Plot twists are a funny thing. Some make your jaw drop and keeping people talking for ages. Others are so obvious that the spark dies. For instance, many people figured out the Lost twist early and easily, leaving them vastly disappointed. Dropping clues is important so that it makes sense, but too many, too obvious, and just for shock value kills the punch. Luckily, there are many hugely successful twists in fiction, so I simply chose some of my favorites. From TV, film, literature, and even games, here are 4 shocking plot twists to inspire you.
WARNING: There are SPOILERS ahead!
The twist in Saw happens at the very end. If you’ve seen it, you know it.
Basically, two men wake in a room, chained up and unable to leave, made to play a life or death game. As it unfolds, they realize they’re all in this small circle of people with some connection to the Jigsaw Killer. Lawrence was a suspect and an oncologist; Adam was hired to take photos of Lawrence. There is a third man, Zepp, an orderly at the hospital, who has Lawrence’s family at gunpoint. Lawrence does not know he is also part of the game.
During all of this drama and trying to play the game, there is a corpse lying still in the room with a revolver. Lawrence overhears his family in danger from Zepp, saws off his foot, and shoots Adam with the dead man’s revolver. Zepp comes in to kill Lawrence per the game, but Adam survived the gunshot and saves him. Lawrence crawls from the room to find help, and Adam searches Zepp’s body for a key.
Instead, he finds a tape. A tape that reveals that Zepp was a player trying to find an antidote after being poisoned. And that’s when the man behind the horrors, the Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer, Lawrence’s patient, stands. He was the “body” the whole time.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There is one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where people either grab a whole box of tissues or skip it entirely: The Body.
Buffy comes home and finds her mother on the couch, eyes wide open, still, not breathing. She tries to rouse her, even screaming in her face, “Mom!” Despite attempting CPR and calling the paramedics, it’s too late. Her mother, Joyce, is dead. The paramedics tell her that the corner will come, leaving her alone with her deceased mother, where she vomits and calls Giles, her watcher, in shock. He arrives, thinking it’s the Big Bad they’ve been fighting, only to find the scene. He rushes to check on Joyce, but Buffy stops him. “We’re not supposed to move the body!” she catches herself yelling, quickly clamping her hand over her mouth.
For most Buffy fans, the death of Joyce Summers came as a complete shock. Yes, she had a brain tumor, but she received treatment and seemed on the mend. Things were looking up. Besides, who dies a natural death in the buffyverse? No one. Except this time someone did.
Joyce died of a brain aneurysm, a complication of her surgery. Something normal. Mortal. Human. The episode deals with shock and grief in a realistic way, which is odd for a show that showcases the supernatural. It contrasts what viewers know of a show where death is not always permanent with true to life experiences, especially when Anya, an ex-demon, gives a monologue about not understanding death, and how it is mortal, stupid.
The episode is a shock for viewers, and it sends Buffy into a spiral made worse by the Big Bad of the season. It’s a good example of a twist that furthers character conflict, development, and relationships.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published in 1926, is one of her best-known novels, and for good reason. The plot twist was innovative for the time. Even in 2013, the Crime Writers’ Association stated that the book contained “one of the most celebrated plot twists in crime writing history.”
Widower Roger Ackroyd invites guests to dinner, including a Dr. James Sheppard, after his fiance, a wealthy widow named Mrs. Ferrars, commits suicide. After dinner, Ackroyd confesses to Sheppard that someone blackmailed his fiance over the death of her husband. Upon returning home for the evening, Sheppard receives a call from Ackroyd’s butler, stating that he is dead. Sheppard, along with two of the dinner party’s other guests, Ackroyd’s secretary Geoffrey Raymond and hunter Major Blunt, arrive to find him deceased in his study. Yet, his butler claims he never made the call.
Upon request, Hercule Poirot works the case, despite his previous retirement. While the police believe Mr. Ackroyd’s stepson Ralph Patton is a suspect, Poirot disagrees as all except one person in the household has an alibi. Upon Poirot’s investigation, several secrets reveal themselves that might point to different suspects, but Poirot discovers the true identity of the killer: the novel’s narrator, Dr. James Sheppard.
Sheppard was Mrs Ferrars’ blackmailer and murdered Ackroyd to stop him knowing this; he suspected her suicide note would mention this fact, and so he took it after the murder. He then used a dictaphone Ackroyd had, to make it appear he was still alive when he departed, before looping back to the study’s window to plant Paton’s footprints; Poirot had noted an inconsistency in the time he mentioned for the meeting at the gates.
