Whether they’re beloved or hated by the fan base, killing off a character is one of the quickest ways to up the drama in a TV show. In fact, whether or not certain people manage to stay alive is the main currency of series like The Walking Dead.
Superhero shows are not immune to this impulse, and the recent explosion in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success has given creators all-new opportunities to provide audiences with memorable death scenes. But neither these offerings nor the ones that came before them can connect all the time. Whether it’s anticlimactic, out of character, or just boring, a disappointing goodbye to an established (or, occasionally, unestablished) person can suck the life out of a story just as surely as it does the victim.
Here are 15 times that supershows failed to provide decent closure or impact when they said goodbye to the heroes and villains we’d been following for seasons — or, in some cases, just a handful of episodes.
15. The Sixth Doctor – Doctor Who
The past half century of tales of the time-traveling adventures of a goofy alien has given fans plenty of opportunities to say goodbye to its revolving cast of series regulars. Usually, the hero’s friends and partners have simply found better things to do than traipse around time and space with a guy who is omniscient and crazy. But when the actors playing the Doctor leave the show, their version basically has to die in order for them to regenerate into the new one.
Doctor Who returned from a year-long hiatus in 1987, and the first thing it did was introduce a new Doctor in Sylvester McCoy. But the previous actor, Colin Baker, declined to return for the transition scene, so the whole thing is a little spotty.The Rani, an evil Time Lord (or would she be a Time Lady?), attacks the Doctor’s TARDIS in order to kidnap him for a plan involving plugging his considerable brain into a computer. But that’s fairly incidental to this entry because by the time we see the hero, he’s already turning into his seventh incarnation. All we get are a few shots of the TARDIS flying through space, under attack, and then we see The Doctor and his companion inside, unconscious on the floor.
Our villain and her scary space beast arrive to take the Doctor away, and the monster flips the hero over to reveal … cheap, ’80s special effects that only vaguely conceal Sylvester McCoy wearing a curly wig before a dissolve makes the lackluster transformation complete. It all happens so fast that we don’t even get a clear cause of death, but spin-off books and audio productions have pinned it on radiation, the Sixth Doctor willing himself to change, the Seventh Doctor intentionally killing his predecessor (somehow), and a cross-dimensional entity sapping his “chronal energy.”
14. Clark Kent – Smallville
Smallville ran on the WB (now The CW) for 10 years and managed to cram in just about every major DC superhero except for Batman and Superman. And the latter wouldn’t be that big a deal if the main character hadn’t been, you know, Clark Kent.
Still, it treats the Big Blue Boy Scout as a destination rather than the story, so we can kind of forgive that. What’s even less understandable, however, is the scene in the Season 8 premiere in which a mind-controlled Oliver Queen shoots a depowered Clark repeatedly with arrows, killing him. And then the show ends, because the Last Son of Krypton is dead before he even gets to put on the suit. Except that’s not at all what happens, because everyone watching knows that Smallville is not going to kill off the main character in a show that is specifically about how Clark Kent becomes Superman.
To their credit, the series creators don’t try to make a cliffhanger out of this drama-bait; it happens in the middle of the episode, and Martian Manhunter resolves the problem immediately by snatching Clark up and flying him to space to restore his powers and get the show back on track.
13. Catwoman – Birds of Prey
Smallville wasn’t The WB’s last attempt at live-action DC stories before its recent resurgence with its various shows within the Arrowverse. From 2002-2003, the network ran a single season of Birds of Prey, an unrelated series that takes place in a future version of Gotham City that still, somehow, does not contain Batman outside of a couple flashbacks. But to be fair, he was probably still recovering from the damage 1997’s Batman & Robin had wrought on us all.
This show adapts the same-named comics series that tells the story of an all-female superhero team of Barbara Gordon (the now-paralyzed former Batgirl operating under the codename Oracle), Dinah Lance (daughter of the Black Canary), and Huntress (the progeny of Batman and Catwoman). In this continuity, Catwoman was a metahuman with feline superpowers, and her daughter inherited them. But her catlike reflexes and senses were apparently not enough to save the Dark Knight’s main squeeze from the guy who stabs her dead in the street before the show even starts.
