The 15 Most Memorable TV Deaths
There are immediate 'Game of Thrones' spoilers in the next paragraph. You have been warned.
In one of the most memorable episodes of 'Game of Thrones,' Robb Stark's rebellion was put to a sudden and bloody end at the hands of the spiteful Walder Frey, the traitorous Roose Bolton and the crafty Lannister family. "The Red Wedding" saw Robb's pregnant wife stabbed to death and the King in the North shot full of arrows before being stabbed in the heart. However, the real kicker was the death of Robb's mother Catelyn, who had her throat cut after killing Frey's young wife.
It's the kind of scene you never forget, an event that will radically change the make-up of 'Game of Thrones' forever. How could someone top that?
In honor of the Red Wedding, let's take a journey back in time and look at some of the most memorable character deaths in TV history. Here are the moments that shocked us, disgusted us and broke our hearts into a thousand little pieces.
Characters don't often bite the bullet in 'Mad Men,' with the show generally preferring to deliver crippling blows to emotions and egos instead. However, season five saw the suicide of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), who embezzled company funds to cover his debt and was ordered to resign by Don Draper. Despondent, Pryce hangs himself in his office (only after his first attempt with carbon monoxide poisoning fails when his car won't start), letting the rest of the staff discover his body in one of the series' most devastating sequences.
HBO's gangster drama 'Boardwalk Empire' has a habit of offing characters in violent ways, but no death was more shocking or unexpected than Nucky Thompson's execution of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). Because he was played by a recognizable actor and was the co-lead of the show, audiences expected him to make amends with Nucky after making a season-long power play against him. But the show wasn't interested in returning to the old status quo. Oh, no. Nucky lures Jimmy into a meeting under false pretenses, completely ignores his former protege's pleadings and coldly puts two bullets in his head. It was at this point that 'Boardwalk Empire' proved that it wasn't kidding around.
Although Michael Chiklis was unquestionably the star of 'The Shield,' Walton Goggins' Shane Vendrell provided just as many reasons to tune in. The best friend and partner to Chiklis' Vic Mackey, Vendrell spends much of the series as the antihero's right hand man...until things get rotten and Shane murders fellow Strike Team member Lem, putting him in Vic's sights. However, a final showdown between the two men is painfully and tragically averted. With his former partners at his doorstep, Shane murders his family and turns his gun on himself, depriving the audience and Vic of any kind of vengeance. It's infuriating, but it's perfect -- 'The Shield' was always about the perversion of justice, so it's only right that Vic and the audience can't get the revenge they want.
'Friday Night Lights' is a gentle, warm and inspiring show about life in small town Texas that uses high school football to paint a moving and beautiful portrait of modern Americana. In other words, not a lot of people die. However, tragedy strikes early in season four, when the kind-hearted Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) learns that his estranged father has been killed in Iraq. Although we barely know the deceased Henry Saracen (he showed up for a stretch in season one), his passing has a devastating impact on Matt, who struggles with his complicated feelings toward his father. This storyline climaxes with the unforgettable scene where a drunken Matt stumbles into the funeral home, demanding to see his dad's body. Unlike most TV deaths, Henry Saracen's passing isn't about him, but about the ripple effects it has on everyone else in his life. Matt comes out of this episode a permanently changed man.
Starz's 'Spartacus' had a habit of killing more major characters in single episodes than many shows do in their entire run, so a death on this show has to be really special if it wants to stand out from the crowd. No death was more harrowing or operatic than that of Lucy Lawless' Lucretia, who ended a season of suffering in the flashiest way possible. Driven insane after losing her child to a stab wound back in season one, Lucretia spends much of the second season being battered around and mistreated by her so-called friends, who use her as a tool to earn more political influence. However, Lucretia has the last laugh. When her arch-enemy/best friend Ilithyia goes into labor, Lucretia cuts the child from her womb and leaps off a nearby cliff with the baby in her arms, prepared to meet her husband in the afterlife with the child they always wanted. It's grim, it's absurd and it's totally amazing.
The first season of Adult Swim's 'The Venture Bros.' ends with a jaw-dropping twist. The titular brothers, the sons of a washed-up super scientist, are gunned down by buffoonish henchmen while riding their hover bikes. And they're dead. Dead, dead, dead. Season two opens with new credits, suggesting that the show will now be about their father, Dr. Venture, and his twin brother. But that's just a ruse. We soon learn that the Venture boys were just clones and that they have died dozens of times while on dozens of other adventures and that they're just going to get cloned again. Although it's a funny (and morbid) joke, this revelation sets the table for the series' increasingly deep mythology. Watching how the Venture family deals with this lack of mortality in later seasons is fascinating and hilarious.
It was a moment that rattled the entire internet and helped define the second season of 'Lost.' Michael (Harold Perrineau) is offered a chance to escape the mysterious island with his abducted son as long as he returns "Henry Gale," an "Other" being held captive by our heroes. Since he really, really, really wants his son back, Michael agrees, but his progress is blocked by Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez), who wants to kill the captive. Michael convinces her to let him pull the trigger, takes her gun and shoots her dead. And then the completely innocent Libby (Cynthia Watros) walks in on the scene and Michael kills her too. It's one of the most shocking scenes in TV history, transforming the formerly heroic Michael into one of the most despised television characters in recent memory.
