Investigating How I Met Your Mother's Latest Conspiracy Theories: Is the Mother Dead? Is Ted Dead? Are We All Reading Too Much Into This Thing?

By Bill Kuchman

Apr 10, 2013

“I am always going to love you. Until the end of my days... and beyond.”

A few weeks ago, when Ted uttered those 14 words in "The Time Travelers," How I Met Your Mother threw its devoted fanbase into a frenzied round of theorizing. After almost eight seasons, HIMYM diehards have become quite skilled when it comes to crafting and debunking theories about the show. But what Mr. Mosby said to his future wife has resulted in a much darker line of questioning than the usual, making queries like “When will the next slap come?” or “What’s the story behind the pineapple?” seem straight-up silly by comparison.

For example: Is the Mother dead?

It's not a new theory, as I'll explain in more detail below. But seeing a misty eyed Ted tell his future mate how much they would be in love and how they would have two kids—before pleading for an extra 45 days or even an extra 45 seconds with her—has brought it bubbling back up to the surface. 

What's more, I don't think it's the only question to consider. Folks, is it possible that Ted is the one who’s dead? Did that speech contain a hidden promise to continue loving his wife from beyond?

Of course, it's highly possibly that people are simply reading into "The Time Travelers" too much. HIMYM is a sitcom, after all—it couldn't possibly go down a road this dark, would it? 

Regardless, with eight seasons of material on the books, there's evidence to support all three options. So, let's take a closer look at each one and see if we can make some sense of it all.

Theory #1: The Mother is dead

This theory is actually one of the oldest HIMYM theories out there, speculating that Ted is telling his two teenage children the story about how he met their mother after she’s passed away. Even Jason Segel has mentioned it before, in a 2010 interview with GQ. But "The Time Travelers” brought it to light again, with some viewers interpreting Ted's plea for more time as a sign that at some point in the future, the Mother will be taken from him.

So, what breadcrumbs support this idea? For one thing, the Mother has never interrupted Ted's epic tale. Wouldn’t she want to participate in telling a story like this one? Plus, Ted isn’t always the most reliable narrator—the Mother's input would be helpful. And isn't it odd that Ted doesn’t seem worried about catching any flack for telling his kids about a decade’s worth of dating and sexual escapades?

Add to that the fact that, while HIMYM has shown us flashforwards on several occasions, the Mother never appears in them. For example, in the Season 3 episode “How I Met Everyone Else,” we saw Ted, Marshall, and Lily at their college reunion in 2020, and the gang was, um, "eating some sandwiches." As the episode concluded, Ted asked, “Where’s my wife?”—which, sure, could've been a harmless moment in which Ted, high as a kite, lost track of his significant other. It could also have been something darker, though.

The Season 7 episode “Tick Tick Tick” showed us how easily Ted and Marshall become disoriented when they're blitzed. Is it possible that, after spending the whole of "How I Met Everyone Else" catching up with old classmates and repeatedly telling them he was a widower, a few hits of a sandwich might've transported Ted to a dark place? One where "Where’s my wife?” didn't mean “Has anyone seen my wife?” but rather “Why has my wife been taken from me?”?

Theory #2: The Mother's not dead... Ted is

Something that Ted said in “The Time Travelers” made me question whether we’re looking at the "the Mother is dead" theory all wrong:

“Until the end of my days ... and beyond.”

If the Mother is, in fact, deceased, why would Ted have focused on the end of his own days?If Ted is alive, shouldn't he have said that he’d love his future wife even after she’s passed away? Instead, we saw Ted offering the haunting pledge to love the Mother even after he’s gone.

Of course, that brings up the question of how he's telling this story. Well, maybe he’s not. 

Odds are that few people actually pay attention to HIMYM’s credits, but it's worth noting that Bob Saget has never been named as the voice of Future Ted Mosby. We all know that Saget is the one narrating the show, and HIMYM has even winked at the fact, with Saget making a Full House reference in connection with Dave Coulier's recent cameo in “P.S. I Love You.” 

Why wouldn’t HIMYM credit Saget? If he’s Future Ted, as most people have always believed, what’s the secret? How about this: If Ted passed away but left a detailed and lengthy goodbye for his kids, couldn’t Saget—as an entirely different character—be the one reading that story? Saget hasn’t ever appeared on HIMYM, not even in flashforwards that depect Ted at an older age, and fans have long joked about how Josh Radnor’s voice might eventually transform into Saget’s voice. But if the narrator of HIMYM is someone we haven’t met yet, maybe even someone who's related to the Mother and who would eventually grow close to Ted, the difference between Saget and Radnor’s voices never has to be explained.

