‘I’ve never forgotten it’: the very best (and very worst) TV endings of all time

From The Sopranos’ unbeatable conclusion to the nonsensical anticlimax of Game of Thrones, here are the most memorable TV finales of all time – for varying reasons …

Warning: contains spoilers.

The best

Blackadder Goes Forth
The final three minutes of Blackadder is so exquisitely played, so at odds with the extreme silliness of the rest of the series – and so very sad. There they stand – Blackadder, Baldrick, George and poor Capt Darling, going over the top after all – on the frontline, in a cloud of gun smoke. For a moment, they thought “the Great War of 1914 to 1917” was over. But no. The general shouts charge. Blackadder wishes everyone “good luck”. And they advance in slow motion, as the ironic theme tune slows to a haunting piano melody and the cannons sound. It is shocking, heartbreaking and I have never forgotten it. CR

I May Destroy You.
I May Destroy You. Photograph: BBC

I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel’s blistering semi-autobiographical series exploring sexual assault won plaudits for its honesty and ambition, but its ending was its masterstroke. The finale taps into the question that anyone who has been sexually assaulted may dwell on: what would you do if you were to meet the perpetrator again, or revisit the event that caused you all this pain? For much of the episode, we see Arabella grappling with this, as several hypothetical scenarios play out. The conclusion? Not one provides a wholly satisfying way to pack up her trauma and move on as if it had never happened.

For anyone who has experienced sexual assault, the series taps into this shoulda, woulda, coulda in all its complexity; there is no coherent ending and finding a path forward is difficult. But it also shows that there is no right or wrong way to try to move on. Most of all, it makes you feel that, if you are grappling with all of this, you aren’t alone. SB

The Sopranos

The Sopranos
The final scene of the Sopranos. Photograph: Will Hart/HBO

If you want final proof that The Sopranos was more of an existential muse on morality and mortality than a mob drama, look no further than its audacious final scene. Closure? It was there if you needed it. Students of the show have analysed the scene frame by frame and pieced together the myriad reasons why Tony and family were doomed to die in that diner. But, really, that wasn’t the point. Tony was doomed anyway: to live a life of fear, suspicion and paranoia; a life hanging heavy with the knowledge that he couldn’t guarantee his safety or the safety of the people he loved most. He had created a world full of enemies, real and imagined. As conclusion and comeuppance, that takes some beating. PH

What a brave, perfect denouement for a show about the decimating reality of life with young kids. Just hours before, our couple were at each other’s throats on a trip to the US. Rob told Sharon he regretted their life and wanted to take the kids and decamp there. But in the closing moments, they park their car by a beach while their children sleep in the back, because Sharon has something to share: she is pregnant. She asks Rob tentatively: do you really regret it? Would you do it all again? Yes, he says, he would still want to get her pregnant and marry her and “mess it all up from there”.

She decides to take a dip – to feel free and fun and young again, if only for a second. But when she is out of earshot, he sees a sign warning of rip tides. There is nothing for it but to follow Sharon out to sea. The camera, and our couple, drift further and further from the shore. There is no way back from the mayhem of parenthood – and there may be no way back for them. What an ocean of grief, love and chaos that moment contains. I wonder often about their children waking up in their car seats, alone and abandoned. And to think: they just wanted a bit of fun at naptime. KA


Matthew Fox in Lost
Matthew Fox in Lost. Photograph: Mario Perez/ABC/Getty Images

I bang this drum a lot, but it bears repeating. The ending of Lost was good; the reason you don’t like it is because the network decided to put footage of an aeroplane fuselage over the end credits, which inadvertently reinforced the theory that the island was purgatory. It wasn’t purgatory. It was a real, mystical island used as a philosophical playground by two entities representing the concept of destiny and free will, and all the characters ended by going to a multidenominational holding pen from which they would ascend to the afterlife. Completely different thing.

