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Hollywood's Love of Surprises: Television's 10 Most Shocking Plot Twists in Recent Memory

Updated on October 5, 2017
heather92383 profile image

Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 10 years.

Mol and Pitt plot their next fatal move on "Boardwalk Empire."
Mol and Pitt plot their next fatal move on "Boardwalk Empire." | Source
Hall and Carpenter try to catch another serial killer on "Dexter."
Hall and Carpenter try to catch another serial killer on "Dexter." | Source
Buscemi escapes justice narrowly on "Boardwalk Empire."
Buscemi escapes justice narrowly on "Boardwalk Empire." | Source
Hall bonds with his son on "Dexter."
Hall bonds with his son on "Dexter." | Source
Margulies tries to stand on her own in "The Good Wife."
Margulies tries to stand on her own in "The Good Wife." | Source
Charles and Margulies try to keep their attraction hidden on "The Good Wife."
Charles and Margulies try to keep their attraction hidden on "The Good Wife." | Source
Will Britton's new baby make her happy or kill her in "American Horror Story"?
Will Britton's new baby make her happy or kill her in "American Horror Story"? | Source
Farmiga fights to keep a deadly secret from McDermott on "American Horror Story."
Farmiga fights to keep a deadly secret from McDermott on "American Horror Story." | Source
The fight for supremacy begins on "Game of Thrones."
The fight for supremacy begins on "Game of Thrones." | Source
Bean's leading man couldn't fight fate on "Game of Thrones."
Bean's leading man couldn't fight fate on "Game of Thrones." | Source
Sutherland embraced his fugitive fate after multiple tragedies on "24."
Sutherland embraced his fugitive fate after multiple tragedies on "24." | Source
The girls on Wisteria Lane work overtime to cover their tracks on "Desperate Housewives."
The girls on Wisteria Lane work overtime to cover their tracks on "Desperate Housewives." | Source
The cast of "Nip/Tuck" says goodbye after one last meal.
The cast of "Nip/Tuck" says goodbye after one last meal. | Source
Fox tells his island friends to leave him behind on "Lost."
Fox tells his island friends to leave him behind on "Lost." | Source
Fox's flawed hero closed the series finale of "Lost" by sacrificing himself.
Fox's flawed hero closed the series finale of "Lost" by sacrificing himself. | Source
Pompeo comforts a patient on "Grey's Anatomy."
Pompeo comforts a patient on "Grey's Anatomy." | Source
Dempsey examines his competition on "Grey's Anatomy."
Dempsey examines his competition on "Grey's Anatomy." | Source


When it comes to television shows, audiences want to be entertained each week and have a reason for seeing their favorite characters making a mess out of their perfectly fictional lives. It makes viewers escape from the daily 40 hour grind that simply numbs everyone to its core. Viewers want a valid excuse to escape the mundane and enter a world very different from their own. It could be the glitz of the Hamptons (Revenge) or the sinful Las Vegas (CSI). They just need a reason to tune in.

What the writers have to do is challenge their loyal viewers through plot shock treatment which could push closer or further away from making their shows appointment television. It's those plot twists that tend to make or break a show very early on. ("Who Shot JR" versus "Bobby's return from the dead via the shower" on Dallas is a prime example of good and bad plot twists.) If a show goes too far, the twist is often considered a shark jumping moment where a program can never recover. It's hard to say whether Rosalind Shays' (Diana Muldaur) fatal fall down an elevator shaft was the beginning of the end for L.A. Law, but it was still memorable nonetheless. Here are a list of ten shows with shocking plot twists that for better or worse made their respective shows watercooler worthy conversation at work. Read on to see if you agree or disagree.

Game of Thrones (2011-present)- Many fans of the George R.R. Martin books tuned in eagerly to see if HBO was going to respect the source material and they weren't disappointment. The first season was chock full of Martin's most memorable characters, such as Ned Stark (Sean Bean) who was a principled family man on a quest for the truth. Unfortunately, his trust in the wrong people put him and his family in a difficult position. He also ended up poised to be executed for his "crimes of treason." Instead of saving him, HBO decided to stick with Martin's book and allowed the popular hero to be beheaded towards the end of the season. Seeing Stark get beheaded was shocking for the cast as well as the audience, but it made people intrigued to see what will happen next come season two and who would be the next to die.

