The 30 Best (or Worst) TV Deaths
Game of Thrones isn't the only show that knows how to kill off a character or two. Here are the best and most devastating TV deaths.
Death is a part of life…but it’s an even bigger part of television.
Television has always been the visual medium that we welcome into our homes, first via electromagnetic waves on television sites and eventually over the Internet on a wide variety of devices. That, and most TV shows’ serialized nature, creates a kind of intimacy with the characters we welcome in. So of course TV shows like to repay that favor by killing some of our favorites.
further reading: Game of Thrones Season 8: Who Lives and Who Dies
Of course there is no more prolific TV assassin than Game of Thrones. So with Thrones set to kill off approximately 9 billion more of our close friends in the Battle of Winterfell, let’s honor those who have fallen already, both on Game of Thrones and throughout TV history.
30. Teri Bauer
Jack Bauer is America’s James Bond. A kickass (and retrospectively hokey) TV icon of the 2000s, he represented everything Americans felt about those precarious years. And he was never better than in the first season of 24, a wild ride of espionage, intrigue and post-9/11 paranoia. In that season he pushed himself to the brink to (repeatedly) rescue his wife and daughter from harm. Thus making his last-minute failure all the more painful.
further reading: Why Fox is Trying to Reinvent 24
As the clock neared the end of its 24th hour, Jack had stopped the terrorists and saved aspiring presidential candidate David Palmer’s life. Yet, tragically, he failed to save the life of his estranged wife, Teri Bauer. Played by Leslie Hope with a sense of exhausted weariness, Teri is a woman who loves her husband, but struggles to forgive him for his long hours. Especially at the workplace with Nina, the comely spy who came between the Bauers. How fitting that it is also Nina who separates them permanently when she reveals herself to be the CTU mole and executes Teri. Jack’s shortcomings ended the first season on the stunning cliffhanger of a dead wife in his arms.
29. Lyanna Mormont
Game of Thrones
Small in size but mountainous in spirit, young Lyanna Mormont might have been the fiercest soul in all of Game of Thrones history, which is saying something. Played by Bella Ramsey as a pint-sized badass who was born done with all of it, she was too good for the North or this world. Aye, originally meant to only appear in one scene she wound up being a scene stealer for three seasons straight until or tragically early death during the Battle for the Dawn at Winterfell in Game of Thrones‘ final season.
further reading: Game of Thrones: The Long Night Review
Yet she died as she lived, putting bigger men than her in their place. In this case, it was a literal undead giant who crushed her bones as if she were a grape, but even in her death rattles, she looked death itself in the blue-eyed face and screamed epic defiance until the end, taking the giant’s life too with a little dragonglass and maximum badassery.
28. The Red Viper
Game of Thrones
While also on the subject of Game of Thrones, another all-time great death in the series involved us saying goodbye to the too-briefly seen Prince Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper. A pansexual Übermensch who made no qualms about defying conventions or even the most powerful Lannisters to their faces, he was played with a cavalier swagger by Pedro Pascal who used his charisma like a weapon, with each scene being his victim. Making a huge impression in a matter of minutes, the effect worked brilliantly when he met a sudden and shocking end.
further reading: Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper Review
In the episode prior to his death, the swashbuckler of Westeros revealed an empathy underneath his cocksure indifference when he volunteered to fight for Tyrion Lannister when no one else would. He was doing this for vengeance against the forces that killed his sister, sure, but he also showed a sincere bit of understanding for Tyrion when no one else in King’s Landing would. He offered a striking alternative universe to this series where perhaps Tyrion would’ve gone to Dorne instead of Essos, but it was not to be since Oberyn lost his duel with the mountain. Actually, he technically won it, proving faster and more dangerous with his selective strikes than the Mountain’s lumberous hacks of a sword. But this is not The Princess Bride. Thus as Oberyn began showboating after mortally wounding the Mountain and leaving him flat on his back, and began taunting him about killing his sister and her children, the Mountain was able to sweep Oberyn’s legs out from under him and smash his head like a melon, beginning with fingers to the eyes.
