Barney and Robin’s wedding. (Ron P. Jaffe/Fox)

Okay, let’s get the big question out of the way first, one that was looming before the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother” thanks to disturbing hints in recent episodes (and yes, SPOILERS abound ahead):

Has the mother been dead all along?

The answer: Yes. Yes, the mother has been dead all along.

That’s right — for the past nine seasons, Future Ted has been telling his two kids the story of how he met their mother. Turns out, Ted actually sat his kids down to tell them the story six years after the mother died of a long illness.

Believe it or not, that’s the less crazy part of the two-part bombshell that the creators dropped. The other is:

No, Ted’s soul mate was actually not his dead wife…because it was actually Robin this whole time. Yep, Ted’s longtime love interest is the woman that we were told way back in the pilot was not going to be Ted’s great love. She was just supposed to be his kids’ Aunt Robin.

And now: That was all a lie! Because in the last few minutes of the episode after Ted ends his epic tale (we’ll get to the details momentarily), he concludes to his son and daughter: “And that, kids, is how I met your mother.”

“No, I don’t buy it. That is not the reason you made us listen to this,” declares his daughter, Penny. “This is the story about how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin.”

What? No way — that would be ridiculous. Go on, Penny:

“You made us sit down and listen to the story about how you met Mom, yet Mom is hardly in the story,” Penny continues. “No — this is the story about how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin. And you’re thinking about asking her out and you want to know if we’re okay with it.”

Ted’s son Luke chimes in, saying that Ted and Aunt Robin are so obvious whenever they hang out.

“You totally totally totally have the hots for Aunt Robin,” Penny adds. They go on to say that “Mom” has been gone for six years, so it’s time for Dad to move on, and that they adore Aunt Robin. It wouldn’t be weird at all.

With this information, Ted doesn’t even pretend to hesitate. “What, I just call her up on the phone and ask her out on a date?” he says.

“Yes!” the kids yell.

“And that’s something you guys would want?” he asks.

“Yes!” they yell again. They love Aunt Robin.

“Alright,” Ted says. “I’ll give her a call.” He starts to dial a phone and then hangs up.

“Or…” he says mischievously.

Cut to Robin (with a spectacularly bad wig) in her apartment, when she’s alerted by a front-door security cam (it is the year 2030, after all) that there’s someone outside. It’s Ted — waiting with a blue French horn (inside joke from the pilot), gazing up at the door adoringly. Robin smiles. Apparently, they are in love, and their story is the one that’s really happily ever after. Not Ted and the mother that the whole show was based on. The end.

So … how are the diehard fans — who were led to believe nine years ago that Ted and Robin do not end up together, and were forced to sit through years and years of Ted and Robin pining for each other with unhappy results — going to react that they were tricked?

[Related: How the finale betrayed the series’ ideals]

Twitter shows that reaction was all over the place. Some people feel cheated, as though they wasted their time. Others are okay with it and wanted Ted and Robin to be together all along.

No matter which way you feel, we’re pretty sure this will go down as one of the more divisive finales in TV history.

It was as though the creators and writers were gearing up for knowing that the last moments were going to be controversial, because the entire hour-long episode was a love letter to loyal viewers of the series. Packed with inside jokes and callbacks (the yellow umbrella, the slutty pumpkin, Barney’s playbook, Jim Nantz, Big Fudge, the Perfect Week, “challenge accepted,” etc.), the episode starts in the moments after Barney and Robin’s wedding. Ted is supposed to jet off to Chicago for a new job the next day — there’s a long, emotional goodbye with the whole gang that may have made some of us (ahem) cry. But: false alarm! Ted doesn’t leave. Because he meets the Mother on a train platform as he’s heading back to make his flight.

All right, we don’t actually see Ted meeting the Mother right away. This is “HIMYM,” so that would be too easy. Instead, we see Ted thinking about approaching the Mother, with the help of a random old lady next to him at the train station, urging him to go talk to her. Ted had noticed her at Barney and Robin’s wedding in the band, playing bass guitar, but he hesitated going up and saying hello — even though he felt an instant connection, what were the odds that she would be the love of his life?

[Related: Why ‘How I Met Your Mother’ connected so deeply with millennials]

So while Ted mulls it over in the rain at the train station, we’re treated to multiple flash-forwards of the gang through the years:

The day after Robin and Barney’s wedding: Lily and Marshall are still grieving over the fact that Ted is moving to Chicago — until they see him sitting at the bar, in his regular booth. What the heck? Why didn’t he leave? “I met a girl,” Ted tells them, smiling. Marshall and Lily start ranting: “What is the matter with you?” but Ted swears this girl is different. And Lily, always a cynic, sees Ted’s smile when he calls the Mother on the phone — and she believes him.