Go back and watch the finale now. The music over the footage of Jack’s father’s coffin will move you to tears. The moment when Ben Linus finally reaches the point of redemption he has long been striving for will break your heart. The worst character dies at the end. It’s perfect, you hear me? Perfect. SH

Parks and Recreation
When your show is a televisual ray of sunshine whose warm humour relies on viewers’ adoration of its hyperlovable characters, there is only one way to end: by deftly chronicling their happily ever afters. From the Jill and Joe Biden guest appearances that took us into a world where Leslie (Amy Poehler) becomes Indiana’s state governor to perpetual butt of jokes Jerry/Garry getting the last laugh by living to 100 as Pawnee’s mayor, this was a heartwarming, lingering farewell. It was daft, borderline soppy and exhaustive to the point of being over the top – exactly what you would want from a show that gave us the glorious queen of binders, Leslie Knope. AD

There is something particularly gratifying about an ending that is truly an ending. After two seasons, Fleabag was firmly finished and would not be back. In the final moments, Fleabag broke the fourth wall one last time to see off the viewers for good, walking away with a gentle shake of the head. Just before that, though, it let us in on one last conversation at a bus stop, as Fleabag and the Hot Priest waited for a bus that never came. It carved a perfectly balanced ending out of raw disappointment: “I love you.” “It’ll pass.” Simple and brilliant. RN

Mare of Easttown

Mare of Easttown
Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown. Photograph: HBO

Early in Brad Ingleby’s drama, I became convinced Kate Winslet’s mournful Pennsylvania detective was inspired by a 13th-century Latin hymn, Stabat Mater (A Mother Standing), much set to music. The text describes Christ’s mother watching the crucifixion. I worried it was too wacky a theory – yet Mare (an Irish form of Mary) is grieving a dead son and the Catholicism of her family and community are key. “The Catholic guilt thing, there’s so much of it in everything I write,” Ingleby said in an interview.

The final episode is nudgingly titled Sacrament. In closing scenes often framed to invoke sacred paintings, Mare solves a case by doing the morally right thing even though it destroys a best friend’s life. Finally, Mare stands not beside a cross but a wooden ladder, contemplating the attic where her boy died. The best endings are always buried in a story from the start. Mare’s moment of shattered acceptance perfectly completes the show’s deep study of grief. ML

The Office UK
“Are you the fat one off Airport?” It was 14 near-perfect episodes and out for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s influential mockumentary. At Christmas 2003, tragicomic boss David Brent got his happy ending. He found a date to take to the Wernham Hogg Christmas party. The unrequited romance between Tim and Dawn came to fruition, thanks to a set of oil paints and a kiss. There was an air-punch moment when Brent told the monstrous Finchy to fuck off. The final frame saw the chilled-out entertainer make everyone laugh at last, albeit with a lame Frank Spencer impression. There goes David Brent. I must remember to thank him. MH

The Good Place

The Good Place.
The Good Place. Photograph: Netflix

Who really wants to cease to exist? If there were an afterlife, wouldn’t you want it to go on for ever? The Good Place, which centred on the afterlives of a ragtag bunch of morally imperfect people, began to pivot towards these questions as it came to the end of its fourth and final season. Having spent the bulk of the show trying to make it to heaven (or “the Good Place”), when they finally get there, our protagonists must accept that, at some point, we are all ready to go. We get to see them achieve their wildest dreams: Eleanor and Chidi travel the world and meet their heroes; Tahani becomes an architect. By its close, they are content to shuffle off into oblivion in a way that feels simultaneously devastating and poetic. MF

Silicon Valley
Finales set in the future and flashing back to the present rarely work. This one did. It tied up the story of genius idiot Richard Hendricks and his gang of idiot geniuses whose compression algorithm had the potential to transform the world – but in the end did not, could not and must not – as organically as you could hope. It had a proper narrative arc, but also callbacks galore to reward devoted fans, without them becoming obtrusive. Everyone stayed true to character (including Dinesh in his moment of painfully resented redemption) as the plot worked itself out – and, oh, I’m just so happy that Jared ended up working with elderly people. The right place for that lovely boy and his pleated khakis. Also, global success, let alone at the price of an untroubled conscience, would have killed Richard. Better this way. Whatever Guilfoyle secretly thinks. LM

