When your favorite TV show writes off your most beloved character, the loss can be so devastating that you immediately disavow your allegiance and swear that you’ll never watch the show again. Well, at least until the next season. That’s when you reluctantly turn on the television to find that even though that one awesome character you were tuning in to watch isn’t there, the series itself is still just as awesome. In some rare cases, it’s even better than it was before.
You’re not alone. We’ve all been there. Before you know it, you’re hooked on a brand-new version of something that vaguely resembles a show you once loved. Whatever the reasoning was behind your character’s abrupt departure, you eventually come to accept that, as the saying goes, the show must go on.
Here are 15 examples of shows that actually got better when they lost major characters.
15. Game of Thrones
Oh, Game of Thrones. When it comes to the TV series that don’t shy away from killing off their leads, this one takes the crown. With season 7 right around the corner, we’ve suffered some pretty big losses, but perhaps none as great as what we saw in season 1. The demise of Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (portrayed by Sean Bean) was one for the books – literally. If you read the books, you knew what was coming, but if you didn’t, you were probably pretty surprised when they killed off the guy who seemed to be the hero of the story in the very first season.
Even though we were all sad to see Ned go, the truth is, if it wasn’t for his brutally shocking exit, the show wouldn’t be what it is today. It was Ned’s death that launched the Seven Kingdoms into war and brought the Stark kids to the forefront, forcing them to follow in their father’s footsteps and take up their own hero’s journey.
In its 12 seasons on the air, Supernatural has elected to send a ton of fan favorites packing. Chuck, Bobby, Jo, Ellen, Charlie… the list goes on. Even in the pilot episode, Kripke made it clear that no one was safe when Sam’s beloved Jessica went the way of Mary Winchester. But no matter how crazy things have gotten over the years, it’ll be tough to top that jaw-dropping moment when we lost John Winchester, Sam and Dean’s dear old dad.
At the end of season 1, after the tumultuous journey so far and a year of battling mythological creatures, you were rooting for the reunion of the boys and their dad. We all had that one brief shining moment, and then in one fell swoop, the moment was gone. John Winchester became a martyr, and the boys were forced to carry on.
Thankfully for us, they did just that. The show has gone on to see a record-breaking run on The CW, though every once in a while, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (or Matthew Cohen, who portrays a younger version of the character) will even show up in an episode to remind us all why we still love John Winchester.
13. NYPD Blue
In 1993, NYPD Blue came in hot on the heels of Hill Street Blues and the newest police procedural drama had been born. It was a hit. Dennis Franz and David Caruso were sensational in the headlining roles, and fans really took to Detectives Andy Sipowicz and John Kelly, as did the critics. The pair were partnered up until a few episodes into season 2, when Caruso left to pursue a big screen career. By that time, the character of Detective Kelly ended up getting demoted and eventually resigned, reportedly taking a job in security.
Enter Jimmy Smits. The former L.A. Law star went from courthouse to jailhouse and moved in as Caruso’s replacement, effectively making Detective Bobby Simone a household name. Smits bared his soul (among other things) and put his all into the character, successfully elevating the show’s Nielsen ratings even higher than before. After that, the series saw several transitions throughout the years, but none that would go down in the show’s history like this one.
As one of the highest rated shows in television history, M*A*S*H ran for 11 successful seasons and boosted the careers of many of its stars, including Alan Alda and Jamie Farr. Initially, both McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers were up for the role of Capt. Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, but Alda won out, thus cementing his portrayal of the character as one of the greatest in history. Wayne Rogers would go on to play Capt. ‘Trapper John’ McIntyre, and McLean Stevenson would take the role of Lt. Col. Henry Blake. However, both would prove to be short-lived roles, as the two only lasted until season 3.
Stevenson departed the series based on a storyline which left no room for return, and Harry Morgan stepped in to successfully fill his shoes. As for Trapper John, well, he got his own show — but it was recast to star Pernell Roberts. The M*A*S*H series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” ended up at the time being the most-watched episode in the history of forever, and considering the show’s beloved legacy, it’s safe to say that the showrunners made the right call by getting rid of a few spare parts.
11. The 100
In any post-apocalyptic series, you’re bound to come across a fair share of faces who don’t survive, but The 100 takes that concept to a whole other level. In a world filled with shades of gray, the show has a way of persuading you to hate a character one minute and fall in love with them the next. In its first season, Clarke, Bellamy, and Finn appeared to be the recipe for a perfect love triangle. Bad boy Bellamy was on his way to redemption, while Finn, our hero, would likely win the heart of Clarke, fearless leader of the Sky People.
