What would television be without plot twists? We wouldn't have Shondaland, a franchise built entirely around twist and turns that no one sees coming. There would be no American Horror Story. There would be no Riverdale. The most buzzed-about shows engage people by weaving intricate webs that only the showrunners can unravel, giving the viewers the satisfaction of discovering new pieces of the puzzle along with the characters.
A good surprise on a television show is revelatory. In a day and age when spoilers aren't just easy to find but are actively hard to avoid and rabid fans dissect every piece of a show on Reddit to figure out what happens next, when a show can create shocking TV plot twists that stay hidden and make complete sense upon the reveal, it's a victory of epic proportions. Some of us actively seek out spoilers, whether it's out of curiosity or nerves, and when even these impatient viewers can feel the joy of having a show completely turn the tables, it takes a plot twist from good to truly great. We've found 18 of the best, most shocking TV plot twists ever... if you want to relive some of television's most entertaining stories, read at your own risk!
Throughout the season three finale of the survivalist drama, scenes featuring a depressed, addict Jack Shephard are assumed to be more of Lost's pervasive flashbacks to the characters' lives before their fateful plane crash. In the final moments of the episode, however, it is revealed that the characters found a way off of the island and these flashbacks are really flash-forwards. Jack's mysterious meeting is with fellow survivor Kate Austen, who he couldn't have known before the crash, and his aggressive insistence that they have to go back became a meme before there even were memes.
Twin Peaks is one of the creepiest television series of all time, and we still have nightmares about its core antagonist Killer BOB. An inter-entity from the Black Lodge, an extra-dimensional place of pure evil accessible through the forest that surrounds the town, BOB is a serial killer who became a demon, and the killer of Laura Palmer. It is revealed that BOB has been possessing Leland Palmer since he was a child and led him to abuse and murder his own daughter, Laura, and his niece. BOB also kills Leland, forcing him to sustain fatal injuries during a questioning. We were shocked when Leland's true identity was revealed, and BOB shocked us again during the series final episode when he takes Agent Dale Cooper's identity. We had to wait twenty-five years for that cliffhanger to be resolved.
Game of Thrones is known for its shocking character deaths, but the most surprising one of all is still it's first major loss —the execution of Ned Stark. Ostensibly the series' lead, viewers who hadn't read George R.R. Martin's novels had no idea that Stark would be betrayed by the most annoying little twit in all of television, Joffrey. Ned is charged with treason for attempting to crown King Robert's brother Stannis Baratheon as king instead of Joffrey, and he is told he will be spared and exiled if he publicly admits Joffrey is the rightful king, which is does. Then, the little prick executes Ned anyway, and the tone of the series is set in the final moments of its first season. While the Red Wedding is usually cited as the most shocking event on Thrones, it has become so synonymous with plot twists that the only people who were really shocked were the ones that watched it live and never read the books.
Everyone has their theories on when exactly Walter White "broke bad." People will argue that Walter let Jane Margolis die because he wanted to help Jesse Pinkman escape his addiction, but seeing Walter as he watches Jane asphyxiate on her own vomit and do nothing, you get the sense that he's doing it to have a partner to cook for him and to avoid being blackmailed. The shock didn't come entirely from Jane's death, but from the underlying meaning for Walter's character development. Walter confessing to Jesse about his role in Jane's death was another giant shock to come from this event, still poignant years later.
We saw Violet Harmon overdose on sleeping pills after learning her love, Tate Langdon (who, let's face it, we're also in love with), was a ghost... and a mass murderer. We also saw Tate save Violet from her overdose, and life continued as usual for the conflicted teen. This is why the realization that Violet's suicide was successful and Violet had been dead for multiple episodes was such a surprising twist. It was even surprising to Violet, who had no idea she died.
No one expected that a lighthearted sitcom would have one of the most surprising plot twits on prime-time television. The show revolves around Kristen Bell's character, Eleanor Shellstrop, who is mistakenly placed in heaven ("the Good Place") instead of hell ("the Bad Place") and tries to better herself to make sure that no one finds out that there has been a case of mistaken identity. But during the first season finale, Eleanor figures out that the four main characters have really been in the Bad Place all along, changing the entire trajectory of the series. We gasped.
Michael Coredero, Jr. is the best man on television. Kind, patient, and totally adorable, viewers assumed that Michael and Jane Villanueva were endgame after they finally got together and worked through the whole "Jane was artificially inseminated and the father is crazy rich and hot" issue. Then, out of literally nowhere, Michael has an aortic dissection from a gunshot wound we thought he had totally recovered from and dies right after taking the LSAT. Hearts were broken, dreams were crushed, and showrunners admitted that they'd actually kept the character around for way longer than they'd intended to because they were in love with him, too. Then, when we thought we couldn't be more shocked than when he died, at the end of season four, in true telenovela fashion, Michael just shows up alive on Jane's doorstep. WHAT?!
