How I Met Your Mother ending, explained (and lightly defended)

The Mother, the Robin of it all, and the ending's commendable risks.
CBS 2013 Upfront Presentation
CBS 2013 Upfront Presentation / Ben Gabbe/GettyImages

Believe it or not, it's been 10 years since How I Met Your Mother aired its final episode. One of the most popular and funniest modern sitcoms with a rich mythology about a man retelling the story of how he met his wife and the mother of his children came to an end not with a fizzle but with a bang. The issue with that bang? Not everyone appreciated how loudly it rang.

From the pilot episode, How I Met Your Mother promised to reveal the identity of The Mother and complete the winding story Ted tells his two children about how they came into each other's lives. Obviously, the series made good on that promise, but the exact details of the reveals and the twist ending sunk the enthusiasm of fans faster than a stone dropped in the ocean.

Since all nine seasons of the sitcom have once again found their way onto Netflix for a decade-later revisiting by fans, lots of us are likely about to reengage and reevaluate the divisive series ending for the first time since 2014. If you're just starting your rewatch, or you're checking out the modern classic sitcom for the first time, here's an explainer and a slight defense of the series finale.

Tracy McConnell is The Mother

The identity of The Mother was first revealed in the final moments of the How I Met Your Mother season 8 finale. Viewers caught a glimpse of Cristin Milioti as The Mother for the first time with her yellow umbrella at the train station. The reveal had been teased for the episode, though any guesses from fans were thrown out the window as The Mother was a character we'd never met.

The Mother's name is later revealed in the series finale to be Tracy McConnell, the same initials as Ted Mosby, though Tracy was teased as The Mother's name in the season 1 episode "Belly Full of Turkey." Ted and Tracy have two children, Penny (born 2015) and Luke (born 2017), and the couple doesn't get married until 2020, though they'd gotten engaged five years earlier. Ultimately, Tracy passes away in 2024 from an unnamed illness, a twist that angered many fans.

Robin ends up with Barney... and then Ted

Because the entirety of the ninth and final season takes place during Barney and Robin's wedding weekend, you would assume that Robin ends up with Barney. Well, that's what we all thought while watching the final season back in 2013 and 2014. But when the series finale aired, we were all shocked to learn a number of changes in the future, including Barney and Robin's marriage.

In the broadcast version of the series finale, Barney and Robin get divorced in 2016. She drifts away from the group due to Barney reverting back to his typical behavior and Ted being with Tracy. By 2030, Robin has become the successful news anchor she's always wanted to be, and with the prompting of his children, Ted stands outside her apartment with the blue French horn, suggesting they end up together. (In the DVD alternate ending, Tracy doesn't die and Barney and Robin get back together.)

The ending took a risk that sort of paid off

Personally, when I watched the series finale 10 years ago, I didn't mind it as much as most fans and critics. The entire series had pretty much been about Ted being down bad for Robin, so it made sense that his life with Tracy was a bit muted in season 9 to tee up him ending up with Robin. Was it the ending I would have chosen? No.

How I Met Your Mother painted a picture of Ted literally pining for true, all-encompassing love. He wanted to find the love of his life. And we heard monologue after monologue about it. In a sense, he did find that love twice: with Tracy and Robin. But the problem is, we didn't see enough of it with Tracy to deeply emotionally invest, and maybe we saw too much with Robin. Something about the distribution of time and chemistry between each woman makes the ending feel... oddly insignificant?

The entire final season taking place over a singular weekend (though with an abundance of jumps through time) was an ambitious undertaking that, hindsight being 20/20, probably shouldn't have happened. Slowing down the narrative only ended up speeding up and decreasing our time with Tracy. But when we do grow to love her as one of the gang, she dies. It's a lot to ask of an audience who had been locked into this mythology for almost a decade at this point.

I don't think anyone saw any of How I Met Your Mother's twists coming. We'd been hanging on every yellow umbrella and vague reference to The Mother since 2005. It's a one-of-a-kind sitcom that was able to operate like Lost. No one would have expected The Mother would be a whole new character we'd never met, and we wouldn't have seen the truly surprising ending coming either.

Love it or hate it, you have to applaud How I Met Your Mother for taking risks with its ending. On the one hand, they could have played it safe and aired the alternate ending or some other ending that also eschewed Tracy's death and Ted going after Robin. But on the other, the creators opted to do something memorable and take a big, hopelessly romantic swing, and we're still talking about it 10 years later. For the wrong reasons maybe, but we're still talking about it.

All nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother are currently available on Netflix.