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The Best TV Finales Ever

These cliffhangers and send-offs still have us talking

Shaun Harrison
​Arya Stark (​Maisie Williams) on ​Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5: "The Bells"
1 of 20 HBO/Helen Sloan

TV's Best Series-Enders

It only ends once, and for Game of Thrones, it appears to be ending poorly.

Over 73 episodes, Game of Thrones frequently has been hailed as the greatest show on television, but now it looks like it's going to have an extremely disappointing finale no matter how we slice or dice it. Character development has been either rushed or completely forgotten about, a moment where Jon Snow could have hugged his CGI dog was scrapped so Dany could destroy King's Landing with CGI fire, and while there was no way that everyone on the show was going to get a happy ending, it turns out viewers are getting the unhappiest ending of all.

That said, if you're looking for a handful of shows that do manage to successfully stick the landing and leave their characters, and viewers, satisfied in the end, we've rounded up the best for you. Look at these as a palate-cleanser after Westeros -- and don't worry, none of these shows involve any dragons whatsoever.

2 of 20 Justina Mintz/AMC

Mad Men

Mad Men's biggest moments were often its quietest, and its series finale was no exception. In its beautiful, subtle way, the drama punctuated everyone's journeys, whether they were romantic (Peggy and Stan, Roger and Marie, Pete and Trudy), tragic (Betty defiantly smoking after her cancer diagnosis), or empowering (Joan starting her own production company). In Don's case, it was his sudden realization and acceptance of his whole, flawed self on a sunny hillside. After seven seasons of watching his churning, troubled soul, that's all you really want.

3 of 20 Jeffrey Neira/FX

The Americans

Will you ever be able to hear U2's "With or Without You" the same way again? The Americans wrapped up in incredible six-season run sending Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings back to where they started: Russia. After a tense confrontation with Stan -- one which Paige was present for -- their next-door neighbor lets them go while promising to look after Henry. Not wanting to live the same life as her parents, Paige ditches them before they leave the country. Unfortunately, doing this means she is exactly like her parents, living a life under the radar and on the run. Returning to Russia might mean Phillip and Elizabeth have achieved what they wanted all along, but at what cost?

4 of 20 Colleen Hayes/NBC

Parks and Recreation

Our favorite Pawnee residents jump ahead to 2017, and although the premise of the finale seemed simple enough -- the former Parks and Recreation employees teamed up one last time to fix a broken swing -- the final hour was a heartwarming, hilarious journey through time. We saw Ron take over the National Park Leslie created in Pawnee; April give birth; Tom fail, and subsequently succeed, at writing a book about his failures; Jerry die peacefully at 100 after 10 terms as mayor; and Donna turn the superficial "Treat Yo' Self" into the philanthropic effort "Teach Yo' Self." The burning question on every fan's mind: Did Leslie become president?! She successfully befriended Joe Biden and served two terms as the governor of Indiana, but the series-ender never says for sure whether she winds up in the White House. But when two mysterious men dressed in suits -- Secret Service agents perhaps? -- tell Leslie and Ben it's time to go, we can only assume that Leslie is doing the job she was always meant to do.

5 of 20 Ben Cohen/NBC

Parenthood

To the surprise of almost no one, Zeek's season-long struggle with his heart came to a solemn end when the patriarch quietly died at home with Camille. However, fans had plenty more reasons to reach for the tissues. The Braverman clan added Hank Rizzoli to their ranks when he and Sarah tied the knot, and the family's baseball game to commemorate Zeek's life included heartwarming and shocking flash-forwards to show Jasmine's third pregnancy, the two (!) more children a reunited Joel and Julia eventually welcomed, Max's victorious graduation from Chambers Academy, and, best of all, Amber finding love with another single parent played by none other than Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter.

6 of 20 Ursula Coyote/AMC

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad's finale might have been a little too tidy for some viewers' tastes, but there was no other way for it to go out. A narrative as acute as Bad's -- turning Mr. Chips into Scarface -- meant Walter White could leave no loose ends. In his final days, he dotted every I and crossed every T left, including freeing Jesse from Uncle Jack & Co., and he finally stopped lying to himself about why he did what he did: "I did it for me." Plus, he bid adieu right next to his "Baby Blue."

7 of 20 HBO/Everett Collection

The Sopranos

What's there to say about this finale that hasn't already been said? The much-anticipated closer had everyone waiting to see if Tony was finally going to go from whacker to whackee. Instead, they got Journey, a greasy plate of onion rings and a black screen. But, the fact that we're still talking about it proves -- for better or worse -- that the episode did its job.

8 of 20 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

M*A*S*H

The crazy docs of the 4077th ended their 11-year run with the now-iconic "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen." The two-and-a-half hour extravaganza saw many teary goodbyes (plus one huge one made of stones) as Hawkeye, B.J., and Hot Lips all headed back to their lives stateside. The fact that the finale remains one of the most-watched episodes in TV history pretty much says it all.

