10 Best TV Pilot Cliffhangers Ever

These cliffhangers really kept us all watching.

The Haunting Of Hill House

There are no guarantees in the world of Television. Whereas movies face a somewhat binary outcome when it comes to their success (i.e. succeed or fail), television shows are forced to gamble on the bankability of a project that could last years. All the while they have to hook viewers in, keep old viewers on board and generally run the whole affair like a giant, constant, well-oiled machine.

Without a doubt, the hardest part of this process is getting audiences on board with your show from the get-go. Seriously, there’s a reason why Netflix has a whole section dedicated to ‘Watch Again’, as the all-powerful algorithm knows you prefer familiar comforts over new, potentially disappointing, experiences.

One ingenious method screenwriters use to make sure you, the audience, click ‘Next Episode’ is the deployment of a good old-fashioned cliffhanger. Unlike the usual method of dropping a bombshell at the end of a movie or a twist at the culmination of a show’s season, this sneaky cliffhanger is instead used at the end of TV show pilots as an obvious but effective way to keep us watching. What follows are ten TV shows that utilised this trope to devastating effect.

10. Ratched - Brotherly Love

The Haunting Of Hill House

Beginning with a softer cliffhanger here, the events of Ratched’s opening episode are clear to show us some kind of connection between the titular evil nurse and serial killer Edmund Tolleson. The exact nature of this relationship is left rather ambiguous, however.

The setup for this Ryan Murphy clanger involves the aforementioned Tolleson brutally murdering four priests and our ‘hero’ Nurse Ratched faking her way into a nursing position at the psychiatric hospital that contains him.

Along the way, we see Ratched enjoy a peach, some oysters, a bit of casual homophobia and a demonstration of a lobotomy. It’s this last part she enjoys a little too much and gives hints at what’s to come.

With one of Tolleson’s survivors, Father Andrews, seemingly ready to give enough evidence to get him executed, Ratched takes matters into her own hands; drugging and lobotomizing the priest. It’s during this wince-inducing scene we learn that Ratched is actually Tolleson’s sister. Gasp!

We even get a secondary reveal that Tolleson might not have been crazy, but enacting righteous vengeance. The only way to know for sure was to keep on watching.


Total goblin. Quit the food and beverage industry after ten years to try my hand at writing nonsense online. I have a huge passion for film, television, cats, art, tattoos, food, anarchy and classic literature (mainly Dune). Currently based at my mum's house, I can be best reached on Instagram (@charlie_marx) where I attempt to soothe my mental health with memes.