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Epic finales and epic failures: A tale of triumph, tragedy in TV shows finales

BJ Dumas takes a look at some of the best and worst television series’ final episodes

A TV series finale may very well be the most important episode of a show’s entire run, making or breaking the entire journey. Regardless of how captivating the episodes or seasons have been, the show must stick the landing. The ultimate test of a show’s legacy lies in its final episode–the moment when all the narrative threads, mysteries, and lingering questions converge.

TV series meticulously build their stories over seasons, spanning years of anticipation, all leading to the grand finale. Fans have invested their time and themselves into the show, expecting a rewarding resolution to the intricate plot.

However, when a show falters in its final act when a finale falls flat, it’s akin to a slap in the face for the disillusioned, dissatisfied viewer. Poor endings not only leave questions unanswered but also tarnish a show’s once-impeccable reputation, sometimes ruining it outright. 

Take a look at some of the best and worst series finales.

[Spoilers ahead] 

 

The Worst: “Game of Thrones”

For seven seasons, “Game of Thrones” held the throne as many fans’ favorite TV show. The ominous phrase “Winter Is Coming” echoed throughout each episode, haunting the heroes of Westeros, and building up the suspense for the arrival of the Night King. 

For seasons, the show established a link between fan favorite Jon Snow and the Night King, hinting at an epic face-to-face encounter. 

Yet, the highly anticipated showdown between Jon Snow and the Night King ended abruptly with Arya Stark delivering the final blow. Jon’s journey, intertwined with the Night King’s threat, concluded with a whimper.

To add salt to the wound, Jon, who had just slain his tyrant lover Daenerys, was denied the throne and sentenced to the Night’s Watch.

 

The Best: “Attack On Titan”

In a climactic ending, “Attack On Titan,” a four-season masterpiece, concluded on Nov. 4 with a subtle yet impactful change from the manga it was based on.  The source material, which wrapped up two years earlier, concluded with controversy, as the manga depicted Eren, a mass murderer, as a hero.

Protagonist Armin, who had tirelessly worked to stop Eren, his former comrade, ultimately thanks Eren for becoming a “mass murderer for [their] sake.” 

The line didn’t sit right with fans, and rightfully. It paints Eren, who killed nearly everyone on Earth, not as the villain he truly is, but celebrates him as a hero. 

This anime adaptation rectified that mistake this time around. 

A small but crucial change in Armin’s final words to Eren transforms Eren’s legacy, giving the series a fitting and satisfying conclusion: “We’ll be together. In Hell.” 

 

The Worst: “Seinfeld”

The iconic ’90s sitcom “About Nothing” took an unexpected turn in its series finale on May 14, 1998. The quartet of Jerry, Kramer, Elaine, and George found themselves on trial for violating the Good Samaritan Law, laughing at a man getting carjacked instead of helping him.

The episode, deviating from Seinfeld’s signature trivial plotlines, instead functioned as a flawed reunion show of sorts. Characters from episodes past testify against the group based on their prior ruins, encounters, and experiences with Jerry and his friends. The witnesses bring enough evidence to land a guilty verdict, and the show ends with the four in prison. The shift from inconsequential antics to significant consequences betrayed the essence of the show, essentially leaving the 76 million fans who tuned in to the final episode of arguably the greatest sitcom of all time feeling numb and disappointed.

 
 

The Best: “Breaking Bad”

“Breaking Bad” follows Walter White’s transformation into the infamous drug kingpin “Heisenberg,” after the Chemistry teacher is given just years to live.  Instead of checking his goals off of his bucket list, Walter decides to enter the criminal underground to secure his family’s financial future after his death.

The series wrapped up with meticulous precision, tying up all loose ends. Walter’s journey, filled with vengeance, redemption, and the pursuit of purpose, culminated in a gripping finale. 

Killed his enemies? Check. Avenged his brother-in-law? Check. Saved Jesse? Check. Secured his family? Check? Found a purpose in life? Check. 

The series ends beautifully with Walter dying on his terms, as police finally catch up to him, as he succumbs to a gunshot wound. An ending fitting for a character seeking to rewrite his destiny. 

 

The Worst: “Lost”

The enigmatic island of “Lost” captivated viewers with its mysteries, but the finale left them more perplexed than ever. Unanswered questions about characters like Annie, polar bears, and Libby left fans feeling truly “lost” themselves. The lack of resolution to key plot points unraveled the intricate narrative, leaving a void in the hearts of dedicated viewers.

Viewers loved the show for its mystery and its brilliant use of the unknown. But where fans were dedicated to solving the island’s mysteries– the Smoke Monster, the underground bunkers, and the Others were the characters dead the whole time?–the finale didn’t seem interested in answering those questions. 

“Lost’s” finale left so many questions unanswered, and loose ends that, instead of being tied, further unraveled. 

 

The Best: “Avatar: The Last Airbender”

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” beautifully blended elements of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air to craft an epic tale. The series finale showcased Aang’s moral dilemma in confronting Fire Lord Ozai. When the two meet for their climactic final battle, Aang nearly loses control, preparing to deliver a final, life-ending blow to the antagonist. 

Instead, the avatar regains his senses and decides to simply take away Ozai’s bending. 

Aang defies the past Avatars’ advice to kill, instead finding a non-lethal solution, and showcasing the power of pacifism. 

Zuko’s redemption arc added depth to the narrative, concluding with a well-deserved era of peace and a heartwarming kiss between Aang and Katara.

 

 

In the ever-evolving landscape of TV finales, there is a delicate balance between triumph and tragedy, where a show’s conclusion can elevate it to legendary status or leave it lost in the shadows.

 

We want to hear from you. What show do you think nailed their final episode? What show missed the mark?

Epic Finale and Epic Failures

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About the Contributor
Brantley Dumas II, Senior Staff Reporter
Brantley Dumas is a senior at Normal Community High School. He is the president Black Student Union and is on the varsity bowling team. He is a second-year Staff Reporter on the Inkspot. If I were to win a million dollars I would definitely pay for college, then buy all the shoes and clothes I could ever want. I enjoy fashion, making and listening to music and anime. So, if you like any of those we can probably be friends. My biggest pet peeve is when people chew too loud. Gross.
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