DThat’s right, a cliffhanger can be the most effective plot device on television.
The best can have you tearing your hair out and wishing the next episode were available immediately. The biggest bid puzzle by teasing answers but never making the outcome obvious. The worst things that make you stop watching a show are often the ones that “jump the shark.”
For many years, the benchmark for great cliffhangers was Who Shot JR? Dallasthe American TV show that caused a media storm in 1980. The phrase was so widespread that Jimmy Carter even joked about the fictional murder during his second presidential campaign.
The cliffhanger soon evolved into something more than just a “thriller”. Sitcoms – such as The US office and friends – went on to integrate the device to tease relationships (Jim and Pam, Rachel and Ross) to keep viewers coming back to the fix. Soap off EastEnders to Neighborshave used cliffhangers to bring viewers back for more day after day.
So what are the best cliffhangers in television history? LatestPageNews has put together the greatest thing in television history.
38. Breaking Bad – “Gliding Over All” (2012)
Karma for killing Gale comes to Walter White in season five. The meth maker believes its cooking days are long gone. At lunch with his family, everything seems perfect. And then everything goes wrong. So wrong. Hank (Dean Norris) goes to the restroom and takes with him a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass – a gift from Gale to Walter White. “To my other favorite WW. It’s an honor to work with you. Sincerely, UK.” And with that, as Hank discovers Walt’s true identity, the end of Heisenberg’s empire begins.
37. The Sopranos – “Made in America” (2007)
The debate about whether certain closing scenes of TV shows are actually good will rage on and on. The Sopranos remain the focus of the conversation. It’s a seemingly mundane occasion — a restaurant dinner scene. We watch as Tony sits and watches other customers. Carmela arrives, then AJ and Meadow, who we see last, park their car outside. A bell rings, Tony looks up and the screen goes black. It’s an ending made up of inspired essays that offer differing interpretations, but ultimately it’s a few beautifully executed minutes of television – and a cliffhanger that will never have a resolution.
36. EastEnders – The Revelation of Kat and Zoe (2001)
“You can’t tell me what to do because you’re not my muvva” / “YES, I AM!” Not the work of Shakespeare, admittedly, but certainly one of the greatest moments in soap history. The nation’s jaw dropped when they learned that Kat Slater (Jessie Wallace) wasn’t Zoe’s sister at all, she was her mother.
35. Game of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere” (2013)
Game of Thrones knew George RR Martin was willing to kill major characters, but nothing prepared non-book readers for The Red Wedding. Robb Stark (Richard Madden), Talisa Stark (Oona Chaplin) and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) attend the wedding of Roslin Frey (Alexandra Dowling) and Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) when things go horribly, horribly wrong for the Starks walk. The Freys turn against them and kill Robb, Talisa and their unborn child. Then, as the blood splatters everywhere, Catelyn’s throat is cut. Cut to black. Destructive.
34. Dallas – “A House Divided” (1980)
The cliffhanger that started the cliffhanger trend at the end of the season. Larry Hagman’s oil baron JR Ewing had made many enemies in Dallas. At the end of Season 3, one of them took justice into their own hands and shot JR twice in the back. However, instead of uncovering the culprit, the team behind Dallas left the case unsolved. And over the next eight months — the time between seasons — the whole world wondered, “Who shot JR?” Given the hysteria surrounding the mystery, it’s not surprising that 350 million people watched the revealing episode Who Done It.
33. The Simpsons – “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” (1995)
Showrunner Matt Groening has long wanted to do an episode where Mr. Burns is shot, and the culprit was only revealed in the next episode. Inspired by Dallas, the animation concluded the first part with the nuclear power plant owner being shot by an unknown assailant. Then, after a summer of waiting, fans finally got the answer. The two-part episode is considered a classic and is often cited as the best of the series.
32. Doctor Who – Parting of the Ways (2005)
Choosing a standout Doctor Who cliffhanger is almost impossible – especially considering all 37 (and counting) seasons have made frequent use of the plot device. While the introduction of John Hurt’s Doctor certainly ranks among them, one of the best came at the end of the rebooted first series. After absorbing a series of vortices, the Doctor struggles and is about to regenerate. Turning to Rose (Billie Piper), Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation of the iconic character utters the timeless lines: “Before I go, I just want to tell you that you were amazing. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what – me too.” Queer line with sleazy CGI and the introduction of the future favorite doctor of the nation, David Tennant. “So where was I? That’s it – Barcelona.”
31. Breaking Bad (2010)
Gale (David Costabile) is one of the nicest characters in Breaking Bad. He is not interested in wealth or fame, but in science. Niceties and a good cup of coffee aren’t enough to keep him from getting in the way of Walter White (Bryan Cranston). When a choice must be made between their lives, Walter chooses his own and sends Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to do the dirty work. Season three ends with Jesse killing Gale – an incident that eventually brings down drug lord Gus Fring.
30. The West Wing – “What a day that was” (2000)
The West Wing’s biggest cliffhanger came in the Season 1 finale. The episode rewinds from the beginning as we see a Secret Service agent scenting danger from a nearby window at a town hall meeting with the President in attendance. As the episode catches up, gunshots ring out and each of his senior staff is thrown to the ground. Cut to black as we hear an agent asking over the radio, “Who got hit?”
29. Smallville – “Covenant” (2004)
It wasn’t until the Smallville season 3 finale that Superman fans’ patience was rewarded when viewers saw Clark (Tom Welling) appear naked amidst a Kryptonian symbol burned into the field of his family’s farm. “You shall be born again,” Jor-El can be heard saying to Clark Kent, but he wasn’t the only one; The ending marked a radical turning point for the series.
28. Twin Peaks – “The Last Evening” (1990)
The Season 2 finale of Twin Peaks — the final installment of the mystery-drama in 27 years — might have had the chilling cliffhanger, but the show’s biggest gasp came at the end of Season 1, when the seemingly untouchable Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) hit it responds to a knock on his hotel room door, only to be gunned down by an unseen assailant.