While How I Met Your Mother has been off the air for more than seven years now, many fans still discuss the television series’ polarizing ending.
After many up’s and down’s through the more than 200 episodes, fans expected a satisfying answer to how Ted Mosby, the show’s main character, met his children’s mother. What they got was a finish hailed as controversial, to put it lightly. For some, How I Met Your Mother sports the worst conclusion to a series in television history—despite Game of Thrones making a strong case more recently.
So kids, here’s both the real and alternate endings to How I Met Your Mother, and why so many fans prefer the latter.
Although it is established early on in the series that Robin, Ted’s earliest romantic interest, is not the mother of Ted’s children—he refers to her as ‘Aunt Robin’ to his children several times—Ted and Robin are romantically involved for years at various points. Despite that, Robin marries Ted’s best friend Barney in a final season that was, until the final two episodes, entirely centered on the last few days before Barney and Robin’s wedding.
In “Last Forever,” the season’s double-episode series finale, it is revealed that Ted married a woman named Tracy, the bass player at Barney and Robin’s wedding. In one of the final flashbacks of the series, Ted, who initially decides not to approach Tracy at a train station, finally speaks with her and discovers she is someone he had unknowingly encountered or narrowly missed on multiple occasions. That includes when Ted mistakenly taught the wrong college course, or when he left his umbrella at an ex-girlfriend’s house.
After Tracy is revealed as the unknown mother that fans had been waiting for, present-day Ted says that Tracy actually died after an illness in 2024. Six years later, when Ted is telling his kids Penny and Luke this story, they tell their father that he is obviously still attracted to Aunt Robin and to ask her out. Ted considers, as Robin is now divorced from Barney after three years of marriage.
Finally at his children’s behest, Ted recreates much of the very first date he had with Robin, including stealing the blue French horn that he presented to her when they first met. Robin and Ted smile at one another as the screen fades to black.
As expected, fans did not respond well to the televised series finale. In response, an alternate ending was produced for the ninth season’s DVD. Much of the same footage is used in the alternate ending, but unlike the real ending, which Josh Radnor narrates, Bob Saget narrates the alternative with minor tweaks to the character’s lines.
While recounting many of the major points throughout the series, present-day Ted reveals Tracy is still alive and they are still together. Barney and Robin also nod to each other at Ted and Tracy’s wedding, possibly alluding to reconciliation.
Like the real ending, Ted eventually summons the courage to speak to Tracy at the train station and instantly falls in love with her after discovering all the missed opportunities he had to meet her in the past. Ted’s talk with his children concludes with a satisfying “and that kids, is how I met your mother.”
What did the cast think?
In a SpoilerTV poll, more than 50 percent of the 4,520 votes cast indicated the HIMYM series finale was ‘Awful,’ while less than 18 percent of voters said it was ‘Awesome.’ Over 20,000 people also signed an online petition to have CBS rewrite and reshoot the finale.
Radnor discussed the real ending and said that he had been told in the first season that Ted may get back together with Robin at the end, although he was fine with either conclusion. Neil Patrick Harris, who played Barney, said he was a “fan” of the real ending and that Barney’s “DNA made him pretty unable to maintain a long-term relationship.”
Alyson Hannigan, who played Lily, empathized with fans due to the relatively short amount of time they had to adjust to Tracy’s death and Ted pursuing Robin again.
“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],” Hannigan said in 2017. “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!’”
Fair or not, How I Met Your Mother will likely live on forever due to the divisive finale, joining the likes of Seinfeld, Dexter, and many more.