How I Met Your Mother Scenes That Left Fans In Tears
Over the course of nine seasons starting from 2005, “How I Met Your Mother” gave the world a new set of friends to root for who were in their twenties, living in New York, and trying to find love. Much like “Friends” that came before it and which it was frequently compared to, “How I Met Your Mother” was a meditation on the fine line between friendship and romance when it comes to young men and women searching for their place in the world.
This theme was best encapsulated in the emotional journey of the main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), a hopeless romantic who wanted more than anything else to settle down with the woman of his dreams. That does end up happening, and the show is Ted looking back on his life and telling his children about the many wild adventures he embarked on with his friends in his quest to find and marry their mother.
While technically a comedy, “How I Met Your Mother” was excellent at infusing the funniest episodes with a level of poignancy that even the best dramas might struggle to achieve. There are real moments of sadness and tragedy to be found in the show, which refuses to sugarcoat the journey of the main group of friends as they get their hearts broken again and again. Here are 14 such instances when “How I Met Your Mother” got all too real for fans. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Stella leaves Ted at the altar
The biggest mystery of “How I Met Your Mother” was always the identity of the “Mother” in the show’s title, the woman Ted ends up starting a family with. Initially it seemed Robin (Cobie Smulders) was that woman, until it was revealed that she was “Aunt Robin” to Ted’s future kids.
Then in Season 3, we meet Stella (Sarah Chalke), a dermatologist that Ted is extremely attracted to. Stella and Ted get some of the best romantic moments in the entire show, including the iconic “two-minute date” and when Ted proposed to Stella using a toy kangaroo. The chemistry between Radnor and Chalke also really helped sell the fact that their two characters were deeply compatible and truly cared about each other.
Everything seemed set for Stella to be revealed to be the “Mother” after her marriage to Ted. But “Shelter Island” (Season 4, Episode 5) dropped a bombshell when Stella left Ted at the altar to get back together with her ex-boyfriend. It was a gut-wrenching moment for the audience to see Ted, who was already obsessing over his lingering feelings for Robin, being so thoroughly abandoned by the woman who seemed like she could have been the one.
Ted realizes he has missed the moment
Much of Ted’s preoccupation throughout the show is finding and marrying the woman of his dreams. But, occasionally, Ted is also reminded of how lucky he is to have friends whose company he genuinely enjoys and who stand with him through thick and thin. The most poignant reminder of this occurs in “The Time Travelers” (Season 8, Episode 20).
By that time, the dynamic of the group had changed irrevocably. Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) were new parents. Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin were about to get married. One night, Ted couldn’t decide between turning in early to get ready for a lecture the next day, going to watch a show of “Robots vs. Wrestlers: Legends” with Barney, or trying to start a new relationship with the Coat Check Girl. While Ted is sitting at the bar torn with indecision, he slowly comes to realize that whatever he decides to do doesn’t matter anyway — because that moment had already occurred five years ago, and all Ted had left was its memory.
Future Ted admits that what he should have done that night was go visit his old apartment, and spend time with his friends before they all drifted apart. But the moment that makes audiences tear up is when Ted imagines going to meet the “Mother” that night to inform her how in 45 days time they are going to find each other and fall in love.
Lily breaks up with Marshall
Lily and Marshall are the stuff that dream couples are made of. The two are almost frighteningly in sync and wholeheartedly love and support each other when it comes to most things. But in keeping with “How I Met Your Mother’s” theme of exploring the worst in the best of relationships, Lily and Marshall faced some tough times, like in “Come On” (Season 1, Episode 22).
For some time, Lily had started to feel weighed down by her engagement with Marshall. She had begun to wonder if she had missed out on opportunities because of being tied down to her fiance. The fact that Lily had been accepted into an art fellowship in San Francisco proves the flashpoint, as Marshall and Lily get into a heated argument about whether she should miss the opportunity in favor of their wedding.
This results in one of the saddest endings in the show’s history. Ted walks back home amidst pouring rain to see Marshall sitting alone on the front steps of their apartment building. The completely soaked Marshall tries to smile through his tears as he holds up the engagement ring that Lily had returned to him for Ted to see. All Ted can do is silently sit next to Marshall in the rain and put his arm around his devastated friend.
Barney couldn't forgive his dad
In the hands of a lesser actor, Barney Stinson could have been a thoroughly despicable character — a legitimate psychopath who lies and cheats ruthlessly in his quest to bed every woman on the planet in some of “How I Met Your Mother”‘s best running gags. But thanks to the humanity that Neil Patrick Harris imbued his character with, Barney comes across as a wounded child on the inside, struggling to cope with relationship issues while never finding true happiness.
One of the most stark reminders of this vulnerable side to Barney is seen in “Legendaddy” (Season 6, Episode 19). Barney comes face-to-face with Jerry (John Lithgow), his long-lost biological father. At first, Barney tries to pretend Jerry is as much of a suave womanizer as himself. When it is revealed that Jerry is an ordinary family man who lives in the suburbs, Barney claims he wants nothing to do with such a “lame” guy.
