50 Biggest Cliffhangers in TV History

Winter Jon Snow Cold Game of Thrones

Cliffhangers have been around as long as serialized storytelling, and with the advent of television, cliffhangers made their way onto the small screen in people’s homes. TV has delivered some of the most exciting, shocking, and sometimes downright rude cliffhangers for decades. Which ones have caused the most conversation?

1. The Sopranos – “Made in America” (S6 E21)

The Sopranos, Edie Falco, James Gandolfini, Robert Iler
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

The Sopranos was already one of the most beloved and talked about shows in television history; then, it ended with this stunning cliffhanger. The final moment of the final episode sees Tony (James Gandolfini) and his family meet at a diner in the aftermath of a brutal gang war. As Tony watches people arrive, his daughter struggles to park outside, and just as she’s about to enter, we see Tony look up at the door, and the screen cuts to black. It’s an incredible ending that leaves the entire show on a note of ambiguity that continues to be discussed today.  

2. Dallas – “A House Divided” (S3 E25)

Larry Hagman in "A House Divided" episode of Dallas
Image Credit: CBS.

“A House Divided,” the final episode of the third season of primetime soap Dallas, delivered arguably the greatest cliffhanger ever. The episode ends with an offscreen assailant shooting lead antagonist J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), pushing millions of viewers to ponder, “Who shot J.R.?” for months before the answer finally came in the fourth episode of the fourth season. 

3. The Simpsons – “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” (S6 E25)

Springfield gathers around Mr. Burns, freshly wounded
Image Credit: 20th Television Animation.

Fifteen years after “A House Divided,” The Simpsons spoofed the classic cliffhanger but did it seriously enough that people were just as interested in the mystery as the joke. The final episode of the sixth season of the beloved animated show sees the always villainous Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer) go further than ever before in his greedy plans, giving every character a motive to harm him.

When he’s shot in an alley that viewers aren’t allowed to see, a mystery is afoot. A mystery that Dr. Hibbert (also Shearer) points to the camera and asks if “you” can solve before it’s revealed he’s pointing at the town’s police chief. The answer was revealed in the first episode of the seventh season. 

4. The Walking Dead – “Last Day on Earth” (S6 E16)

Jeffrey Dean Morgan in "Last Day on Earth" episode of The Walking Dead
Image Credit: Gene Page/AMC.

Questions about a mysterious attacker are one thing. In its sixth season finale, The Walking Dead switched the question, leaving viewers wondering which of their heroes had been attacked by the villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The episode ends with Negan playing a game of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” with the heroes he’s taken prisoner before deciding on one and using his barbed wire-wrapped bat to beat them. The prisoners Negan selected aren't shown until the first episode of the seventh season. 

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “The Gift” (S5 E22)

Sarah Michelle Gellar in "The Gift" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The season five finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a beautiful and moving episode for any fan of the show; it’s also one of the strangest, not-quite cliffhangers. At the end of the episode, Buffy sacrifices herself to save the world, leaving audiences and her friends with a Buffy-sized hole in their hearts.

It was set to be the series finale. Still, when another season was announced, the episode became a de facto cliffhanger, with viewers wondering how you have Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Buffy. The first two episodes of season six did pretty well without her, but she returned to the land of the living by the third episode. 

6. The Office (US) – “Casino Night” (S2 E22)

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski in The Office (2005)
Photo Credit: Photo by NBC/NBCUniversal via Getty Images.

Dramas and parodies of dramas aren’t the only kinds of shows that can offer thrilling cliffhangers. “Casino Night” is the second season’s finale and ends with a moment that left fans cheering: Jim (John Krasinski) kissing Pam (Jenna Fischer) after two seasons of incredible chemistry between the two. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. Pam was still engaged to another man who also worked with them, and fans now had to wait until the next season to find out what was in store for the messy workplace love triangle.  

7. Friends – “The One With Ross’s Wedding” (S4 E24) 

friends the one with rosss wedding 1
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Years before “Casino Night” ended a season of a beloved sitcom with questions about a love triangle, Friends offered an even more dramatic moment in the middle of a wedding as a season finale cliffhanger. As Ross (David Schwimmer) stands with Emily (Helen Baxendale) and begins his vows, instead of saying, “I Ross take thee, Emily,” he says, “Take thee Rachel,” and the camera shows a stunned Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Viewers had to tune back in for the start of season 5 to see Emily decide whether she wanted to continue with the wedding.  