Her repeated appearances in movies like Batman Returns, shows like Batman: The Animated Series, and the Arkham game franchise have made Catwoman one of the most famous and recognizable female comic-book characters of all time. And we think she deserves better than a seemingly random stabbing. The series reveals later that her murderer was Clayface, whom Joker had hired, but that still doesn’t change the fact that she gets a sadly inglorious death here.
12. Curtis Donovan – Misfits
Misfits follows a group of juvenile delinquents who gain different superpowers from a weird lightning storm while serving community service. One of the least likable teens of the series, Curtis, is an aspiring athlete who loses his fledgling career over charges of drug possession, and after the storm hits, he has the ability to rewind time when he’s feeling regretful. At first, people’s different powers existed as facets of their personalities, but eventually, a character arrives who can absorb abilities and transfer them to others (for what we’re sure are reasonable prices), so the crew become normal again — presumably so that Curtis can’t mess anything else up.
But that wouldn’t make for a very interesting metahuman show, so everyone reconsiders and goes back for new skills. Curtis’ time-rewinding is gone, and he has to settle for the ability to change genders. And because he’s the worst, this ends in him impregnating himself after an unfortunate autoerotic mishap. He eventually trades up for the power to resurrect the dead, but that means zombies. One of them infects Curtis, and he kills himself.
Misfits was always adding and removing characters, but Curtis had the longest run, appearing in the first four seasons. But by the time he finally left, he’d accumulated enough Selfish Points to make shooting himself in the head to prevent a zombie apocalypse about the least he could do.
11. Wendy Ross – Jessica Jones
Don’t get us wrong — Wendy Ross’ death scene in Netflix’s Jessica Jones is tough to watch, and we wouldn’t wish her fate on anyone. But for all she adds to the plot of the series, we didn’t really care if she lived or not.
Ross is married to high-powered (but not super-powered) lawyer Jeri Hogarth, who employs Jessica Jones as an investigator. But Hogarth and Ross’ relationship is already crumbling by the time the show starts, and most of their interactions concern their incredibly ugly divorce proceedings due to Hogarth’s affair with her assistant, Pam. We appreciate that these three gals are the first (openly) gay major characters in the MCU, but their side drama has little to do with the undeniably more interesting main plot of Jones facing her past trauma and dealing with the mind-controlling sociopath, Kilgrave. But that’s not to say the two stories don’t intersect.
In exchange for medical treatment for a gunshot wound, Hogarth enlists the villain to use his ability to force Ross to sign their divorce papers. But the thing about crazy man-children is that you can’t take them at their word, so before he flees, Kilgrave orders Ross to exact revenge for her marital abuse by killing Hogarth with a thousand knife cuts. Pam shows up and hits Ross in the head with a vase, causing her to fall over and impale her head on the corner of a glass coffee table.
10. Ronnie Raymond – The Flash
At this point in the Arrowverse series, we’ve kind of forgotten Ronnie Raymond ever existed. Dr. Caitlin Snow’s fiancé — who instead became Professor Martin Stein’s other half as the nuclear superhero Firestorm — originally “died” in the particle accelerator explosion that created all of The Flash‘s superpowered villains (and a few allies). But he was still alive; he was just wandering around the streets with the disembodied consciousness of an elderly man stuck in his head. You know, that old cliché.
Science eventually separates the two men, and they find a way to control their condition to fuse and fission at will. Firestorm joins Barry for a few missions toward the end of the show’s first season, and then Ronnie finally marries Caitlin just in time for his abrupt and unceremonious death.
The first scene of the second-season premiere has Barry fighting a giant wormhole in the sky that threatens to gobble up Central City. He manages to use his speed to destabilize the anomaly, but he can’t close it down completely without help. Firestorm flies up and separates in the heart of the rift, which releases enough nuclear energy to seal it for good. But only Professor Stein makes it back alive; Ronnie simply disappears.
