[SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains major spoilers from How I Met Your Mother's Season 7 finale. Read at your own risk.]
"It had to be Robin."
That's what How I Met Your Mother co-creator/showrunner Craig Thomas says about Barney's big bride reveal on Monday's Season 7 finale. "There was just no other way," he tells TVGuide.com. "We always knew it was gonna be Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders)."
But how will they make it to the chapel at that future wedding? (Yes, they do get married.) After all, Barney proposed to Quinn (Becki Newton) in present day on the finale. Thomas answers our burning questions below. Plus: He tells us what's next for Ted (Josh Radnor) now that he's driving off with "the one who got away" Victoria (Ashley Williams) — who ditched her fiancé Klaus on their wedding day for him — and how they came up with the "coolest middle name" for Lily and Marshall's son, Marvin Wait For It.
So it had to be Robin, right?
Craig Thomas: Right? It had to be Robin. That's how we felt. When they were together in Season 5 and we broke them up ... it was very divisive. Some fans were like, "Great! Barney's back to being Barney. I don't want to see him in a relationship." But there were a lot of people [who were] like, "Boy, I feel really unfinished about Barney and Robin." We knew at the time that we had all this other Barney and Robin saga up our sleeve. We were at that point planning out what Seasons 6 and 7 would be. We knew that they would have this momentary flirtation with rekindling in Season 7 that we just did, but Robin chose Kevin (Kal Penn). Barney was heartbroken and I think in that moment, people were like, "Aw! Bros, what are you doing to us?!" ... Of course, in the back of our heads, whenever we heard that feedback, we were thinking, "Just wait! We're gonna get to it." But yeah, it had to be her. They're a special couple.
Not only because of her history with Barney, but Ted — otherwise why start this story by telling his kids how he met Robin?
Thomas: Yeah, it comes back around. It's like at that wedding, he fully lets [Robin] go and can then meet the love of his life. ... There's also some stuff to play with Ted dealing with [them getting married]. Robin's a very incendiary presence in this group's life. Robin's that girl who you can't fully put out of your mind. As we saw this season, Ted wasn't quite over her, and it always felt like something was unfinished with Barney and Robin.
When did you and Carter [Bays] decide that Barney and Robin will get married?
Thomas: We decided literally years ago. As we were breaking them up, we knew there would be a rekindling and that wouldn't be the real deal ... and we would reveal them to be the groom [in the Season 6 finale] and bride now. ... Season 8 is gonna be filling in the steps between Point A and Point B. We know they do get married, but there are a lot of steps between Point A and Point B. In the last few minutes of this finale, it definitely seems like Barney is marrying Quinn. They get engaged, he has this enormous, elaborate engagement planned involving a magic trick. It's really romantic and sweet, and it plays like an ending. It had a finality to it, but the whole episode is about misdirection and magic, and the one last trick up our sleeve was revealing that Robin's the bride.
We tell stories in funky ways. There's a lot of fun with structure. It's a little weird and a little counterintuitive to show people an ending of sorts and fill in how we got there, but there are so many mysteries and runners and different questions to answer in the show that we like the idea of answering something big about this wedding day because we know Barney's future wedding day is the day Ted will meet the mother.
One guess that's been around even before the groom and bride reveals is that Ted meets Barney's half-sister at the wedding and marries her. Now that we know bride and groom, that might become the main theory.
Thomas: It's cool seeing what HIMYM fans come up with. Obviously I'm terrible and I can't say much about the mother, but we will get more clues about her in Season 8. ... We were kind of light on it this year. But now that we've established these two huge facts about this wedding day that's "a little ways down the road," there's a built-in mystery and we can show you the endgame.
Ted's driving off with Victoria, but we know that she's not the mother.
Thomas: That's why it's really fun with storytelling time! [Laughs] But it felt very relatable to us. I think everybody in their love life has had someone they felt they screwed it up with or that person could've been the one or if circumstances had been different, maybe that was the one. That's how Ted feels about Victoria. He screwed that up in Season 1. ... Ted doesn't know this in 2012 — he still thinks Victoria could be the mother of his children — but we, the audience, and astute HIMYM fans know more than him thanks to Bob Saget. We love Victoria representing the door that's still open a crack in Ted's mind. He has to see what's behind that door and eventually close it to be able to meet the mother. As we head toward the end of the series, it's one of the last things Ted has to do.