9 of 20 Landov/CBS

Newhart

Newhart ended with one of the most shocking twists ever to hit TV screens. After being hit in the head with a golf ball, Dick Loudon wakes from a crazy dream. The dream, it turns out, was the entire eight-season run of the show, since Newhart's character is in bed with his wife from the decade older The Bob Newhart Show, played by Suzanne Pleshette. Makes that season of Dallas erased by a dream seem like small potatoes, no?

10 of 20 Mario Perez/ABC/Getty Images

Lost

Was there really any way this finale could match fan expectations? Maybe not. In hindsight, is the Lost finale actually pretty great -- and definitely better than Game of Thrones? You bet. While many questions were left unanswered, the series wrapped up our time on the island with Jack sacrificing himself to save the others. Watching Vincent the dog snuggle up with him in his final moments is a visceral, unforgettable image, mirroring exactly how the series opened. Elsewhere, everyone reunited in the "afterlife" to celebrate their lives and their time together. While the finale certainly has its flaws and major missteps, at least the character development over six seasons felt earned.

11 of 20 HBO

Six Feet Under

After opening every episode for five seasons with a death, this HBO drama began its finale with the birth of Nate and Brenda's son. But the producers made up for it by killing off everyone on the show before the credits rolled. Mixing humor with powerful emotion (Brenda died of natural causes -- or was she talked to death? -- and Claire died blind at 102), the show brilliantly gave us closure for all the characters we'd grown to love.

12 of 20 FX

The Shield

This series finale delivered the masterful combination of action and drama that made us love the show throughout its incredible run. Plus, it ended with Vic Mackey at a desk job. 'Nuff said.

13 of 20 CBS

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

When WJM-TV is sold, everyone except the incompetent Ted Baxter is axed due to low ratings. Between the reunion Lou arranged with Rhoda and Phyllis and the group hug, this one had us alternately laughing and reaching for the tissues.

14 of 20 Bill Records/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Friday Night Lights

If anyone needs proof that Friday Night Lights was about so much more than high school football, look no further than the series finale, during which Eric and Tami Taylor made the extremely tough decision about whether to stay in Texas for his career or move to Philadelphia for hers. (They end up choosing the latter, and we're still waiting for the Tami-focused spin-off, BTW.) A perfect closing chapter to an underappreciated series, the finale set the stage for new beginnings in the lives of many characters, and left viewers with teary eyes and full hearts.

15 of 20 Alice S. Hall/NBCUPhoto Bank/Getty Images

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

After capping his penultimate episode with an interview with Bette Midler, Johnny Carson used his last show to look back at his years as host. He ended his television career sitting alone on stage on a stool and saying: "I am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it." So did we, Johnny.

16 of 20 HBO

The Wire

Although it came at the end of the critically lauded HBO drama's weakest season, this episode tied up a number of threads while remaining true to the show's message. Yes, there were happy endings -- we still get misty every time we watch a clean and sober Bubbles climb those stairs out of the basement to join his sister's family for dinner -- but McNulty's forced early retirement and Dukie's descent into addiction reminded us that the game was always rigged. The closing shot of the Baltimore skyline suggested that the troubled city -- just like messy, complicated life -- will go on and on.

17 of 20 Ray Mickshaw/FOX

New Girl

After seven seasons, it was time to move out of the Loft. But, it turns out the reason everyone had to move out of the Loft was because Winston orchestrated a joke forcing everyone to move out. He's the ultimate prankster, and it's the ultimate send-off for the series, which saw everyone happy with their lives after a four-year time jump. Too bad we never actually learned the real rules for playing True American.

18 of 20 Mitch Haddad/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

The West Wing

The Bartlet Administration came to an elegant end, with newly elected president Matt Santos settling into the Oval Office that had been occupied by Jed Bartlet for two presidential terms and seven television seasons. Amid all the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day, the episode offered an added emotional resonance thanks to numerous references to the deceased character of Leo McGarry -- played by John Spencer, who died suddenly of a heart attack five months prior.

19 of 20 20th Century Fox

Angel

Cliffhanger finales often seem unsatisfying, but there was something fitting about the way Angel left the fates of its characters unknown. As an army of monsters descended upon the gang, Angel declared, "Let's go to work." And that was it. While it didn't necessarily give us closure, the finale was true to the series' message: The fight between good and evil never ends.

20 of 20 MTV

The Hills

After a forgettable final season, The Hills found a way to go out with a bang (and one helluva wink). Addressing the criticisms of the show being staged head-on, the episode revealed that the entire final tearful scene between Kristin and Brody had taken place on a backlot. While the series creators have never fully addressed exactly how fake it was, the finale pointed out how little that actually mattered as long as we were entertained.