It was an ignoble end to an amazing character, which makes it kind of perfect for its show.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand
With a subtitle like “Blood and Sand,” you know that a lot of characters are going to die. Also being loosely (and I do mean LOOSELY) based on the historical figure of Spartacus, there is also likely to be blood both within and outside of the arena. Indeed, the first season of Spartacus offered an orgy of gore with loveable characters dying left and right, including Sparty’s BFF Varro and his beloved wife, Sura. Yet, the most memorable scene in the entire series is the death of one of the least likeable characters: Batiatus. Played by John Hannah of Mummy fame with enough ham to open a deli, Batiatus was the show.
His fondness for the titular gladiator made him semi-endearing. He was like a dog whisperer with real people. But then pesky things like having Sura and Barca murdered made him a first-rate bastard too. It is that murky ambiguity that made him so entertaining. In a show where everything is painted in broad strokes of black, white and red, the grayness of this smiling snake made him a joy to watch right up until Spartacus cut his throat wide open in the season’s final minutes. He had it coming, but the show surely did not, as his absence sent it down a diminishing path in the second official season. Also, the moment where he reaches for his stabbed wife in the fountain of blood? A sympathetic monster to the end!
26. Peter Russo
House of Cards
Rep. Peter Russo, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, was not a really likable guy. An addictive personality who has a tendency to project his problems on everyone else, he far too often fell down the bottom of a bottle or pill container. And yet, we could not help but root for the man. He wanted to improve himself by surmounting his weaknesses and making good to the Philly shipyard workers he screwed over in a bad bit of politicking. That is probably why Majority Whip Frank Underwood’s coldblooded murder of the fool was so gut wrenching.
further reading: How House of Cards Changed Course for its Final Season
For no apparent reason other than a seeming disdain for the weak, Underwood got Russo nice and liquored up in his car, before leaving the ignition on and shutting the garage door on the fellow congressman. House of Cards would never shy enough from major character deaths in its latter seasons but Peter Russo was the first and therefore most astonishing.
Game of Thrones
Hodor. Hodor Hodor Hodor. Hodor? Hodor! Hodooorrr! Hoooodooooooorrrrrrrrrr!
Hodor (Kristian Nairn) was everybody’s favorite simple-minded stableboy on Game of Thrones. When little lord Bran Stark lost the use of his legs, the massive Hodor was around to carry the lad around…because Hodor is a real bro. Unfortunately, it’s revealed that Hodor lived a much more tragic life than we initially realized. Originally a young stableboy named Wyllis in service of House Stark at Winterfell, Hodor got caught up in an unfortunate bit of time travel sickness.
When Bran and Meera are under siege by White Walkers North of the Wall, Bran urges Hodor to “hold the door” to keep the monsters at bay. At that moment, however, Bran wargs into Hodor and witnesses the young Wyllis’s life. The consequences of having his brain taken over in two separate time periods breaks Wyllis’s brain and allows him to only say the final words of his life “Hold the door…hold door…hol-dooor…hodoor…hodor….hodor.” It’s as tragic an origin story AND conclusion story that exists on Game of Thrones.
24. Matthew Crawley
Dan Stevens’ Mr. Crawley had a lot going for him in life on Downtown Abbey. He had survived the Great War and the Spanish Flu while abroad from his beloved Lady Mary Crawley, the series’ protagonist. Better still, his beloved wife is in labor and about to give birth to his child! What could possibly go wrong? Well, crashing your car headlong into an oncoming truck is a start.
further reading: Downton Abbey Movie: Everything You Need to Know
It is strange that such a survivor as Matthew did not see the forthcoming demise, but as the actor wanted out, I suppose the world’s creator(s) had other plans. Such as showing him lying lifeless underneath a crushing car while blood pours from his blank stare into oblivion. What a way to end a season for the quaint period piece!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Okay, just ignore for a minute that Angel was brought back from the dead a season later (aren’t they all on Buffy?). Also, look over that he eventually got his own spinoff show. On face value alone, Buffy murdering her two-season love interest is still the most stunning kill Whedon ever dared write. This is the guy who has been tormented for 200 years from his Irish homeland curse.
further reading: The 25 Best Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes
Also, the only reason the demon Angelus, the curse that was placed upon him, gets out to start doing harm is because the repentant vampire gives into sin and sleeps with Buffy. As his reward, Buffy stops the freed demon by stabbing her boyfriend in the chest and literally condemning him to Hell. Eternal, fiery torment. Like forever. That is pretty messed up. To the point where Whedon would retcon it a year later. Still, this singular moment loses none of its horror.
