When you watch television, especially modern television that thrives on shocks and surprises, you need to be prepared for the fact that just because someone’s a main character, it doesn’t mean that they will have a long and healthy life. Doesn’t matter who they are, or how big a role they have. These days, a major character can be killed off in the fifth episode of the first season with barely a second thought.
We often come into a television viewing experience with preconceived notions about what types of characters will be allowed to live and which will be killed off. Of course, showrunners wouldn’t be showrunners if they didn’t have a demonstrated ability to challenge and consistently wrong-foot viewers. But even shows that are used to keeping audiences on their toes sometimes have that moment when all of a sudden it becomes clear that there is no one they won’t kill in their bloody quest for viewership.
On that note, here are 10 shocking television deaths that showed us nobody is safe.Next
10) Sophia – The Walking Dead
In a post-apocalyptic landscape ravaged by bloodthirsty zombies, it was perhaps foolish to hang onto sentimentality. To set arbitrary rules in your head about who could die and who couldn’t. But there’s always been this taboo against killing children on television that made us think that Carl and Sophia, the two children of the ragtag group of survivors, would make it to the end. Big mistake.
With zombies roaming around, no one is safe, not even the innocent. At the start of the second season, Sophie disappeared after a zombie attack, and her fate remained a mystery until about halfway through the season.
We spent the entire first half in a slow burn, anxiously waiting to find out what happened to her. But nothing could have prepared us for the moment when we discover the stockpile of zombies hidden in the barn, we see a pair of skinny, childish legs wearing all-too-familiar trainers, and we realize that the worst has happened. Sophie is dead, and there’s a zombie wearing her face. It was like being punched in the gut. We probably should have expected it, but The Walking Dead sill gave us the harsh reminder that anyone could die on this show, and that nobody is safe.Previous Next
Doyle – Angel
Despite the fact that Wesley and Gunn became integral parts of Angel Investigations in later years of the show, it began with the trio of Angel, Cordelia, and Doyle. He was a roguish half-demon coming to terms with his heritage, whose insecurities belied a man who was much smarter and braver than even he gave himself credit for. Doyle was cursed with visions, which allowed him to see flashes of people that Angel was supposed to save. He had an incredibly endearing crush on Cordelia as well, who unfortunately saw him as an alcoholic slob until it was too late.
Halfway through the first season, the gang encountered a group of demonic Nazi Death Eaters who were massacring any half-demons they could find. It forced Doyle to come to terms with his somewhat unconventional heritage, and he sacrificed himself in a truly heroic gesture.
When a fledgling new show establishes a power trio, you generally don’t expect one of them to die in the ninth episode. Thanks a lot, Joss. Every time we think that we can learn to trust someone again, you pull this kind of stunt.Previous Next
Lane Pryce – Mad Men
The spectre of death hung heavy (no pun intended) over the course of the fifth season of Mad Men. We knew something bad was going to happen, it was just a question of when and where. We finally got our answer when Lane Pryce, caught in an embezzlement scheme to cover his growing debts and forced to resign, hanged himself in his office. It was a bold move from the series, which typically found other ways to use story to surprise the audience.
But suicide has been a subtle theme of the show since the very beginning, when we first saw the man in the opening credits experience his literal fall from a skyscraper coupled with a metaphorical fall from grace. Whatever viewers may have been expecting, Lane’s short precipitous fall from grace was an undeniable jolt, and quickly became one of the season’s biggest talking points.
Now, with the show reaching 1969 and Megan out in a Los Angeles that’s about to be shaken to its core by Charles Manson, the murmurs of an impending death are on the rise. And who knows? Mad Men has proven that it isn’t afraid to take things down a dark path, as evidenced by poor Lane’s fate.Previous Next
Sybil/Matthew Crawley – Downton Abbey
Conventional wisdom says that on a show like Downton Abbey, you keep the popular characters around for as long as you think you can get away with it. What you normally don’t do is execute two well-loved characters in the same season, which is part of the reason why audiences were so shocked at the events of the third season. Sybil was the youngest Crawley daughter, a kind-hearted girl who was determined to be more than just another debutante. She had neither the prickly temperament of Mary or the self esteem issues of Edith, and we loved her for it.
So, of course, she had to die, abruptly and painfully, afflicted with eclampsia while giving birth to her daughter. After that happened, we kind of thought that was going to be it for major deaths in the third season. But then there was Matthew. Deliriously happy after the birth of his son with Mary, he gets into a car accident and dies on the scene. Ouch. While logistical issues were at play there (Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show and they needed to write him off somehow), it was nonetheless a jarring loss that made us wonder how many characters we’d be losing in season four.Previous Next
Will Gardner – The Good Wife
This is an example of the most unnerving way to kill off a character. Josh Charles didn’t have any issues with the production team, and The Good Wife isn’t the kind of show that routinely executes its characters. There was no real reason to get rid of Will Gardner, but they did it anyway. Just because they could.
In the most recent season, the charismatic lawyer was the victim of a courtroom shooting, which left him dead and the law firm emotionally ravaged. It was a shocking moment, and one that was deeply felt.