8. Dexter – “The Getaway” (S4 E12)

Dexter
Image Credit: Showtime Networks.

The fourth season finale of Dexter left viewers reeling as the final moments see Dexter (Michael C. Hall) discovering his beloved wife Rita (Julie Benz) murdered. The murder was far from random. The season’s antagonist, whom Dexter has just killed, committed the crime before he died and left Rita and Dexter’s infant son Harrison in the blood of his dead mother, just as infant Dexter experienced his own mother’s murder. It’s a harrowing finale that left viewers wondering how Dexter would survive emotionally and what would happen with Harrison.

9. The West Wing – “What Kind of Day Has It Been” (S1 E22)

Two Cathedrals- West Wing
Image Credit: John Wells Productions.

The finale of the first season of The West Wing left viewers with a question ringing in their ears: “Who’s been hit?” The episode ends with the president and his staff in a frantic scurry to avoid gunfire, but shots have been fired, and at least one person’s been hit. While the question “Who’s been hit?” was shouted by a secret service member, viewers were also left wondering who fired the shots and why. 

10. Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall” (S2 E3)

Sherlock TV Series (2010)
Image Credit: Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films.

The final episode of the beloved modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation series Sherlock ends with a double cliffhanger. After a villain forces Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) to leap from a roof and audiences see the detective’s corpse, questions arise about how the show could go forward without its eponymous character. When a few moments later, the audience sees that Sherlock isn’t dead but has managed to fake his death and is now in hiding, the path forward isn’t any more clear. 

11. True Blood – “Plaisir d'Amour” (S1 E9)

Sam Trammell, Rutina Wesley in "Plaisir d'amour" episode of True Blood
Image Credit: HBO.

It’s not only finales that have all the cliffhanging fun. True Blood offered fans a juicy mid-season episode ending when Sookie (Anna Paquin) went to bed with a dog at her feet and woke up to discover her friend and boss Sam (Sam Trammell) where the dog had been. The episode confirmed that Sam is a caring boss and one of the many supernatural beings that call Bon Temps home. 

12. ER – “Be Still My Heart” (S6 E13)

Noah Wyle: John Carter
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

ER delivered one of the TV’s most shocking moments at the end of the thirteenth episode of the sixth season with “Be Still My Heart” when a mentally ill patient stabs doctors Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) and John Carter (Noah Wyle). The episode’s final image is of the two doctors in pools of blood, staring at one another as they lose consciousness. It’s a disturbing and heartbreaking moment that’s still impactful all these years. 

13. Twin Peaks – “The Last Evening” (S1 E8)

Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks (1990).
Image Credit: Lynch/Frost Productions.

Both original seasons of Twin Peaks end with significant cliffhangers. But the first season offers a much simpler and more compelling mystery. After returning to his hotel room after a successful sting operation, FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan) receives a knock at the door and opens it, expecting his room service order. Instead, he finds a gun pointed at him and is shot several times. The screen goes black, and the audience hears his body fall without knowing if he’ll survive or who’s shot him. 

14. Farscape – “Bad Timing” (S4 E22)

Farscape Claudia Black, Ben Browder, Anthony Simcoe
Image Credit: Hallmark Entertainment.

Farscape ended before its time. Initially set to air five seasons, the show was canceled after its fourth season, leaving fans with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. The final episode of the series sees leads John (Ben Browder) and Aeryn (Claudia Black) get engaged seconds before they are attacked and seemingly killed by alien aircraft. It’s a moment that left fans bewildered and with many questions. Questions that were luckily answered a year and a half later with the release of the fan-demanded miniseries/TV movie The Peacekeeper Wars

15. The Good Place – “Michael’s Gambit” (S1 E13)

the good place 3 2
Image Credit: NBC Universal.

The first season of The Good Place follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell) after she dies and finds herself in the non-denominational heaven-like “Good Place.” She realizes she doesn’t belong there and does her best to become a person worthy of being in the Good Place.

In the final episode of the season, she learns that she and her compatriots in the Good Place exist in an experimental section of the Bad Place created by the demon Michael (Ted Danson). It’s an exciting and significant twist that changed everything about the show going forward, as well as a cliffhanger that had people talking about what the next season would look like. 

16. Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” (S3 E26)

Patrick Stewart in "The Best of Both Worlds" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
Image Credit: Paramount.

