Cliffhangers are the bread and butter of any TV series. Any form of entertainment that is going to ask its audience to continue tuning in week after week after week is going to have to give that audience something to look forward to — and what better way than with an eleventh-hour plot twist that leaves viewers gasping for more? Shocking deaths, sudden revelations, unexpected turn of events... These were all over our TV screens this year, tantalizing and infuriating audiences in equal measure. But what were the absolutely most agonizing cliffhangers of 2015?
That's a hard list to whittle down in a year that often felt like each show was attempting to one-up the competition every week. Writers seeming killed off characters that turned up alive several episodes later; they broke up fan-favorite couples; they even kidnapped babies. The plot twists on this list stand out because they didn't exist simply to provide an easy shock... they changed the very fabric of their respective shows in ways that are still having lingering aftereffects.
Here, from least to most shocking, are the 13 best cliffhangers of the last year in television. (Oh, and this pretty much goes without saying, but... MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!)
13. Wes Shoots Annalise, How To Get Away With Murder
ABC's legal thriller is a show that's practically built on cliffhangers, so sometimes it can be hard to make one in particular stand out from the crowd. But the revelation that Wes, the "puppy," had been the one to pull the trigger after Annalise told him the truth of Rebecca's death was even more shocking and impactful than most — because it's impossible to see how the relationship between the show's two main characters will ever be the same.
12. Emma Becomes The Dark One, Once Upon A Time
Whether the writers had been building to this point for four years, or whether this was simply a season-ending plot twist generated to inject fresh energy to a show about to enter its fifth season, you can't deny that turning Emma Swan, our erstwhile protagonist, into The Dark One fundamentally changed the show moving forward. And it made for one hell of a scene, to boot.
11. Sin Rostro Kidnaps Mateo, Jane The Virgin
Given that this CW show is inspired by over-the-top telenovelas, a certain amount of ludicrous plot twists and nail-biting cliffhangers are to be expected. And, granted, Sin Rostro kidnapping Jane's baby in the Season 1 finale perhaps didn't change the show as much as some other cliffhangers on this list, given that Mateo was recovered two episodes later. But it was still an agonizing note to end the show's freshman season on and left fans stewing all summer long.
10. Jon Snow Is Stabbed, Game Of Thrones
Sure, the death of the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch at the hand of his mutinous brothers-in-arms was shocking — to the half of the audience that hadn't already read George R.R. Martin's books, anyway. And while it's easy to argue that his death won't really change the fabric of the show that much, since it's likely he's coming back next season, that really depends on how... different... the resurrected version of Jon Snow turns out to be.
9. Sheriff Pope Is Killed, Wayward Pines
We probably should have seen this coming, given that Terrence Howard was simultaneously starring on FOX's biggest new hit, Empire. But watching his character get offed in only the season's third episode was still a surprise. But the show still had one more surprise in store after the ice cream-loving sheriff kicked the bucket: his corpse was dragged off into the woods by a pack of mysterious, terrifying creatures — the first indication that Wayward Pine's problems may not be limited to inside the town's fences.
8. Quinn Is Gassed, Homeland
Ever since Brody died in the Season 3 finale, Peter Quinn has been Homeland's default male lead and Carrie's new potential love interest. After the pair shared a kiss in the Season 4 finale, shippers were likely hoping for Carrie and Quinn to finally make things official this year. Instead, the writers had Quinn exposed to deadly sarin gas in a remarkably upsetting cliffhanger. Despite the "antidote" administered to him immediately prior, viewers were likely still concerned for Quinn's well-being... concerns that, sadly, turned out to be well-founded.
7. Simmons Is Absorbed By The Monolith, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In true Marvel fashion, S.H.I.E.L.D. saved its most shocking moment for after the credits had rolled, showing everyone's favorite scientist getting sucked up by an ancient Kree monolith just in time to leave everyone's jaws on the floor all summer long. The revelation that this grey slab of stone wasn't merely a MacGuffin opened the show up to new worlds — literally. Although viewers couldn't predict it at the time, the monolith had transported Simmons to an alien planet, sending S.H.I.E.L.D. down an increasingly bizarre path.