Without knowing if Season 8 is the last season, how much can you plan out? Where will we pick up in the premiere? Will we see the wedding again?
Thomas: I can't say when we'll see the wedding again, but we have a bunch of the big moments of Season 8 plotted out. We're waiting on negotiations with actors and all that to see if this is it. That makes it a little tricky. It's like we'll be fixing the car as we're driving it. It's the point where business and art meet. But hopefully anyone who sees the finale can attest to the fact that there is a lot to explore from the finale.
Our premiere picks up right on the same day in May that most of the finale takes place on. It'll be our first episode where we tell a whole story that's still back in May because there's so much stuff going on. ... One of the exciting incidents is Ted's story. Ted got left at the altar by Stella (Sarah Chalke), so we pick up on Ted and Victoria driving off into the sunset and Ted casually asks Victoria, "Hey, what did you say in that note that you left for Klaus?" And she sort of awkwardly says, "I didn't leave a note." Ted, being Ted Mosby, who has a very heightened sense of what is right, says, "You gotta leave a note! I got left at the altar, but at least I got a note! The note is very helpful!" So he turns the car around and they're gonna leave a note for poor, abandoned Klaus. The episode sort of sparks from Ted's decision to turn the car around. Ultimately, we'll see if that's a good idea. That's such a Ted Mosby decision. We did want to tend to the fact that we did see him on the other end of this equation of a runaway bride. Episode 801 will be all on that day.
Will Barney and Quinn ever make it to Hawaii?
Thomas: I don't want to say exactly. But you haven't seen the last of Quinn. I've heard Becki Newton has booked another gig. [Laughs] ... But we're the boss, so we can use her on HIMYM too. We have to show what happens with Barney and Quinn, how he gets through that, how does he ever get to a place where he's ready to consider something serious again, and how does he get back with Robin. That's a big emotional journey; that's not two episodes.
Everyone noticed in the 2015 flash-forward in "Trilogy Time" that we can't see Barney's left ring finger.
Thomas: Very intentionally done that way. One of those little moments where you realize what a good actor Neil Patrick Harris is because he can somehow make hiding his left hand seem perfectly natural. We don't want to give away too much. Remember: Barney and Robin's wedding won't be smooth, but they will get married.
Robin and Ted finally made up. Are they good going forward?
Thomas: Yeah. Ultimately, there's nothing like your friends having a baby to bring you together. It felt natural. In the finale, Robin launches into this cheerleader for Ted. She wants Ted to be happy. It's hard seeing a friend be down, especially if you were the one who did it by not saying "I love you" back. ... Robin's drive in the finale is, "I want to encourage Ted to go after someone who could've been the one." She thinks, "It was never gonna be me. We don't quite want the same things. He needs to get over being hung up on me and go back to someone who might have been the answer." Other than Robin, the only other possibility of who could've been the love of Ted's life is Victoria. A lot of friends, people I know, have someone serious who they think they will end up with, and it just isn't. They need to go back and find that out again.
Is there any romance in store for Robin other than Barney or is she solely focused on her career?
Thomas: She's gonna have a love interest other than Barney. We can't just break up Barney and Quinn and slap them together. There's another guy next season. She's moving on with her life. Barney's engaged. As far as she's concerned — when she says "I'm happy for you" in the finale — she believes she means that. That really was supposed to play like Barney and Robin closing the door. Barney makes a joke, "Oh, it's our last chance to run away together," and it's a bittersweet scene. I've seen it 5,000 times, so I hope it plays real! It's two friends agreeing to be friends, agreeing to be happy for each other. Then lo and behold, Robin's in a wedding dress!
We can't forget about Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) and Marvin Wait For It — probably one of the greatest middle names ever.
Thomas: That's the best middle name of all time, right? [Laughs] I think any name that has a built-in dramatic pause is the coolest name ever. The funny thing is, we came up with that and the obvious reaction for Marshall and Lily to have is, "That's stupid, Barney" and not do it. Somehow, the more we put the story together, we said, "It's really cool." Middle names are kind of bogus. How often do you tell someone your middle name? Mine's David. Who cares? And you'd think Lily is gonna shoot it down, but she goes, "That's the coolest middle name of all time! Let's do it!" There was something really satisfying about allowing ourselves to do that. And we love Marshall and Lily. Marshall and Lily are the coolest couple ever. They're my favorite TV couple ever. Obviously I'm a little biased, but I love them for going with that. I don't know if people will think "Oh, that's insane! I don't buy it." But middle names aren't that useful and why not? You can always go by the "W" initial. He could change it, but why would you want to when that's your middle name?