The Borg loom large in conversations about Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) despite not appearing in many episodes of the beloved series. But the episodes in which they appear are some of the best and most memorable, especially “The Best of Both Worlds.” The finale episode of the third season of TNG sees Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) taken by the Borg, and other crew members of the Enterprise seek to rescue him.

In the episode’s final moments, the Enterprise crew members discover that their captain is no longer himself. He’s been assimilated by the Borg and tells them to prepare for the assimilation as well.  

17. Dark – “Endings and Beginnings” (S2 E8)

Dark
Image Credit: Netflix.

Dark may have only run 26 episodes across its three seasons, but in that time, it got many sci-fi fans talking. Like Twin Peaks, both the first and second offer significant cliffhangers, but it’s the second season, building on the cliffhanger from the first and how it’s changed the world of the show, that stands as one of the best in TV history.

After the first season ends with characters learning that the mysterious cave outside town doesn’t only transport them backward into the past but can also send them forward into the future, the second season ends with the revelation that people can travel to different dimensions. 

18. 1899 – “The Key” (S1 E8)

Andreas Pietschmann in 1899 (2022)
Image Credit: Dark Ways.

The creators of Dark followed it up in 1899 and showed that their talent for creating thrilling cliffhangers remained undiluted with the first season’s finale. The season follows the passengers of the ship Kerberos in 1899 as they experience and investigate several strange phenomena after encountering a ship that was believed missing. But in the final moments of the last episode, one of the leads discovers that those experiences were part of a simulation, and it is, in fact, the year 2099. Fans of the show will never know where it would go from there, as Netflix canceled the show after just one season. 

19. The OA – “Chapter 8: Overview” (S2 E8)

The OA Brit Marling
Image Credit: Netflix.

Netflix has had a bad habit of canceling beloved shows on unbelievable cliffhangers. The second season of the fantastically unique and strange The OA sees its lead character travel to a new dimension and become involved in solving the mystery of a missing girl, only to end on a genuinely stunning cliffhanger involving a portal to a dimension where the show is being filmed. The last moments of the last episode are bewildering in the most exciting way. But fans will never know what was supposed to happen in the show that was planned as a five-season story

20. GLOW – “A Very GLOW Christmas” (S3 E10)

glow
Image Credit: Ali Goldstein/Netflix.

GLOW’s untimely cancellation is slightly more complicated than the cancellations of The OA and 1899, as the show was set to return for a fourth season but was halted due to COVID-19 and never returned to filming. But that doesn’t make its final cliffhanger any easier to accept as an ending.

The last episode sees two leads preparing to launch the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling on a newly purchased television network and asking another wrestler to direct, but she declines. The fact that the series was meant to continue at least means we have some idea about where things would have gone, but sadly, we’ll never get to see it. 

21. Orange is the New Black – “Toast Can Never Be Bread Again” (S4 E13)

Orange is the New Black - intro
Image Credit: Lionsgate Television.

To be fair to Netflix, for all the series they canceled before their time, they’ve also seen some series through to great success. Among those, early Netflix original Orange is the New Black remains one of the best, and its fourth season finale stands among the show's best episodes, with a nail-biting cliffhanger. The last moments of the fourth season finale see one of the inmates aiming a loaded gun at a sadistic corrections officer who’s tortured several inmates throughout the season. Before she pulls the trigger, or doesn’t, the episode ends. 

22. Bojack Horseman – “A Quick One, While He’s Away” (S6 E8)

BoJack Horseman Animated Series
Image Credit: Netflix/ShadowMachine.

Bojack Horseman is one of the best Netflix shows and adult animation shows of the 21st century. Its sixth and final season was split into two halves, and the writers knew how to make the wait for the second half almost unbearable with the ending of the first. In the last few minutes of the episode, Bojack’s sister meets someone at a party who begins to tell a troubling story about an adult man who supplied him and his friends with alcohol on the night of their high school prom before leaving one of them at an ER with alcohol poisoning.

As the story unfolds, viewers realize they’ve seen this character before and that the adult in the story is Bojack, something Bojack’s sister is about to learn. Fans had to wait three months to discover what this revelation meant for their relationship. 

23. Stranger Things – “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down” (S1 E8)

Stranger Things S1-Ep1 Millie Bobby Brown
Image Credit: 21 Laps Entertainment.