Dexter (2006-present)- Okay, many fans of the Showtime hit already know what plot shocker is going to be mentioned. In the season four finale, serial killer/family man Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) had vanquished his latest prey Trinity (John Lithgow) and was poised to fix his damaged marriage to his wife Rita (Julie Benz). Instead, Dexter came home to find her dead in the bathtub and their son Harrison crying by her side. The image was haunting as the end credits came up and made audiences wonder what would happen next. Unfortunately, the show had its work cut out for them. Season four was such a stellar year with Hall and Lithgow in a battle of wits that was such a gamechanger that every future villain paled in comparison. Seasons five and six were decent efforts, but Dexter is starting to show signs of its creative age. Hopefully, the next season will shake things up once again, but not with a possible Debra/Dexter pairing. That would be a step in the wrong direction.

The Good Wife (2009-present)- The popular CBS drama showcased the growing sexual tension between Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and her boss Will (Josh Charles). The relationship had multiple roadblocks (mainly the employer/employee complication and her husband Peter). During the two season finale, Alicia finally kicked her cheating hubby (Chris Noth) out after one last affair was revealed. Never mess with a scorned wife and you'll regret it. Next, she launched into a passionate affair with Will that carried over into season two. Unfortunately, the Will/Alicia pairing too early into the series could prove to be its undoing down the line. A happy good wife is a boring one. Let's hope that Alicia's happiness won't be everlasting just yet.

Grey's Anatomy (2005-present)- By the end of Grey's sixth season, the show was on creative life support with too many romantic complications and the cast's apparent lack of interest in the show. (Katherine Heigl was the latest one to exit after she expressed her unhappiness so openly at the time.) All it took was a hospital shooting in the two part season finale to change things for the better. Lives were at stake and marriages were tested (Meredith and Derek's). All of the finale drama transferred over into season seven and even made the current season (the show's eighth) still interesting. Hopefully, the show can on telling stories. Rumors of multiple cast members exiting could put a damper on things. Let's hope not.

Boardwalk Empire (2010-present)- After two seasons, the HBO show has proven to be just as wildly entertaining and unpredictable as Game of Thrones. No one was safe from the law or even death. Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and former protégé Jimmy (Michael Pitt) were engaged in a battle for supremacy over Atlantic City. Nucky was poised to go to jail, until Jimmy saved him at the last possible moment. It appeared that all was forgiven on the surface. In reality, Nucky couldn't forget or forgive Jimmy's muliple betrayals and ended killing him, which ended the feud once and for all. It's to say what season three will be like without young Jimmy, but it's still definitely going to be an Empire worth watching.

Desperate Housewives (2004-present)- The ABC sudser had a great first season and a mostly miss-worthy run in its seven seasons. The show's gamechanger came at the end of season four when the show flashed forward five years and showed how the women of Wisteria Lane changed. Bree (Marcia Cross) was a business woman and Susan (Teri Hatcher) was divorced from Mike (James Denton). The time jump made season five its best, but it also made the past three seasons disappointing in comparison. The glaring absence of Nicolette Sheridan and her lackluster replacement in Vanessa Williams trying to fill her wicked shoes. Let's hope that the final season will right some past wrongs and allow the girls on the Lane to retire gracefully.

24 (2001-2010)- The first season of the popular Fox drama followed CTU Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as he went to extremes to catch terrorists. His family was also caught up in the drama and were actually kidnapped by a few on multiple points of the season. It appeared that in the finale that Jack was going to be able to walk into the sunset with his family. Sadly, that wasn't the case. In the final moments, Jack found his wife (Leslie Hope) dead after being killed by his former lover/traitor Nina (Sarah Clarke). It was hearbreaking for the hero not to get everything he wanted. This became a growing trend for Jack as he watched multiple loved ones suffer at the hands of his dangerous job. Some seasons were best left forgotten (seasons three and six) but the show was still worth watching regardless.

Lost (2004-2010)- In terms of plot twists, this popular ABC show was full of them. Each week had more twists and turns that made viewers feel like human pretzels. Depending on the viewer, the biggest plot twist of all was that it could be open to different interpretations. Some could believe that the castaways were dead the whole time, while others believed differently. The final season gave hints that this was a possibility, which made sense over the course of the entire series. The show ended on a creative high note, but the reaction is a different story. Some viewers loved it, while others felt cheated. Lost's ending will still be talked about either way for years to come.