22. Lane Pryce
AMC’s effortlessly cool Mad Men was known more for the emotional complexity hiding beneath the surface than large outbursts of drama. That makes big gestures, such as hanging yourself at the office for Joan to find, all the more disorienting.
Always the laid back and proper marketing guy, Jared Harris was allowed to show a great deal of range as Don Draper chews him out for embezzling company funds to cover up his debts. And after a botched go of it in the Jaguar that he could not pay for, he successfully leaves himself swaying in the office. That makes the number of suicides after a Don Draper tongue-lashing jump to two. This man knows how to close a deal.
21. Glenn Rhee
The Walking Dead
Glenn was The Walking Dead‘s moral center. He was among the first non-Walkers that Rick met in the brave new world and survived through six seasons of absolute zombie madness. He was a good person. And this sadly was not a world in which good people survive.
further reading: The Walking Dead’s Resurrection: Why Fans Should Return to the Show
While The Walking Dead made the truly maddening decision not to reveal who was the recipient of Negan’s Lucille attack until the season 7 premiere, everyone still knew in their heart of hearts that Maggie’s husband had to go. That was the way things worked out in the comics and that’s the way things worked out on the show. We didn’t expect Abraham to go too but Glenn, our buddy for six seasons, was the real devastating loss.
20. Dr. Robert Ford
Always the puppetmaster to the very end, Dr. Robert Ford had the last laugh even in his apparent assassination. Standing as a masterclass in low-key hamming by Anthony Hopkins, this Dr. Frankenstein of HBO’s Westworld made malevolence seem like old school cool etiquette even as he was getting robotic duplicates of his BFFs to shoot themselves in the head. Yet his head also was done in by the season 1 finale’s close when Dolores found free will by murdering her creator…. or did she?
further reading: Westworld: The Bicameral Mind Review
As the second season perhaps underlines too much, Dolores was given the impression that she could attain free will by picking up a gun her supportive benefactor, Robert Ford, had left within her reach. He obviously knew she would, as his “final narrative” he spoke of right before he had his brains blown out was about Dolores leading a faux-robot revolution and killing all of the greedy board members who pushed Ford out of his dream job. There is also the fact that even though Ford died, his consicousness lived on. Gah, we’re still not sure what it all means, but we do know it was amazing television during that finale!
19. The High Sparrow, Margaery, et. al
Game of Thrones
Talk about a game winning move. For much of season 5 and 6 of Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister looked like she was doomed. One bad decision after another led her ceding her power to the High Sparrow and his fanatical followers, a religious order she hoped would destroy her younger rival in Margaery Tyrell, but who instead were on the verge of burning her at the stake for her (admittedly real) misdeeds. So pulling a W out of nowhere by simply blowing up one of Westeros’ oldest institutions–literally setting the Great Sept of Baelor on fire with explosive wildfire–was a genuine shock, not least of all because she not only murdered the High Sparrow and his followers, but also all of her enemies in the city, including the cunning Margaery.
further reading: Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter Review
Aye, it was a sad end that Margaery, a queen with a healthy love for her brother, saw the doom coming but because she had hitched her wagon to the Sparrows’ patriarchy couldn’t do anything to save herself or brother Loras when the green flames came. Still, the look of smug confidence giving way to genuine terror on Jonathan Pryce’s face as Ramin Djawadi’s now iconic organ and piano score crescendoed is the stuff of TV legend.
Also that it led to Tommen committing suicide with nary a word in a comi-tragic note is just the icing on this bleak cake.
