The Most Mind-Boggling TV Show Twists, Ranked
One of the biggest challenges for any TV writer is how to keep the audience coming back for more. This isn't a problem that filmmakers have--sure, they have to get people in theater in the first place, but once they have your money, the deal is done. Television is different--shows continue week after week, season after season, and without a compulsive storyline, audiences will quickly look elsewhere. And never has this been more true than now, with so many shows appearing on so many different channels and services--how can TV creators keep their audience loyal and engaged?
The plot twist plays a valuable part in this. While the twist has long been a part of cinema, it played less of a part in TV until relatively recently. However, it is now is an essential weapon in the showrunner's storytelling arsenal. A twist can take several forms. It can be a sudden reversal that changes everything we thought we knew about a storyline. It can be surprising character moment, where a character's behavior dramatically changes the course of the show. Or it can literally be a short, sudden shock that leaves us hanging for the next episode or season.
JJ Abrams has played a major role in making the plot twist a vital part of modern TV storytelling. His shows Lost, Alias, and Fringe frequently used twists to advance both the story and characters; some were executed more successful than others, but there's no denying that he helped create an expectation that modern TV mysteries and thrillers will deliver regular twists. As a result, it's become harder to surprise an audience, leading to some pretty wild plot developments and revelations, as writers and showrunners try to stay one step ahead of their viewers.
So here is GameSpot's list of the biggest twists ever to happen on TV. Be warned there are many spoilers ahead! Let's twist again...
11. Fringe – Olivia is in a parallel universe
JJ Abrams and Alex Kurtzman's inventive sci-fi show had many twists over the course over its five seasons, but few as effective as the end of Season 1. FBI agent Olivia finds herself in an office block in a parallel universe, and as the camera moves out of the building. we see that she is standing inside the World Trade Center, in a world where 9/11 never happened. It's a visually stunning shot reminiscent of the final scene of the classic movie Planet of the Apes.
10. The Walking Dead – Carl has been bitten
The Walking Dead is not a show that has relied on big twists over the years--and when they do happen, it's usually the death of much-loved characters. To be honest, a bigger twist would probably be a season finale where everyone survives. Nevertheless, Season 8's final episode did contain a shocking revelation, when we learned that Carl had been bitten by a walker. Of all the characters in The Walking Dead, only Carl's dad Rick seemed less likely to die, particularly since Carl had already lost his mom and his eye to zombies--and continued to survive in the comic books. But no, it was sadly time up for one of the longest running characters in the show.
9. Mr. Robot – Elliot is actually in prison
Mr. Robot is such a clever, multi-layered show that twists can be expected at any point. Season 1 had a couple of great ones, but the big twist in Season 2 is perhaps the most impressive, and admirably delivered mid-season rather than building up to the end. We discover that Elliot has been in prison for the entire season up to this point, and everything we've seen him do has been part of his life there. In retrospect, creator Sam Ishmail dropped plenty of clues along the way, but it was still a great twist. And in suitably meta-style, Elliot's voice-over addresses his audience directly: "I'm sorry for not telling you everything. I needed this in order to get better. Please don't be mad at me for too long."
8. Alias – Sydney wakes up in Hong Kong
Alias is another twist-filled Abrams series, with every season delivering unexpected plot turns. The best is the cliffhanger right at the end of Season 2, when a terrified and confused Sydney wakes up in Hong Kong to discover that two years have gone by, and she has been presumed dead the whole time.
7. Battlestar Galactica – the Final Five are summoned
Ronald D. Moore's reimagining of the late '70s favorite Battlestar Galactica was as much a mystery as a sci-fi drama, and delivered numerous twists along the way. The biggest was the reveal of the Final Five, ancient humanoid Cylons whose identities were unknown to all--including themselves. Actually, it's just four of them, but the manner in which they were revealed was stunningly realised. Four familiar characters that no one would suspect of being a Cylon--including Cylon-hater Tigh--are drawn together via subliminal music (Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower") for a jaw-dropping reveal. "We're Cylons, and we have been from the start."
6. Lost – Jack's flashbacks were yet to happen
Lost loved to tie itself in narrative knots, and even its biggest fans would admit that it got, er, lost in the twists and turns at times. But the scene in Season 3 in which it is revealed that what we presumed were a series of flashbacks involving Jack were in fact a flashforward to events yet to happen was a brilliantly staged moment that showed the ambition of the show at its best.
5. House of Cards – Zoe hits the tracks
House of Cards' Frank Underwood was clearly a villain from the start, but it was the shocking twist in the opening episode of Season 2 that showed just how evil he was. In order to stop intrepid reporter Zoe Barnes from discovering his connection to the death of Pete Russo, Underwood pushes her in front of an oncoming subway train. Ouch.
4. St. Elsewhere – the whole show was a child's fantasy
The climactic reveal in the final episode of the iconic '80s hospital drama has remained one of the most infamous twists in TV history. After six seasons of tears, laughter, and engrossing character-based medical drama, we learned that the whole thing was an imagined fantasy in the mind of Tommy, the autistic son of Dr. Westphall. Known as the "Snowglobe ending," this twist impressed some with its meta-commentary about the nature of storytelling and angered those who just saw it as a giant cop-out. Either way, it was a surprise no one saw coming.
3. Twin Peaks – Evil Cooper escapes from the Black Lodge
By the end of the original run of David Lynch and Mark Frost's groundbreaking Twin Peaks, fans had learned to expect absolutely anything. But that didn't stop the final moments of the final episode being any less effective. Cooper escapes from the Black Lodge but as we discover--as he smashes his head into a mirror and cackles "How's Annie?" over and over--this isn't really Cooper. It's an evil doppelganger, and the real Coop is still stranded in the Lodge. To make things even worse, fans would have to wait another 25 years to find out happens next (thankfully, the wait was well worth it).
2. Haunting Of Hill House – Nell is the Bent-Neck Lady
Netflix's brilliant haunted house epic was as interested in being a moving drama as a scary horror show, but showrunner Mike Flanagan also knew how to deliver some jaw-dropping twists. The biggest moment comes at the end of Episode 5, when we discover that the deformed ghost that has haunted poor Nell for decades is in fact Nell herself. It's a terrifying and tragic revelation.
1. Game of Thrones – The Red Wedding
There are several potential contenders for this list from Game of Thrones--including Ned Stark's beheading and the Viper's mashed head--but ultimately nothing tops the Red Wedding. Potentially, the most talked about TV moment for years, the scene starts as a happy celebration of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey's nuptials and ends with a horrendously violent bloodbath as the wedding party is set upon by Walder Frey's men. Viewers who'd read the books knew it was coming, but even that couldn't lessen the impact of this truly shocking sequence.