I love that they brought him to the bar.
Thomas: Yeah. But they were horrified with themselves! Their huge life question in Season 8 is "How the hell do we keep drinking at a bar with a baby?" [Laughs] We're gonna show how that's possible. A lot of people are like, "Oh, a kid! You're jumping the shark. You're gonna be so hemmed in now." We're gonna see them find support and help and they're gonna find it in an unlikely place. They'll have their hands full, figuring out the hardest job in the world.
How far into the season can you break before you absolutely need to know if it's the last season?
Thomas: This is the most obvious answer of all time, but it will be better to know earlier. [Laughs] Right now, there's so much to pick up on the finale that we're full for the first batch [of the season]. We're OK for now, but the sooner we know the better because we like to plants lots of seeds and payoffs. When it's the last season, we want to announce it from the rooftop and say, "Hey, there are 24 more episodes left. They're awesome and you gotta watch it!" If it's the last season, you'll know it's a big momentous season from the first episode. There is a definite plan of how we want to begin the last season, as kind of a "gasp!" moment within that episode. So yeah, we need to figure it out pretty soon.
You plotted out the Season 6 and 7 finales ahead of time. Did you do that with 8?
Thomas: There's a Plan A and a Plan B, and we just need to figure out which it is. It's frustrating, but there's enough stuff to tell either way. It will work with either plan, but I'm definitely eager to find out. If you hear anything, let me know!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Barney is going to marry Robin! How long have you known that it was going to be Robin? A long time — or was that a recent decision?
CRAIG THOMAS: We’ve known it for a few seasons. We’ve known it for a while. Shooting that moment felt really emotional actually. It was like, “Wow, this has been an idea scribbled in our secret notebook for years.” Actually shooting that moment — and knowing the importance of that moment and what’s going to come from that in Season 8 — was powerful, when you consider how it informs the ultimate end of the series. It all sort of hit me — and all of us shooting it — at once. It felt very emotional shooting it.
Then why did you torture the viewers?
It was funny when we broke up Barney and Robin a few years back. We always knew this year would bring a relapse between them, where certain things would seem done, with Robin moving on to somebody else and Barney moving on to somebody else. Ultimately, we wanted to do this magic-themed season finale of season 7 that we called “The Magician’s Code: Part One and Two.” We knew we wanted the episode to feel like a magic trick with this crazy, breathless bit of misdirection at the very end where Barney proposes to Quinn in the episode. So we see Barney Stinson get on bended knee and propose to someone — which is shocking enough as it is. Then, a couple minutes later in the show, we flash forward and we see Robin is the bride. It’s a huge bit of magical misdirection that we want people to tune into season 8 to see how we got there. We love telling stories in crazy ways in How I Met Your Mother, so we’re jumping ahead and showing you the ending and we’re going to show you how we get there.
Right. And also how that affects Ted and his journey?
Exactly. That’s Barney’s future wedding day. That’s who he’s marrying, and eventually, we’ll get to that day and show you the story of that day. They’ll be some tricks up our sleeve on that day, too. We’ve known for a while that we were gonna have Robin be the bride.
Is there anything larger, grander behind the decision to bring Victoria (Ashley Williams) back — or is that just a distraction for Ted for a little while? Can you say much about whether or not she’s going to have much of a role going forward?
In season 8, there will be an arc of Ted with Victoria. To run off with a bride on her wedding day, you’ve taken out a pretty big responsibility. If you’re Ted Mosby in that situation, that is not to be entered into lightly. We will see that Graduate moment. At the end of the The Graduate, we’re like, “What now? What happens? We’re running away from this wedding and what do we do now with this?” Ultimately, we know that Victoria is not the mom. The audience knows that because he met the mom on Barney’s future wedding day. Ted Mosby living his life, moment by moment, doesn’t know that. We look at Ted and Victoria and Victoria coming back around as that last big door that has to close to move on to the mother chapter. I think a lot of people have that. A lot of people — before they really finally settle down, especially as people get older and they feel like it should have happened by now — they go back to somebody from their past.
