How I Met Your Mother's Ending Was Almost Far Less Divisive

It's incredibly difficult to write a good ending. This is particularly true in the case of long form storytelling, such as a TV show, in which audiences have dedicated years of their lives to a narrative, only to be thoroughly disappointed by its conclusion. There are plenty of great shows with legacies forever tarnished thanks to divisive endings, as fans of "Lost" or "Game of Thrones" might tell you. Few TV finales have left viewers as perplexed and angry as the one for "How I Met Your Mother."

Two-part finale "Last Forever" attempted to subvert expectations, but instead, resulted in many fans feeling betrayed by a series they'd stuck with for nine years. How you feel about that final twist kind of depends on whether the most important aspect to you was the one implied by the show's title. If you stuck around because you wanted to, indeed, see how Ted (Josh Radnor) met the mother of his children, chances are that finale left you largely unfulfilled. However, if you came to enjoy "How I Met Your Mother" for the great hangout comedy about navigating your twenties and thirties that it became, perhaps you were okay with the way creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas chose to wrap up the series.

Aside from Radnor's naive, romantic Ted Mosby, "How I Met Your Mother" starred Cobie Smulders as fiercely independent Robin Scherbatsky, Neil Patrick Harris as lovable Lothario Barney Stinson, and Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel as forever-together couple Lily Aldrin and Marshall Eriksen, aka Marshmallow and Lily Pad. The series tracked their misadventures across 208 episodes that are almost entirely beloved by fans, save one. In fact, the final installment was so reviled that an alternate ending was added as an extra on the season 9 DVD. Suit up folks, let's explore how the "How I Met Your Mother" finale could've ended differently.

What Happened In The How I Met Your Mother Series Finale?

"Last Forever, Part 2" reveals that Barney and Robin got a divorce three years after they were married, and following that, Robin drifted apart from the rest of the group. Marshall and Lily happily had more kids, Marshall saw his dream of becoming a judge realized, and Barney finally met the love of his life: his daughter. We do see Ted and Tracy's adorable meet cute (replete with witty banter) under her yellow umbrella and as usual, "How I Met Your Mother" excels in weaving together past moments that may have seemed insignificant into the larger tapestry of where the show was always headed. However, there was more to it than that.

After spending a season getting to know the future mother of Ted's kids (Cristin Milioti's Tracy McConnell), the finale of "How I Met Your Mother" hinged on a sad reveal that some fans had been theorizing about for a while: Tracy was already dead when Ted began telling his kids the titular story. Not only was she dead, but the story wasn't really about Tracy at all. His kids call him on the fact that it was Ted's rather long-winded attempt to get their blessing to reunite with Robin six years after his wife's passing. The final scene of the finale is Ted running to Robin's place to give her the same blue French horn he'd stolen for her many years prior. Those last moments unfold to "Heaven" by the Walkmen — "How I Met Your Mother" had such an underrated soundtrack!

This ending proved incredibly divisive; thanks to a charming performance from Milioti, fans had fallen for Tracy as much as Ted had. Who wouldn't? She was perfect! It also, of course, seems to undermine the show's entire mission statement. Interestingly, CBS News reported that the scene with Ted's kids in which they tell him they know the story is really about "Aunt Robin" was shot during season 2 in 2006. Bays and Thomas knew how they wanted to wrap up the series even back then, so with Penny and Luke actors Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie rapidly aging out of their roles as Ted's teenage kids, the scene was shot in secret. Of course, the show's creators had no way of knowing "How I Met Your Mother" would be on the air for nine seasons. They probably also didn't realize how much of the show's run would wind up being dedicated to Robin and Barney's romance, the dissolution of which was another issue fans had with that ending.

How Could The Series Have Ended Differently?

Though the alternate ending included on the season 9 DVD only changed the last five minutes or so of the finale, it likely would've satisfied those unhappy with "Last Forever, Part 2." Ted quickly summed up the many necessary events leading to his momentous meeting with Tracy. The scene between the two of them was left unchanged: Ted had the courage to speak to her, while she stood in the rain under her yellow umbrella. They had the same delightful conversation from the original ending and then ... that was it. Ted says, "And that kids, is how I met your mother." It's a sweet conclusion that lovingly pays tribute to Ted's romantic journey and does end with Ted meeting the mother of his children, as promised.

I understand why the original ending was so divisive, but I still think it works better than this one. The latter half of "How I Met Your Mother" may have invested a lot of time in Barney and Robin, but literally the entire series from episode 1 was about Ted's feelings for her. Ted's love for Robin doesn't detract from the love he had for Tracy or the wonderful life they shared together. However, six years is a long and lonely time to grieve and there's something kind of beautiful about Ted learning to love again after Tracy's death, much like she did after losing her first love, Max. So much of Ted's story has hinged on this idea of finding "the one" and the whole series is essentially challenging that notion.

Is the alternate ending perfectly fine? Sure, but it also robs "How I Met Your Mother" of much of the finale's emotional resonance. That last twist explains the entire series, from why the story begins with Robin to why Tracy is barely in it at all. A finale that reframes the entire show is bound to be controversial, but for me, that alternate ending is missing something.