The worst

Sex and the City
So confused am I still by this finale that I couldn’t decide whether this was my best or worst ending. On the one hand, it is a giant Parisian-cliched, naff-romcom-inspired feminist letdown. Carrie ends up with Big. AFTER ALL THAT?! I mean. It is too neat, too schmaltzy, too man-focused. On the other hand, it closes with Carrie walking down a Manhattan street, saying the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves, to the 1980s power beats of Candi Staton’s You Got the Love. Glorious. It is the best, it is the worst, it is sooooo Sex and the City. CR

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones. Photograph: AP

It was always going to be a feat for a show associated with 1,000 fan theories to wrap up in a satisfying way, especially when the plot of the show goes beyond the plot of the books yet published. But rushed storytelling, shallow characterisation and lighting so poor you felt you needed to watch with a torch turned a series once considered the greatest of all time into a hollow mess. The ending was particularly anticlimatic, with the choice of Bran Stark as ruler feeling underwhelming and nonsensical. It was almost as if the episode had been written by committee. Bizarre. SB

Killing Eve

Killing Eve.
Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve. Photograph: David Emery/BBC America

Since the first season, it had only been heading one way. But would the dwindling band of devotees who kept faith with Killing Eve be rewarded for their loyalty? They would not. By season four, what remained of the show’s appeal was sustained by the brilliance of Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer’s lead performances and the counterintuitive chemistry of their characters Eve and Villanelle. However implausible, all we wanted was for this odd couple to stumble off into the sunset together. The subtext, about happy endings generally being denied to LGBTQ+ characters, was impossible to ignore. Not only was Killing Eve’s brutal ending clunky, it was mean-spirited, too. PH

After years of watching Lena Dunham’s raging narcissist Hannah Horvath and her friends laugh, fight and party their way round Brooklyn, it looked as if she might be growing up as we approached the show’s ending. A bit, at least. She had a baby and left the city. But when it came to motherhood, she constantly shrieked and moaned at her own mum: “You didn’t say it would be THIS HARD!” She ends up abandoning the baby, going out for a walk and getting escorted home by the police, trouserless. Sure, she tried to help a teenage girl – then raged at her, too, recognising the banality of youth and the neverending job of parenthood (“Your mum will take care of you for ever, even if it causes endless, endless pain!”).

It was what Hannah needed to learn, sure. She did head home eventually and comfort her child, though, even if she was still shouting at strangers in the street. My God, it was a bleak ending – but I guess you can’t change a person all at once. KA


Michael C Hall in Dexter. Photograph: PR

Until recently, the consensus was that Dexter had the worst finale of any series in history, with the lead character (an active serial killer) evading justice in order to hide in a sort of homemade witness protection programme with access to the world’s least convincing beard. It was cheap, unsatisfying and just rubbish.

But that ending no longer counts, after the broadcast of the 2021 series update Dexter: New Blood. On the plus side – spoiler alert – Dexter finally dies. However, he is killed by his son, which rather unsubtly sets up the prospect of a series entitled Dexter Jr. The world needs less Dexter in it, not more. SH

Peaky Blinders
Nailing a finale for a nigh-on impeccable TV series is no mean feat. It is particularly tough when the ending is not a goodbye to the world and characters, but merely the marking of the franchise’s leap to the silver screen. So, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Peaky Blinders, which dabbled tantalisingly with killing off its protagonist, Tommy Shelby – seeming as though it would set up its forthcoming movie as a first world war prequel – only to change tack at the last moment.

