Our heads are still reeling from the creative decision that marked the end of this season of The Walking Dead, one of several elements of the sixth season that have even longtime fans of the series questioning their faith. But it got us wondering: was that really the screwiest cliffhanger we’ve ever seen? So we rounded up the oddest “to be continueds” in TV history – and a few far more recent examples – to give us a better perspective. It was refreshing, like the cool breeze of mountain air you get while hanging over a cliff.
Qualifier: we’re not counting series finales that were firmly intended as series finales. Otherwise, the end of The Sopranos, a maddeningly ambiguous cut to black that certainly left us hanging, would totally place.
Without further ado, here are the 11 Weirdest Cliffhangers In Television History. Of course, there will be spoilers, so look no further if you don’t want to know how the fourth season of Alf ends.
11. Buffy dies in the last thirty seconds
Joss Whedon has a well-earned reputation for surprise deaths (RIP, Jenny Calendar and Joyce Summers) but even he never quite surpassed “The Gift,” the season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After everything in the episode pointed to the inevitable death of Dawn Summers, Buffy’s sister-who-wasn’t-even-real-until-that-season, Buffy jumps into the vortex o’ death herself.
Her friends barely even get reaction shots before the camera smash cuts to a grave reading “Buffy Anne Summers, 1981-2001, Beloved Sister, Devoted Friend: She Saved the World a Lot.” Whedon assured online fans her resurrection would be swift, but the show jumped from UPN to the WB in its sixth season, and if you didn’t know that or follow Whedon online, you might have assumed she was gone for good.
10. Mork and Mindy become cave paintings
In the three-part epic “Gotta Run,” the title characters of Mork and Mindy meet what seem to be another alien-human couple, Kalnik and Tracy, but Kalnik has evil intentions and Tracy is just a robot bomb. They ultimately escape Kalnik by using Mork’s damaged magic shoes to go into the distant past, and…
Well, we don’t really know what happens next, except that there’s a cave painting from prehistoric times that looks like the two of them holding hands and watching the sunset. Did they die there? The series was cancelled after this season-ender was filmed, so the network aired episodes out of order to make it look like Mork and Mindy got back to present times… somehow.
9. The Walking Dead is going to kill… someone
The Walking Dead is a show for a post-spoiler age: while it hasn’t followed its namesake comic book series note for note, it’s been close enough that every fan knew season 6 would introduce Negan, that series’ most compelling villain. And to be fair, Jeffrey Dean Morgan does not disappoint in his performance.
But the show takes his famous early scene, where he held four of our heroes captive before killing one as an example, to ridiculous heights, gathering almost every Walking Dead character into Negan’s clutches and then keeping viewers in the dark about just who he’s beating to death. “Eenie, meenie, miney, mo… I’m gonna kill… you. Yes, you. The guy or gal holding the camera, apparently.” The real cliffhanger here is: Does TWD still have the stones to kill anyone we care about?
8. John Goodman takes over The West Wing
At the end of season 4 of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin was on the way out and feeling blindsided. In the story, so is his main character, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), after losing his VP to scandal and his daughter to kidnappers. Emotionally unable to continue as Chief Executive, Bartlet signs his powers over to Glen Allen Walken (an astonishingly presidential-looking John Goodman), the opposing party’s Speaker of the House.
West Wing‘s usual territory was reelection campaigns and legislative battles – not even season 1’s cliffhanger had gotten this sensational. Was Goodman replacing Sheen for good? What the hell kind of show was this turning into? The next season rapidly reversed these changes: four episodes or so in, it felt like the same old West Wing.
7. LOST: “We have to go back”
Lost was one of the most deeply weird hit TV shows ever, but a couple of things held its many threads together for its first three seasons. All the characters introduced in the first episode got flashbacks to their off-island lives and had one simple goal: We’ve got to get the hell off this crazy island.
But – suddenly!!! – at the end of season 3, the flashbacks became flashforwards to their off-island lives, and Jack was not thrilled to escape but convinced he and the others had to return to put things right.
We almost went with season 5’s end here – involving as it did time travel and an attempt to “fix the island” by blowing up an H-bomb in it – but nothing pulled the rug out from under viewers quite like this scene. Also, an airplane just shows up next to Jack in the final shot, for no reason except because symbolism.