Stranger Things was an instant phenomenon when it arrived on Netflix in the summer of 2016, and its first season finale remains one of the best episodes these years and seasons later. The episode sees the ensemble cast battle the monstrous Demogorgon and journey into the mysterious “Upside Down” dimension. In the episode’s climactic moment, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) seemingly sacrifices herself to defeat the creature. It’s a painful surprise for viewers who spent the last eight episodes falling in love with the telekinetic tween. The episode ends with a hint that she may still be alive. That hint brought viewers rushing back for the second season. 

24. Sons of Anarchy – “Na Trioblóidí” (S2 E13)

Sons of Anarchy (2008) Charlie Hunnam
Image Credit: FX Productions.

The second season finale of Sons of Anarchy left viewers, especially viewers with kids, anxious. The entire episode explodes with action and shocking deaths as the central motorcycle gang clashes with their enemies in the ATF and other gangs. The last moments left viewers’ jaws on the floor. The episode ends with a rival and former gang ally kidnapping the infant son of the lead character, Jax (Charlie Hunnam), and speeding away on a boat. It’s a heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing cliffhanger that ensured viewers would tune into the next season. 

25. The O.C. – “The Dearly Beloved” (S2 E24)

The O.C. Mischa Barton
Image Credit: Fox.

Teen soap operas have long had a knack for cliffhangers, and in its second season finale, The O.C. delivered one of the most infamous cliffhangers ever. The season ends when lead Marissa (Mischa Barton) shoots her assaulter as he beats her love interest, presumably saving his life; of course, there’s the added drama that the two men are brothers. The shot itself isn’t what makes the finale so memorable for many people. It’s the musical choice to kick in Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” right as Marissa shoots. In fact, that musical choice inspired an SNL skit, a clear sign of cultural impact. 

26. Gossip Girl – “Last Tango, Then Paris” (S3 E22)

Gossip Girl
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Following The O.C.’s footsteps, Gossip Girl offered fans a shocking shooting in its third season finale. When Chuck’s (Ed Westwick) proposal to Blair (Leighton Meester) is interrupted by the revelation that Chuck slept with Blair’s frenemy and rival Jenny (Taylor Momsen), he disappears to Prague. There, he’s attacked by muggers; he fights for a ring he wanted to give Blair, and the thieves shoot him, leaving him for dead just as the episode ends. His survival wasn’t ensured until viewers turned in for the next season. 

27. Pretty Little Liars – “Game Over, Charles” (S6 E10)

Pretty Little Liars
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Pretty Little Liars ups the drama and the stakes of the previous teen shows as its leads are terrorized by a mysterious figure known only as “A.” While several people have taken the moniker over the seasons, the tenth episode of the sixth season revealed the mastermind behind it all: Cece Drake (Vanessa Ray).

It’s not the reveal of A or the significant, disappointingly transphobic exposition that makes “Game Over, Charles” so memorable; it’s the time jump to five years later. The episode’s final scene sees the central characters reunite after five years and warn one of their own that “he’s coming for you,” leaving viewers’ heads spinning with questions. 

28. Heroes – “The Butterfly Effect” (S3 E2)

Ali Larter, Hayden Panettiere, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Milo Ventimiglia, Noah Gray-Cabey, and James Kyson in Heroes (2006)
Image Credit: NBC Universal Television Studio.

Familial secrets are a classic of all serialized storytelling, so it’s no surprise that Heroes dropped a massive bomb on fans about the relationship between two main characters, but the “who” and the “when” were undoubtedly startling. The second episode of the third season ends with the morally complex superhuman Angela (Cristine Rose) revealing to the outright villain Sylar (Zachary Quinto) that he is her child. It’s a stunning revelation that’s all the more surprising for its placement in the second episode of the season, which at least meant viewers didn’t have to wait long to see what it meant for the series. 

29. EastEnders – Episode 2176

Jessie Wallace, Michelle Ryan in Eastenders
Image Credit: BBC.

British primetime soap EastEnders also delivered one of the most memorable familial revelations in a 2001 episode still quoted by fans. The scene centers on sisters Zoe (Michelle Ryan) and Kat (Jessie Wallace) arguing about whether Zoe can go to Spain, as Kat attempts to tell her she has to stay in England. Eventually, Zoe shouts, “You ain’t my mother!” and begins to storm away, but Kat calls out after her, “Yes, I am!” just before the episode ends. 

30. Pushing Daisies – “Kerplunk” (S2 E13)

Pushing Daisies
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Unlike some of the Netflix shows and Farscape, which left fans with painfully unaddressed cliffhanger endings, Pushing Daisies attempted to wrap things up after an abrupt cancellation. It’s so clear that the final moment of the last episode was meant to be a cliffhanger. The final moment sees the two lead characters, one of whom is believed dead by her loving aunts, standing on the porch of the aunts’ house, preparing to reveal that their niece is alive.