In the end, Jerry finds Barney trying to take away the basketball hoop from his backyard. As Barney struggles with the hoop, his real emotions finally surge to the surface as he demands of Jerry, “If you were going to be some lame suburban dad, why couldn’t you have been that for me?” The deep pain in Barney’s face and voice is completely removed from his usual debonair persona, and the audience really feels the deep loss he experienced over growing up without a father.
Lily begs Marshall to take her back
Even though “How I Met Your Mother” was about Ted meeting his ideal woman, the frequently-acknowledged “It” couple of the show was Lily and Marshall. That was why it was all the more shocking when Lily broke off her engagement with Marshall at the end of the first season to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist.
Season 2 saw Ted and the others trying to help Marshall get over the fact that his nine-year relationship with Lily was really over. In “The Scorpion and the Toad” (Season 2, Episode 2), Lily comes back from her art program. She admits to Marshall that she had made a mistake by breaking up with him and tearfully begs them to get back together.
But Marshall, who is usually never able to refuse Lily anything, tells her, “Three months ago, you broke my heart. So, no. No, we can’t get back together.” It was a devastating moment for fans of the pairing, and even though Lily and Marshall eventually did get back together, the incident continued to cast a shadow on their relationship for years at the back of their minds.
Robin finds out she cannot conceive
Robin Scherbatsky was usually depicted as the ultimate “tomboy.” She hated emotional drama, found it difficult to make friends with women, loved guns and cigars, and also found it difficult to make romantic commitments. Additionally, Robin had a rather strong dislike of children, and even vowed that she would never have children of her own.
Those words came back to haunt Robin in a brutal manner in “Symphony of Illumination” (Season 7, Episode 12). The episode starts with “future” Robin telling her 2 kids about the time she had a pregnancy scare and thought she had been knocked up by Barney. A visit to the doctor confirms that Robin is not actually pregnant. But she also finds out that it is biologically impossible for her to ever have children.
The rest of the episode sees Robin struggling to deal with the news, and lashing out at Ted when he tries to find out the reason for her mental disturbance. In the end, it is revealed that the children Robin was speaking to were figments of her imagination, and in reality she had been sitting alone, crying on a park bench on a snowy night while trying to come to terms with the fact that she will never have children of her own.
Barney holds his daughter for the first time
If dodging romantic commitments was a sport, Barney would win a gold medal every year. The character is shown to have a pathological need to keep women at arm’s length emotionally while at the same time obsessively scheming and plotting to get into their pants. Robin was one of the very few women Barney was ever really serious about, and even their marriage did not last more than 3 years.
In the series finale, “Last Forever,” Barney finds out that a girl he had a one night stand with is pregnant. Throughout the pregnancy, Barney holds out hope that he is not actually the biological father of the child and will be able to go back to his carefree bachelor days somehow. But all that changes when the nurse brings Barney’s newborn daughter and places her in his arms.
In a scene which perfectly showcases why Neil Patrick Harris is a five-time Emmy award winner, we see Barney’s whole life turn upside down in mere seconds after gazing down at the face of his new daughter. As Barney says in a choking voice, “You are the love of my life. Everything that I have, everything that I am, is yours. Forever,” audiences know that the eternal bachelor has finally found the one female that he will devote the rest of his life to.
Robin shakes her head at Barney
Ted and Robin were set up from the start of “How I Met Your Mother” as the main romantic pairing, the ones who the audiences should root for to get together even though fate always seemed to hold them apart. And yet, at some point, completely unexpectedly, Robin started having serious feelings for Barney (of all people), and even more unexpectedly, he seemed to feel the same way.
In “Tick Tick Tick” (Season 7, Episode 10), Robin was dating Kevin (Kal Penn), while Barney was in a relationship with Nora (Nazanin Boniadi). But the two still had lingering feelings for each other and ended up sleeping together. Robin and Barney agree to tell Kevin and Nora about their infidelity and break up with their respective partners so they can give their relationship another shot.
After Barney breaks up with Nora, he arrives at MacLaren’s pub to wait for Robin. When she arrives, Barney is stricken to see she is still with Kevin. In a moment that seems to last forever, Barney waits for a sign from Robin regarding her intentions. Robin simply shakes her head at him, wordlessly telling Barney she is still with Kevin. Although clearly devastated, Barney manages to finish his drink and excuse himself from the group so he can have space to wrestle with his feelings alone.
The foreshadowing of the death of the Mother
Since the character of the “Mother” in the show’s title had been hyped up for eight seasons, many wondered whether she would be able to live up to the expectations once the Mother actually showed up. But right from her initial appearance in the finale episode of Season 8, Cristin Milioti as Tracy McConnell, Ted’s future wife, felt like she had always belonged with the rest of the main cast.
In the final season, audiences find out more about Tracy and the love she shares not just with Ted but the rest of the main gang as well. And yet, the show had also been providing heartbreaking clues that Tracy was not going to be around for long, like Ted using the past tense while talking about their mother to his future children or the gravestone that simply reads “Mother” near the grave of Marshall’s father.
