A great TV show knows how to do a few things: Create great character interactions, entertain us (duh), and more often than not, give us thrilling cliffhanger moments. What season finale (or, sometimes, season premiere!) doesn’t benefit from an ending that keeps you begging for more? All of the best cliffhangers leave the show with the promise you’ll return, and you with months full of questions. They’re a mainstay for any popular TV show and one of the reasons we love television so much! Is there anything more exhilarating?
No show is immune to the suspenseful, cliffhanger ending. From astute dramas to hilarious comedies, they’ve all given us shocking twists and unbelievable moments. The best part of this type of episode ender is that you have no clue what is going on. It breeds a plethora of theories and a whole lot of Reddit convos about what the next episode may bring. We’re not going to lie, we love the craziness that comes from being utterly obsessed with the ins and outs of a cliffhanger ending. Here are some of the best ever cliffhanger episodes of TV!
16. Breaking Bad, “Full Measure”
Jesse (Aaron Paul) is a lot of things. He’s a drug dealer, a drug user, and an all-around shifty guy. But he’s not a murderer. Or so he thinks. When he’s tasked with killing Gale (David Costabile), whose knowledge of the meth-making operation may make Jesse and Walt (Bryan Cranston) unnecessary, he feels he can’t do it. But when it comes to his life or Gale’s, he finally takes the trip to Gale’s house. Gale opens the door, Jesse points the gun, and the screen goes to black as he pulls the trigger. This was the season three finale, so fans had to wait quite a while to find out if Jesse actually murdered someone or shot into the air. The cliffhanger isn’t just “Did Jesse do it?”, but also “Who will he be if he did?”
15. The West Wing, “What Kind of Day It Has Been”
The first season of the acclaimed series sure went out with a bang! After an intense day at the White House, the President and his team are filling relieved and confident about things finally going right. And then everything goes wrong. A shooter opens fire on White House staffers, causing them all to flee and Secret Service to step in. While chaos reigns supreme, the episode ends with an agent saying “Who’s been hit?!” We don’t find out who, if anyone, was hit until the second season premiere. The “who got shot?!” cliffhanger is one of the oldest in the books. But it’s used so regularly for a good reason: it creates crazy suspense!
14. Boy Meets World, “Graduation”
This is one of the sweetest cliffhanger endings on TV. When Cory (Ben Savage) has finally come to terms with his love for Topanga (Danielle Fishel), she switches everything up and proposes to him during their high school graduation! Cory sits there with her stunned, unsure of what to do or say as his classmates rise around him. And then the season ends! We don’t find out until the next season if the couple that is the ultimate #relationshipgoals ends up engaged or totally breaking down in flames! Spoiler: obviously he says yes. Cory and Topanga 4Ever.
13. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I”
In the third season finale, our valiant hero Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew respond to a distress call. But when they arrive, the colony that was there is wiped out and they begin to wonder if this is the work of the alien group Borg. Thier questions are soon answered when Picard is taken by the Borg and is assimilated as one of them. For the long months between season three and season four, fans had to wonder if Captain Picard was gone to the other side forever!
12. Twin Peaks, “The Last Evening”
Twin Peaks brought fans to some wild and weird places, but none so as shocking as the first season finale. And for such a strange little show, it’s almost even more shocking that it ended the first season with a “did he just get shot?!” twist! Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) opens his hotel room door and an unseen person shoots him multiple times. Obviously, the show takes the age-old cliffhanger trope and turns it on its head by the next season, but in the meantime, fans were left wondering if the show would be ballsy enough to kill off the main character! If any show is that ballsy, it’s Twin Peaks.
11. The Simpsons, “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part I”
This parody of the “who shot him?!” genre (made famous by Dallas, which we’ll get to later!) accidentally became one of the best examples of the classic type of cliffhanger. The episode, which ends the sixth season of The Simpsons, is full of hidden clues and fun hints for fans at who the culprit could be. Between seasons there was even a contest to find if anyone could guess who had done it. It was one of the first instances of a TV show and the internet being so intimately intertwined, and a website was set up for people to guess the shooter and win a guest spot on the show. No one got it right (!) and the shooter was revealed in the seventh season premiere to be baby Maggie Simpsons, capping off a truly unbelievable cliffhanger.
10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Gift”
The slayer is dead, how could it be?! When Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) realizes that being told death is her “gift” means she must die to save those around her, she jumps into the hell portal threatening to destroy the world in order to close it. And with that last act of heroism, she’s dead, and it feels quite permanent. It was meant to since this was marketed as the series finale on The WB. The show was suddenly picked up for two more seasons by UPN which made this death seem much less permanent and turned this satisfying finale into a cliffhanger ending. How would they bring Buffy back? Would they bring her back? All questions were answered in the unexpected next season.
9. Game of Thrones, “Mother’s Mercy”
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) has long been one of the “main” characters in this vast ensemble TV show. So it was a bit shocking when his character was betrayed and killed by his brothers in the Night’s Watch. The truly shocking part here was that this is where the books ended too — a new one had not (and still has not!) come out since. So was Snow truly dead? While the showrunners were adamant that he was dead, fans were still theorizing and wishing for a resurrection in the next season. While his fate was, of course, revealed when the show came back on air, it still remains to be season how his death will be handled in the books!