We can admit that This Is Us has gone a little overboard with the plot twists. Jack's gonna die in a fire! Wait, no he's not! But he does have a brother! Mandy Moore marries Miguel! Every episode has some "a-ha!" moment that's either undone later or just keeps the ball rolling until the next shock. The best, most surprising twist from This Is Us is unequivocally the Original Twist, the Twist To Begin All Twists, the dual-timeline reveal on the pilot episode. The set up weaves the characters' separate stories closer and closer together until one hospital cigarette gives you chills and you realize that this show is about one big, beautiful family.
The first of Grey's Anatomy's original interns to leave the show, we thought that T.R. Knight's projected Grey's exit would come in the form of George O'Malley's decision to join the U.S. Army. Instead, that was a red herring to cover the real fate of our well-meaning medical intern. A John Doe is brought into the ER after pushing a woman out of the way of a moving bus. When he writes "007" on Meredith Grey's hand, we eventually realize with the characters that the patient is George, who flatlines and is declared braindead. An unnecessarily sad way for the character to go, this would ultimately only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tragic character deaths, but as the first, it was the most OMG! worthy.
After showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino left Gilmore Girls following a dispute about writers following the show's sixth season, fans were disappointed to learn that she wasn't going to tell us the four final words she had always planned to use to end the series. When news of the Gilmore Girls Netflix revival was released, many obsessive fans were thrilled at the prospect of learning what the show had been building towards since the very first episode. Imagine our surprise when not only were the words dialogue but that the conversation was: "Mom." "Yeah?" "I'm pregnant."
We really, really wish TV shows would stop making accidental incest a plotline. For one thing, it's scary and could reasonably happen. Also, it is icky. Very icky. While revealing that Clifford Blossom killed his own son, Riverdale also snuck in a little bit of family history about the Copper and Blossom families. After Clifford's grandfather killed Hal Cooper's grandfather, his own brother, the families cut ties with each other socially. Genetically, however, this would make star-crossed lovers Jason Blossom and Polly Cooper third cousins. This is better than the original fear that Jason and his twin sister Cheryl Blossom (an icon who deserves better than this slander) were secretly together, but it's still gross. Shocking! But gross.
We aren't surprised that Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Becca Kufrin's engagement didn't last. That was pretty clear both statistically looking at The Bachelor franchise and also Arie is horrible and absolutely would change his mind about who he wants to marry, probably a few times, for no reason. The shock here came from the fact that Arie requested cameras at his breakup and that ABC agreed to shoot and air the breakup in real time to show the whole FORTY MINUTE ordeal to an unsuspecting audience, unedited. It was so not okay, and it meant that we had to have Becca K. as our pity Bachelorette.
The whole "everything was a dream!" trope and its friends ("It was all a hallucination!" "The island is purgatory!") is severely overdone, but the sheer scope of St. Elsewhere's finale reveal is what gives it a ton of wow-factor. St. Elsewhere was a medical drama that ran for six seasons in the 1980s. In the last scene of the series, it is revealed that the hospital is just a snowglobe being held by construction worker Donald Westphall's autistic son. The events of the show were all a figment of his imagination as he played with the snowglobe, meaning that the television shows that crossed over with St. Elsewhere also existed in the universe he created in his mind. Shockingly, this snowballs into 419 television shows that would exist in the snowglobe because these shows crossed over with each other, bringing everything from Murder House to Fresh Prince under the Westphall Universe umbrella.
Sadly, Alias is probably now best known for giving the world the gift of Bradley Cooper. Other than having great taste in men, Alias was also a fantastic spy thriller starring the always-charming Jennifer Garner. The show had some insane twists during its five-season run, but this twist in the pilot prepared viewers for the ride of their life, with a "trust no one" approach befitting a covert ops show. Sydney Bristowe learns that her agency SD-6 is not a branch of the CIA like we all believed, but that she was actually working for a terrorist organization. The stellar execution of this twist meant that viewers were just as surprised as Sydney.
The reveal of HYDRA's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Solider would affect Marvel's television series, as the creators of the Marvel Universe have been careful to make sure that every piece is connected intricately within its umbrella of properties. Grant Ward was really just a boring, pretty face on the show until the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D., when he reveals himself as a traitor. The character became more interesting after this twist finally gave Brett Dalton something to do other than be bland and noble, and Grant was the last person viewers suspected would be an enemy.
Buffy Summers was never going to stay dead. There could be no Buffy the Vampire Slayer without our vampire-loving vampire slayer, but viewers were as surprised as the Scooby Gang to learn that Buffy hadn't be saved from an abyss or hell, but was happily living in heaven before her friends pull her out during the sixth season. Learning the cause of her severe depression and her new appreciation for Spike was one of the few twists that Buffy tried to throw at us during its epic long run, and like everything else they did, it was executed wonderfully.
After years of speculation that the first crown jewel of American reality television was scripted, The Hills producers decided to mess with us in the worst way possible. Kristin Cavallari says her sad goodbye to Brody Jenner, we say goodbye to the rest of our favorite characters over an acoustic version of the theme song, and Brody watches Kristin leave. Then, the set went away, the curtain with the Hollywood sign was pulled back, and the crew came out of their hiding places. It was all fake. Or was it? To this day there hasn't been a confirmation of whether this ending was confirming the haters' speculations or poking fun at them, making it a plot twist that just keeps on twisting.