18. Alison Bailey
A big factor in what makes a TV death truly surprising is timing. One could reasonably expect a death or two in a finale or a final season. In The Affair, the death of one of its leads happens two episodes before the finale in second to last season. Also, this is a show about infidelity in Montauk. It’s not like anyone is battling on the Riverlands of Westeros.
further reading: The Affair Season 5: Everything You Need to Know
That’s why Alison Bailey’s death comes as such a shock. After a life full of tragedy, Alison meets her end at the hands of ex-soldier Ben. When her ex-husbands Noah (Dominic West) and Cole (Joshua Jackson) are called in to identify her body, her death is deemed a suicide…but that’s likely not the truth. Actress Ruth Wilson wanted out of the show, something that viewers were not privy to, making this a truly devastating experience for all.
17. Christopher Moltisanti
Christopher, the little nephew nobody wants, including “Uncle” Tony on The Sopranos. Tony Soprano raised a fatherless Christopher to be his protégé and heir apparent. Unfortunately, as Christopher grew older he showed himself to be a bloody fool. Constantly in and out of drug rehabs and AA, there was barely a season when Chris wasn’t on heroin or cocaine. Further, he whined about never moving up in the family, even though he kept screwing up like when he shot a baker in the foot for poor service. Michael Imperioli’s solid performance created the spitting image of impotent rage and lifelong screw-up. At least, Tony would always love him like a nephew, right? WRONG.
further reading: The Sopranos: A Pioneering Portrayal of Male Mental Health
In the most unpredictable death in a series full of them, Tony suffocates little Christopher after a car crash. The accident was, of course, Chris’s fault, as he was driving high. But as Chris pleads for Tony to get him out of there so he won’t lose his license, a look of genuine anger and calculation crosses the lead Soprano’s face. After dialing 9-1, Tony changes his mind and suffocates a family member he raised like a son to death. Afterwards, he finishes dialing 9-1-1 and reports the “terrible” incident with relief. Everybody hates Christopher, but in that moment Tony became so, so much worse.
16. Shane Walsh
The Walking Dead
As the one saving grace of the televised Ambien known as The Walking Dead Season 2, Shane went out in the best way possible. The would-be baby daddy to Lori’s unborn child, Shane is convinced he should be with Lori and father to the kid, as well as teenage Carl. In a post-apocalyptic landscape a love for Lori (ugh) and a difference of survival tactics has separated the once close buddies Rick and Shane. As Shane begins his descent into madness after being forced to kill another man to survive a zombie attack, Jon Bernthal brings it as either the sickest or sanest man on the farm.
further reading: The Walking Dead: Third Series to Premiere in 2020
He does not have time to beg for Hershel’s permission to kill his pet walkers in the barn. Nor can he leave a gang member who knows where the farm is alive. Ultimately, he makes some valid points when he is not plotting the murder of his supposed friend. Yet, when Rick turned Shane’s poor attempt at an ambush around on him and stabbed him with his knife, we all cheered and wished he’d stab him twice.
15. Omar Little
Who doesn’t love Omar? The openly gay Baltimore Robin Hood who stole exclusively from drug dealers and players of “the game” represented the patron saint of East Coast crime. Inevitably, a man who lives off the wicked of the streets, even with a strict moral code of no cursing, will likely not make it to see middle age. Yet, Michael K. Williams’ character on The Wire was just too cool to go out the way he did.
further reading: Why The Wire is Still Relevant
A man who has survived more than a few moments of guns being pointed in his direction, as well as once jumping off a building, meets his ignominious end when a 13-year-old drug tool, looking to make a name, pops one in the back of Omar’s head while he is in a convenience store. The little bastard probably was the one who got the Waco Kid too.
14. Opie Winston
Sons of Anarchy
Sons of Anarchy was never shy about killing off all manner of characters, major and minor. That sort of thing will happen when you bill your show as “Hamlet on motorcycles.” Still very few deaths in the show’s history can match the suddenly brutality of Opie Winston’s.
further reading: Sons of Anarchy’s 20 Most Shocking Moments
Like many other characters on this list, Opie (Ryan Hurst) was the central crew’s moral center. He was technically a criminal like the rest of them but he remained a good guy and close friend to all. His name was Opie for Pete’s sake! And perhaps that’s why he had to go. When Jax, Opie, Chibs, and Tig are all in prison thier mortal rival Damon Pope demands that one of them be killed. They’re allowed to decide which one but Opie heroically steps up and takes a metal pipe for the team.