At the time, we weren’t even sure if Ronnie was dead, and with no corpse, we still aren’t. It’s possible The Flash could still bring him back with a quickie explanation that the fissure just pulled him into one of the Arrowverse’s infinite, parallel Earths. But until that happens, this scene was just disappointing.
9. Elektra – Daredevil
The second season of Netflix’s MCU tie-in Daredevil doesn’t quite keep up the momentum of the first, although it does provide the best live-action version of The Punisher to date (sorry, Dolph Lundgren). A lot of our issues came from the weird, toxic relationship between blind crimefighter Matt Murdock and his ex, red-clad assassin Elektra Natchios, who shows up to use awkward sex scenes to induce Daredevil to help her commit crimes. It’s not the hero’s best work.
Elektra redeems herself just in time for the final battle against season villain Nobu Yoshioka and his criminal organization, The Hand. And what should be a cool character moment or an opportunity for some development instead becomes a setup for an anticlimactic and wholly telegraphed death scene. And we say that because she and Murdock spend a few minutes before they head out to take on the bad guy discussing all the things they’re going to do after they finish this job. They have big plans, and they are definitely, absolutely going to follow through on them.
But we know as viewers that talking about starting a new life or buying a boat “once this is all over” is as good as walking into a fight wearing a sign that reads “Shoot here for maximum drama” with the letters arranged in the shape of a bullseye. So, predictably, Elektra dies, and apparently we’re supposed to feel something about it because it makes Daredevil really sad. But then the bad guys set her up to be resurrected almost immediately afterward, so it won’t even be a permanent thing.
8. Kelly – Supergirl
We all remember Kelly on Supergirl, right? She’s one of Supergirl alter-ego Kara Danvers’ coworkers at CatCo, and she’s so important and beloved that she doesn’t even get a last name. She appears in three episodes before her final appearance in the first-season episode “Myriad.” That story has the Kryptonian villain Non using mind control to force three of Kara’s coworkers to jump off of the roof of the office building. The three victims are Winn Schott, James Olsen, and Kelly, and you probably couldn’t find someone to take a bet about which of the three Supergirl doesn’t reach in time.
Poor little Kelly Justkelly doesn’t make the cut, probably because she’s the only one with no ties to DC continuity (James “Jimmy” Olsen is known in the comics as “Superman’s pal,” and Winn’s father is the villainous Toyman). Still, Supergirl takes the character’s death pretty hard — so hard, in fact, that the show mentions Kelly one more time after her death and then never again.
7. Hawkman – Legends of Tomorrow
The Arrowverse’s Hawkman and Hawkgirl are the souls of ancient Egyptians who have spent the past several millennia discovering their awesome, godlike bird powers and then losing fights to the death with their immortal foe, Vandal Savage. So we probably shouldn’t be that surprised that the present-day version of the hero, Carter Hall, dies, but it was still a pretty bad showing on his part.
We typically assume that wisdom comes with age, but the Hawkpeople seemingly defy that by not catching on to how to properly kill Vandal Savage after over 3,700 years of failed attempts. Sure, they didn’t fight the guy every year, but every time they remember their true identities in each incarnation, they gain total recall of every life they’ve ever had. And at no point during any of that, or their presumed years of studying their foe, did they figure out what to do once Savage showed up to reave their souls.
After all of that buildup from his appearances on The Flash, Hawkman only makes it through two episodes of Legends of Tomorrow before he gets a chance to kill Savage. The team finds a dagger that belonged to Hawkgirl’s original incarnation, and they’re pretty sure they can use it to take out their enemy. Hawkguy wins the coin toss or whatever, so he fights Savage while Ladyhawk hangs back. It seems to go well at first, and Carter manages to use the knife to seemingly great effect. But his ancient enemy somehow knows of a loophole that says that Hawkgirl has to be the one to use the blade, which confuses the hero long enough for him to end up with that same weapon in his own gut.
We didn’t really expect the Hawkfolk to kill off the season villain in the pilot, but we aren’t sure how the topic of knife ownership never came up over the past 37 centuries. The whole thing just comes off really dumb.