8. Grey’s Anatomy, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”
In its first season, Grey’s Anatomy was just beginning to ramp up the crazy drama. While it’s gone to some insane places since (plane crashes! active shooters! a musical episode?!), the first season finale remains the best cliffhanger. When Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and her boo Derek (Patrick Dempsey) meet up in the lobby of the hospital, someone else comes to meet them too: Derek’s wife. Uh, wait, what?! She asks Meredith if she’s the one screwing her husband and the episodes ends, with fans freaking out. Is Derek actually married? Are they separated? What is going on!? It’s the first of many times the show would make us scream in suspense.
7. The O.C., “The Dearly Beloved”
Mmm, whatcha say? Oh, yeah, that this is one of the soapiest cliffhanger finales of all time! When Ryan (Ben McKenzie) is forced to confront his troublesome brother Trey (Bradley Stryker), it ends much more dramatically than he would have hoped. Trey tries to choke his own brother out, leaving Marissa (Mischa Barton) to come to her on-again-off-again boyfriend’s rescue and shoots his brother. Cue the Imogen Heap! The moment that a rich, O.C. highschooler shot a dangerous man from the wrong side of the tracks will forever go down in teen show infamy. Spoiler, she was a spoiled rich O.C. girl so yeah, the consequences weren’t that crazy. But we’ll never forget the moment we saw Marissa’s terrified face and the gun in her hand.
6. The Walking Dead, “Last Day on Earth”
The season six finale of the dystopian TV show marks the entrance of one of the great villains from the comic series the TV show is based on: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). His arrival is anything but pleasant, though. He traps Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his people, expressing anger for the number of his men have been killed at Rick’s hands. He then tells them someone will get the honor of dying by his bat “Lucille.” He arranges everyone in a circle and “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”s his way to choosing a victim, who he promptly smashes with his barbed-wire bat. But who did he kill?! The brutal death is left a mystery until the next season, and Negan’s introduction truly captured our entire attention.
5. Dallas, “A House Divided”
The first real whodunnit cliffhanger! The stunt the show pulled in its third season finale proved to be so successful that cliffhangers became par for the course for TV show finales. We wouldn’t have it any other way. In this episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) hears a noise outside his office, and when he checks to see what it is, he’s shot twice by an unseen shooter. The question who shot him took on a life of its own, with shirts emblazoned with “Who shot J.R.?” becoming popular after the episode aired. This is one of the most classic cliffhanger endings of all time, and the reason we have so many episodes on this list today!
4. Game of Thrones, “The Dragon and The Wolf”
After years of mysterious activity beyond the wall and the promises that winter is coming, winter has officially come. The wall has fallen, and the Night King (Vladamir Furdik) and his army of White Walkers are heading right towards Westeros. Oh, and they have a giant ice dragon. No biggie! This is a huge event that hasn’t taken place in the books yet so there is no telling what’s going to come next. Winter is here y’all, and it’s scary as hell.
3. Breaking Bad, “Gliding Over All”
This one proves that mid-season finale cliffhangers can be just as intense as season finale ones. Hank (Dean Norris) sits down to go to the bathroom, taking a bit of reading material with him. The book? Walt Whitman‘s “Leaves of Grass,” which a curious inscription on the inside. Hank suddenly realizes, upon reading the handwritten note in the book to “W.W.” that his brother-in-law Walt is the elusive Heisenberg drug dealer. He’s having this realization all while on the toilet and totally stuck there in a state of shock. It’s a game-changing moment in which Hank realizes what’s been under his nose the entire time, changing the entire direction of the show going forward.
2. Friends, “The One With Ross’s Wedding”
Back when TV-watching was still a community event, Friends was one of the biggest occasions of them all. And Ross’s (David Schwimmer) wedding was required viewing. In the season four finale, Ross marries his British love Emily (Helen Baxendale) when his ex Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) shows up mid-ceremony. Suddenly Ross is saying his vows, but he kind of messes them up. Actually, ‘kind of’ is an understatement. The episode ends with Ross saying “I take thee, Rachel” to the shock of his fiancé, Rachel, and basically every single person in the room. The embarrassing gaffe gave fans hope for the will-they-won’t-they couple of the century. Sure, Ross gets married for the millionth time, but he’s no stranger to divorce!
1. Lost, “Through the Looking Glass”
Lost fans were used to the flashbacks in each episode by the season three finale. The flashbacks often told stories about the islander’s life before the plane crash, and how they related to their life waiting for rescue. Throughout the episode, we see flashes of Jack’s (Matthew Fox) life off the island. He’s depressed, bearded, and contemplating suicide. It’s assumed, obviously, that these are flashes to the past. But the final scene twists that entire assumption. Jack waits for a friend to meet him and out of the car steps Kate (Evangeline Lilly), who he did not know before he was on the island. Viewers quickly realize this isn’t a flashback but a flashforward. This means, of course, that they eventually get off the island. What?! The episode ends with Jack pleading that they “have to go back!” and we just wanted to know how they got off and why he’d need them to return!