The camera then goes on a wild journey as the narrator offers quick explanations, wrapping up key characters’ storylines. But it doesn’t hide the fact that the opening of the door to a beloved relative thought dead is a thrilling cliffhanger. 

31. Westworld – “The Bicameral Mind” (S1 E10)

Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

The first season of HBO’s Westworld centers on the eponymous theme park where robots called “hosts” play characters in a Western-themed park that allows guests to live out their Wild West fantasies. But as the season progresses, those hosts begin to grow more and more conscious of the world they inhabit, and many of them aren’t too happy about it. The show’s first season ends with a literal bang as the hosts revolt and begin to open fire on the guests, leaving viewers amazed and wondering where the show could go from there. 

32. Dragon Ball Z – “Transformed At Last” (E95)

Goku, Frieza, Gohan in "Transformed at Last" episode of Dragon Ball Z
Image Credit: Toei Animation/FUNimation.

The Dragon Ball franchise has been a fan-favorite in anime for more than three decades now, and in all that time, “Transformed At Last” has held its position as one of the franchise’s best and most exciting episodes. The episode sees the villainous space emperor Frieza (Ryūsei Nakao) kill a beloved friend of the protagonist Goku (Masako Nozawa), whose rage fuels him to transform into a legendary Super Saiyan for the first time. The episode leaves viewers waiting to see how powerful Goku has become after his transformation in the next episode, but he looks pretty confident in his abilities. 

33. Adventure Time – “The Lich” (S4 E26) 

Adventure Time - intro
Image Credit: Cartoon Network Studios.

With “The Lich,” Adventure Time proved that TV for kids can deliver amazing cliffhangers, too. The last episode of the fourth season centers on lead characters Finn, the human (Jeremy Shada), and Jake, the dog (John DiMaggio), as they work to gather crystals that will allow them to open a portal to the multiverse so that they can rid their universe of the evil Lich (Ron Perlman). They learn that they’ve been tricked, and the Lich wants to enter the portal, so they follow him in a desperate bid to stop him.

The last moments of the episode show Finn and Jake in different animation styles, in a world where Finn’s parents are alive and Jake can’t talk. It’s a great episode with a mind-blowing ending that thoroughly expanded the show’s universe, or rather multiverse. 

34. 24 – “Day 5: 10:00 pm – 11:00 pm” (S5 E16)

Kiefer Sutherland in 24 (2001).
Image Credit: Imagine Television; Real Time Productions; Teakwood Lane Productions; 20th Century Fox Television.

The fifth season of 24 follows Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as he investigates a conspiracy involving the assassination of the president, Russian terrorists, and members of the White House staff. In the last moment of the sixteenth episode of season five, a villain makes a call, and the show reveals who is on the other end: the new president. It’s a jarring scene showing how far the conspiracy Jack is up against goes. 

35. The Fugitive – “The Judgment Part 1” (S4 E29)

David Janssen in "The Judgment" episode of The Fugitive
Image Credit: QM Productions/United Artists Television.

Decades before Harrison Ford played Richard Kimble in the movie adaptation of The Fugitive, the 1960s TV show kept audiences rapt for four seasons. The penultimate episode, or rather the first part of the series finale, ensured that viewers would return the following week. In the episode, Kimble (David Janssen) tracks down “The One-armed Man” (Bill Raisch), whom he believes is responsible for his wife’s death. The man swears that he did not kill her, but he says that he knows who did. Of course, audiences had to tune in the following week to get the answer. 

36. Battlestar Galactica – “Kobol’s Last Gleaming: Part 2” (S1 E13)

Edward James Olmos in Battlestar Galactica (2004)
Image Credit: NBC Universal Television Studio.

Battlestar Galactica centered on the crew of the eponymous battleship as they sought Earth and battled against the android Cylons who aimed to wipe out humanity. The show delivered several twists and turns over the course of its four seasons and was exceptionally well set up to do so, given that Cylons can look like humans and even believe they are human. In the show’s first season finale, one character discovers she is a Cylon just as she delivers a significant blow to the androids. But her discovery doesn’t remain a secret, as her programming takes over, and she shoots the admiral of the ship, the show’s lead character. 

