This post contains spoilers from the most recent episode.
For the past nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) has been telling the story of his 20s and early 30s to his children—with the ultimate goal of explaining to them how, well, you know. It’s a fairly straightforward premise, but fans have nonetheless tried for years now to find clues that would explain why, exactly, he’s telling his kids this story. This is, after all, a meticulously crafted show, one that develops jokes across multiple seasons (last night’s episode featured a side plot involving the sequel to The Wedding Bride), brings back bit characters for clever cameos (such as a surprisingly great Britney Spears), and employs near-constant foreshadowing (did we ever find out the story with the goat?).
Last night, one of the more seemingly outlandish theories may have been confirmed: The show’s titular mother is dying or perhaps has already died by the time Ted starts telling this story to his kids.
I first heard this theory last year when Jenna Mullins suggested it. She outlined three pretty convincing reasons. First, the shows’ creators have always maintained that they knew how the series would end and never changed their mind about that. (The mother being dead is an easy thing to keep in place while constantly changing the various other plotlines building up to it.) Second, an episode in Season 8, “The Time Travelers,” has Ted imagining running to his future wife’s apartment to tell her that he wants to start his life with her 45 days earlier—something that can be read as merely an expression of his deep love for her, but, can also be read as wanting more time together than they have. “Exactly 45 days from now,” Ted says, “you and I are going to meet. We’re going to fall in love and we’re going to get married, and we’re going to have two kids. We’re going to love them and each other so much. All that is 45 days away, but I'm here now, I guess because I want those extra 45 days with you. I want each one of them … I am always going to love you. Until the end of my days and beyond.” Reading it with this in mind transforms the romance into a bit of sadness.
Third, and perhaps most convincing (to me, anyway), the mother has never been referred to in the present tense. She has never been seen in the show’s flash-forwards. (In one flash-forward, Ted, high on a “sandwich”—the show’s euphemism for pot—asks, “Where’s my wife?” No one answers.) This can be reasoned away as a logistical matter, though, since the actress playing the mother wasn’t cast until Season 8.
None of those reasons are as convincing as the last few minutes of Monday night’s episode.
Ted and the still unnamed mother return often to the inn where Barney and Robin are getting married. They even get engaged there on the top of the lighthouse. Last night, with their older wig and makeup on, we see them sitting down for dinner. Ted prepares to tell yet another story only to be interrupted by the mother, who says she’s heard it already. “You’re the love of my life, Pooh Bear,” she tells him. “I just worry about you. I don’t want you to be the guy who lives in his stories. Life only moves forward.” The show then takes a sadder turn than usual, with Ted looking more mopey and serious.
He then continues with another story, about Robin’s wedding, and the surprise appearance at the ceremony of Robin’s mom. What mother misses their daughter’s wedding, Ted’s wife asks. Ted looks at her and begins to cry. She gets him to tell yet another story, distracting him, but with just a few more episodes left, the ending seems to be clearer than ever. As the show fades out, Bob Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello” plays, confirming that Ted won’t be the only one crying during the finale.