But nothing in this series is that straightforward, and halfway through season 2, after our beloved Finn loses control and slaughters a bunch of the Grounders (on Clarke’s behalf, no less), he is forced to face his punishment: death. Thinking that Clarke would surely find a way to rescue him, the show takes a jaw-dropping turn when, instead, she’s forced to kill Finn herself, in an attempt to spare him from meeting a torturous end.
10. Desperate Housewives
Watching Desperate Housewives over the course of eight seasons, you learned that anything could happen on Wisteria Lane. The series opened with a neighbor’s mysterious suicide, so right out of the gate, you got a good idea of what this dark and twisted comedy was all about.
In season 1, we saw the Van de Kamps emerge as a family who had quite a few skeletons in their closet. The seemingly straight-laced, conservative couple had survived everything from prostitutes to a hit-and-run and a heart attack. Although we all rooted for them to pull through together, as it turned out, the show’s creators had a different plan in mind. Thanks to a pharmacist who was obsessed with his wife, Rex Van de Kamp wouldn’t live to see season 2. Over the years, Rex would appear in a flashback or lend his voice for an episode, but the Van de Kamp days were over, and they would soon become a distant memory. Bree eventually went on to remarry (twice) and the show’s awards kept rolling in.
Counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his race against the clock to save the day earned 24 countless awards and a reputation as one of the best shows on television. From the very beginning, it was clear that Jack’s family was going to be a major subplot in the series. The first season saw the end of wife Teri, and for the next two seasons after that, daughter Kim seemed to always be getting herself into trouble; which meant Jack having to redirect his focus away from the CTU.
At the end of season 3, however, Kim went off with Jack’s partner Chase in an attempt to start a life together, essentially disappearing from the show. After her departure, 24 went on to win the most awards the series had ever seen. Kim Bauer remained a presence throughout all eight seasons, but it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the series took a turn for the better once she was out of the picture.
8. Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy has obviously seen its share of loss in its 13 seasons on the air. The show has not only outlived a number of its best-loved characters, but has even surpassed the lifespan of its own spin-off. Although Dr. Meredith Grey still remains, devoted fans know that the turnover rate at this hospital can be pretty high. Over the years, we’ve said goodbye to George, Izzie, Cristina, Callie, McSteamy, AND McDreamy.
With this many main characters leaving for good, it can be easy to forget that earlier on in the series, we saw the exodus of Dr. Preston Burke. At the time, Burke was engaged to Dr. Cristina Yang, and his abrupt departure after season 3 ended up leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. It was one of the first major losses the show had seen, but the series didn’t just manage to survive, but thrive. Grey’s continued on to win numerous awards, countless nominations, and of course, our hearts.
We’ve all watched excitedly as Olivia Pope & Associates have dug their way out of scandalous scenarios these past few years. In six seasons, the Gladiators have used their powers for good (and sometimes not so good) to fight for the underdog and come out wearing the white hat. For this close-knit bunch, there was a time when it was hard to imagine losing any one of them. Their teamwork made the dream work.
So when Stephen Finch (played by Henry Ian Cusick) didn’t come back for season 2, fans should’ve taken it as a sign that things on this show might not be as clear-cut as they would seem. But it wasn’t until season 3 when we saw a major upheaval. More than halfway through, James Novak (Cyrus Beene’s husband) meets a sad and untimely death. And if you thought you (or rather, your favorite characters) were safe after that, you were oh-so wrong. In the season finale, we lose Harrison Wright. Although real-life controversy cut Columbus Short’s time on the series, well, short, fans didn’t know if they’d ever recover from the loss of a Gladiator. Like most scandals though, time heals all wounds, and by season 4, we had other characters to turn our attention to.
6. True Blood
Just thinking of Bon Temps and an “average” shift at Merlotte’s makes us all long for the good old Sookie Stackhouse days. From the very first episode, the show sucked you in and had you hooked, leaving you anxiously awaiting a taste of next week’s adventure. Although loosely based on the books by Charlaine Harris, the HBO series created by Alan Ball soon ended up taking on a life of its own, and immediately, you knew no one was safe.