American Horror Story (2011-present)- The first season of the FX hit has been full of so many surprises, but the biggest was that the reveal that the Harmons' daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) actually didn't survive her suicide attempt from weeks earlier. Her undead boyfriend Tate (Evan Peters) hid her body in an effort to protect her and her parents. The surprise definitely made audiences jump out of their skin. The other curveball was the death of Violet's mother Vivien (Connie Britton) after giving birth to her boyfriend's baby. The show's latest death of a major character was overkill and left only two cast members (Dylan McDermott and Jessica Lange) as the only living characters. Story should've either killed off Violet or Vivien. Not both. Hopefully, this plot twist won't be bite the show in the butt later on.

Nip/Tuck (2003-2010)- FX's infamous plastic surgery drama, which was created by Ryan Murphy (Glee and American Horror Story), helped launch the network into appointment television along with The Shield and Rescue Me. Nip was famous for pushing boundaries, such as a serial slasher and dangerous mobsters. It was the triangle between Sean (Dylan Walsh), Christian (Julian McMahon) and Julia (Joely Richardson) that provided the biggest twists. The reveal that Matt (Jon Hensley) was Christian's son instead of Sean's gave season two some major weight and continual drama for the rest of the series, which often went too far in later years. Watch the first two seasons and forget about the rest. Prepare to be amazed.

In the end, shows are made not just by plot twists. If that was the case, routinely calm storylines would be thrown by the wayside and reality television would be more pointless than it is now. In order for a show to succeed, it's best to choose your plot twists wisely because one too many could force viewers away in droves. (House and Six Feet Under). The best way to handle a major plot twist is to reserve initial judgment and just see how it plays out before flipping out. Trusting the writers to play the story right could be rewarding if it is written perfectly. If not, say goodbye to their TV credibility for good.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wonderful hub!! Dexter is my all-time favourite. Desperate Housewife was very engaging and funny in a dark sort of way :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Please change the Lost twist. That's not what happened.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Saying the big twist was they all died during the plane crash is so unbelievably wrong it's laughable. Whatever happened, happened

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Lost ending does not reveal they all died in the plane crash. All the events on the island and throughout the whole series were real. The characters eventually die as will everyone, and they meet up in "purgatory" with those who were most important to them. The purgatory scenes are shown intertwined with the final events on the island.

    • Robin Oatley profile image

      Robin Oatley 

      7 years ago

      Great hub!

      From this list, 24 and AHS are definitely my favorites. In just a couple of weeks, AHS has developed into a show that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Another show that really worked for me is Homeland on Showtime, sadly the season ended this Sunday. I'm really looking forward to the next season, though!

      Voting up and interesting!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Very good, entertaining hub, though we don't get some of these shows in the UK yet; this gave me something to look forward to! Really great photos too.

    • Slightly Bonkers profile image

      Slightly Bonkers 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Very good hub. Loving Dexter and following also Game of Thrones. However Prison Break was very good too with the plots. It was amazing how they turned the bad into the good and vice versa.. so you kept looking waiting for what would happen next. One of the best plots happen in the first and 2nd season in my opinion :)

    • carcamping profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub! I would have included House and the suicide of one of his assistants or the original shocker that he didn't actually do the drugs and Cuddy was there for him. I think now the show has gone beyond its life span and should have stopped 2 seasons ago. In real life, no hospital would let him in the doors, regardless of his talent or briliance.

    • hpedneau profile image

      Holly Pedneau 

      7 years ago from Princeton, West Virginia

      Great hub! I recently watched all 6 seasons of Lost and am watching American Horror Story. I absolutely loved Lost, however I agree with your points on FX's new series. Since they've already announced there will be a Season 2 it will be interested to see what direction they take the show.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      This was a great hub. I haven't seen many of these shows but from what I know about them, I agree with what you wrote. Grey's Anatomy to me seems a lot like Glee, it started strong but got too caught up in guest stars and plot twists it left the audience hungry for a do-over. I really liked reading this hub !


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