6. Eli Confesses To Alicia, The Good Wife
Question: When is a dangling plot thread not a dangling plot thread? Answer: When it turns out the writers have simply been biding their time, waiting for the proper moment to drop the bomb. In Season 7, the writers finally detonated a grenade they'd been holding onto for five years when they had Eli confess to deleting Will's voicemail from Alicia's phone way back in Season 2. Not only did this sudden confession blindside the character and the audience alike, who had all but forgotten about the incident in question, but it completely ripped apart one of the show's most unique dynamics: the relationship between fussy Eli and typically unruffled Alicia. How will the characters move forward from this? Only time will tell.
5. Claire Leaves Frank, House Of Cards
Audiences of Netflix's political thriller are no stranger to shocking plot twists. (RIP Peter Russo, Zoe Barnes, Rachel Posner.) But the show's biggest twist didn't have anything to do with a brutal death: it was simply a person walking out of a room. Claire Underwood finally left her husband in the final moments of Season 3, leaving no doubt that Season 4 will be drastically different than anything that's come before. The Underwoods made for fearsome allies; just imagine how much worse they'll be as enemies. *shudder*
4. Olivia Says "Yes", Scandal
Sometimes all it takes to change the trajectory of a long-running series is one little word. For four years, Scandal had been dancing around the affair between Olivia Pope and President Grant. She had even been unveiled as his lover once before until she managed to "handle it" as she usually does. So when a reporter asked her at the end of Season 5's second episode if she was the president's mistress, her simple answer — "Yes" — caught us all off guard... and changed the course of the season.
3. Mary Jumps, UnREAL
For five episodes, Lifetime's UnREAL was a fun — if occasionally dark — look behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque reality show. So when Mary Newhouse, who had bipolar disorder, walked out onto the roof after an encounter with her abusive ex-husband, it was par for the course for this sudsy soap. But then she jumped. It was impossible to imagine how Everlasting would continue after the death of one of its contestants... yet, somehow, the show must go on. And go on it did, although now with the knowledge that the only thing at stake wasn't the result of some silly dating show — it was people's lives, too.
2. Kevin Dies, The Leftovers
At the end of his rope, Kevin Garvey decided to trust Virgil, the seemingly crazy old man who lived by himself out in a trailer in the woods. So when the Virgil told Kevin to drink a vial of poison so that he could do battle with Patti's spirit in the afterlife, he did so willingly, trusting that the old man would bring him back from the bring of death with an injection of epinephrine. Kevin crumpled to the ground. Virgil emptied the syringe onto the floor and shot himself in the head. Kevin died... and his "death" led us to one of the most bizarre, compelling, trippy episodes of television in recent memory, and changed The Leftovers forever.
1. Darlene Is Elliot's Sister, Mr. Robot
For weeks, viewers had been complaining that the impending Mr.-Robot-is-Elliot's-dad twist was too obvious. But in a masterful move, it turned out that the writers had been intentionally telegraphing that twist all along in order to disguise a second, even more shocking twist: that Elliot's hacker cohort Darlene was really his sister. The revelation was a punch in the gut to Elliot and his audience alike. The knowledge that Elliot's mind was so disturbed that he could forget his own sibling transformed this freshman series from a stylish techno-thriller into a rich and complex examination of mental illness (don't worry, it's also still a stylish techno-thriller), making Mr. Robot one of the most layered and rewarding series of 2015.
Some of these cliffhangers have already been settled since they left our jaws on the floor. Others are still giving fans heart palpitations while they await resolution. It's hard to imagine 2016 getting any more gasp-worthy than this list... but TV writers these days always manage to find a way to one-up themselves, don't they? We better start emotionally preparing ourselves now for what's sure to be a roller coaster ride of a year.
Images: Van Redin/HBO