Last January, TVLine ran a blurb about the eventual HIMYM series finale, revealing that fans would eventually see a physical transition from Saget to Radnor. At the time, executive producer Craig Thomas teased “the most awkward transition in series television,” saying that we'll “see Josh in some makeup” as Radnor assumes narrator duties from Saget. It's easy to interpret what Thomas said as a confirmation that Ted will eventually take over the narration of his own life from Saget’s Future Ted, but what if Saget isn’t actually Ted? What if the makeup Thomas mentioned isn’t used to make Ted look old, but to make him look sick, as a dying Ted writes out the story of how he met his wife for the benefit of his children?

Theory #3. Nobody's dead—HIMYM is a sitcom, and the theorists doth assume too much

HIMYM loves introducing new rules. But when it comes to debating Ted's mindset in “The Time Travelers,” there's an especially important non-canon principle to consider: Occam’s Razor, which dictates that when you're trying to explain something, you shouldn't ever make more assumptions than are necessary. The "the Mother is dead" and "Ted is dead" theories both require lots of assumptions in order to work; they force us to read into minor details of the show that probably mean very little.

For example, let’s go back to Segel's interview with GQ for a second. After Segel told the magazine that he'd suggested the "the Mother is dead" theory, he also floated the idea that Ted and his kids might be in purgatory, and that Ted’s stories are a form of punishment. And then he suggested that “in one of those scenes, they should open the window, and it should be, like, a post-apocalyptic wasteland outside. It should be like I Am Legend. Horrible mutants.” In one fell swoop, he offered two ridiculous theories that kind of devalued any support he might've shown for the first one. And I could go on: Why is the Mother never in the room while Ted is telling stories? Odds are, she’s at work or out running errands. Why is Ted telling his kids about past girlfriends and hook-ups? The guy's done a lot of dumb stuff in his life—couldn’t this just be another blunder?

There's also the fact that Ted's kids have never really all that interested in hearing the story of how Ted met their mom. If either of their parents were dead, wouldn't this be a more emotional experience for them? And while they no longer address Saget's narrator the way they used to, when they did, it was in a way that made it clear they were talking to Ted. 

So what do you think, dear readers? Are we in for a very dark twist? Or are some people just putting too much stake in minor details? Admittedly, I wouldn't consider either of the death theories to be completely out of HIMYM's range. This is a show that suddenly killed off Marshall's dad and featured an episode that was highlighted by Marshall yelling at God. Last season's "Robin can't have kids" reveal was a dark shocker, too. But with that said, this is ALSO a show that revels in jokes about Canada, red cowboy boots, and ducky ties. And it's always been about hope: Even in his loneliest moments, Ted has believed that he’ll find "the one," that he’ll fall in love and finally have the life he’s wanted since we first met him back in Season 1. Personally, I'll be disappointed if—after nine seasons of watching Ted try to find his soulmate—we learn that one of them died soon after. But that doesn't mean it's out of the question...

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  • ThomasWilkinson123 Jul 19, 2014

    The mum does interrupt, but shes not there just here voice, someone talk and then loads of different women walk in where ted is saying,"is it this woman"

  • uffa678 May 15, 2014

    spoiler alert
    the mother is dead and ted end up with robin whoooo i love them together

  • leokhreish Apr 03, 2014

    what if the whole story was a dream

  • sorble Apr 01, 2014

    What we know: Ted did eat sandwich at year 2020 with lily and marshall and did ask him self "where is my wife" and laugh. The mother was in hospital and Ted did begg the God's to save her, few days before that the mother did mention "what mother does not come to her daughters weeding", That was about ted's sister, and that was at year 2024.

  • Tonjoror Mar 28, 2014

    Ted is dead. He has filmed himself telling the kids the story of how he met their mother. She watches it after he dies. Oh and the mother's name is robin.

  • dvadala8 Mar 11, 2014

    To add to the theory that it's Robin who dies, when Ted "let go" of her (on the beach) she floated up into the air...

  • BandannaNinja Mar 08, 2014

    After considering the argument of a mother missing a daughter's wedding and Ted holding back tears, I re-watched the episode and one other theory occurred to me, which is Ted has a little sister, what if Mrs. Mosby dies and is unable to attend Heather Mosby's wedding. It would make sense that Ted would be emotional about it.

  • CeeCeeD Mar 07, 2014

    Ted can't be dead. In the episode "Monday Night Football" from 2007 Ted says, when talking to the kids, "23 years later, I don't remember who won the game..." so he is definitely alive in 2030! I just saw it yesterday!