2015: The gang meets at the bar, where Ted and the Mother are now engaged. Ted is planning his dream wedding at a 17th-century castle in France. Uh-oh! Not gonna happen because the Mother arrives in the bar and announces that she’s pregnant. Also slipped in there: Robin and Barney are still married, traveling the world because Robin’s career as a TV anchor is soaring.

May 2o16: The gang meets at Ted and the Mother’s house, where everyone meets their new baby daughter, Penny. A few life updates: Lily is pregnant with her and Marshall’s third baby; Marshall is back at a corporate law job that he hates, but he’s trying to find the silver linings. (“My chair is reasonably comfortable for short periods of time.”) Oh, and Robin and Barney? They’re divorced! How wonderful, given that 22 episodes in the last season led up to their wedding. Thanks to Robin’s travel for work and Barney’s general selfishness, those crazy kids just couldn’t make it work. “Okay, this isn’t a failed marriage,” Barney reminds everyone. “It’s a very successful marriage that happened to only last three years.”

October 2016: Halloween time, the gang is at a party on Marshall and Lily’s roof: The happy couple is moving out to a bigger place with a new baby on the way. Robin, newly divorced, sees Barney hitting on girls half his age; she tries to peace out of there, and Lily tries to stop her, and says the gang needs to stick together. But Robin lays down some harsh adulthood truths: In reality, the group is now a married couple with three kids, her ex-husband and her probable soul mate (Ted) about to settle down with the beautiful mother of his child. “Who in their right mind would call that group of people ‘the gang’?” Robin accuses. Lily can’t believe it. “Our whole friendship is just over?” she asks tearfully. “Of course not,” Robin says sadly, echoing the fears of 20-somethings everywhere: “It’s just never going to be how it was.”

2018: Gang meets at the bar. They haven’t seen Robin in months. Barney is back to scamming on barely legal ladies. Marshall gets a call that he’s being offered a position as a judge.

2019: Gang meets at Robots vs. Wrestlers (another inside joke). Ted and the Mother have two kids now, but still haven’t married. Meanwhile, Barney shows up with devastating news: After sleeping with 31 women in one month, the last one he had sex with got pregnant. Yep, Barney’s going to be a dad.

2020: Ted and his young daughter bump into Aunt Robin on the street; she’s a famous news anchor now, and her face is on the side of a bus. “I like you, bus lady,” Penny says shyly. Foreshadowing! Meanwhile, Barney’s nameless one-night stand gives birth to a little girl named Ellie. Barney bursts into tears at the sight of his daughter — in a good way. His life is changed forever. No more trying to bed barely legal women. Progress!

A few days later, Ted and the Mother decide to make it official — no fancy wedding, just a courthouse ceremony on a Thursday. Robin shows up! They all toast to the gang being back together in their regular bar. Then we see Ted’s wedding ceremony, and the narration of a very emotional voice-over speech, showing scenes of them cuddling together throughout the years:

It was at times a long difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult because if I hadn’t gone through hell to get there, the lesson might not have been as clear. See kids, right from the moment I met your mom I knew: I have to love this woman as much as I can as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5 a.m. Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, through every speed bump, every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then, in what can only be called the worst of times, I can only thank God. Thank every God there is or every was or will be and the whole universe and anyone else I could possibly thank. That I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform, and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder, open my mouth and speak.

Then we see Ted, standing in the rain, approach the Mother — who is holding the famous yellow umbrella that almost brought the two together on so many occasions. And Ted says the magic words: “Excuse me,” he says. “Hi.”

And that’s how they met — there’s some flirtatious banter about how they had crossed paths before, and who was the true owner of the yellow umbrella. (Ted claimed it was his that he had lost; the Mother said it was hers and she had lost it.) The initials on the umbrella didn’t help: TM. Ted Mosby and Tracy McConnell. (The Mother’s name is Tracy McConnell.)

“Funny how sometimes you just…find things,” Tracy says.

Ted smiles. “Hi,” he says.

Tracy smiles. “Hi,” she responds.

Beautiful music plays in the background — that’s the end of the story. That’s how he met their mother — cue the scene above where his kids call him out on the fact that really, all that nine-year tale proves is that he’s in love with Aunt Robin.

It may be so. But as the show reminded us so many times through the past nine years, it’s not really about the destination, it’s the journey to get there. At least, that’s what viewers will have to tell themselves.

Because again — the mother has been dead all along.


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