Almost a year has passed since Game of Thrones wrapped up and did so in a fashion that could best be described as “not ideal.”
You could also describe the show’s finale—in which Daenerys is murdered by Jon, Jon is subsequently imprisoned and then banished to The Wall, Bran (BRAN!) somehow becomes king, one of the dragons goes on the run, and Sansa becomes Queen of the North—as depressing, upsetting, annoying, troubling, enraging, and confusing but that’s just a small sampling of the many adjectives to pick from.
Does a day go by where I don’t think about that last episode? Of course. I’m not a lunatic. A week, on the other hand? Yeah, not so much.
What usually happens is that Game of Thrones randomly pops into my mind and I suddenly become painfully reminded of that flaming dump truck of a finale. My mood changes, and instead of reminiscing about how much I loved the show and properly appreciating everything it gave us over eight (or at least the first six) seasons, I’m angry at how it ended.
It’s not exactly what you want from a series finale.
The ideal way to end a television show is with an episode that doesn’t just provide you with closure but a lasting reminder of why you loved it so much. The finale (for better or worse) is going to play a crucial part in how the show is remembered because it plays an inordinate role in its overall legacy. There will always be the memories accumulated along the way but that final one can change everything.
Of course, we also want closure. We don’t need everything wrapped up nicely but having most plotlines finished and the bulk of our questions answered shouldn’t be too much to ask. There can be some loose ends, but if you leave too many things up in the air, you’re doing everyone who got invested in the show a disservice.
If a series is known for having an ensemble cast, the finale should give us one final update on all of the major characters, but above all, we simply want confirmation that our time was well spent. We don’t want what happened with Game of Thrones, where it seemed as if so many of the big reveals, bread crumbs, and fan theories we were hoping would be addressed were largely ignored.
Just stick the landing. That’s it. That’s all we’re asking for. Game of Thrones may have torn its ACL upon hitting the mat but here are ten shows from the past 10 years that managed to nail the final dismount.
10. The Office
Do you believe in miracles?
I ask because, frankly, The Office making this list in light of how much the show cratered and faltered after Steve Carrell left is something of a miracle. The man who played Michael Scott exited towards the end of the show’s seventh season, and while it’s understandable why they went on without him, marching on for another two was a bit much.
Thankfully, everything worked out in the literal end, as The Office couldn’t have finished on a more perfect note. The show was largely able to erase all the sins of the Post-Michael Era and remind fans why they had fallen in love with the series in the first place.
Carrell came back to serve as newly-appointed Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager Dwight Shrute’s best man, Jim and Pam were once again a happy couple (because, lest we forget, the show reached such a troubling point that it started messing with that relationship), Ryan and Kelly reunited, and everyone else just seemed happy.
For a show dedicated to exploring the ups and downs of a career path paved with mediocrity, seeing all the characters happy was all we really could want.
The Office finale was able to bring back memories of the good times that made fans fall in love with it in the first place and, if nothing else, really illustrates how important a solid finale can be to a show’s legacy. Finishing strong is important, kids…
That’s what she said.
9. Schitt’s Creek
Ending something before it overstays its welcome? What an idea! That’s something more people should try (I’m looking at you, The Office.)
Before the sixth season of Schitt’s Creek kicked off, co-creator Dan Levy announced it would be the show’s last, saying, “I at no point wanted to compromise on quality or storytelling. It just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk to take it any further.”
For fans of the show (which had recently begun to build a sizeable following), the news was disappointing. At the same time, it was refreshing to have a series end on a high note as opposed to a season or two after the high note. Part of the appeal of Schitt’s Creek was its energy, and by ending when it did, it never had the chance to feel like it was treading water.
While some people thought the ending was premature, the finale encapsulated all of the show’s best qualities, as it was funny, quick, witty, charming, and sweet. It left you wanting more but also managed to be completely satisfying, which is pretty much exactly what you want in a series finale.
You always had the feeling that things would end fairly poorly for Selina Meyer when Veep wrapped up but you never really knew exactly how that series of unfortunate events would unfold—you just knew that it would be funny.
Tragic comedy drenched in absurdity had been Veep‘s standard operating procedure throughout its entire run as it followed Selina from the vice presidency to the presidency to the life of being a former president to making one last run at the Oval Office, which is what happened during the show’s seventh and final season.
Veep had always held up a funhouse mirror to Washington D.C., but toward the end, it skewed closer to reality than it ever had. The last season featured foreign interference in an election, anti-vaxxers, anti-Muslim language being used by a presidential candidate, the #MeToo movement, and Amy—one of Selina’s most-trusted advisors—getting her Kellyanne Conway on.