13. Lt. Col. Henry Blake
This may be a difficult one for some to fathom on this list. In the Season Finale of M*A*S*H*’s third year, Radar can barely read without choking up that everyone’s favorite laid back medical officer, Henry Blake, died in a plane crash on his way back stateside. Radar storms out of the control center and everyone else is left to stand there in complete horror. While not the most visually stunning TV character kill, it is the first.
Prior to 1975, the concepts of death and mortality did not really play a role on televisions, much less sitcoms. Thus, when this scene was sprung on actors (only Alan Alda knew what the message would say), the supporting cast was left as horrified as audiences would be. To this day, it may be the most unexpected death in television history.
12. Anne Boleyn
We all really knew that this would, ahem, come to a head in Season 2. Indeed, while the show is titled The Tudors, it might as well be called “Henry & Anne.” At least for the first two seasons. Ah, they had many ups and downs, as well as an all-around unwanted little baby named Elizabeth. But passion turns to hate and Henry’s wives were beginning to develop the habit of turning to corpses. Heads rolled when Anne Boleyn was wrongfully accused of committing infidelity with multiple men, including her own brother.
further reading: Natalie Dormer Almost Turned Down Her Game of Thrones Role
Natalie Dormer plays her Anne as neither the feminist heroine imagined in the 1960s nor the wicked shrew in Philppa Gregory’s vile novel/film. Rather, she is a cunning and intelligent woman who wanted to be Queen, but also showed true love for Henry and a real desire to spread her closet faith of Protestantism across Britain. She lost her head and the show lost its energy when Dormer’s smirk was separated from her neck. But she revisits Henry as a ghost in the Series Finale where he attempts to tell her/himself that he still thinks she is guilty of incest. She laughs at the foolish monarch with a knowing glare of what is to come for him.
11. John Locke
Love him or hate him, Locke was Lost. His blind faith in the Island as being a place where only the magical could happen introduced early the sunny side of mysticism, which would play a major role in the show (much to many fans’ chagrin come Series Finale time). It also makes sense for Locke to be such a believer, considering the Island healed his lame legs after a lifetime of being abused by the people around him. It is for that reason that Ben’s cold, cold, COLD slaughtering of Locke once off the Island is so monstrous.
further reading: Lost: A History of the Fandom
Ben, supposedly repentant for his crimes, comes to Locke’s place to discuss the prospect of going back to the Island and instead brutally hangs Locke from the neck until he is dead, leaving some to believe it is a suicide. In a show about throwing curveballs, murdering the spiritual heart of the series was one of the biggest. However, it is not the last time we saw Locke. Just that spirit.
10. Bill Hendrickson
In the most random act of violence on this list, Bill Paxton’s frustratingly affable Bill Hendrickson is assassinated in his front driveway by a strange neighbor. It is unclear whether this American Beauty moment was brought about due to him living openly as a polygamist while serving in the Utah State Senate as the pariah Republican or simply because Bill could keep down three houses and happy marriages while the neighbor struggled with one.
What was visible in bright, shiny Technicolor was Bill’s blood after he was gunned down in the hot afternoon. Perhaps, it is for the best. He dies a martyr and was not taken back into the unending politics of the compound where old men marry young girls in the name of religion. He wanted to clean that up, but usually the filth just bounced back on him thanks to a Mormon-style mafia. In any event, Big Love in total sincerity depicts a spiritual conclusion to Bill’s journey as he watches as a ghost his three widows a year later and smiles to the sounds of the Beach Boys. A big softie ending to a show with a big heart.
9. Carl Grimes
The Walking Dead
Carl Grimes was supposed to live forever. Well not forever, obviously, but he was supposed to survive this whole dismal world. After all, what would constitute a happy ending on The Walking Dead other than Rick Grimes eventually being to create a safe world for his son? Alas, this is The Walking Dead and there are no happy endings.
further reading: The Walking Dead: Carl’s Death Fixes Nothing
Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) dies in The Walking Dead Season 8 of the most mundane thing possible: a zombie bite. While assisting a stranger named Siddiq arrive safely to Alexandria, Carl receives a zombie bite. He hides it for as long as he can but eventually the fever sets in as it always does. The Walking Dead was kind enough to give Carl a full episode of goodbyes but even now it’s unclear why Carl or Chandler Riggs had to go. Carl’s death is notable for its pointlessness and that’s why it belongs on the list.