Yup, you do one last crazy thing before you find the one and only, or so they say.
Exactly. That’s what this is for Ted. He’s always had that gnawing suspicion. This season we saw him go back to Robin and have her say, “No, we’re not going to do this again. I want to be friends.” There’s one last unplayed card, Ted feels — one last, legitimate contender. Maybe it should have been Victoria and he has to go back there. In many ways, this whole series has been Ted’s evolution to get him ready to meet the mother, and one of the last big things he has to do to complete that hero’s journey is figure this thing out with Victoria, even if it’s not the answer. We know she’s not the answer, but we’re going to see Ted need to wrestle with that and need to close that last door before finally being in a place where he’s really, truly ready to meet the mother. Victoria’s going to play a really significant role. Yes, the audience knows she’s not the mother. But I think there’s something very relatable and true about that last person you went back to before you found the one. Who’s that person that you had a sneaking suspicion that it could have been them? You go back and you revisit that and you realize, “No. That wasn’t the answer.”
It makes perfect sense, and Victoria was a really popular character.
She was a popular character. Ashley Williams and Josh Radnor have this great chemistry together. They always seem real and emotional, and they’re funny together. We just thought, if you’re Ted Mosby and you’re getting into your mid-30s ,and you feel like you’re not meeting the right people, you would absolutely convince yourself that you already know who you’re supposed to marry. We’ve seen him do that with Robin and once it’s not Robin, hell, it must have been Victoria. Victoria is the one I screwed up, and I should go back there and that’s the one. I have to make it work. Ted the planner — Ted the overthinker — would definitely think that. It’s so true to his character. We’re going to see him convince himself that he must have already met her, and he’s got to go backwards to get her. But it turns out, that’s not right. Ted still has to move forward to meet the mother. He’s going to learn that and then we’re going to see him do it.
Let’s don’t forget Lily and Marshall in this equation. Looking forward from the end of that episode for them, what’s next for them with the new baby?
We really see them at the beginning of parenthood. They’re very tired, beleaguered parents, and they actually set up a rule, which I think is a very real rule for parents. They lay something down that a lot of the parents in our writers’ room really liked and related to, although we made it up. Ted’s coming in and talking about some new girl he met on the train. “I’m texting with her. What should I text her back?” Marshall and Lily cut him off and say, “Dude, we’re responsible for a whole other human life now. You can not come to us with any issue unless it’s an eight or higher.” He keeps trying to bring up all these little dilemmas from his life because Marshall and Lily have always been like his parents, his advisers. They keep cutting him off like, “I’m sorry. We have a baby. Dude, it’s got to be eight or higher.” He keeps on bringing stuff up and they keep on going, “Eight or higher, bro. Eight or higher, bro.” All this crazy stuff ends up happening in the episode that very much rates an eight or higher, and Marshall and Lily get a little sucked in to some of the issues that are happening because, in this episode, they’re definitely a couple of perfect 10s, as far as issues that wind up occurring. Even Marshall and Lily in their early parenthood get sucked into the drama, too. You’re very much seeing Marshall and Lily having this baby and learning how to be parents. It’s very sweet. We see the moments that the gang meets the little baby whose full name is Marvin Wait For It Eriksen. Barney picks the middle name.
And it’s just very sweet. It’s very moving. It really does feel like this little sixth member has been added to our gang, and it has been added to the How I Met Your Mother family. It’s just very sweet seeing the gang meet this baby. I think viewers will be moved seeing that. I know we definitely were. We’ve been waiting for Marshall and Lily to have a kid for all these years. Seeing them becoming parents, there’s something very sweet about it. They look exhausted and beleaguered but very, very happy. Jason and Aly are really sweet playing that. You can’t help but be very, very excited for these fake people — Marshall and Lily — who I for one love as if they’re real people. There’s just huge mysteries, huge cliffhangers, huge plot twists but also just a lot of joy in the finale.
So we finally know who Barney's bride is: Robin. How long have you been plotting this outcome?
We've probably known for three or four years that it was going to be Robin. Even as we broke them up after season five, we were thinking about it. And then as we were playing more and more with the flash forwards to Barney's wedding, it started to feel right: "Yeah, that's the wedding Ted's at." It had that inevitability that good ideas have. It felt true. It also seemed like another good mystery to set up — whose wedding is it?
