Everything With The Mother Was Clearly Foreshadowed
And so we get to the heart of the How I Met Your Mother ending: Ted actually meeting Tracy. This was the moment that had been teased since the very first episode, and taken in pure isolation delivers better than anybody could have imagined. A lot of legwork has been done through season 9 thanks to the showstopping casting of Cristin Milioti as the perfect wife for the dorky, driven Ted Mosby, but it's a lot more than just the actors.
Everything that had been established as core backstory to the Mother and how she met Ted is incorporated: the Yellow Umbrella's importance teased throughout seasons 3-5, the Econ 305 mishap from season 5's premiere, Ted's brief time dating roommate Cindy in 100th episode "Girls vs. Suits", and the other side shown in "How Your Mother Met Me" are not just namechecked but integrated into that fateful conversation. It's TV writing at its best, with big picture storytelling and effortless dialogue giving fans the short version of the story as always imagined (and scoring it to Everything But The Girl's "Downtown Train" cover adds the right level of wistful melancholy).
But, of course, the moment isn't just the meeting. Mere seconds before, How I Met Your Mother dropped its biggest twist: that the Mother has been dead this entire time. Tracy died in 2024 as a result of some undefined illness. If you'd been paying attention, then this shouldn't have been too much of a surprise; the end of "The Time Travellers", where Ted imagines going to the Mother and getting "those extra 45 days", is tinged with assumed loss, and when telling how Robin's mother turning up at the wedding in season 9's "Vesuvius", Ted cries at Tracy's insinuation "what mother will miss her daughter's wedding?" This was a popular fan theory, one Milioti had to go as far as deny.
The point of this discussion is to highlight just how unshakably complete How I Met Your Mother's mother meeting actually was. It had been foreshadowed so much yet from casting to the moment itself to a final twist was so carefully threaded into the ending. Although if we're talking the careful build-up of a series redefining twist, it's less the Mother's death that's the biggie than it is what she represents.
How I Met Your Mother's Rebuking Of "The One"
So much of what the How I Met Your Mother finale was going for was established seven episodes earlier in unconventional 200th episode "How My Mother Met Me". A reversal of the show that revealed the mother's life from the night Marshall proposed to Lily up to Barney and Robin's wedding by way of her and Ted's various near misses throughout the series, it revealed Tracy had previously believed she'd found "The One" in her late-teens only for him to die on her 21st birthday, leading to an adulthood of emotionally-enforced abstinence. The episode ends with boyfriend Louis proposing for Tracy, forcing her to ask the deceased Max whether it's OK to move on and deciding she can't either way; she still doesn't feel happy moving on, breaking it off with Louis and takes out a room at the Farhampton Inn where she plays "La Vie En Rose" while Ted listens next door.
While "How Your Mother Met Me" was ostensibly exploring the other side of the yellow umbrella story and the mother's relationship with Louis, it also provided a wrinkle to the ethos that How I Met Your Mother had been peddling in for the past decade. Ted's entire arc had been shaped by his objective desire to find "The One", yet the woman the audience knew he was destined to be with had already had such an experience and deemed her love life over. For them to end up together is to explicitly refute the very idea of "The One", to demystify the overly romantic worldview of a lovelorn protagonist.
From the point onwards, How I Met Your Mother couldn't have a simple happy ending; it was destined to challenge the misty-eyed meeting that, as idealized as it may seem within a story, is ultimately false in reality. This is why the show didn't just have the opportunity for Ted to make a romantic gesture for Robin, it had to do it. For Ted to try and move on, or at least accept, the mother's death is only to be expected; for him to be so eternally obsessed with Tracy would betray the lessons she herself learned - and that was the point of the telling.
Robin Explains Why Ted Told The Story This Way
How I Met Your Mother's premise is fundamentally broken when a show framed as a story from a father to his kids has a 76 hour total runtime. The show called this out multiple times in a light fourth-wall-breaking way, never taking the faux-criticism too seriously. And yet the finale is ultimately an answer to this: why did the story take so long?
The most important self-shielding justification came at the start of season 3, where Ted says. "Kids, there more than one story of how I met your mother. You know the short version, the thing with your mom's yellow umbrella. But there's a bigger story, the story of how I became who I had to become before I could meet her." This was the first explicit mention of the iconic MacGuffin, but also revealed that the purpose of this story wasn't just to get Ted to the mother - that could be summed up in a couple of sentences - but more a story of Ted.
In many ways, it was the classic TV trick of saying "it's not about the destination, it's about the experiences along the way." This is true of fellow mystery-dominated-show-with-a-controversial-ending Lost, which sidestepped spelling out all of its mysteries for a finale that focused tightly on the characters and community created over the past six years. And How I Met Your Mother was embracing it implicitly throughout, perhaps seen best when Ted wants to skip to the "dessert" of old age in season 4's "Murtaugh".
But that's not the full extent of How I Met Your Mother. As revealed by Ted's kids, this was a subconscious attempt on his part to question his ideal of "The One" and, more immediately, whether it was OK for him to end up with Robin. That's why the story began with the night they met and why Tracy was barely in the story until the end; the final reveal with Robin reframes the story without undoing any of the journey as first seen.
This was inevitably going to be controversial, but that's why the show had to go this way. How I Met Your Mother's twist is that the story of Ted's life isn't as simple as "The One", and while that's a challenge to those who've been following what he'd been misbeliving for the past nine years, it's the only right ending.