  • melissareynolds96742 Mar 07, 2014

    I think Robin is the one who's dead. I think the entirety of the episode 'Vesuvius' is a code, and if you look back on not just that episode, but the whole show itself, it fits. The whole show is not about how Ted met the Mother, it's about Ted letting go of Robin. There are many hints that they are back at Farhampton in 2024 for a funeral (most notably, in the season 8 premiere 'Farhampton' the song that plays at the end is called 'The Funeral', strongly suggesting that at some point in the future a funeral is going to take place there). All through season 9 up to this point, people have been giving things to Robin - Ted gave her a photograph of them all and wanted to give her the locket, Barney gave her a signed photo of Gretzky, Lily gave her a book of memories of her and Barney's relationship - all these things are memories of Robin. Also, Lily keeps going on about how "there's only a few hours before the wedding, don't you want to spend those few hours doing something better than watching a stupid movie" - could take that as being code for last few hours of life (I'm not saying she dies at the wedding, I'm just saying you could translate it to meaning the end of Robin's life at some point) and she also says "Oh, oh is this your wedding day? I couldn't tell" - maybe this is telling us that the 2024 part is not her wedding day, but her funeral. Barney is hung up on what suit to wear - it is not unheard of in the case of a loved ones death to not know what will be appropriate to wear - maybe his dilemma about what to wear to get married mirrors him not knowing what to wear for the funeral. Robin's grandmother arrives and gives her a photo (yet again someone giving her something) and tells her about how her grandfather is buried at the very same church where they got married - clue that Robin will be buried at Farhampton.
    Ted and the Mother talk about how when what's going on is too intense to deal with, it's better to just leave it unspoken - they are there for Robin's funeral and it is to intense to deal with, especially for Ted. Ted reacts emotionally when the Mother says "what Mother wouldn't turn up to her daughters wedding" - Robin can't have children, so would never be at a daughter's wedding.
    The mother also says 'I'm worried about you. I don't want you to be the guy that lives in his stories. Life only moves forward." She is afraid that he will dwell in the past and never get over the death of Robin - and in a way she's right, because the entire story he's told his kids has been about him and Robin.
    Also, Robin is the reason he met the mother. He meets her at the wedding. If Robin and Barney hadn't got married, he might never have met her, therefore Robin is the reason his children exist.
    Finally, in episode 2 of season 9, Ted is doing a crossword, and he yells "Vesuvius! Oh, wait that doesn't fit". This is obviously a hint that the episode Vesuvius, and what the episode is so obviously suggesting (that the Mother dies) is NOT going to be how it will actually go, it "doesn't fit".
    Maybe I have too much time on my hands and have read way to much into it, but knowing how clever the writers are, I wouldn't be surprised if they had put some coded message in this episode. Plus if you look back over the entire show, the idea that Robin is dead fits more than the theory that Ted or the Mother are. I say again, the WHOLE show is about him letting go of, and getting over Robin.
    I will be interested to see what people think of this theory!

  • ashlynosaurus Mar 19, 2014

    I thought the same at first but then I remembered that future Robin has been shown before. In the episode where Robin picks up Marvin for the first time, it shows that 17 years after that day, Robin and Lily meet up and Robin tells Lily what really happened that day. It would've been around 2013 when it happened so she would still be alive in 2024; she'd be alive until at least 2030

  • AbbyNormal4life Mar 12, 2014

    This theory blew me away. I think you are really onto something here. The episode is a red herring for sure. It does all point to robin when you think about it. Especially robin's ghost sitting in the room when Marshall and Lilly were fighting. At the time I found it odd but didn't think of it again because I was so focused on the mom dying. Great job. I'm checking back after the finale.

  • Rania27 Mar 05, 2014

    How about the kids are watching a tape with Ted's life instead of Ted telling them, and he is dead? Every house has a TV right in front of the sofa... and the children aren't crying cause they might have found the tape a long time after his death... the conversations between them might not be real.. just Ted asking in the video, kids answer.. i see no conversation, just Ted knows his children very well... when Ted cried when the mother said that "what mother wouldnt appear to her daughter's wedding", first of all what kind of mother would have said such a thing about herself if she was going to die? i believe Ted cried cause HE won't be able to appear in his daughter wedding.. the plot twist is that we all believe that the mother is dead when in fact, ted is.. that's my theory... we will find out soon though :)

  • evelynsokk Mar 11, 2014

    They interacted with Ted, it's not a tape.

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