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It's been over six years since How I Met Your Mother ended with one of the most divisive series finales in TV history, joining Lost, Game of Thrones and other series in angering fans over the ending. How I Met Your Mother’s co-showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas took to social media after the series finale and haven’t made much of a peep about the show in the years since.
However, before the CBS sitcom culminated in a surprising twist — one that saw Josh Radnor’s Ted get back with Cobie Smulders’ Robin — Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney and Robin managed to enjoy some very brief wedded bliss, while Ted had a lovely meet-cute with “the mother.” But, that ending is the one viewers most often discuss. And so, we’re breaking down How I Met Your Mother’s real ending, its alternate ending, and so much more about the polarizing final chapter.
The Way How I Met Your Mother Really Ended
After several years of buildup and teases regarding the identity of the Mother, whose name is revealed to be Tracy (Cristin Milioti), How I Met Your Mother’s series finale revealed that she’d actually been dead for six years. The cause of death was presumably a mysterious illness that was never expanded, beyond showing Tracy in the hospital with Ted at her side.
Ted wrapped up the (very, very long-winded) tale of how he met their mother to his kids, but they didn’t buy what he was selling. In fact, they believed that Ted’s story was really about how he still harbored feelings for Robin and wanted to know if they’d be okay with him asking her out. They were more than fine with it, and so Ted raced to Robin’s apartment with the blue French horn he stole on their first date. End scene, roll credits.
Why How I Met Your Mother's Ending Was So Divisive Among Fans
I was on Twitter the night that How I Met Your Mother’s series finale aired and to say that fans were frustrated is putting it rather lightly. They were livid. Many called into question why the show was even called How I Met Your Mother if it ended with her being dead and Ted going back to Robin. Some fans felt robbed, expressing irritation that Barney and Robin even got divorced.
For Josh Radnor, the divisiveness of the ending actually says a lot about how much fans care versus any anger over it being considered a bad finale (though that might depend on who you ask). Here’s what Radnor told Vulture back in 2014:
There have always been people that thought that Barney and Robin were perfect together, there have always been people that thought it didn’t make sense. There are people that wanted Ted and Robin to be together. There are people that thought they didn’t work together. So I just feel that part of the divisiveness and part of the anger and also part of the enthusiasm all speaks to something really great.
After watching the sitcom for nine seasons, many felt like it had all been a waste of time because the ending offered no real closure, with Tracy seemingly a pit stop on the road of Ted and Robin’s love story. Rather than being satisfied with its conclusion, I’d say that fans were disappointed with How I Met Your Mother’s ending because it felt like the showrunners had blindsided fans. Honestly, I think viewers’ passionate anger over the ending is really a testament to how effective Cristin Milioti was as the mother, and how well-liked she was among viewers.
How I Met Your Mother's Cast Had Their Own Opinions About The Ending
After the series finale, Josh Radnor revealed that he’d known that the ending would see his character getting back together with Robin. However, he wouldn’t have minded things changing after Cristin Milioti’s introduction. Here’s what he said:
They had mentioned to me the twist about the mother in the first season, and I kind of put it out of my head. I didn't know if they would actually want to come back to it and do that, especially after Cristin, because she was so wonderful and the fans seemed to really take to her. So I asked them 'Are you guys still doing that?' And they said yeah.
Meanwhile, Alyson Hannigan thought that fans needed way more time to process the time between Tracy’s death and Ted getting back together with Robin. For Ted’s kids, they’d had six years to grieve their mother’s death and move on, so of course they’d be okay with Ted wanting to be with Robin. That wasn’t at all the case with the audience, who only had mere minutes, if that. Here’s what Hannigan had to say about it:
I didn't think Barney should have ever gotten married. I liked Barney and Robin. But in my heart, I always wanted her with Ted. I just feel [Barney and Robin] shouldn't have gotten married. . . . I was bummed they didn't just make it a two-hour season-ender, so they would get to show certain parts [that were cut]. The table read for the finale was so good, so right, but it was also like 14 hours long. So when I actually saw the final version of the show, I was like, 'They cut out everything!'
I don’t disagree with her, the finale should’ve been longer. But, speaking of scenes that were cut, that leads us right into the next topic.
The Deleted Scenes Could Have Made The Ending Better
Just as Alyson Hannigan noted, there were scenes that were cut, including a brief funeral scene for Tracy that would have made the process easier for fans. In fact, How I Met Your Mother’s series finale was a full 18 minutes shorter than what was originally written. Some of the deleted scenes made it onto the Season 9 DVD, including an integral scene between Ted and Robin out for lunch and discussing the past (and how Robin still had feelings for him).
Unfortunately, the funeral scene was never included in the DVD release. Either way, all of these additional scenes would have added a lot more nuance to the series finale. It might have even made it clearer that Ted and Robin would eventually get back together. At the very least, it would have been nice to see pivotal character moments that would have added more depth to an already emotional ending and perhaps even provided some much-needed closure.
Should We Have Seen How I Met Your Mother's Ending Coming?
While How I Met Your Mother’s ending shocked many fans (I’m still a little salty about it, too), it’s probably an ending we should have seen coming. On one hand, it really sucks that Tracy had to get killed off and that fans had to wait until the show’s final season to finally meet her. On the other hand, the sitcom did drop in quite a few clues that Ted and Tracy were probably not going to get the happy ending any of us imagined.
In the Season 8 episode “The Time Travelers,” Ted imagines that he raced to Tracy’s apartment to talk to her. In his moving speech, he tells her that they’d meet in 45 days and that they’d fall in love. However, he says that he wants “those extra 45 days” with her and that he’ll always love her until “the end of my days.” Not her days or their days, only Ted’s days. In hindsight, that conversation was very revealing and telegraphed what the future would bring for Tracy.
What’s more, Ted was seen reading Love in the Time of Cholera on a few occasions. The book is another indication that Ted would go back to Robin, since the novel’s storyline sees one of the married characters eventually losing their spouse before getting back together with their former lover. Ted was also holding the book in the scene where he first meets Tracy. There were a couple of other clues as well (and fan speculation) that clearly pointed to the short-lived nature of Ted and Tracy’s relationship.
Why The Alternate Ending Wouldn't Have Worked
Ah, yes, How I Met Your Mother had a completely different ending than the one that aired and it was included on the show’s DVD. In this alternate version, Barney and Robin didn’t get divorced and Tracy didn’t die. However, there weren’t any additional scenes filmed for this alternate ending. Rather, the story comes together by way of Bob Saget’s voice-over as future Ted.
I’m not sure that it would have worked in the framework of the show because of the fact that it was too clean-cut of an ending. The fact that there were no additional scenes filmed to effectively work into the alternate ending meant that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were satisfied with the original ending as is. Having an alternate ending is always great, just as a fun "what if" addition for the fans (who were clearly dissatisfied). That said, the alternate ending didn't seem like it was initially intended for the show and honestly, I'm okay with that if it wasn't the original vision anyway.