But possibly the most devastating clue is provided in “Vesuvius” (Season 9, Episode 19). Tracy and Ted are sitting talking about whether or not Robin’s mother was going to attend her wedding. Tracy exclaims, “Oh, come on, of course she did, what mother misses her own daughter’s wedding.” In response, Ted’s eyes fill with tears as he gazes at his wife, knowing that Tracy herself will not live long enough to watch her daughter get married.
Lily is tired of being a mom
“How I Met Your Mother” made Marshall and Lily parents in Season 7. Baby Marvin was born in “The Magician’s Code – Part One” (Season 7, Episode 23) and quickly became an important aspect of the lives of his parents and their best friends. Many future episodes had plotlines relating to Marvin, including a heartbreaking one in “Band or DJ” (Season 8, Episode 13).
While Lily had always doted on her son, she was also a school teacher who spent her entire day dealing with little children. In a burst of honesty, Lily confesses to Ted that sometimes she wished she wasn’t a mom. Growing more emotional, Lily explains that even though she loves Marvin, there was a time when art used to be her whole life, and now it’s been months since she’s been able to even pick up a brush.
The scene has often been praised for its stinging honesty with regards to being a new parent, as Lily states, “It never lets up. It’s just really, really hard.” After that, even though Lily continues being a loving and supportive mother to Marvin, the audience is always aware of the things that she has had to sacrifice as a person to make room for the new little human in her life.
Marshall finds out about his dad
It was one of the saddest moments in sitcom history. In “Bad News” (Season 6, Episode 13), Marshall spends the whole episode worrying that he is the reason Lily is not able to get pregnant. When some medical tests confirm that Marshall is, in fact, not infertile, he rushes to phone his dad to tell him the good news. But while the phone rings, Lily arrives and tells Marshall that his father had died from a heart attack.
The look on Jason Segel’s face is unlike any other emotion his character had shown before. From blank shock, to struggling to control his feelings as he hugs Lily, to the final, broken, “I’m not ready for this,” that Marshall mutters at the end, everything about the scene feels completely raw and real. And that is because it mostly was.
While talking about the episode and that scene in particular, Segel revealed that the producers of the show had written in the script that Lily would tell Marshall she was pregnant, to keep the death of Marshall’s father a secret from the actor. “I had no idea what [Alyson Hannigan] was going to say to me,” Segel explained to IGN. “I knew the overall premise, but she came out and she was already crying and it was so heartbreaking and it made acting very easy. All I had to do was react in that scene. I didn’t have to dig very deep.”
Marshall remembers his dad
While Marshall getting the news of his father’s death was one of the saddest moments on television, what followed afterward was no picnic either. Marshall had to go home to Minnesota to arrange for his dad’s funeral. And there he stayed for many days afterward, ostensibly to help his family, but really because he was struggling to deal with his father’s death.
In “Desperation Day” (Season 6, Episode 16), Marshall explains to Ted that his father had always been the man he looked up to and hoped to be like. Marshall recalled how safe he felt coming home in a car through the woods during pitch black nights, just because his father was driving them. Marshall was afraid that without his father around to guide him, he would not be able to be as good a man and a father anymore. But in the end, Marshall realizes he can’t hide in Minnesota forever.
He tells Ted they need to get back to New York and deal with their lives like adults. On the way back that night, driving through hail and snow, Marshall imagines the ghost of his father sitting in the back and telling him, “Here’s a secret. I couldn’t see worth a damn, either, buddy. I just kept driving forward, hoping for the best.” With that, Marshall understood that the memory of his father will always be at his side to guide and encourage him.
The whole of “How I Met Your Mother” was about Ted finally getting together with the love of his life, Tracy. But the final episode of “HIMYM” revealed that Ted and Tracy’s time together was not very long. A few years after meeting, dating, and finally getting married, Tracy passes away due to some undisclosed illness.
The shock for the audience is accentuated by the fact that Ted and his children are already aware of Tracy’s passing. It turns out that the many misadventures Ted had in his youth trying to find the perfect woman made him realize all the more clearly how special Tracy was, and how he needed to love her every second of every day. As Ted explained to his children, “I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick.”
In a few gut wrenching scenes, we see Ted saying his goodbyes to Tracy in the hospital, where the love between them had not diminished in the slightest. Despite only being around for a single season, Tracy was able to carve out a place in the hearts of the fans of the show, so much so that there was great outrage from some quarters when she died, and when Ted did eventually end up with Robin.
The gang drifts apart
If there is one rather depressing theme that runs through the whole of “How I Met Your Mother,” it is that nothing good ever truly lasts, and that is why it is important to cherish the good moments while you have them. The entire show is Ted’s meditation on the best years of his life when he was surrounded by close friends and met Tracy, the love of his life.
But as the series finale “Last Forever – Part 2” shows, even the love that the members of the group shared for each other could not withstand the march of time. Three years after Robin and Barney’s wedding, they got divorced. As a result, Robin moved away from New York and started seeing less and less of her old friends.
Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily were busy raising their own family. Ted was spending more and more time with Tracy. Barney was resolutely sticking to his bachelor ways until the birth of his own daughter made him strike out on a completely new, more responsible path. In the end, it is saddening to consider that a necessary part of that iconic gang of friends growing as individuals was breaking up their bonds of friendship and moving on from each other.