Gardner was a highly beloved character on the show, and losing him as suddenly as they did made audiences realize that The Good Wife was not a show that was always going to play it safe. It gave the fifth season of the show a much needed shake up, and allowed them to wade into greater emotional depths.
In terms of manufactured drama, seeing all of the characters react to Will Gardner’s death was painful, but at the same time, tremendously satisfying to watch from an acting perspective.Previous Next
Emmett – Chuck
Although Chuck was about an NSA/CIA black ops team that went on dangerous missions every week, it was pretty much well known for being primarily an action-comedy. There weren’t a huge amount of character deaths, and we always thought that whatever happened, Chuck, Sarah, and Casey would probably be safe. Some of the most clever aspects of the show were when they blended elements of the spy world with the more pedestrian life at the Buy More, but regardless, we weren’t expecting the serious events to happen in the Buy More world.
That’s why it was such a shock when Store Manager Emmett was coldly gunned down by a hit man he unwisely mocked. He was shot in the forehead and left for dead out by the dumpsters, with remarkably little fanfare. Sure, it was something that we’d all be secretly hoping would happen since Emmett’s very first episode, but we never thought it would actually happen. Maybe if we were lucky he’d get shipped off to Hawaii like Harry Tang, but shot? Never. Tonally, it was a major departure from what we were used to seeing on Chuck, and it served as proof that they weren’t pulling any punches.Previous Next
Nikki – Misfits
Misfits is a show about a group of youthful offenders, who find themselves superpowers after a freak lightning storm. While it was always theoretically possible that one of our unconventional heroes could die, it never seemed particularly likely. After all, Nathan is functionally immortal and Curtis can go back in time. Not exactly characters that seem likely to be killed. Oh, how wrong we were. There’s carnage all around, but the central group of Misfits were survivors…at least for the first couple of series. But then they decided to sell their powers to a shady dealer, and all the rules changed.
They’re not the all-powerful antiheroes anymore, and while they’re glad to be free of the perceived burdens of their abilities, they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be vulnerable. So they get sloppy. When a robber threatens them at gunpoint, Nathan tries to fight back, resulting in the death of Nikki. She dies quickly and pointlessly, and although she wasn’t a main member of the cast, her death serves as a harbinger of things to come. In the next season, Misfits start dropping like flies, but Nikki was the one who shocked us into remembering that they could actually be killed. Real, permanent deaths, not like Future Simon or Nathan’s stint in the coffin.Previous Next
Joyce Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that faces death head on. People die in pretty much every single episode of the show’s seven year run, so in a way, we were starting to get desensitized to it. Think about it. On most shows, a teenager getting gruesomely murdered would be a big deal. On Buffy though, that’s exactly what happened during the pre-credits sequence. But somehow, the fact that these were supernatural deaths helped us to distance ourselves from them. When Buffy found Joyce dead on the couch, though…that felt shockingly real. Joss put us through 45 minutes of hell on earth, a barrage on our emotions that left us a weeping emotional wreck huddled in the corner (metaphorically speaking).
Joyce was the mother figure of the Scooby Gang, a comforting presence even when she sometimes wasn’t making the right decisions with Buffy. In the same way that as children we were convinced that our parents were immortal, the idea that Joyce could die never occurred to us. A regular, everyday death that had nothing to do with the supernatural made her passing all the more poignant, and her absence left a gaping hole in the hearts of everyone who watched the show.Previous Next
Adric – Doctor Who
Sure, Adric was not the first companion on Doctor Who to die. He was, however, one of only three companions to officially die on the show in its entire fifty year history, so it’s fair to call his shocking death scene something of an aberration. What’s more, he was a young teenager who died alone, trapped on an exploding spaceship while the Doctor watched helplessly safe aboard the TARDIS with Nyssa and Tegan. If that kind of character can die, who can’t?
Adric was annoying and whiny, and maybe in hindsight it might have been better to bring his older brother onto the TARDIS instead, with his rough around the edges demeanour far more appealing than Adric’s genius schoolboy routine. But it was still incredibly traumatizing to watch the little guy realize exactly what was happening, and to be stuck on board with no way of escape.
Fans didn’t see it coming at all, either, and many watched the following serial expecting him to somehow return. But Adric was really and truly gone. Having the courage to do that on Doctor Who reminded everyone that the Doctor was not infallible, and it was devastating to watch him lose one of the people that he felt responsible for.Previous Next
Ned Stark – Game Of Thrones
Looking back, we really should have seen it coming. After all, it’s pretty common knowledge that George R.R. Martin’s favorite hobby is killing off beloved characters, and Sean Bean doesn’t exactly have a reputation for surviving many of his films. But at the time, the second when we realized that Joffrey was actually going to have Ned Stark executed…it was incredibly shocking. It was like the television version of the exact moment when you realized, as a child, that life wasn’t fair. Westeros was not a just land, and good people were going to die.
Since then, there have been a number of other fairly traumatic deaths on the show. That first one with Ned was huge in terms of impact, though. Viewers who hadn’t read the books never would have expected them to kill off the man who seemed to be the main protagonist, and Ned getting his head chopped off made it abundantly clear exactly what kind of show Game of Thrones was going to be.Previous