The How I Met Your Mother series finale was arguably one of the most polarizing episodes of television — and nearly a decade later we still have thoughts about that conclusion.
The sitcom, which aired on CBS from 2005 to 2014, followed Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and his group of friends in New York City as they attempted to find happiness in their personal and professional lives. Throughout the series, Ted recalled his past to his future son and daughter as a way to explain how he met their mother, Tracy (Cristin Milioti).
How I Met Your Mother spent eight seasons building up to the mother’s identity. As a result, the final season took things slow by having Tracy cross paths with Robin (Cobie Smulders), Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) before finally having her meet-cute with Ted.
The show put a lot of effort into cementing Tracy’s place in Ted’s life — which is why having Ted end up with Robin in the series finale threw Us for a loop. How I Met Your Mother walked back all their narrative progress just to have Tracy die from a mysterious illness, which paved the way for Ted and Robin to finally explore a romance that was actually extinguished many years ago.
Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have stood by their vision but did the choice age well or did it doom How I Met Your Mother‘s legacy?
Scroll down to revisit the infamous debate:
Sticking to the Story
The ending may have felt like it came out of left field — but the twist was created during the show’s first season. The actors who played Ted’s future kids, Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie, filmed their reactions to the series finale’s pivotal moment back in 2005 so they wouldn’t appear older in the footage whenever HIMYM actually wrapped up.
In response, fans had questions about Bays and Thomas sticking to an idea they had in the first season instead of letting the story get shaped throughout the years. HIMYM had a nine-year run, which meant there was room for the story and the ending to grow as relationships evolved.
Bays, however, stood by having Ted’s journey end with an introduction back to his romance with Robin. “If you didn’t like the finale, I guess that happens. We tried something and it didn’t connect with you. I hope we’re still friends,” he tweeted in 2014.
Thomas followed suit by showing appreciation for the HIMYM fandom despite their reaction.
“Thank you all. I mean it: Every possible reaction to the last 44 minutes … thank you all … The fact that we have been a TV sitcom that has received this much passion from fans, for 9 years (not just tonight) — thank you,” the executive producer wrote via Twitter at the time. “We wrote a comedy with dramatic elements till the very end. Thanks for taking that ride with us. We did a finale about life’s twists and turns and that is not always what happens … but THANKS! Seriously — no matter what you thought of tonight, THANK YOU … you were with us. We love you. Thanks for this ride.”
Taking Away the Show’s Entire Premise
How I Met Your Mother was literally all about how Ted met the mother of his kids. It was there in the title and it always played a role in the voiceover as Future Ted (Bob Saget) guided his children and the audience through the years leading up to him meeting Tracy.
However, a series finale which has the Mother die of an unnamed terminal illness just as Ted and the audience finally met her seems counterproductive. Tracy is essentially the entire show but after she gives birth to Ted’s children the narrative sees her as disposable? Perhaps that wasn’t what HIMYM was going for but it is the message many of Us walked away with in the end.
Wasting the Final Season
According to Bays, there was an alternative ending to the long-running CBS sitcom which didn’t see the light of day. The other conclusion would have kept Tracy alive (and with Ted) while Robin and Barney stayed married.
“16 days ago today we were in the HIMYM edit room, trying to decide between two very different endings. We only shot one script, but through edit room magic we had two possible outcomes for the series,” he tweeted. “We chose the ending we chose and we stand by it. But we loved the other version too.”
Many fans have pointed out that using the final minutes to pivot to Ted and Robin seemingly erased that season 9 was primarily focused on the days leading up to Robin and Barney’s wedding. The first 22 episodes of the final season — and countless episodes throughout the series — created the illusion that Robin and Barney were growing toward their future together. Instead, though, HIMYM broke them up at the last second for no tangible reason other than to stick to an ending that was chosen before viewers met — and started to root for — Robin and Barney.
Radnor later addressed his surprise at HIMYM sticking to the twist ending, telling Vulture in 2014, “[The creators] 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.”
Walking Back Barney and Robin’s Journey
Following one year of dating, Ted and Robin called it quits at the end of season 2 because they were growing apart. How I Met Your Mother continued to circle around the idea of Ted and Robin still being interested in each other — but their split set events in motion that built up to Robin and Barney’s relationship.
The pair, who were much more suited together, even got support from Harris.
“I’ve been actively trying to make that happen. I talked to the writers and I was pitching it, and I’d try to do little things in our scenes together where I gave her an extra look and an extra glance or would stare only at her during a whole scene just to see if anyone was noticing,” he told Fan Carpet in 2013. “We had good chemistry. And I love doing scenes with Cobie, she’s super fun. She’s Canadian, you know. They’re cool.”
Following ups and downs in their relationship, Robin and Barney finally found their way back to each other. As a result, the final season was dedicated to Robin and Barney’s wedding, which made it seem like their romance was endgame. Imagine our surprise when all those scenes that developed Robin and Barney as the couple to root for were discarded in favor of Robin’s unsuccessful relationship with Ted.
Smulders, meanwhile, argued in favor of Robin returning to Ted.
“People are going to feel how they’re going to feel about that. But I think that there’s been enough time,” she told UK’s Metro in May 2020 about how streaming shifted viewers’ thoughts on HIMYM. “Watching it as a streaming show now, you get a little bit more of a connection for other relationships. I think at the end of the series between Robin and Barney, that was sort of the relationship everyone was rooting for.”
The Disney star continued: “But when you go back to the very beginning of the show, it was Robin and Ted. So, I think that it’s a different way to watch the show now when you see it in its entirety.”