How I Met Your Mother was known for its laugh-out-loud humor, likable characters, and moments of compassion and friendship. However, one of the things that cemented its place in fans’ hearts was its ability to switch to deadly serious and tragic, even within the same episode as some of the gang’s crazy hijinks.
The show touched upon a lot of emotional territory, from break-ups, to bereavements, to loneliness, to people’s individual emotional demons and the brave face they put on to hide them. Some of these moments stood out so much, they are remembered years later by the fans whose hearts they broke.
Barney Walks Away From Nora
A less extravagant moment than many of the tear-jerking plot twists that How I Met Your Mother could show, but nonetheless one that affected many fans. After Barney Stinson has two happy dates with Robin’s coworker, Nora, the two discuss how they both want to settle down. This is a lie from the notoriously non-monogamous Barney, which he later confesses to Nora.
She walks away from him, but Barney later returns to a restaurant where she’s having brunch with her parents. He considers entering, apologizing to her, and charming her parents, but something in him—be it his nature, his fears about himself, or his guilt—leads him to walk away. It’s clear from both Barney and Nora’s expressions that they both want him there, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Fans found it a surprisingly real and poignant moment from the larger-than-life Barney.
Ted’s Loneliness In “The Time Travelers”
Many fans found Ted Mosby to be a somewhat boring protagonist compared to the other characters, often feeling he invited his own misfortunes, for he focused too much on destiny and love to truly flourish. However, in Season 8, Episode “The Time Travelers,” a wackier outing than normal where Ted and Barney talk to future versions of themselves, a plot twist tugs on viewers’ heartstrings.
The ‘present’ version of Barney tells Ted that what’s happening isn’t real, and Ted has been having the conversations of the episode with himself and imagining his friends, as they’re all busy. They’re looking after their children and planning their wedding, while Ted, who has always wanted those things, is alone.
Ted “Dumps” Barney
At the core of How I Met Your Mother, even more so than romantic relationships, are the friendships between the cast. One of the strongest is that of Ted and Barney. However, in Season 3’s “The Goat,” Ted confronts Barney about sleeping with Robin, Ted’s ex, after Barney has spent the entire episode trying to justify his actions or make it up to Ted.
Barney at first fears that Ted doesn’t want to be ‘bros’ anymore, but Ted one-ups him by saying he doesn’t want them to be friends anymore. The fact that Ted refers to him as ‘Uncle Barney’ to his children clues fans in that their friendship will repair, but the episode ends on Barney horrified, having lost one of the people he loves most in the world.
Stella Leaves Ted At The Altar
Ted’s romance with Stella occupies a large part of Seasons 3 and 4, and the episode “Shelter Island” has them agree to get married before either of them expects to. Once there, they disagree about inviting their respective exes, Robin and Stella’s ex-husband, Tony. Ted ends up being unable to cancel Robin’s invitation and brings Tony to the wedding so his and Stella’s daughter, Lucy, can be there.
Stella wants each of them to tell the other’s ex to leave, but Ted instead suggests he talks to Robin, and Stella talks to Tony. The end result is Stella leaving Ted a note saying that she’s left and is getting back together with Tony. Ted, who has wanted nothing more than to marry the love of his life, ends up jilted at the altar.
Lily Leaves Marshall & Heads To San Francisco
One of the earliest tearjerkers fans would experience in the show, the end of Season 1 of How I Met Your Mother is deliberately bittersweet. Ted spends the episode attempting to learn to Raindance in an unlikely scheme to get together with Robin, whilst Lily grapples with breaking off her engagement and taking an art fellowship in San Francisco.
Once Ted succeeds in his scheme, he returns to his building, only to see Marshal sitting outside it with his engagement ring. He reveals that Lily left, and is devastated.
Robin Talks To Her Future Kids
Infertility was one of the issues that How I Met Your Mother, much like Friends before it, was not afraid to discuss in frank and very real terms. The episode “Symphony of Illumination” opens unusually for the series, with Robin narrating to her children, rather than Ted narrating to his.
The episode concerns Robin believing that she is pregnant, but it’s revealed later that not only is she not pregnant, but she is also infertile. Viewers got to see a scene of Robin imagining her future children fading away, as she claims she doesn’t really want them anyway. It’s left unclear whether Robin does want children, but her being very aware that she has lost the choice itself left fans emotional.
Lily’s Dad’s Gambling Addiction
One of the incidents of father issues in the show is Lily’s distant relationship with her father, Mickey Aldrin. When she was a child, he was distant and more concerned with gambling and ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes than being a good father.
Season 8’s “Nannies,” however, shows that that wasn’t always the case. Mickey used to be more or less attached to Lily as a stay-at-home dad. It is only on her first day of school, when he found himself at a loose end before hometime, that he went to the racetrack, believing placing a bet once could be fun. Watching that, viewers knew they were seeing the beginning of an addiction that would nearly destroy his life and relationships.
The Mother’s Death
It took How I Met Your Mother nine seasons to introduce the titular mother, Tracy, but fans instantly warmed to her. She was a caring and funny character who nonetheless had her own flaws and demons, much like the cast themselves. Many viewers considered her excellently written, a good addition to the group, and were hoping to see how her life with Ted played out.
However, the finale (with some hints beforehand), revealed that Tracy died of a terminal illness, after only a few years of marriage to Ted. This left Ted heartbroken and had fans say goodbye to a beloved character long before they wanted to.
Barney Confronts His Father
When Barney finally meets his father, after being raised by a single mother, the result is cringe-comedy as he first tries to have his father live up to the legends of his earlier, rock-and-roll lifestyle, and then as he tries to emulate a twisted parody of family life when he goes for dinner.
His behavior is explained when he finally has a breakdown over his father, Jerome, being a “lame suburban dad.” All of Barney’s behavior had been trying to justify why his father had left him, and he hadn’t found any explanation.
Marshall’s Father Dies
Many of How I Met Your Mother’s most emotional moments come out of whiplash, and many of them involve relationships with parents. The death of Marvin Eriksen Sr., Marshall’s father, combines both of these. After an episode of hijinks involving a fertility sample, Marshall returns from the clinic to find Lily crying. When asked, she tells him that his father died of a heart attack after he left.
Fans were left stunned by the revelation, and by the acting of Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal, both perfectly selling sudden shock and grief with a brutal reality rarely matched on television.