Let’s face it: We frequently become too attached to the television characters that we voluntarily invite into our lives each week. Though we don’t write the scripts, we often take pride in knowing the general direction in which a television series is headed. When something veers off track, the result can shock even the most adoring fans and consequentially become what everyone talks about and analyzes the next day or even over the full hiatus.
The unexpected death of a television character can either evoke extreme anger, utter disgust or a completely different feeling of proud satisfaction that the specific series took a risk. To honor the dearly departed of the small screen, we complied a list of the most shocking TV deaths.
Spoiler Alert: This list contains spoilers from the following television shows: Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Lost, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire and M*A*S*H.
By season four of Showtime’s Dexter, everyone’s favorite serial killer seemed to finally live a somewhat normal life after marrying longtime-girlfriend Rita and enjoying suburbia with stepchildren Astor and Cody as well as his newborn baby Harrison. Well, this was the case until the Trinity Killer came along. In the season finale, Dexter finally killed Arthur Mitchell but the villain uttered the quizzical words “It’s already over” before the deed was done. On his way home, Dexter realized that his love for his family is overcoming his strong need to kill. And with Miller dead, all seemed at ease again and his hope for a new future seemed in reach. Earlier in the day, the blood-spatter specialist convinced Rita and baby Harrison to leave town for a vacation that he would later join. Soon after arriving at his house, Dexter listened to an earlier voicemail from Rita saying she needed to come home from the airport because she left her ID. After realizing Rita’s phone was in the house, Dexter discovered his wife dead in the bathtub in the same fashion of Trinity’s killings. Harrison was also crying in a pool of blood on the floor, mimicking the experience from Dexter’s childhood that inspired his murderous identity. Watch the game-changing twist in the video here.
9. Boardwalk Empire
The second season finale of Boardwalk Empire concluded with the surprising death of the HBO drama’s second-biggest character. Jimmy Darmody attempted to make amends for his betrayal of his former mentor Nucky Thompson, but there’s not much you can do when you attempted to assassinate the most powerful man in Atlantic City. The young war veteran knew of the outcome when Nucky invited him to meet in the pouring rain so he insisted on going alone, unarmed and secretly leaving behind his dog tags for his infant son. The power struggle between the two men ended when Nucky interrupted his protégé and shot him in the head to die on the ground.
8. Game of Thrones
Of course, if you have read George R. R. Martin’s best-selling book series, this one comes as no surprise, but for those only taking part in the HBO television adaptation of Game of Thrones, the execution of the top-billed character created quite the commotion. Instead of continuing to fight, Eddard Stark decided to protect his daughters by falsely declaring that he was involved in a conspiracy to become king and that the world’s worst tyrant, Joffrey Baratheon, was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Despite stating these claims, King Joffrey proved once again why no one likes him when he suddenly ordered Ned’s public beheading.
7. The Walking Dead
Though deaths are obviously common on the zombie television series, the death of Lori Grimes shocked Walking Dead fans due to the harsh circumstances endured by the hero’s wife. Hiding out in the abandoned prison, Lori went into labor during a zombie attack and the resident doctor Hershel was nowhere close to help deliver the baby. Luckily, Hershel’s daughter Maggie assisted Lori while her estranged son Carl kept a close watch. Without any anesthetic or medical equipment, Maggie was forced to use Carl’s knife to perform a messy makeshift C-section. The procedure ended up killing Lori before she ever got to meet her newborn daughter. To prevent Lori from turning into a zombie, Carl then took charge and shot his mother in the head.
The first shocking moment occurred when the body of John Locke was revealed as the mysterious Jeremy Bentham in the season four finale. The “gotcha” moments kept on coming during the Season Five explanatory episode The Life and Times of Jeremy Bentham when the island’s resident Man of Faith prepared to attempt suicide before evil mastermind Benjamin Linus talked him out of it. When Locke mentioned the remaining work to be done to convince the Oceanic Six to return to the island, Ben became noticeably startled at the mention of Eloise Hawking’s name. Not long after this, Ben strangled Locke using the extension cord which quickly and painfully killed him. Standing in the darkness, Ben maliciously states, “I’ll miss you, John. I really will.” Yeah Ben, not sure we believe you on that one. To watch Locke’s death scene, skip to 2:37 in the video here.
5. Downton Abbey
One thing we’ve learned about British television: Nobody is safe. Though Matthew Crawley’s sudden demise in the season finale was tragic in its own right, the brutal death of Lady Sybil shocked us all when the British series killed off the most likeable member of the Crawley family. Shortly after giving birth to her first child, Lady Sybil suffered through dreadful seizures resulting from Dr. Clarkson’s correct belief that she had symptoms of eclampsia during childbirth and should have been taken to a hospital, which was ignored by specialist Sir Philip and Lord Grantham. Lady Sybil’s death affected audiences around the world as she visibly changed color, dying in the arms of her loving husband Tom Branson with her immediate family witnessing the devastating scene.
4. Mad Men
Lane Pryce controlled the finances at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and put himself into serious turmoil when he embezzled $8,000 from the company on a fake bonus check to cover up a significant tax bill. When Don found out that his British colleague forged his signature instead of simply asking for the money, Don was forced to ask for Lane’s resignation. For Lane, losing his job also meant losing his Visa and being required to unwillingly return to England. Arriving at home, Lane learned that his wife purchased him a brand new Jaguar as a surprise gift. Lane’s intense financial issues produced emotions of widespread shame and humiliation. As a result, Lane initially attempted to take his life by poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. When this failed, Lane typed his resignation letter, attached it to himself and then committed suicide by hanging himself right in the office for all his coworkers to see. This AMC video gives a synopsis of the episode with insight from creator Matthew Weiner, Jon Hamm and other cast members.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon delt with a massive backlash when a stray bullet killed Tara, the love interest of Alyson Hannigan’s character Willow. Warren Mears intended the bullet for Buffy but it hit Tara unexpectedly through the window and she died in the arms of her girlfriend. Though Whedon claims the reason for Tara’s death was strictly to move along Willow’s storyline of dealing with her new dark powers, fans reacted forcefully and accused the writers of being homophobic.
2. The Wire
Based on the streets of Baltimore, The Wire had its fair share of deaths throughout its five seasons yet the one that had the most impact may have also been the most straightforward. Considered the Robin Hood of the series, Omar Little had a strict code to never interfere with anyone not involved in “the game.” The stick-up man became the most beloved criminal due to his quotable dialogue and endless street cred. In the Season Five episode “Clarifications,” Omar is shot in the head after entering a convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes. The camera pans out to reveal the 12-year-old Kenard as the stunned shooter.
1. Lt. Col. Henry Blake on M*A*S*H
In the Season Three finale “Abbyssinia, Henry,” fans of M*A*S*H knew about the chosen departure of cast member McLean Stevenson and expected a happy sendoff for his beloved character Lt. Col. Henry Blake. The good-humored solider received an honorable discharge and was to joyfully return home to his wife and family. Instead, Radar entered the O.R. room at the end of the episode to report that Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan and there were no survivors. Though the death takes place off scene, this moment is so powerful because producers Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds did not give the script pages for this scene to the cast until minutes before filming. Blake’s death was kept secret from the actors in order to evoke pure emotions. The extreme shock and sadness conveyed on the screen translated to the 1975 audience that had never witnessed such realistic grief on scripted television. Though M*A*S*H continued for eight more seasons, this scene became a defining moment for the sitcom when it began to purposely express the unfortunate realities of war. Watch Radar reading the message to the 4077th in the brief clip below.