As it careened toward the finale, Selina—never one to choose principals over the chance to advance her career— betrayed her daughter by coming out against gay marriage and betrayed human decency by picking none other than Jonah Ryan to be her running mate. However, nothing was as despicable as her betrayal of Gary, who loved her more than anyone else in the world but ended up as the fall guy for her foundation’s financial troubles.
Most of the finale focused on the culmination of the season’s events but ended by jumping forward in time to the day of Selina’s funeral, an event that finds itself overshadowed courtesy of the death of Tom Hanks.
Veep was a show that refused to let up and the final episode only helped cement that legacy.
7. The Leftovers
If you didn’t watch The Leftovers, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. If two percent of the world’s population disappeared before the show started and everyone else was left to wonder why, then roughly .000002% of the world’s population tuned into The Leftovers to watch the survivors carry on.
The Leftovers was a tough hang from the jump and the show’s first season was an emotional slog. It wasn’t necessarily a bad emotional slog but even the best ones can be hard to endure. Calling it “somber” would be a massive understatement. For example, one character used her free time to have people shoot her while she wore a bulletproof vest.
So yeah, very much a tough hang.
The Leftovers only ran for three seasons but the show’s finale is widely viewed as a masterpiece (although it may take you a few watches to fully appreciate it). Much like Veep, the series wrapped things up by jumping into a future where an older Nora and Kevin reconnect and try and make sense of the two decades they had spent apart.
What’s real? What’s not? What’s the truth? What’s not? In the end, does it even matter? It’s The Leftovers, so it’s hard to say.
6. Parks and Recreation
Seeing as how Michael Schur and the Parks and Recreation crew operated under the assumption that every season of the show would be its last and subsequently designed the final episode of each to serve as a fairly fitting ending, you could say they were more than prepared when it came time to write an actual finale—and it showed.
Similar to how other shows brought fans forward in time, Parks and Recreation‘s finale also showed what the future had in store for its characters. The main difference was that Parks took a staggered approach, as the last episode explored what basically everyone (even Jean-Ralphio) ended up doing with their lives by checking in with them at various points over the next few decades. It went as far down the road as 2048, where it’s implied that Leslie Knope has become either President or Vice President of the United States.
Showing how all of the characters evolved and went on to live their lives was perfect for Parks because it was truly an ensemble show. A huge part of its appeal was how much each character pulled for each other and was there for them when they needed them most and they did that until the very end.
Leslie may have been the show’s main character but having a finale that largely focused on her would have been doing a disservice to what made the series so special. Hell, if there was no update on Jean-Ralphio, there was a good chance people might have revolted.
5. Friday Night Lights
Yes, Friday Night Lights was primarily a show about football but it was so much more than that. So, so much more.
It was a show about family and relationships—whether it was the relationships between family members, teammates, friends, or the town and the people who lived there. Ending with East Dillon winning the state championship might have felt good but it wouldn’t have felt right.
Instead, the series ends by cutting from a shot of a pass spiraling through the air with the title on the line in order to transport viewers to Pennsylvania for a look at the new life being led by Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami.
Similar to how The Office showed some cracks in the foundation of the show’s beloved couple, the final season of Friday Night Lights explored the growing rift between the Taylors. After having her needs and ambitions put on the back burner for years, Tami found herself craving a career of her own, which was something Eric struggled to understand.
Thankfully, the Taylors stayed together and ultimately ended up in Pennsylvania. You do have to wonder why Coach Taylor couldn’t find a better gig up there but it’s hard to complain about the finale as a whole, as it also provided some closure for the show’s other characters. Riggins had his own piece of Texas, Matt and Julie got engaged, and Vince finally found some happiness and direction.
Texas forever, baby.
Fleabag only lasted for two seasons that boasted a grand total of 12 episodes but it was as perfect as any show can be over its all-too-brief run.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s depiction of a troubled Londoner who embodies the term “hot mess” was equal parts funny, sad, tragic, heartwarming, endearing, and absurd. The first season did much of the heavy lifting but the second one brought it all home in masterful fashion.
By the time the eponymous Fleabag and her family reached the finale, her father was set to be married to her truly terrible godmother, her sister had finally decided to leave her truly terrible husband, and the main character had come to the realization that dating a priest was a truly terrible idea.
Fleabag s similar to some of the other shows on this list when it comes to examining various relationships and the ups and downs that accompany them. Even though Fleabag is alone at the end of the finale, she’s not entirely stranded because of the way she reconnected with her sister and her father. And then it was just…done.
It’s hard to convey why it worked so well if you haven’t watched it yourself, and if you haven’t, you should devote some of the extra free time we all have on our hands right now to doing exactly that.
3. Breaking Bad
Whenever you’re preparing to bid a beloved show farewell, you almost always have to deal with the underlying concern that it’s going to bungle the ending and leave you feeling empty inside.
