The Sopranos Ending Explained: What Happened At The End Of The HBO Series?

The Season 6 promotional poster of The Sopranos

Whether you just finished your first binge of The Sopranos or you were one of the many who saw The Sopranos Ending the day it happened, the controversial (and highly lauded) final episode of the hit HBO drama still has people talking about it even today. Because that’s the thing about ambiguous endings—either people are going to love them, or they’re going to feel they wasted their time watching a show because they wanted a definitive conclusion. And series creator, David Chase, made it pretty clear back in 2007 when the show ended that he wasn’t interested in the latter.

Major Sopranos spoilers ahead!

But let’s just say that we had gotten a definitive conclusion. In this scenario, we see Tony either getting pumped full of lead or put in the back of a squad car (because really, what other options were there for his character?). Would anybody still be talking about the show thirteen years later if that had happened? Possibly, because it was a pretty damn good show, and a lot of people are still talking about Breaking Bad even though that conclusion was pretty clear cut (though, some people denied what they saw).

But really, people probably wouldn’t still be discussing The Sopranos if it didn’t have that ambiguous ending. Which is why I’m writing this article today. Now, there’s going to be some speculation in this piece, but also some evidence from David Chase and other writers from the show. So, let’s get sleuthing.

From left to right, Edie Falco, Robert Iler, and James Gandolfini

How Did the Series End?

The sixth and final season of The Sopranos was an interesting one. Told in two parts, the first half of Season 6 saw Tony in a coma, wandering around in his subconscious. He eventually woke up, and he started to have a bit of a turnaround after his near-death experience. It wouldn’t last, though, as the second part of the season saw the New York crew getting upset over asbestos disposal, putting them at odds with Tony’s New Jersey crew, but Tony comes out ahead.

Or so we thought. That’s where the final episode, “Made in America” leads us to. Tony goes to a diner and waits for his family to arrive. While he waits, he puts on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” People enter, and Tony keeps looking up, since that’s the life of a Made man, always looking over your shoulder. One by one, people come through the front door. His wife, Carmela, enters, then a shady looking guy, then his son, AJ (who wants onion rings). The shady guy looks back from the counter, and Tony’s daughter, Meadow, struggles to parallel park outside (I can relate).

The shady guy gets up, walks past Tony’s table to go to the bathroom (and if you ever saw The Godfather, you know that’s not good). Some more people enter, rubbing their hands as they ogle what looks like some tasty cake. Meanwhile, Meadow is STILL struggling to park. The onion rings finally arrive, Meadow almost gets hit by a car as she rushes across the street, the bell at the door rings, and the screen cuts to black abruptly as Steve Perry sings “Don’t stop!”… and then... well, that’s it. The end. Thanks for watching!

From left to right, Vincent Pastore, James Gandolfini, and Paul Gualtieri

How Did Sopranos Fans React To The Finale's Cut To Black?

Oh, man. I was there. I remember watching the final episode with my friends, and I’ll never forget that my buddy, Nick, got up from his seat after the screen went black and apologized profusely when we all groaned. He thought his cable box went out, and apparently, he wasn’t the only one. This was before everybody just checked the internet to see what everybody else was saying, and we genuinely thought that something had happened. That’s because it didn’t just go to black and then the credits came up. No, no. The screen went black for a full 11 seconds before the credits came up. And 11 seconds is an eternity when you’re on the edge of your seat.

But when the credits did come up, that’s when the debates began: Wow. Tony died. No, he didn’t. Of course he did, why else would the screen go black? I don’t know, maybe to leave the audience hanging. But… but… that’s stupid. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does it have to make sense? Because it just does! Hey, what about the guy in the jacket? Did he ever come back out of the bathroom? Wait, wasn’t Meadow the last person to come into the diner? No… Wait. Yes, she was! Can we watch it again?...

And so on, and so forth. Honestly, my friends and I still debate what happened at the end of The Sopranos to this day, just like we debate what happened at the end of Inception. And the cool thing is, none of us can really be wrong. Or right, for that matter. But that’s another issue entirely.

James Gandolfini in a bowling shirt

So… Did Tony Soprano Die?

Short answer? No. The screen just went black, and that’s what we have to go on. Long answer? Well, it’s complicated. Here’s what series creator, David Chase had to say in an interview with Deadline:

It’s for people to decide for themselves. I had another scene that was going to be Tony’s death, that we were going to do. That was two years or three years before we came up with the other one. So, there was a death scene. Tony drives back into the Lincoln tunnel, he goes for a meeting with Phil Leotardo, and he’s killed. I don’t think you were going to see the death, but you were going to know that he was dead.

Chase went on to explain that the plan was to use that death scene "whenever the show went off the air," but then he changed his mind. That could imply that Tony does not die in the actual ending we got because that originally planned scene of Tony's death was never filmed. But I’m sure you’re probably saying, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t killed, right? It just means that David Chase chose not to show him get killed. Well, in that same interview, Sopranos writer, and Boardwalk Empire creator, Terence Winter, had this to say:

My interpretation was that, when you’re Tony Soprano, even going out for ice cream with your family is fraught with paranoia. He’s sown a life of murder, mayhem and treachery. And everybody who walks in, a guy in a Member’s Only jacket…this could be the guy, or that could be the guy. You’re always looking over your shoulder and at some point, whether it happened that night or not, when you live that life, one day, somebody’s going to walk out of a men’s room and that’s it for you. As we know famously from gangsters, they always say there’s only two ways to get out of this: one’s jail, the other’s dead. So maybe it happened that night, and maybe it didn’t. It really didn’t matter. At some point, something bad’s going to happen to this guy and maybe it was that night. And maybe not.

So, really, that just tells me that from the writers’ point of view, it doesn’t really matter if Tony died that night or not. He was bound to either die or end up in jail eventually, which in a way just means that it’s really up to the viewer to decide if he was killed that night or at some other time. Because according to the writers, Tony does end up dying or getting caught at some point in the future.

James Gandolfini, squinting.

It's Open To Interpretation

Personally, I prefer to think that Tony didn’t die that night. Not because I didn’t want him to die or didn’t think he deserved to die. But I think it makes the ending much more effective if Tony didn’t die. Because come on, what’s worse for a person? Getting a quick shot to the head, or having to live the rest of your life knowing that somebody out there wants to kill not only you, but possibly even your entire family? If Tony doesn't die from a bullet, he'd probably die from stress alone.

And I love that the ending is that ambiguous. When I saw The Irishman I thought of The Sopranos right away, since there's a great scene in that movie when Robert DeNiro’s character, Frank Sheeran, goes into a restaurant and kills “Crazy Joe” Gallo right in front of his family. The scene was great, but the effectiveness only lasted a few seconds, while I've been thinking about The Sopranos ending for years now. That's the power of that ending.

But what do you think? Do you believe Tony died that night? Or do you think it’s better that we never know? Also, how do you think the ending of The Sopranos compares with other popular shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad? I personally love ambiguous endings since the conclusion can mean anything you want it to mean, but I know a lot of people can’t stand them. Sound off in the comments section below. And remember: Don’t stop believing.

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Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.