8. Joffrey Baratheon
Game of Thrones
Rarely does the death of a child unite millions of people around the world in euphoric joy, but then most children are not as vile as the demon spawn that is Joffrey Baratheon. This wicked monarch is likely the person most responsible for starting the war at the center of Game of Thrones, save perhaps its mastermid, Lord Petyr Baelish, himself. A sociopathic idiot who is both vain and cowardly, he acted as a fictional warning for real despots to come who hide behind tough talk and ego-stroking to mask their immense inadequacies and moral defects.
further reading: Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose Review
Joffrey turned a skirmish into a gernational conflict when he cut off Ned Stark’s head, but additionally was just as a nasty cruel monster who enjoyed torturing young girls he was betrothed to and taunting those with less power than he–and he was king. His death couldn’t have come soon enough, but when it did–choking out in front of a silently grateful court and two parents who were the only to love him in the world–there was much rejoicing, indeed.
7. Gus Fring
The death of villains doesn’t normally make a blip on the TV landscape. After all, they’re villains: dying at the hands of our heroes is what they’re supposed to do! But Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) isn’t just another villain. Gus Fring is the gosh darn ubermensch. Fring is a prim Chilean-American small business owner of a Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant franchise. He’s also the most feared meth distributor in the American Southwest. Gus ruthlessly conquers his rivals all the while wearing an unremarkable suit and a blank expression.
further reading: Breaking Bad AMC and Netflix TV Movie Set
When Jesse and Walt killed Gale Boetticher to ensure that Gus couldn’t kill them, the timer on all their lives immediately started. Someone had to die to end this business arrangement. Walt, through an ingenious plot that exploited Gus’s wrath for his old “friend” Hector Salamanca, made sure it wasn’t him. There are many iconic shots in Breaking Bad but the now literal two-faced Gus emerging from an exploded room, adjusting his tie, and promptly dying might be the most striking.
6. Adriana La Cerva
It certainly wasn’t a surprise. Despite growing up around wiseguys on The Sopranos, Adriana was still only human. Once the FBI began squeezing her for information, there was no chance she could walk happily away from this lifestyle, especially if she thought a moron like Chris would join her. The two-faced weasel cared about her as much as a snake cares for a mouse. When the FBI began threatening Adriana to start giving them full cooperation, she turns to her boyfriend for help. Give up the highlife to join her in Witness Protection!
further reading: The Sopranos Prequel: Everything You Need to Know
In return, Christopher goes to Tony who then has his wife’s best friend mercilessly whacked. In the series’ most harrowing scene, Adriana believes she is going to visit Chris in the hospital when Silvio Dante drives her out to the woods. With only seconds to live, Adriana realizes what is happening and tries to escape. Silvio curses her out as he shoots her twice in the head while she crawls away. Are we supposed to like the Soprano Family? After scenes like this, it is hard to say.
5. Rita Morgan
Oh, Rita. The long-suffering wife of a husband who abused her emotionally and sexually (Paul Bennett) and then one who did not understand her or their life at all (Dexter), she never had a truly happy existence. But at least, Dexter put up the pretense of caring for her. That’s why he shuttled her out of town and from the reach of a truly frightening “Trinity” serial killer played by a disturbing John Lithgow. When Dexter ends the Trinity Killer’s life, the dying serial killer smiles to the other, as if he were having the last laugh. He did.
In Dexter Season 4’s final scene, Dexter returns home to find his baby son sitting in the bathroom, drenched from a pool of blood. Rita’s blood. Before letting himself get caught by Dexter, Trinity paid a visit to Dexter’s home and took the wife Dexter may have even learned to love. Like Dexter’s early beginnings, his son is baptized in a dying mother’s blood. The cursed circle may even repeat as Rita died without ever knowing why.