And you've played the long game on this mystery...
Right. At end of season six, we showed you Barney was the groom. Now, at the end of season seven, we've shown you Robin is the bride. As we go into season eight, it's going to be us showing you exactly how we get to that day and what it means to everyone. We're getting toward the end — though we still have some mysteries up our sleeves.
Because you knew Robin was going to be "the one," you also knew from the start that Quinn was destined to be a road bump for Barney en route to true love.
We wanted to do the misdirection. We wanted to find someone who could viably end up with Barney. People love Neil, people love Barney, so if it's not going to be Robin, it had better be somebody great. And that's why Becki Newton was great. And obviously we love her because we cast her in our pilot.
But wasn't there a danger in making Quinn too great? I mean, a lot of fans might be bummed realizing that the woman who truly turned Barney around, even more so than Robin, is not going to end up with him.
We wanted to tell the story of this undeniable chemistry between Barney and Robin. No matter what we do with them, there was always this unfinished business between them. They're two people who are a bit broken, who haven't figured out their love lives, and there always feels like there's the potential to show how they could make it happen as they got older. You know, every time we'd hear from fans, "There was something missing about how Barney and Robin ended," even though it was a complaint, we'd think, "That's good. Because there's more to come." We've had it up our sleeves, this really cool chapter to tell. This sets up the home stretch of what happens. This sets everything in motion. We've been teasing this future wedding day for so long.
Will Quinn be back?
There will be savvy people who know she's in our new series and say, "Wait a second, she can't be in both." But we also haven't seen the last of her. She's going to be in some of HIMYM. We'll work around it.
Let's shift to another major plot from the finale: Victoria's back. And Ted is back together with her. You foreshadowed this a bit, it turns out.
She was set up in 703, the "Ducky Tie" episode, to come back in this episode.
Why go back to Victoria?
She was the the one big unclosed door for Ted. Season seven was mostly about Ted and Robin becoming friends again after he wanted to get back together and she shut it down. Now, in the back of Ted's head, if there's anyone left from the women he's dated who he still thinks could be the mother of his children, it's Victoria. But he screwed it up. He was obsessed with Robin [and] he ended the relationship very badly. So Ted in 2012 ... very much thinks she could be the right one.
But for those of us who might have forgotten, Victoria can't be the mom ...
... Because Ted meets the mom at his wedding. So this is the last door we have to close before Ted can meet the mother.
The final big development in the finale was, of course, the birth. Not much of a surprise, and yet you did manage a twist by giving young Marvin the middle name of "Waitforit."
It played like a crazy Barney idea. But if you think about it, middle names really aren't the most important things in the world. And if the kid's middle name has a built-in dramatic pause, how cool is that? So I just love that it comes down to Lily at the end, and you think she's going to shoot it down, and she doesn't.
So how will season eight begin?
It will be our first season premiere that's still set in May, because we have so much to explain about what happened [in the finale]. We ended the season finale with a lot of, for lack of a better term, mindfucks. So we'll have to do a whole episode stuck in that time frame. And then in episode 802, we jump ahead to the fall and catch up with everyone.
You can only do so much planning for next season, though, because you don't know whether it's the final one.
You've hit upon a big issue for us. This is were business meets art. Right now, it's about actor deals and negotiations, and things we should know more about in the next few months. We're already breaking stories [for season eight] now, and it's tough not knowing if we're writing one or two more seasons ... it will affect what we're doing next year. So the hardest part is not quite knowing.
If you and Carter had the power to make the choice between eight or nine seasons, which would you choose?
It's going to be heartbreaking whenever it ends. Could it be a great ending after eight seasons? Yes. Could it be a great ending after nine seasons? Yes. But I won't say whether we're leaning one way or the other. When we were launching the show, we always thought eight seasons would be great for what we were trying to do. So eight would be awesome. But we just came off our best ratings year. We still think we have great stories to tell. I don't know. It's hard to say good-bye. I'm hoping we'll know soon, and whatever happens, I think we can wrap up the story in a great way. But if season eight is the last one, I'd want to announce it by [the time of the TV Critics Association summer press tour in July], and tell people, "Watch these last 24 episodes."