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The 15 Most Shocking Season Finale Cliffhangers In TV History

January 25, 2021 456 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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    ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ Season 3 Ends With Picard Turned Into A Borg And Riker Ordering To Fire On His Ship

    When it comes to Star Trek: The Next Generation, it's hard to pick just one cliffhanger ending as one of our favorites, but when it comes to the most shocking, there's really only one that comes to mind. In the finale of the third season, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) was nabbed by the evil Borgs and turned into one, but that's not even the most shocking part of the episode. When Picard, now "Locutus of Borg," threatened to assimilate the Enterprise, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) had no choice but to order his crew to fire on Picard's Borg ship. 

    Fans only had to wait three months to find out the fate of their beloved captain, but even the short wait had the fanbase completely freaking out. The two-part episode, "The Best of Both Worlds" - which included the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere - became one of the most talked-about Star Trek episodes of all time. In the fourth-season premiere episode, "The Best of Both Worlds Part II," Riker was able to lead the Enterprise to defeat the Borgs and liberate Picard - because it wouldn't be Star Trek if the good guys didn't win. 

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  • 6

    ‘Dallas’ Season 3 Ends With The Infamous ‘Who Shot J.R.’ Twist

    Photo: CBS

    Dallas' infamous third-season finale cliffhanger may just be the reason we're writing this article. Cliffhangers weren't a big phenomenon in American television before Dallas pulled its historic "Who shot J.R.?" stunt. In the episode "A House Divided," the villainous oil baron J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) was shot twice in the back in the final moments of the episode, collapsing onto the floor, leaving his fate and the identity of the shooter unknown. 

    CBS used the tagline "Who shot J.R.?" to promote the upcoming season, which became a massive cultural phenomenon. Dallas milked the momentum, keeping the shooter's identity a secret until the fourth episode of Season 4 titled "Who Done It." The shooter turned out to be Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), J.R.'s sister-in-law/mistress who shot him in a fit of rage when she found out she was pregnant with his child as a result of the affair. He decided not to press charges, and that storyline was resolved rather swiftly.

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  • 7

    ‘Lost’ Season 3 Ends With A Flash-Forward To The Future And Jack Pleading ‘We Have To Go Back’

    Photo: ABC / Pinterest

    Cliffhanger endings became an innate part of the Lost experience. Every week, there would be a new cliffhanger that would send fans to the watercoolers the next day to speculate what was going to happen. But the one that really shook viewers to the core was the finale of the third season, "Through the Looking Glass." In the episode, viewers saw what seemed like flashbacks of Jack (Matthew Fox) on a risk-filled mission, but in one of the most unexpected twists in TV history, they turned out to be flash-forwards of Jack and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) after they've successfully escaped the island.

    Seeing Jack desperately plead with Kate that they need to return to the island they fought so hard to escape was a terrifying revelation. It also started a new trend of flash-forward visions in the series as the flashback stories got tired by that point. This ending managed to shake up the usual conventions of the show and made the audience question everything all over again. Viewers found out in the Season 4 premiere that Jack and Kate were actually part of the small Oceanic 6 group that managed to escape from the island, including Hurley, Sayid, Sun, and Aaron. 

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  • 8

    ‘Supernatural’ Season 3 Ends With Dean Being Sent To Hell

    Photo: The CW / Pinterest

    By this point, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) being "wiped out" is actually a rather common occurrence. After all, the show is called Supernatural, but early on, we weren't as accustomed to seeing our main characters bite the dust, especially at the very end of the third-season finale when Dean wound up in hell after making a deal with the devil, or at least one of them. The episode followed Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean attempting to take down the demonic Lilith, which lead to the shocking moment of Dean being mauled by her demon dogs. In the final scene of the finale, Dean was revealed to be in hell as the episode cut to black. 

    The cliffhanger was easily one of the show's most heartbreaking moments. Although Dean had perished before (and would perish again), seeing him suspended by hooks in the burning depths of hell was shocking and horrifying. Luckily, the fourth-season premiere opened with Dean escaping hell, where he had been for the last four months. Near the end of the premiere, we found out that the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) has pulled Dean out so he could continue to carry out "God's work."

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