4. Ned Stark
Game of Thrones
The evil Lannisters have ensnared noble Lord Eddard Stark into a nasty King’s Landing trap. Viewers accustomed to these tropes know things are about to get dicey for the honorable hero, but that he will escape to get his retribution. It is a fantasy after all and Sean Bean’s face is on the poster. Hence, even after the axe fell and Ned was separated from his head, some viewers still disbelieved what they saw. Ned Stark is the LEAD! This is not supposed to happen!
read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Everything We Know
Game of Thrones had a fantastic first season, but nothing reeled audiences in (or away) more than killing off their biggest star after only nine episodes. In a perfect world, Ned Stark would not die, especially not on his knees at the hands of the demon spawn named Joffrey Baratheon. Yet, as audiences waited for Ned to get out the trap, they watched along with helpless daughters Arya and Sansa, Ned get slaughtered by his own sword. Joffrey beamed like a snotty brat on Christmas. The only thing audiences could even hang onto was that at least one day soon, Ned’s children, especially heroic Robb, would have their revenge…
3. Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark, Talisa, et. al.
Game of Thrones
When Ned Stark died, there was still plenty of room for hope and righteous revenge. After all, in a lesser fantasy Robb would be the lead character who sets out in the story’s prologue to avenge the death of an off-screen father. But this is not that kind of fairytale. While attending his Uncle Edmure’s wedding to the Frey household, a family Robb insulted when he broke his oath to marry a Frey girl in favor of the comely Talisa, Robb and his bannermen were massacred. Actually, massacre does not do justice to what amounts to the most terrifying sequence on television. Ever.
read more: Game of Thrones Season 8 – Predictions and Theories
Robb’s mother, Catelyn, immediately realizes something is off when Walder’s band starts playing the haunting Lannister melody, “The Rains of Castamere.” Before she can even warn Robb that treachery is afoot, Frey men stab his pregnant wife in the womb a near dozen times before unleashing crossbow arrows into Robb, his mother and all their men. Outside the hall, drunken Stark men are gutted in mid-celebration and Robb’s direwolf is executed while caged in a pin where it cannot defend itself. Finally, Robb turns from his dead wife only to say, “Mother,” before he too is skewered at the end of one of his captain’s swords. Catelyn has nothing left but the totality of knowing her husband is dead, her eldest child is dead and the (mistaken) thought that the rest of her children are also dead. She does not even resist when the blade comes for her neck. The Starks are truly damned.
2. Jimmy Darmody
On HBO’s OTHER gangster show, death comes fast and often. But never did it come so painfully swift as when Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) executed his surrogate son, James Darmody. Jimmy welcomed the death. Indeed, in retrospect it was inevitable that Jimmy would die. Ever after surviving World War I, Jimmy was looking for an excuse to die. But not like this; at the hands of the man who was for all intents and purposes his father.
further reading: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Real-Life and Pop Culture
Jimmy started the feud when he allowed his biological (worthless) father and Eli to coax him into whacking Nucky. But after that went sideways, Nucky wanted revenge on the last face he saw before an assassin fired a hole into his hand: Jimmy. Thus, after all other debts were settled, Nucky met with the boy he called James at the Great War memorial and put a bullet in his head. Nucky was no longer half a gangster and Boardwalk Empire was no longer half as entertaining. Killing your second lead in the second season is a daring move. Yet, it is also one that the series never recovered from.
1. Kenny McCormick
No list of great TV deaths is complete without little Kenny McCormick. The fourth wheel of the South Park quartet, Kenny is a character who has died more times in his multiple productions than Hamlet. Heck, there could be a whole list just dedicated to all the many, many ways Kenny has died. Crushed by chunks of lava, devoured by an evil goldfish, having his heart replaced by a potato…the list goes on.
further reading: The Complete Guide to South Park Movie Parodies and References
Yet, for me it has to be the Halloween episode from Season 1, “Pinkeye.” In the holiday themed throwdown, Kenny dies not once, not twice, but three times. First he is in infected with “Pinkeye,” (a zombie virus) that turns him into the Undead after being only dead (a satellite fell on him). Second, he is cut in half by Kyle with a chainsaw, Sam Raimi style. THEN he still rises from the grave again, before having the statue of an angel fall onto him, plus an airplane. Really it counts three or four deaths in one episode. Nice.
So, do you agree with this list? Or did we leave a major one off? Let us know in the Comments Section below!