As he wanted to be on the scene when Ackroyd’s body was found, he asked a patient earlier in the day to call him some time after the murder, so as to have an excuse for returning to Fernly Park; Poirot’s telegram confirmed this. When no-one was around in the study, Sheppard removed the dictaphone, and returned the chair that concealed it from view to its original place. Poirot tells Sheppard that all this information will be reported to the police in the morning.
Dr Sheppard continues writing his report on Poirot’s investigation (the novel itself), admitting his guilt and wishing his account was that of Poirot’s failure to solve Ackroyd’s murder. The novel’s epilogue serves as his suicide note.Wikipedia
These types of twist are not as uncommon these days, but one can imagine the shock readers felt when the book released.
The Last of Us
Although there are multiple particularly shocking twists in the sequel to The Last of Us that I, personally, find gutsy and emotional, the very first from the franchise gets the audience right away and sets up themes for both games.
At the start of The Last of Us, Joel comes home late from work on his birthday to find his daughter, Sarah, on the couch waiting. She gives him a watch for his birthday, a watch he wears in the game even long after it breaks, then he totes her to bed. Sarah wakes later to the phone ringing; her uncle Tommy is looking for her father. She roams the house trying to find him. On TV in his room is a news report about an outbreak, which captures a huge explosion that she sees from his bedroom window.
Scared, Sarah goes downstairs, where Joel runs in from the backyard and grabs and loads his gun. Their neighbor appears and begins throwing himself against the glass sliding door. He breaks it and runs toward them, and Joel shoots him dead. Joel says they have to leave, just as Tommy shows up.
They flee and have to go through town, but people are everywhere. When they finally make it around people and objects, another vehicle hits them, flipping them. Sarah has an inured leg, and she cannot walk, so Joel carries her through the chaos of explosions, attacks, and people fleeing. With Tommy’s help, Joel gets Sarah away from and chaos. He buys them time so that Joel can run from the buildings and toward a quiet bridge. People, the infected, chase them.
Just as they close in, a man shoots the attackers. Joel explains they’re not sick, just trying to get away. The man, part of the military, radios in and gets orders. Orders to kill them. Joel turns to flee right as the man shoots. He drops Sarah, and the man approaches. Joel begs, but the man aims his gun. Before he can shoot, Tommy caps him in the head. It’s a relief until they hear Sarah. The bullets missed Joel but hit her right in the torso. She’s crying, grabbing, moaning, coughing. Joel picks her up and tries to put pressure on her wounds, reassuring her. She fights it but too quickly goes still. Her father hugs her lifeless body. “Don’t do this to me baby.”
In The Last of Us, Sarah’s death is just the first example of how loss fuels the dog-eat-dog apocalyptic world, full of grey characters and choices, that makes both games great. Many do not expect her brutal, heartbreaking death at the very start of the game, before the title even rolls. The scene is a gut punch but provides the important theme that permeates the entire series: grief/loss. It explains Joel’s actions and makes the relationship he builds with Ellie even more precious. Then, in the sequel, it makes the consequences of the first game even more devastating, continuing the theme that started the first. Players may not get long with her, but her impact is long-lasting, and her death memorable.
Mr. Robot loves to surprise the viewer, whether it’s the reveal that Mr. Robot is one of Elliot’s identities or when Elliot lied to the viewer during season two. While the series uses many plot twists that shock the viewer, one of the biggest and most shocking is at the end: Elliot himself is one of the real Elliot’s identities, having taken over for the real Elliot.
Rewatching the series shows that this was foreshadowed from the start. “You’re hiding again, Elliot. When you hide, your delusions come back. It’s a slippery slope.” “Because it’s painful not to pretend.” The timing of his outburst and subsequent anger management therapy. How he admits to creating people in his head with a more exciting life. These are only a few in a long list of foreshadowing and clues that the audience latches onto, and it’s how the show does a good job of making viewers second-guess themselves to the end.
After coming in as a marshal to investigate the death of a patient, Edward “Teddy” Daniels finds that everything isn’t as he thought. On the island, he starts having migraines and dreams of his wife, who was killed by Andrew Laeddis, an arsonist. He also admits to his partner, Chuck, that he took the case to seek Laeddis. During the investigation, he finds himself uncovering possible experimentation on patients, as well as secrets surrounding the restricted Ward C and the lighthouse. One patient, George Noyce, tells him that the whole thing is an experiment for Teddy himself.
In the end, Teddy is told that he is Andrew Laeddis, a mentally ill man who killed his wife, who had killed his children, and that he is a patient at Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island. The past few days were all an attempt to break him of his psychosis. Instead, it seems he will be lobotomized.
What are some of your favorite plot twists in a fiction medium?