37. Alias – “The Telling” (S2 E22)

Alias Jennifer Garner
Image Credit: ABC.

Pretty Little Liars wasn’t the first show to use a time jump to offer viewers a cliffhanger. Alias did it more than a decade earlier. But while Pretty Little Liars told viewers about the time jump with on-screen text, Alias made it a shocking revelation for its lead character, Sydney (Jennifer Garner). The second season finale sees Sydney go up against an assassin in an exhausting battle. While she wins, she also passes out. When she awakens, she assumes it hasn’t been too long, but when she sees her love interest with a wedding ring on his finger, she learns that it’s been two years since she passed out. 

38. The X-Files – “Anasazi” (S2 E25)

William B. Davis in "Anasazi" episode of the X-Files
Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Some shows offer up so many incredible cliffhangers that it’s impossible to highlight just one. The X-Files was one of those shows. The second season finale ends as FBI agent Mulder (David Duchovny) investigates a mysterious boxcar in the New Mexico desert that may offer answers about the existence of extra-terrestrials and their connection to secret governmental agencies.

Just as Mulder arrives in the boxcar and makes some significant discoveries, the strange and possibly villainous “smoking man” (William B. Davis) and several soldiers appear to apprehend him. When the smoking man and his soldiers find the boxcar empty, he demands that it be destroyed. Viewers were left questioning what happened to Mulder. 

39. The X-Files – “Requiem” (S7 E22)

Gillian Anderson in "Requiem" episode of the X-Files
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Five seasons later, The X-Files hadn’t lost any of its ability to raise questions with a cliffhanger finale. The finale of the show’s seventh season left fans with huge questions about both major characters. Towards the end of the episode, Mulder appears to be abducted by a UFO. At the same time, in the last seconds, Skully (Gillian Anderson) reveals to their supervisor that, despite the seeming impossibility, she is pregnant. 

40. Lost – “Exodus: Part 3” (S1 E25)

Matthew Fox, Terry O'Quinn in "Exodus Part 3" episode of Lost
Image Credit: Bad Robot Productions/Touchstone Television.

Lost’s many twists and turns delivered tens of cliffhanger episodes over its 121-episode run, but two remain the most thrilling. The show’s first season sees a group of plane crash survivors explore the mysterious island they’ve landed on, and its finale promises many more revelations to come. In the latter part of the season, some survivors discover a strange hatch and repeatedly attempt to open it so they can explore what it hides. After many failures, they blow open the hatch, and the last shot of the season shows two survivors looking down into the deep, dark hatch. 

41. Lost – “Through the Looking Glass Part 2” (S3 E23)

Matthew Fox in "Through the Looking Glass" episode of Lost
Image Credit: ABC Studios.

Two seasons later, Lost delivered one of the most exciting and bewildering twists and cliffhangers ever. The third season finale follows the usual episode format, cutting back and forth between time on the island and a character’s societal experiences. The flashbacks’ focus on Jack’s (Matthew Fox) severe depression raises questions about when exactly these scenes take place, only for the final moments of the episode to reveal that instead of the usual flashbacks, the scenes have been flashforwards. 

42. Grey’s Anatomy – “Who’s Zoomin Who?” (S1 E9)

Kate Walsh in "Who's Zoomin Who" episode of Grey's Anatomy
Image Credit: ABC Signature.

Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air for almost two decades, delivering some incredibly juicy cliffhangers. The show’s first season, which follows employees at a hospital in Seattle, develops the romance between Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) after a one-night-stand in the pilot. In the finale, Meredith learns that Derek has been married throughout their courtship. 

43. Grey’s Anatomy – “Migration” (S8 E23)

Eric Dane in "Migration" episode of Grey's Anatomy
Image Credit: ABC Signature.

Years after the premiere of LostGrey’s Anatomy had its own plane crash. Instead of the crash functioning as the start of a story, the crash ends the penultimate episode of the eighth season. The episode shows several doctors boarding a plane to assist with surgery in Idaho, but the plane doesn’t reach its destination and crashes. Who survived the crash remained a mystery until the following episode. 

44. Breaking Bad – “Full Measure” (S3 E13)

Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad
Image Credit: High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, and Sony Pictures Television.

Breaking Bad is so full of incredible cliffhangers that keeping it to three is challenging, but some stand out as the best. Among them, the third season’s finale remains one of the most shocking and emotionally devastating for Jesse (Aaron Paul). The last moments of the finale see Jesse kill someone for the first time in a moment of desperation and loyalty to meth cooker Walt (Bryan Cranston). It’s a heartbreaking moment that shows how much the act destroys Jesse and emphasizes how far Walt is willing to go to secure his interests. 

