The TV show format allows for many stylistic flourishes that aren’t as effective in any other art form. The most obvious one is the cliffhanger ending. Since the storylines are split up into parts via episodes and seasons, it’s easy to utilize cliffhangers. With a week between each episode and months between each season, a cliffhanger ending can be a good way to get the fanbase talking. They’ll speculate about possible solutions to the cliffhanger and lament the long wait for its actual resolution in the series’ next installment. Here are The 10 Best TV Show Cliffhangers Of The Decade, Ranked.
10 Chuck kills himself (Better Call Saul)
Better Call Saul is that rare spin-off that not only lives up to its predecessor, but might actually exceed it. And considering that its predecessor is Breaking Bad, widely regarded to be the greatest TV series ever made, that’s pretty impressive. The spin-off’s aptly titled Season 3 finale, “Lantern,” ended with Chuck McGill killing himself. In his dark house, tormented by his possibly made-up allergy to electricity, Chuck knocks over a gaslight and allows the slowly spreading flames to engulf him. It was a quiet moment — so quiet, in fact, that actor Michael McKean had to confirm publicly that his character was dead.
9 Negan kills...someone (The Walking Dead)
In The Walking Dead’s sixth season finale “Last Day on Earth,” we finally got to meet Negan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance in the role didn’t disappoint. Since Negan brutally killed off a lead character when he showed up in the comics to establish himself as a terrifying villain, many TV fans expected him to do the same in the TV show.
And that is what happened, to an extent. Negan lined up the characters and used his baseball bat, Lucille, to beat one of them to death. But it was shown from the character’s point of view, so it was left unclear who died for the show’s entire hiatus.
8 Jon Snow is stabbed by the Night’s Watch (Game of Thrones)
This is the first of two entries on this list taken from Game of Thrones, because that show really did nail its cliffhangers. In the Season 5 finale, Jon Snow faced a mutiny from the Night’s Watch and a bunch of mutineers stabbed him in the heart and left him bleeding to death. The show’s creators insisted that Jon was definitely dead, while George R.R. Martin — author of A Song of Ice and Fire, the novel series upon which the TV show is based — teased that he could still be alive. This fueled plenty of speculation among fans before Season 6 premiered and cleared everything up.
7 Jake and Holt enter the witness protection program (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has made a habit out of ending its seasons on a cliffhanger. Season 1 ends with Jake being “fired” from the NYPD so he can go undercover with a mafia family. Season 2 ends with Holt being removed from the precinct and a new captain being hired. Season 3 ends with the most shocking cliffhanger of all, as Jake and Holt are targeted by a ruthless gangster and placed in the witness protection program for their own safety. The episode ends with the two living as neighbors in Florida, greeting each other with the names Greg and Larry.
6 Sherlock fakes his death (Sherlock)
In the Season 2 finale of Sherlock, “The Reichenbach Fall,” the titular sleuth is seen jumping off a building, apparently committing suicide. All of the onlookers, including Dr. Watson, are horrified by the apparent death. Sherlock’s corpse is found on the road and identified as a dead body. Watson can’t find a pulse, so he’s heartbroken. However, Sherlock is seen alive and well at the end of the episode. It was a relief to know he survived, but fans had to wait an annoyingly long time before the series’ next installment aired and it was explained how Sherlock had faked his own death.
5 Debra finds out Dexter’s secret (Dexter)
In each season of Dexter, a different serial killer was at the center of the story arc. In the sixth season, we got Travis Marshall, the Doomsday Killer. He wasn’t a particularly interesting villain — he was no Trinity Killer (the one played by John Lithgow in Season 4) — but he did pave the way for Debra discovering Dexter’s dark secret. It was only a matter of time before Debra found out her brother was a serial killer, and fans both anticipated it and dreaded it for years. The final moments of the Season 6 finale saw Debra entering a church and finding Dexter snuffing out Travis.
4 Rick is locked in a maximum-security intergalactic prison (Rick and Morty)
Although the problems were all resolved and everything was back to normal by the end of the Season 3 premiere episode, Rick and Morty’s Season 2 finale blew the show’s formula to smithereens. The family had to go on the run and find a new home on a smaller version of Earth. The Smiths weren’t happy there, so Rick knew what he had to do. He had to turn himself in to the intergalactic feds, and he allowed himself to be locked in a maximum-security prison with a bunch of alien criminals. Meanwhile, the Galactic Federation took over Earth and gave Jerry a job.
3 Hopper discovers that Will’s “corpse” is a dummy (Stranger Things)
It feels strange to include a streaming series on a list of the best TV cliffhangers, because streaming shows (or, at least, Netflix shows) allow viewers to binge seasons in one go, so the ending doesn’t have a week (or more, if it’s a season-finale twist) to linger in your head as you question all the possibilities for what could happen next.
You get to watch the cliffhanger’s conclusion straight away. Still, that doesn’t detract from the impact of the bombshell. When Hopper cut open Will’s “corpse” and found that it was stuffed, the central mystery of Stranger Things’ first season blew wide open.
2 The Red Wedding (Game of Thrones)
Destined to go down in the annals of TV history, Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding” sequence is still one of the most shocking televised moments of the decade. In the Season 3 episode “The Rains of Castamere,” it finally seemed like something positive was happening to the characters on the show. Robb and his pregnant fiancée Talisa gathered their closest friends and loved ones, including Catelyn, to watch them get married. And then, tragically, a massacre took place, organized by Lord Walder Frey. Everyone was slaughtered — even the baby inside Talisa’s womb. It was a gut-wrenching way to end the season’s penultimate episode.
1 Hank finds out Walt is Heisenberg while sitting on the toilet (Breaking Bad)
The producers of Breaking Bad made the interesting decision to split the show’s fifth and final season into two parts. The decision didn’t make a lot of sense creatively until the midseason finale aired. “Gliding Over All” set things back on track for Walter White, as business was going well, the competition had been managed, and he was getting along with his family. They were having a nice poolside barbecue with Hank and Marie. Then, Hank went to the bathroom, dug out a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to read on the toilet, and based on Gale’s inscription, he figured out that his own brother-in-law was the drug lord he’d been chasing for months.