The 11 Most Controversial TV Finales of All Time


Nothing hurts a television lover worse than when a really solid show doesn't stick the landing. On the other hand, nothing draws the fans out like a series finale that splits its fanbase. That's where the most controversial series finales come in: the pop culture installments that are as (if not more) infamous as the shows that spawned them.

With the Game of Thrones finale on the horizon (and a steep decline on viewer satisfaction on Rotten Tomatoes), the big finish in King's Landing and Winterfell is bound to turn some heads, but can it compete with imagined world in a snow globe? Below are 11 of the most controversial television finales of all time.


With a reported 76 million people watching (seriously), Seinfeldremains one of the most watched series finales in history, but its big finish left its fans deeply divided. While the gang went to jail after witnessing a carjacking, but the real selling point was the laundry list of people who returned to act as character witnesses for these terrible humans. Some fans loved the finish. Others regarded it as disrespectful to both the characters and the intensely loyal fandom. Nevertheless, it remains a pivotal television moment—and Larry David made bank.



After eight seasons of following Dexter Morgan and his problematic compulsion to kill, the series took a strange turn and decided that the only way for Dexter to get the ending he wanted, he would need to go live in solitude... in the woods... as a lumberjack? The big finale twist felt underwhelming and half-baked for a show that pushed the boundaries so often. Even Michael C. Hall admitted in an AMA on Reddit that he experienced "sadness" when reading the final script, which is generous actor speak for "disappointed." Instead of taking a big narrative swing, Dexter took a swing for a tree trunk and the creative decision hit viewers the same way: with a thud.


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Dinosaurs was ABC’s white collar, paleontological play on the sitcom boom of the 90s. Follow the Sinclair family, the series told the everyday story of a dinosaur family that typically ended with humor. Though the series took a few swipes at social issues throughout its four season run, none were more bold than its final move. After the dinosaur people of Earth took the planet for granted, a massive storm was triggered, effectively ended their species forever: Baby Sinclair and all. The series finishes on a zoom out from the Sinclair home with ominous music playing before breaking to a dinosaur newscaster telling the world goodbye, one last time.

How I Met Your Mother

Any HIMYM fan you speak to is likely still not over the botched finale. Proof that an intended finale isn’t always how you should stick your landing, the titular mother appeared in the final season only to…die soon after? After years of “will they, won’t they?” between Robin and Ted (and Barney, honestly), the narrator of the series finally leaves his post of narrating his whole life story to his kids and goes to be with the woman he's supposed to be with. The move didn't make a ton of sense, with most viewers having given up on a Ted and Robin reunion. The otherwise beloved series has an almost universally despised finale.



Perhaps the most controversial on the list, you either love the Lostfinale or you hate it. There’s not a lot of in between. After six seasons of unanswered questions, polar bears, and time travel, the final few episodes seem to abandon all reason. Viewers held out, hoping that the series finale would answer the dangling questions, but it all led to a church in an alternate timeline where most of the survivors of the doomed Oceanic 815 reunited before “moving on.” Some interpreted it as them being dead all along. Others considered it to be a touching message about the power of humanity. Most were just pissed about those polar bears. But the whole series ended on a quiet shot of the beach, deserted and lifeless, the day of the crash.

Mad Men

The portrait of mid-century white collar America had its up and down moments, but it remains one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the 21st century. As the final season came to a close, the women of the 1960s ad world continued to hold the show together while Don Draper fell apart. With the finale on the horizon, it appeared that Don was all but deconstructed, and yet the series' final moments suggest that the antihero bounces back, turning his near breakdown into advertising genius. Some said it was a perfect finale. Others argued it resolved Don’s story too quickly. Either way, we’re talking about it.

The Office

IMAGE: Courtesy

This one is a toss up. The back and forth of whether Michael Scott would return for the show’s final season clouded an otherwise perfect series. After missing Season Eight and popping in and out through Season Nine, the series eventually learned that having Michael swoop in one last time in the end was definitely the right move. After a few uneven seasons, the final episode served its purpose, revisiting the best employees that Dunder Mifflin ever had. This finale is less of a controversy and more of a much needed smooth landing to a veryrocky descent.


Before her Trumpian turn, Roseanne Barr was responsible for one of the greatest sitcoms about the working class in television history. The series dared to be provocative: not because it was a gimmick but because the subjects it tackled shined a light on what it was like to be blue collar in America. But after a bizarre lottery win, Roseanne took viewers on a massive final episode roller coaster, revealing in a ten minute monologue from Roseanne Conner that the family’s patriarch had died a couple seasons prior and that integral parts of the series were fabricated in the mind of Roseanne—a motherly attempt to write her family the way she believed they would be happiest. The finale split viewers, with a good number of them staunchly opposes to the narrative twist.

Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy was always fated to end tragically, but no one would have guessed that it would have hit them as hard as a truck. No, literally. Jax drove himself directly into a tractor trailer a la City of Angels, but with more motors and leather. The Hamlet-inspired series caught a lot of fans off guard in its final episodes (this is why you do the reading in high school!), with a savage murder of Gemma and that gruesome final scene. Jax knew his only way out of SAMCRO was via death, but viewers weren’t having it.


The Sopranos

It was the cut to black that made HBO subscribers panic in fear that their televisions had cut off too soon. “Don’t Stop Believin’” soundtracked the final moments of what may still be HBO’s greatest creation, but the big finish for Tony Soprano didn’t scratch an itch for everyone. The series left the fate of the mob boss up in the air with a hard stop, making people (furiously) wonder if he lived or died at the hand of a few different people. Some Sopranos fans call the move genius. Others call it bullshit.

St. Elsewhere

Ah, the OG controversial finale. After six seasons, the prolific hospital drama alluded to the idea that the entire series (and all its groundbreaking storylines) took place in the imagination of an autistic boy. In a final shot, he is holding a snow globe and inside is a replica of St. Eligius hospital, where the series took place. The small legion of super fans were vexed—had they really been played? Was this whole, very realistic medical series actually just the manifestation of an autistic boy’s mind, or was there something else deeper? Turns out they just got played.

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* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture. Prior to Esquire, his work appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today. He is from East Tennessee and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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