Closing a season of television on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, guaranteeing that fans will tune in again the following year, is a well-worn practice.
But not all of telly’s most jaw-dropping moments have come at the end of a season. Sometimes, the writers mix things up and deliver a huge twist slap-bang in the middle, or even at the close of their very first episode.
Here’s our round-up of all the best cliffhanger endings that weren’t part of a season finale, but still made a week-long wait feel like a year.
1. Game of Thrones – Bran goes bye-bye
Game of Thrones has so many in-season cliffhangers, we could have chosen at least 10 for this list. But we’ve plumped for the earliest, and arguably the best.
Perhaps as a warning to audiences that GoT would be unlike any previous show in TV history, the first episode closed with a brother and sister having sex then pushing a small child out of a window for witnessing the incestuous coupling. Cut to credits.
Utterly edge-of-the-seat stuff – and this was before we’ve even had a chance to memorise all of the character’s names.
2. The OC – Is Marissa dead?
Teens-in-California soap opera The OC had plenty of drama over the course of its four seasons, with some truly insane season-ending cliffhangers. But one of our favourite twists came very early in season one. In episode 7 (of 27!), Ryan, Marissa and the gang go to Mexico to celebrate the end of summer.
But their trip takes a dark turn when Marissa decides to mix painkillers and booze (don’t do drugs / drink, kids!), and collapses. The episode ends with Ryan trying to wake her up, but she doesn’t so much as stir and the entire audience thinks they’ve been hit with one of the biggest plot twists in TV history – Marissa’s dead!
Thankfully, Marissa wasn’t dead. Well, not yet anyway.
3. Friends – Ross and Rachel kiss
The very best cliffhangers bring an important storyline to a peak, while changing the dynamic of the show forever – making fans desperate to tune in next week.
The climax of episode 7 of season 2 of Friends, ‘The One Where Ross Finds Out,’ ticks all of these boxes (and then some) when Ross dramatically walks into Central Perk, takes his crush Rachel into his arms, and kisses her – bringing to a close a one-and-a-bit season storyline that’s arguably the most significant in the show’s 10 series run.
4. Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Angel becomes the Big Bad
Buffy fans will never forget where they were when they witnessed this brilliant cliffhanger. Perhaps the best example of Joss Whedon’s ‘teen traumas translated into supernatural threats’ ethos for the show, Buffy sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, and he turns into a monster.
A literal monster, that is, as opposed to someone who won’t return her WhatsApp messages and boasts to his mates about bedding her before moving onto the next target.
After experiencing a “perfect moment of happiness” – we’ve never heard it called that before – Angel loses his magically-restored soul and becomes Angelus, one of the most vicious and vindictive vampires in all of human history. It’s a twist worthy of a season-ender, but season two still had nine episodes to go!
No wonder they called this episode ‘Surprise’!
5. Doctor Who – River revealed
Series 6’s mid-season climax ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ was the very definition of epic – it’s one of the biggest episodes of modern (and classic) Who. But Steven Moffat’s script saved its most massive moment for the very end – when River Song’s identity as Amy and Rory’s daughter was revealed.
The series itself was criticised for being all a bit convoluted and timey-wimey, but this moment had a simple beauty, with the TARDIS’s translation circuits revealing that Melody Pond was renamed River Song by her kidnappers (long story), via writing on a prayer leaf (basically a baby’s blanket).
A neat twist, and a solid way to end the modern show’s first split-season – ensuring fans couldn’t wait for Who to return in the autumn, to find out what happened next.
6. The Walking Dead – Your property now belongs to Negan
Loads of options here, as The Walking Dead – for all of its many, many faults – is the master of the mid-season finale. But our favourite came way back when we got our first real tease of the Negan character.
Interestingly, it didn’t arrive as part of season 6’s eighth episode, but as a special prologue tease that aired just after – which is a sign of how significant a moment it was for fans of the comics.
The scene featured the first mention of the character on television, and it was awesome – with the three biggest badasses on the show (Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha) threatened by an off-screen villain, one who now insists he owns them.
What will happen next? Will they submit? Or will they fight against seemingly impossible odds? Tune in for the second half of the season to find out!
7. Breaking Bad – Walt breaks down in the crawl space
It’s episode 11 of season 4, and Walter White desperately needs money to help counter the threat of terrifying drug lord Gus Fring. Thankfully, Walt has some cash stashed away from his criminal activities, money which he keeps in a crawl space underneath his house.
Unfortunately, his wife Skyler has given the money away – part of her own ploy to protect the family. The horrifying implications of this drive Walt to a complete breakdown, as he shifts from crying, to maniacal laughter, to blank shock.
Like so many entries on this least, it’s easily worthy of a season-closer, with many fans considering it the best moment of the show as a whole.
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