That was decidedly not the case when it came to the last episode of Breaking Bad. By the time the show reached its conclusion, it had established itself as one of the most masterful productions in the history of television. It was only fitting that a series rooted in science and formulas felt like one long and expertly crafted science experiment.
All of the parts of Breaking Bad’s complex equation had been established leading up to the finale and the only matter that remained was to check and see if all of the calculations would add up.
Spoiler alert: they did.
The end of Breaking Bad featured Walter White’s inevitable reckoning but it also provided him with a chance to try and make things right. He had an intimate farewell with Skyler and Holly, said goodbye to Walter Jr. from a distance, and managed to rescue Jesse from the hole in the ground he had been kept in courtesy of Uncle Jack’s crew.
Then he died.
Walter dying had been looming over the show throughout its run so it wasn’t really a surprise. If anything, it was kind of nice to see him die a broken man given the pain and suffering he had inflicted as he sought to find a purpose for himself.
Breaking Bad was always so good at showing both the cause and effect of events and it did that right up through the end by fading out as Walter lay dying with nothing but the impact of his actions left to keep him company.
2. The Americans
I started wondering how The Americans would finish shortly after it began and continued to try to figure out the end game as I debated the various possibilities that came to mind over the course of its six seasons.
Would Philip and Elizabeth somehow win? Would Stan win? Would anyone win? Would Elizabeth kill Stan? Would Philip kill Stan? What would happen to Paige? Did the family just kind of forget about Henry?
With a lot of shows, you go into the finale with some sort of idea about what’s going to happen. Of course, you don’t know everything. No one could have predicted Walt would have built a remote-controlled machine gun, right? But you could have predicted he would have tried to save Jesse.
However, I had no clue what was going to happen on the last episode of The Americans and somehow felt even more clueless after I started watching it. This feeling of uncertainty persisted until the credits finally rolled but my guard was still up a bit even at that point.
Seemingly every character took an L in the finale, which was really the only way things could have ended in hindsight. We may have rooted for the Jennings throughout the series but we could never truly cheer them on because, you know, they were Russian spies working against America. If they had somehow come out on top, it would have felt dirty.
They may have escaped but they did so without their kids or any form of closure. They had to run away and return to a country they barely recognized and were greeted by an incredibly uncertain future upon their arrival. All they had was each other but even that was in doubt.
Watching The Americans always felt like running on a treadmill while juggling knives of various sizes, so it was fitting that the show’s finale basically unplugged the cord to send you tumbling to the floor before ultimately breathing a sigh of relief after managing to escape a shower of sharp objects unscathed.
When it ended, you were left just like Philip and Elizabeth: blankly staring off into the distance while reflecting on what had just happened and struggling to comprehend what was next. You weren’t in mid-1980’s Russia, though, so at least that’s one thing you had going for you, which was nice.
1. The Good Place
By all accounts, The Good Place started and stopped approximately 52,346 times thanks to all the reboots the four main characters were subjected to—especially during the second season, where it seemed like it transformed into a new show almost every week.
As was the case with Fleabag and Schitt’s Creek, it felt like The Good Place could’ve gone on for at least another season but its creators found a way to come to a conclusion that felt both natural and satisfying. The many philosophical questions that were asked had been answered in an amazingly humorous fashion, so all that was left was for the characters to take that final trip into the unknown.
Eleanor, Tahini, Jason, and Chidi all said goodbye in their own unique ways and even Michael got the chance to enjoy the fruits of being human he’d been hoping to get a taste of for so long.
In an ideal world, every finale would justify all of the time and emotions we’ve invested in a show and grant us the satisfaction of being able to look back on the journey with nothing but happy memories, which is what The Good Place did with its last episode. I still have it saved on my DVR because I know that at some point I’ll want to rewatch it, whether it’s due to a random urge or to cap off the inevitable binge.
The Good Place was an incredibly special show because of the uncharted territory Schur opted to explore when he decided to tackle a new project following the end of Parks and Recreation. It was a comedy at heart but also managed to incorporate some of the elements found in shows like Lost, serving up humor with a side of mystery, unanswered questions, and serialization that resulted in a surprisingly complex sitcom. It could be challenging to watch but you were also rewarded for sticking with it.
As I wrote immediately following the finale, The Good Place “put my brain through the paces. It tied it into knots, broke it, put it back together, smashed the shirt out of it, zip-tied it together, and above all, routinely challenged it and lit a fire under it. And it made me laugh. Like, a lot.”
I didn’t really want any of these shows to end when they did (except for The Office) but The Good Place tops this list because it was something so different than anything I’d previously encountered and required me to be a more active viewer than I ever was before it came along.
It was forkin’ great.