Theories about whodunnit and who would be next spread like wildfire. But it was the shocking twist at the end of the first season that would take away one of our main characters (and have you believing that another one wouldn’t be returning for season 2). In the end, René Lenier AKA Drew Marshall was revealed to be the town’s serial killer, and wound up meeting a gruesome death of his own. Although this was the first big blow to the series, the hits just kept on coming, and unlike the show’s characters, True Blood continued to live on.
5. Veronica Mars
When it comes to a show about a teenager in Neptune who also happens to moonlight as a private investigator, as a fan, you expect a certain amount of danger. That being said, you probably just assume that some things are off limits, but that’s not the case (or cases) for Veronica Mars. Within the first season, we established that her mom left, her best friend was murdered, and she was drugged and sexually assaulted. How could anything else go wrong?
There would be plenty to figure out in the series’ condensed three seasons, including the love triangle between Logan, Veronica, and Duncan. As one of the primary storylines of the show, the question of who Veronica would end up choosing was one that plagued viewers. Were you team Duncan or team Logan? Showrunner Rob Thomas answered that question for us in surprising fashion back in season 2, when Duncan fled to Mexico with his baby (not Veronica’s). The series didn’t last much longer after his departure, but devoted fans remained loyal. Veronica herself went on to get her own movie seven years after the show went off the air.
4. Melrose Place
As a spin-off of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place followed the character of Jake (Grant Show) and a bunch of other 20-somethings as they navigated their way through ’90s L.A. The Darren Star/Aaron Spelling series was a success that lasted a dramatic seven seasons, filled to the brim with plot twists and character developments that no one saw coming.
Although the show did quite a bit of restructuring with the cast over the years, the first season showcased a solid lineup of actors. Both Amy Locane and Vanessa Williams were roommates in the primetime soap who never saw the light of season 2. Locane’s character only made it 13 episodes in, while Williams’ character completed the season (which at the time was an astounding 32 episodes). After the two had been evicted from the show, Heather Locklear moved in, took over the whole damn thing, and the rest is history.
Temperance Brennan and Special Agent Seeley Booth were arguably one of the most badass television duos we’ve ever seen. Of course, in a world of solving mysteries and fighting bad guys, you can’t do it alone; you’re going to need a good team to back you up. While the show lost a few major players over the years (like Sweets), Brennan had a solid group of “squints” from the very beginning.
Early on in the series, we got to know all about Angela, Jack, Dr. Saroyan, and Zack Addy. The latter first won his way into our hearts as Brennan’s assistant at the Jeffersonian Institute in season 1. By season 2, we watched him earn his doctorate and go through some pretty noticeable transformations. However, all that changed in season 3, when the team learns that Zack somehow got himself mixed up with a serial killer, and the character left the show after being sentenced to do some serious time. Talk about a plot twist. Despite Zack Addy’s departure after the third season, Bones continued on and lasted for 12 record-breaking seasons, and while he certainly wasn’t a disliked character, it’s hard to say he was all that missed.
2. Law & Order
Law & Order can easily be considered to have been one of the greatest television shows of all time. It saw its way through at least two generations of viewers and lasted an astounding 20 years on NBC. Considering its long run, cast turnover is to be expected, but when you skip out on the longest-running crime drama on American primetime television in history after only the first season, there’s bound to be some afterthought there.
From replacement District Attorneys to fresh-faced Detectives, over time, the show became known for its revolving cast. But before that kicked into full effect, there was one main character in particular who only enjoyed a brief stay on the series. George Dzundza played the role of Max Greevey, a Sergeant at the 27th precinct. Dzundza opted out of a long-term commitment early on, thus bringing about Sergeant Greevey’s sad demise. Other characters began departing in season 3, but by then, the show had already found its audience. The success of Dick Wolf’s Law & Order eventually spawned the entire franchise that we know and love today.
While the whole Shannen Doherty/Rose McGowan switch-up after season 3 was by far the biggest shake-up, the show still saw great success with both sisters. Fans actually had to start practicing their goodbyes at the end of the first season, when Prue’s on-again, off-again love interest, Inspector Andy Trudeau, was killed in the line of supernatural fire. Up until that point, the series really hadn’t seen the demise of any key characters. Except for demons and ghosts, of course. Although Andy’s time on the show was short-lived, his passage into the afterlife was not in vain. All four of the girls would continue to go on to love (and lose), and Darryl Morris, Andy’s partner, would step in to take the place of the sisters’ inside man.
Which shows do you think got better after they lost major characters? Let us know in the comments.