WARNING: Of Course the article is full of spoilers!! Series that are included in the top 10 are: The Shield, Seinfeld, Angel, Mad Men, Roseanne, 24, M*A*S*H, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Game of Thrones. If you haven’t seen these series, and are planning to watch them, don’t read the list!
It’s easy to get attached to fictional TV characters when you spend time with them every week. The death of any significant character always leave an impression on the future direction of a show, but some character send-offs have the power to be truly shocking. Whether it’s a fan favourite suffering a grisly end or a beloved ‘safe’ supporting character whose death just couldn’t be predicted, these are some of the deaths which truly shocked audiences.
10. Terry Crowley – The Shield
FX broke new ground for the cop genre when the Shield premiered in 2002. With its gritty camerawork and an uncompromising anti hero protagonist, the gutsy show made audiences aware they weren’t watching just another police procedural by the end of the very first episode. The pilot introduces Vic Mackey and his ‘Strike Team’ as a gang of dirty cops who the new LAPD Captain David Aceveda wants off the streets. Unbeknownst to Mackey, one of his crew, Terry Crowley, is working with Aceveda to bring him and his team up on federal charges. At the end of the episode the Strike Team launch a raid on a drug dealer’s house. After they kill the dealer, Vic picks up his gun and shoots Terry in the face. The shocking execution of a fellow officer (albeit one who was spying on him) firmly cemented Mackey as an immoral cop who would do anything to protect himself and his team, and Terry’s death had repercussions throughout all seven seasons of the show.
9. Susan Ross – Seinfeld
Sitcoms aren’t immune from a ‘death episode’. Even some of the funniest TV comedies have dialled back the humour for an uncharacteristically sentimental episode where they give a recently departed character a sweet send-off. This wasn’t the case for Seinfeld. The ‘show about nothing’ was never a typical sitcom by any means, but the way it handled the death of George’s fiancee Susan was shocking even by its own dark comedy standards. After George springs for some cheap envelopes to send out their wedding invitations, Susan dies from licking the toxic glue. George is stunned by the news but it doesn’t last for long as the credits gag shows him ringing up actress Marisa Tomei to try and score a date with her (he blew his chances with Tomei when she found out he was engaged in an earlier episode).
8. Doyle – Angel
Joss Whedon has a well-earned reputation for killing characters and putting his fans through emotional hell. However, he really managed to outdo his own wicked streak early on in Angel. Doyle was a new addition who joined former Buffy characters Angel and Cordelia as they ran a supernatural detective agency in LA. The dynamic of the trio clicked pretty quickly and the unrequited love interest between Doyle and Cordelia teased a long-running ‘will they won’t they’ relationship. However, this all changed in the ninth episode of the first season when Doyle sacrificed himself to save all non-pure demons from the xenophobic, Nazi-like ‘Scourge’. It was certainly a hero’s death as half-demon Doyle threw himself into a super weapon to save his own kind (as well as humanity itself), but it was an out of nowhere early departure for a main character of the show.
7. Lane Pryce – Mad Men
The world of Mad Men isn’t all dapper suits and booze-fuelled lunches. The acclaimed period drama has always had a dark streak, but the suicide of Lane Pryce was a shocking end for the character. Faced with spiralling debt problems, Lane embezzled from the firm and was forced to resign when he got caught by Don Draper. Failing to kill himself with carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of his car, Lane returns to his office, types out a resignation letter and hangs himself. The sight of his corpse hanging from the doorframe and the reaction of the rest of the characters as they peeked into his office over the partition was one of the shows most startling and distressing scenes.
6. Dan Conner – Roseanne
Many were shocked by the events of the final season of Roseanne when the blue collar Connor family won the lottery and went from being salt of the earth folk to uppity snobs. However, writer/creator Roseanne Barr pulled the rug out during the final episode when she was shown sitting at the basement in front of a typewriter. The family had never really won the lottery and Roseanne had invented their amazing turn of events as a form of wish-fulfilment. Dan had actually died of a fatal heart attack and to cope with it she began writing a more ideal life for her family.
5. Teri Bauer – 24
Way before 24 established its well-worn formula of undercover moles, unexpected plot twists, political scandals and sudden character deaths, the first season of the genre-defying show managed to truly shock TV audiences with a gut punch of an ending. When Teri Bauer accidentally stumbles onto the fact that Jack’s CTU co-worker Nina Meyers is the terrorist mole, Nina ties Teri to a chair as she clears away her incriminating evidence. However, Jack has already figured it all out and he arrests Nina as she is leaving CTU headquarters. When he enters the building to find his wife, he finds Teri tied to the chair with a fatal gunshot to her stomach. The season ends with the unforgettable scene of Jack crying as he cradles his dead wife.
4. Col. Henry Blake – M*A*S*H
Killing off a main character in a TV show was still relatively taboo during the 1970s. Most lighthearted shows avoided the subject of death and preferred writing out actors who had died in real life or who no longer wanted to be a part of the show (or they’d just recast the role). This seemed to be the case when it was announced that McLean Stevenson was leaving war comedy show M*A*S*H at the end of the third season. His character Henry Blake was discharged home and the episode revolved around him preparing to leave the Korean army hospital and saying his goodbyes. However, as the episode is closing a visibly shaken Radar enters the operating room to tell the team that Blake’s plane had been shot down and there were no survivors. It was the first big tragic death of a character on a US show and is still remembered as one of the most unexpected moments in TV history almost 40 years later.
3. Omar Little – The Wire
Omar Little was the badass of Baltimore. Death on the streets was a major part of the Wire but it seemed like the legendary stick-up man would either see things out to the very end or go down in a blaze of glory. When Omar returns to the city to hunt down Marlo Stanfield, he goes through the drug kingpin’s connections in an effort to draw him out. Omar seemed more invincible than ever when he somehow managed to survive a four-storey jump from a balcony after a huge shootout, but his reckless wave of retribution is cut short when he is shot in the back of the head buying cigarettes. The shooter is Kenard, a young kid who works the corners, and it was a shocking end for the character but one that felt ‘right’ on the world of the streets.
2. Joyce Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When Buffy’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, fans braced themselves for a weepy farewell to the Scooby Gang’s matriarchal figure. This was all turned around when Joyce underwent brain surgery and appeared to be in remission, so fans were understandably devastated when Buffy returned home one day to find her mother’s lifeless body on the couch. Buffy’s discovery is heartbreaking as she calls 911 and stands by disorientated and completely confused as paramedics arrive and attempt CPR. Everything about the 10 minute scene – the natural death, the long take, the handheld camerawork and the use of sound – was a stark contrast to the typical proceedings of the show and made it all the more upsetting. Joss Whedon said that he didn’t want to create a ‘very special’ type of episode and wanted to realistically capture the feeling of numbness and isolation one felt after a loved one’s departure. He definitely succeeded.
1. Eddard Stark – Game of Thrones
Fans of HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones know by now that none of their beloved characters are safe, but this wasn’t always the case. Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark was one of the show’s main characters and featured prominently throughout the first season. A fiercely moral and principled man, he was one of the few characters with a sense of decency amongst the backstabbing and corruption of King’s Landing. Unfortunately, his plans to keep the crown in safe hands after the untimely death of King Robert are outmanoeuvred by his shrewd widow Queen Cersei and Ned is arrested before he can keep power. Standing trial for treason, Ned strikes a deal that if he announces Robert’s fake son Joffrey as the rightful King he and his family will be safe. However, the young king goes back on the plan and has Ned executed on the spot. His shocking death started a long and bloody war and firmly placed Joffrey as the most hated character on television.