There have been few TV villains as complex as Margo Martindale's Mags Bennett. The "Big Bad" of the second season of 'Justified,' Mags was the head of a clan with deep ties to Harlan County's criminal underbelly and a longstanding rivalry with with Raylan Givens' (Timothy Olyphant) family. Although absolutely ruthless when it came to business, Mags was also a doting mother, a wonderful raconteur and the kind of woman who you'd love to share a mason jar of moonshine with ... unless the moonshine was poisoned, a method of assassination she employs once on an enemy and a second time on herself to avoid going to prison. It's weird to watch a criminal mastermind commit suicide over a drink with the US Marshall who took her down and feel sorry for her, but Martindale sells the scene, giving one of the great modern TV characters a proper send-off.
Things don't change on 'Star Trek.' The original series, 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and 'Star Trek Voyager' all had a status quo and that status quo was always, without question, returned to at the end of the episode. On the other hand, 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' reveled in throwing away 'Trek' conventions, constantly changing the game and forcing its cast of characters to deal with life-changing events on a regular basis. Nothing was more devastating to the crew of Deep Space Nine than the murder of Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) at the hands of the villainous Gul Dukat. In retrospect, all of the signs were there. She was happily married to Worf (Michael Dorn) and had just learned that they may be having a child. In most shows, that would be a sure sign of doom, but not on 'Star Trek,' with its all-important status quo. Her death is not only heartbreaking to the characters, it's heartbreaking to the audience, who aren't used to saying goodbye to 'Trek' characters.
Every shocking character death in the "golden age of television" owes a debt to 'The Sopranos' and the character of Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore), whose demise formed the template for how to off an important character. Despite being one of mob boss Tony Soprano's best friends, Big Pussy agreed to work with the FBI to avoid thirty years of jail time, wearing a wire and betraying the trust of his criminal colleagues. At the end of the second season, Tony discovers the truth and takes Big Pussy out to see his new boat. At sea, Tony and his partners Silvio and Dante confront him with the truth. Big Pussy tries to talk his way out of his impending death, but soon resigns, requesting that his friends don't shoot him in the face. And then Tony, Dante and Silvio open fire. It's sad, angry scene and one of the most memorable moments in a series with countless highs.
Joss Whedon has never been shy about killing his characters, offing beloved personalities in 'Angel,' 'Serenity,' 'The Avengers' and, of course, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' Although 'Buffy' is filled with shocking and memorable character deaths, the demise of Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) in season two is the point where the show proves that it's not taking any prisoners. Initially a small supporting character, Ms. Calendar grew to be a part of the ensemble, helping the Scooby gang fight vampires while being a love interest for Giles (who really, really needed a girlfriend). After a falling out with the group, Calendar devises a way of restoring the soul of formerly-good vampire Angel...only to find herself cornered by now-evil vamp himself. The show offers you juuust enough hope for an escape before he snaps her neck and leaves her body for Giles to find it.
By its later seasons, '24' was so huge, bombastic and cartoonish that death had stopped mattering. Major characters were killed on a regular basis and everyone around them only paused long enough to register a little shock before moving on. In the first few seasons, the show let the characters (and the audience) truly feel the impact of a death. A '24' demise was never more memorable than the murder of Jack Bauer's wife, Teri Bauer (Leslie Hope) at the hands of Nina, his best friend-turned-nemesis. After an entire season of badass action hero antics and day-saving, it's devastating to watch the superhuman Jack cradle the body of his dead wife, unable to save the one life that truly mattered to him.
Before the '90s, memorable character deaths on television were rare occurrences. TV was an escape. A show was a chance to sit down with your fictional buddies and share in their adventures. It was comforting. However, 'M*A*S*H' delivered one of the first great TV sucker punches at the end of its third season with the death of the lovable Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). At the beginning of the episode, the commander of the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital learns that he's being sent home, away from the front lines of the Korean War for good. The next twenty minutes are spent with the entire cast saying their goodbyes and farewells...and the final minute is spent with them learning that his plane home was shot down and that there were no survivors. Even at its funniest, 'M*A*S*H' never forgot the true horrors of its wartime setting.
Poor Ned Stark. Poor stupid, honorable Ned Stark. When the Lord of the North came to King's Landing to serve as the Hand of the King in the first season of 'Game of Thrones,' he surely didn't foresee himself effortlessly outmaneuvered by the crafty Lannisters and he certainly didn't see himself framed for treason and put on the executioner's block by the vile King Joffrey. The defining moment of the entire series, the execution of Eddard Stark is not only a profoundly shocking moment but a clear picture of the show's mission statement. If you're a good person and straight-shooter, you're a dead man. If you want to play the Game of Thrones, you need to play dirty.
There has never been a better TV villain than Gustavo Fring on 'Breaking Bad' and there has never been a better TV death than his assassination by explosion. Orchestrated by Walter White but carried out by the wheelchair-bound Hector Salamanca, the powerful drug lord and fast food restaurant entrepreneur got suicide-bombed right in the face, leading to the unforgettable shot of his barely-functioning body straightening his tie one final time before collapsing to the ground. It's a grotesque and terrifying end for a character who defined himself through his grotesque and terrifying actions. It also marks the moment where Walter White officially stopped being a good guy in a bad situation and started being the most nefarious villain since ... well, Gustavo Fring.