45. Breaking Bad – “Gliding Over All” (S5 E8)

Dean Norris in Breaking Bad
Image Credit: High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, and Sony Pictures Television.

Perhaps the most famous of Breaking Bad’s cliffhangers, the final moments of “Gliding Over All” show Walt’s brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) discovering that Walt is the meth cooker “Heisenberg” he’s been hunting for years. But it’s not just the discovery that makes the cliffhanger so fantastic; it’s also the execution.

While spending time with Walt and his family, Hank goes to the restroom and tries to find something to read. He finds a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and discovers a handwritten note from a former suspect (the one Jesse killed in “Full Measure,” as a matter of fact) that confirms his brother-in-law is Heisenberg. 

46. Breaking Bad – “To’hajiilee” (S5 E13)

Brian Cranston in "To'hajiilee" episode of Breaking Bad
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Television.

Five episodes after “Gliding Over All,” Breaking Bad’s final season left fans on the edge of their seats again at the end of the thirteenth episode “To’hajiilee.” The last few minutes of the episode are already stunning as Hank arrives at a meeting place for Walt to complete a deal with a white supremacist gang he’s been cooking for. Hank arrests Walt, handcuffs him, and places him in the back of an SUV, but they get even more exciting.

The white supremacist gang shows up, and a standoff ensues, with Hank and his DEA partner squaring off against the heavily armed gang; then bullets start to fly. As bullets shred the cars and shatter glass, Walt ducks down in the SUV and screams to stop, and the episode ends. 

47. Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming” (S1 E1)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in "Winter is Coming" episode of Game of Thrones
Image Credit: HBO/Helen Sloan.

Like Breaking BadGame of Thrones was a cultural phenomenon regularly serving masterful cliffhangers. Unlike Breaking Bad and most other shows, Game of Thrones’ first episode already delivered a shocking cliffhanger. The first episode of the first season ends with the young Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) climbing up a tower to discover the queen Cersei (Lena Headey) in the throes of passion with her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj William Coster-Waldau). It wasn’t the revelation of sibling love that shocked viewers; it was Jamie’s quick decision to push the child out of the tower window to protect their secret. 

48. Game of Thrones – “Mother’s Mercy” (S5 E10)

Kit Harrington in "Mother's Mercy" episode of Game of Thrones
Image Credit: HBO.

The fifth season finale of Game of Thrones may not have been as morally shocking as the show’s first episode, but there’s no denying that it hurt to watch. After five seasons of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) developing as a character, leader, and hero, “Mother’s Mercy” literally leaves him for dead.

In the previous episode, Jon made a choice that upset several members of the Night’s Watch, and in the last moments of “Mother’s Mercy,” the Night’s Watch betrays their leader, stabbing him repeatedly. As he bleeds alone in the snow, the camera zooms out before cutting to the credits, making fans question whether the show could kill Jon Snow. 

49. Game of Thrones – “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S7 E7)

dragon breathing blue fire in "The Dragon and the Wolf" episode of Game of Thrones
Image Credit: HBO.

The season finale of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones promised that the last season would not be messing around. After the previous episode saw the evil White Walkers kill and reanimate the dragon Viserion under their command, “The Dragon and the Wolf” shows how dangerous that dragon is now for the people of the Seven Kingdoms south of the wall.

In the last scene of the episode, the White Walkers and their zombie-like wights, including the wight Viserion, attack the wall, and Viserion destroys it. The wall’s destruction allows the army of the dead to march south and sets up the ultimate showdown.  

50. Severance – “The We We Are” (S1 E9) 

John Turturro, Adam Scott, Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, and Tramell Tillman in Severance (2022)
Image Credit: AppleTV+.

Cliffhangers are far from a thing of the past, and most recently, the first season finale of Severance left viewers anxiously awaiting the next season. The first season followed several characters who have had their work and personal lives “severed,” in theory allowing for a better work/life balance. As time passes, they discover that the company isn’t exactly benevolent. In the final episode, the work versions of these characters break through to the personal versions and try their best to alert the outside world to the conspiracy they’ve uncovered.

The episode ends with the work versions being contained by the villainous corporation and left fans wondering how successful their alarm was. Luckily, they’ll find out when season two arrives later this year or early next year.