6. ALF is captured and taken off to be killed
The friendly alien life form nicknamed ALF, refugee of a dead world, got a second blow from fate when cancellation turned his Season 4 finale into a series finale, too late for producers even to switch episodes around as they had with Mork and Mindy. Invited to form a new colony with others of his kind, ALF finds himself deserted at the rendezvous point when the human, reactionary Alien Task Force shows up. “Don’t leave me!” he yells plaintively to his fellows, before the ATF carts him away over his adoptive family’s protests.
In the first episode of ALF, an ATF representative said ALF was to be vivisected if caught, so this was a pretty dark twist for such a broad, inoffensive comedy. Years later, the TV movie Project ALF sort of resolved this cliffhanger, but without a lot of regard for continuity.
5. Latest X-Files: Beam us up, Scully
If you thought the series’ revival was going to amount to “just more of the same,” the ending of the latest episode, “My Struggle II,” sure showed you. Show auteur Chris Carter continues to accept virtually any conspiracy theory at face value, which gives his latest plot an unfortunate anti-vaxxer overtone, and the dialogue has, let’s say, been better, but no one can accuse the finale of playing it safe.
It’s hard to tell how they or the Conspiracy are going to be able to keep things hidden in the face of a worldwide epidemic for which only Scully and her son may have the cure, and that’s before the alien ship shows up.
4. Snow crash in Game of Thrones
“You know nothing, Jon Snow, not even when you’re being led into a Julius Caesar-style trap where we all take turns stabbing you until you die. Also, you’re dead.” Game of Thrones is rife with betrayals and deaths, but unlike The Walking Dead recently, it still has the power to shock by (apparently) doing away with a major, viewpoint character whose fate was ambiguous in the books.
Jon’s fate came from trying the patience of the Night’s Watch, which once counted him as one of them, a little too far,. In case the stabbings aren’t enough to make their point, the cries of “For the Watch” and the post marked TRAITOR which they set up right on the spot where they plan to kill him really do the job.
3. 30 Rock’s “gay bomb”
At season 2’s end, two of the cast members light out from 30 Rock in pursuit of their dreams: Jack gets a job at the Department of Homeland Security and Kenneth becomes an NBC page at the Beijing Olympics.
Jack soon realizes he may have missed an opportunity at his old position and his resignation is denied, so he conjures up a scheme to get fired, working with fellow employee Cooter Burger (Matthew Broderick) on the “gay bomb,” a useless and offensive weapon meant to sow chaos by making male soldiers lust after each other. It accidentally goes off in a room in the Pentagon and begins affecting everyone there, including Dick Cheney. When the next season begins, Jack and Kenneth are back at work with no explanation.
2. Sledge Hammer nukes everybody
Sledge Hammer! was always an over-the-top parody of over-the-top cop shows, but the season 1 finale was so far over the top, it couldn’t even see the top. Foiling a scheme by a gang of bikini-clad, aerobics-loving “terrorettes,” Inspector Sledge Hammer and his two associates liberate the nuclear warhead they’ve stolen. Hammer tries to defuse it, uttering his well-worn catchphrase, “Trust me… I know what I’m doing.”
BOOM! After the explosion, we fade to a scene of a devastated, lifeless San Francisco, and hear the voice of Sledge’s police chief (alive or a ghost?), bellowing, “HAMMER!… HAAAAMMMERRRRR!”
1. Is This THE END… of Tara Reid in Sharknado?
As Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! begins, Fin and April have to defend Washington, D.C. from another shark-infested tornado. But it’s worse than that: sharknadoes are now joining together into a giant “sharkicane” which can only be destroyed from space.
The laser beam that destroys the sharkicane propels the sharks into space (because of course it does), where they eat Fin and April before crash-landing to Earth, the heat of reentry cooking the sharks to death. Fin, April, and their baby escape the shark bodies (because where else would April give birth besides inside a shark).
But as the movie ends, April might be crushed by falling debris, and only you viewers, yes, you, can determine if she lives or dies, by tweeting #AprilLives or #AprilDies. Sharknado 4 will reflect the results of the voting this summer. Honestly, the fact that April (Tara Reid) survived all that only to maybe die under some debris seems to give this cliffhanger a lock on first place. But if you feel differently, don’t hesitate to enlighten the rest of us in the comments.
What other TV shows belong on this list? Let us know in the comments!