13 TV Shows With Huge Plot Twists In Their First Episode
Photo: NBC / NBC

13 TV Shows With Huge Plot Twists In Their First Episode

Over 100 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 13 TV Shows With Huge Plot Twists In Their First Episode
Voting Rules
Vote up the pilot episodes with the craziest twists.

The most famous TV plot twists often come deep into a show's run - for example, to end the first season. However, some of the very best twists have actually come in the first episode. While it can be risky to throw a curveball in the pilot episode of a show, it is often the inciting incident that really kicks the show off with a bang and sets up the events of the first season. 

Some of these plot twists are so fundamental to a show's premise, viewers might forget they were introduced as a surprise at all. Others raise the stakes so clearly and quickly that they remain hugely memorable moments even long after shows are over. If a first-episode twist is good enough, it can grab audiences and keep them watching. Below are some of the best twists and turns that crop up in pilot episodes of TV.

  • Only Murders In The Building
    Photo: Hulu

    Only Murders in the Building is one of the funniest and most charming shows on television, and its surprising hit trio of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez light up the screen as three true-crime obsessives who band together to investigate a murder in their apartment building while simultaneously podcasting their experience. Like every good mystery, the first season features many red herrings and dead-ends to keep the case alive - and, of course, a major twist to begin the mystery.

    The trio of Oliver (Short), Charles (Martin) and Mabel (Gomez) first come together after their building is evacuated due to an alarm. They gather in a restaurant and bond over their shared love of true crime podcasts. When they learn the evacuation came due to a dead body being found, which leads to the three of them deciding to launch their own investigation into the death of their neighbor Tim Kono (Julian Cihi). All three claim to have never met Tim, aside from a brief interaction on the elevator previously that day. As they get to know each other, the men learn that in her youth, Mabel used to investigate “crimes” in their apartment building with a group of friends called The Hardy Boys. At first, this information just seems like it is building a backstory for her character, but the last shot of the episode reveals otherwise. Mabel's laptop is left open on her desk, showing a photo of Mabel and friends - captioned “My Hardy Boys” - with Tim Kono amongst them. The reveal that Mabel is lying for some reason about having no connection to Tim immediately draws suspicion and makes viewers wonder if she might be involved in his murder.

    57 votes
  • The Mandalorian
    Photo: Disney+

    One of the biggest shows on Disney+, Jon Favreau's Star Wars spin-off show The Mandalorian stars a masked Pedro Pascal as Din Djarin, a member of an extinct race with immense fighting skills that often work as bounty hunters. We meet Mando as he confers with his bounty-giving contact Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), who gives him a different and more sensitive mission than he is used to. He learns his target is 50 years old and must be brought in alive. While Mando isn't given an image of the target, he does receive their location.

    Mando sets off to complete his latest job, arriving at a heavily guarded compound. While scoping out the scene, he witnesses a bounty-hunting droid, IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), approach the building and begin an impressive firefight with the guards. Eventually, Mando joins in and the two work together to defeat the guards and shoot down the final door. Here, they discover their target is not a typical 50-year-old man, but a baby - more specifically, a baby of the same long-living race as Yoda (hence the fan nickname “Baby Yoda” despite being an entirely different character). This twist of the bounty target being not a hardened criminal, but rather a cooing baby is both hilarious and unexpected, and makes viewers eager to learn more about why the child is so important.

    84 votes
  • 3
    45 VOTES
    Photo: NBC

    The first episode of Heroes introduces the audience to its variety of characters who slowly discover newfound super-human powers. There's Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere), a cheerleader with incredible healing abilities, Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a Japanese businessman who can warp spacetime, Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), an artist who paints the future, and many more. While most of the stories within the pilot are relatively straightforward as the heroes discovering their special abilities, one story in particular brings a shocking scene to end the show’s first episode. 

    Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is a nurse who has repeated dreams of dropping off the top of a skyscraper and seeing a man before he reaches the ground and levitates. These dreams of flying persist throughout his day as he meets up with his brother Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), who is running for congress and doesn't want Peter's dreamy behavior to cause his campaign any issues. This all comes to a head in the final scene of the episode when Nathan gets out of a cab to find his brother standing on the edge of a skyscraper and talking about his destiny. Peter leans over the edge and falls, closing his eyes and trusting his faith in his powers. When he opens his eyes again he sees that he's flying, but not by himself - Nathan has flown up in the air to catch and save him. Though Peter's dreams appeared to foreshadow him discovering the power of flight, it turns out that was Nathan's destiny the entire time. 

    45 votes
  • The Good Place
    Photo: NBC

    The Good Place begins with a surprise as Eleanor Shellstop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in a pleasant office, where Michael (Ted Danson) calmly explains that she is dead - but she has earned a spot in the “Good Place” for being an extraordinary person while on Earth. While Michael introduces her to the idyllic afterlife for good people, he peppers in plenty of praise for Eleanor's actions that earned her spot - how she worked as a defense lawyer for innocent people on death row, and also served advocate and champion of human rights. Eleanor nods along as Michael introduces her to her afterlife soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), who was an ethics professor. Once Eleanor's alone with Chidi - and confirms that as her soulmate, he will remain loyal to her whatever she confesses - she drops a huge twist.

    After going along with Michael's intro, Eleanor confesses that there's been a cosmic mix-up: she didn't do any of those heroic things Michael claimed. In fact, she wasn't a good person at all - she sold faulty medicine to the sick and elderly and made her living off of scamming innocent people. With Eleanor (and now, the audience) well aware that she doesn't belong, the engaging conceit of the show becomes clear - she needs Chidi's help to learn to act like an ethical person who belongs in the Good Place, lest she get kicked out. The plot complicates even more with another twist later on in the pilot, where the magical neighborhood begins descending into chaos due to Eleanor's deceitful presence.

    96 votes
  • Game of Thrones
    Photo: HBO

    Game of Thrones developed quite the reputation for being able to shock its viewers, but the first episode ends with one of the most surprising occurrences of the entire show. Over the course of the episode, viewers are introduced to the Stark family, as well as their tense relationship with the King and Queen of Westeros when the royals come by Winterfell for a visit. The King of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), is old friends with the Stark patriarch Ned (Sean Bean); however, Queen Cersei (Leana Headey) is rather cold and doesn't appear to care for her husband as much as she cares for her position. Also along on the royal trip up north are the Queen's two brothers, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

    Early in the episode, it's shown that Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), one of the younger Stark children, loves to climb the tall walls of his family's castle. This sets up the twist in the final scene of the pilot, where Bran climbs along the wall until he hears a strange sound and peers in a window. He witnesses a couple having sex - but it isn't a married couple, it is Queen Cersei and her twin brother Jaime. The audience hardly has a moment to take in this revelation before Jaime catches Bran looking and shoves the child out the window to seemingly fall to his death. The combination of the incestuous affair, the implication that Jaime and Cersei are plotting to remove King Robert from his throne, and Bran's fall, packs a massive punch that makes viewers thirst for more episodes.

    90 votes
  • 6
    49 VOTES
    Dead to Me
    Photo: Netflix

    The Netflix comedy-drama Dead to Me introduces two contrasting personalities that find each other in times of crisis in both their lives. Jen (Christina Applegate) is angry and cynical due to her husband's recent death in a hit-and-run car accident, while Judy (Linda Cardellini) is bubbly, despite recently losing her husband to a heart attack. The two meet and bond at a support group for grieving partners, but Jen makes a shocking discovery when she shows up at Judy’s house one day. She finds that Judy's husband didn't die of a heart attack, but rather, the relationship ended due to him blaming Judy for having miscarriages. Jen is understandably upset, but after making a scene at their support group the two reconcile and Judy apologizes for her lie - or, more accurately, she apologizes for one of her her lies.

    After seeing her lying friend's poor living situation, Jen invites her to move into her guest house, but that is when the much larger twist comes. As Judy gathers her belongings out of a storage unit, the camera pans down to reveal her car with a large dent in it, revealing that she is the driver who was responsible for hitting Jen's husband. This wild twist makes viewers eager to keep watching and see how far Judy will go while lying to her new friend, as well as what will happen when Jen learns the truth. 

    49 votes