: AMC / Pinterest

    "Who did Negan kill?" was the talking point of 2016 and simultaneously The Walking Dead's jump-the-shark moment. The second half of Season 6 perfectly set up the conflict with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the saviors, leading up to that moment from the comics that we all knew was coming. Alas, near the conclusion of the episode, the big bad Negan enters the scene with his barbed-wire bat "Lucille," and we all clenched our teeth waiting for him to beat Glenn (Steven Yeun) or another character to their end. But instead of letting the scene play out, the camera changes to the POV of the target, and we see the bat come down on someone's head before cutting to black.  

    While this decision made for a shocking cliffhanger, fans were completely outraged when they realized they had to wait over 6 months for the reveal. The fate of 11 beloved characters, including series protagonist Rick Grimes and fan-favorite Daryl Dixon, hung in the balance until the Season 7 premiere episode, which broke viewership records for the show due to the fact that fans had to wait until halfway through the episode to find out that Negan had taken the bat to poor Abraham (Michael Cudlitz.) Negan also ended up doing away with Glenn later in the episode. 

    Wild cliffhanger?
  • 2. 'Game of Thrones' Season 5 Ends With The Life Draining Out Of Jon Snow

    Photo: HBO

    Game of Thrones Season 5 ended with the demise of the series' most beloved character, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). Although Game of Thrones was already infamous for taking out main characters, fans were still not ready for this particular end, especially because the TV series had caught up to George R.R. Martin's novel series by this point, and fans could no longer anticipate what was going to happen. In the episode, Snow is ambushed and slain by the brotherhood of the Night's Watch for his "betrayal."

    Because of the use of magic and the dark arts in the series, fans not only speculated that Jon Snow would be brought back to life, but also theorized exactly how it would happen. Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten), AKA the Red Witch, did end up bringing Snow back to life, but not until the very last scene of Season 6, episode 2, which left fans speculating his fate for almost a year.

    Wild cliffhanger?
  • 3. ‘The Simpsons’ Season 6 Ends With Mr. Burns Getting Shot By An Offscreen Culprit

    Photo: Fox / Reddit

    When The Simpsons did its own version of "Who shot J.R.?" producers didn't anticipate the two-part event becoming a historically significant TV event. Series creator Matt Groening had just wanted to do a spoof of the infamous Dallas third-season finale cliffhanger by having Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) shot by an unknown culprit at the end of the sixth-season finale, but the speculation alone made the event one of the biggest in Simpsons history. 

    The possibilities were endless when it came to suspects who had a bone to pick with Mr. Burns, which was pretty much every single resident of Springfield. The mystery was resolved at the end of the Season 7 premiere, "Who Shot Mr. Burns? (Part Two)," which left fans waiting four months to find out who the shooter was. (In retrospect, it wasn't as bad as the eight-month wait for Dallas fans.) The identity of the shooter turned out to be the perma-toddler Maggie Simpson, who accidentally shot Mr. Burns after his own piece slipped out of his jacket and into her hands. 

    Wild cliffhanger?
  • 4. ‘Sherlock’ Season 2 Ends With Holmes Diving Off A Roof And A Cryptic Obituary

    Photo: BBC One

    The second-season cliffhanger of the spectacular BBC Sherlock Holmes adaptation Sherlock had fans in tears for many different reasons. The climax of the finale was the culmination of a two-season-long cat-and-mouse game between Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and one of the best-ever screen adaptations of his arch-nemesis James Moriarty (Andrew Scott). The engagement of wits ended with the two of them on a rooftop where Moriarty blew his own brains out in order to have the twisted last laugh. Sherlock then had to take his own life in order to save the lives of those he loved, so he jumped off the rooftop in front of Watson (Martin Freeman), who had been watching in horror from down below. 

    Even though we saw his body plummet to the ground, we knew that wasn't the last we'd seen of Sherlock. The tears we shed were for his partner Watson and the tremendous grief he was facing. The episode ended with Watson delivering a eulogy by Sherlock's tombstone before the camera spun around to reveal Sherlock watching from a distance. The burning question that remained was "How did Sherlock survive the fall?" Fans wouldn't know the answer to that question for another two years until the third-season premiere episode. It turns out, Sherlock was one step ahead of Moriarty the whole time and pooled his resources to fake his fall. The only person who didn't know was poor Watson. 

    Wild cliffhanger?