But its decision to have Tommy ride off into the horizon on an actual white horse instantly had you questioning the integrity of the film – after all, if it is now free to be more Tommy tales, does storytelling justify the switch of format? It was a narrative decision that undermined what should have been a full stop to a nine-year relationship and left you questioning the integrity of the franchise. Not an ideal farewell. AD

A gruesome thriller about laundering money for a drug cartel is not likely to conclude with anyone holding hands as they walk off into the sunset, but by the time Ozark slogged its way to the end the sheer cynicism of it triumphed over any sense of a satisfying finish. It killed off Ruth Langmore in the least noble of ways; the Byrdes mostly got away with it; and teenage Jonah joined the family firm by – presumably – killing a private detective, although it cut to black and didn’t show the deed. In the business of series finales, cutting to black is a bold move, considering the comparison it invites. It was an oddly tawdry way to go. RN

The West Wing
My favourite multi-season TV drama, The West Wing, is a grim example of a show ending because it had to (network cancellation for falling ratings) rather than due to the story resolving (Happy Valley, Mare of Easttown). Logically, a show about a two-term US president, Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet, should have run for eight years, and perhaps carried on into the presidency of his successor, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits.)

The weird flash-forward scene that began the final run – Bartlet, three years on, opening his presidential library – would have made a neater finale than the one we got, which dangled tantalising futures for characters that viewers would never see – the worst possible way to end a drama. Episode 7:22 is haunted by hope for future series that have never come. ML


Lost. Photograph: Mario Perez/ABC/Getty Images

They were making it up as they went along. After six increasingly convoluted series – flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sidewayses, a shouty Scot down a hatch, a man in black squabbling with a bloke in white – plane crash head-scratcher Lost ended with the biggest cop-out of all. Yep, they were in purgatory all along – second only to “it was all a dream” in the storytelling swizz stakes. Cue an infuriatingly slushy scene with all the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors grinning and hugging in church, like a quasi-religious rave. So, what was all that guff about polar bears and smoke monsters? Can we have our air fare back please? MH

The Hills
In the early 00s, an era in which the term “scripted reality” did not yet exist, The Hills shattered the trust of its committed audience. The “reality” show ran between 2006 and 2010 and followed best friends Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag as they attempted to carve out a life in Los Angeles.

But as the seasons wore on, and tensions and fights between the characters became a bit too good, rumours regarding the show’s authenticity began to swirl. Come the final moments, the camera pans out to reveal that the entire show had been taking place on a Hollywood backlot. None of it was real and, as the credits rolled, those who had followed for six seasons had to come to terms with the fact that they had been swindled. MF

Gossip Girl
Look, the whole of Gossip Girl – I am talking about the 2008-12 original, of course, not the recent impostor – was bananas: gloriously, endlessly, roilingly bananas. Teenagers roved the Upper East Side with more money than God and Caligulan appetites for debauchery.

But it still had its own internal logic. It was still set on this Earth: one thing led to another and made sense on its own terms. Apart from Nate being in charge of a – uh – magazine business thing, was it? Never mind. The point is, when Dan Humphries was revealed as the mysterious Gossip Girl whose blog about the secrets of Manhattan’s adolescent elite had kept them enthralled for four seasons, well: it. Made. Not. One. Jot. Of. Sense.

I can’t begin to describe all the ways in which it didn’t make sense. Not for all the Blair Waldorf headbands in the world could I explain to the uninitiated how much Dan – temperamentally and socially unsuited to the role, as blindsided and damaged as anyone by various GG blasts – as Gossip Girl did not make sense. I might have to go back and watch it all again, just to make sure it actually happened. LM

  • This article was amended on 9 February 2023. An earlier version said that Dexter’s spin-off series was called Dexter: True Blood. The title was in fact Dexter: New Blood.


Chitra Ramaswamy, Scott Bryan, Phil Harrison, Kate Abbott, Stuart Heritage, Alexi Duggins, Rebecca Nicholson, Mark Lawson, Michael Hogan, Micha Frazer-Carroll and Lucy Mangan

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