6. Antoine Triplett – Agents of SHIELD
The second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduces both the Inhumans and the Terrigen Mists that activate their superpowers. But if you don’t have the alien DNA that gives you latent abilities, the Mists will just turn you into a stone statue that will then, without exception, crumble dramatically into dust.
S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Antoine Triplett joins the main cast after he discovers that his original squad leader is evil (the fact that Bill Paxton played him might have been a tip-off), and he manages to stick around until he takes part in a mission to secure an ancient Kree city before Hydra can reach it.
It turns out that the Diviner, the MacGuffin that everyone’s been chasing all season, is full of Terrigen crystals, and nobody figures this out until Trip and his teammate Skye are stuck in a room with it when it opens. The mist envelopes Skye, and Trip attempts to stop the reaction and save her by delivering an awesome roundhouse kick to the deadly artifact. Somehow, this gets him a shard in his chest, and the reaction kills him. We don’t really want to argue physics in a universe in which the Norse gods are real and decreasing the distance between a tank’s atoms lets you attach one to a keychain, but it still seems a little dodgy.
5. Nathan Petrelli – Heroes
The death of Heroes‘ Nathan Petrelli is annoying not because it basically happens twice, or even because we can’t find a demonstrative video of it that wasn’t made by someone recording their TV with their phone or adding weird effects and setting the events to an Evanescence or Green Day song. It’s more that the incident that the show treats as Petrelli’s actual death doesn’t actually involve him.
Nathan, who keeps his power of flight secret so that he can serve in the government, finds himself on both sides of the series’ metahuman “problem.” Eventually, the villainous Sylar slashes Nathan’s throat (with his mind), and that should have been it.
It isn’t, however, because these are superpowered beings we’re talking about. Some good guys use vague and ill-explained abilities to make a copy of Nathan’s mind and implant it into Sylar’s brain so that he will think he’s the dead guy, and his shapeshifting ability takes care of the rest. So Nathan’s dead, but Sylar thinks, acts, and looks like him, anyway, so it’s kind of like he’s still alive.
But he’s dead.
Later, Nathan-Sylar falls off of a building. Sylar survives because he has a Wolverine-style healing factor, but the Nathan backup “dies” because the show was done with that plot thread. The other characters grieve the loss of the copy like it was the actual guy, which is like getting really depressed over losing a USB stick. Sure, it’s a USB stick that’s secretly an evil Zachary Quinto, but no simile is perfect.
4. Damien Darhk – Arrow
Most of Arrow‘s fourth season concerns Oliver Queen’s moral battle over whether or not to kill the villainous Damian Darhk. Despite the fact that Ollie spends most of the show’s first season murdering everyone who gets in his way, he’s trying to be a little more heroic at this point. But Darhk is one of those guys who won’t stop for anything short of his own death, and as time goes on, more members of Team Arrow start encouraging their leader to just take him out, especially after he murders Laurel Lance, the Black Canary.
That was its own underwhelming death scene, but Darhk gets the nod here because the “climactic” final battle between him and Green Arrow has some of the worst choreography in the show’s history. It’s a fight that includes one guy who was trained by the nigh-immortal leader of an ancient society of secret assassins and another who survived for years on an island and honed his skills battling crazy assassins, supermen, and the Russian Mafia — and their showdown includes a bit where they just stand still and take turns throwing haymakers.
3. Jack Thompson – Agent Carter
One of the recurring themes through Agent Carter‘s two-year run was the title character’s struggle to be taken seriously in a man’s world. And no male character represents these obstacles better than Jack Thompson. This guy’s a man’s man, which means that he wears a hat, drinks scotch, and thinks that women in the office are only good for filing and making coffee. That’s his deal, and despite a few redemptive moments, Thompson stays pretty consistently sexist and terrible throughout the series.
But the show has a cure for that: at the end of the second-season finale, Thompson’s getting ready to leave Los Angeles to return to the New York office when someone knocks on his hotel room door. He thinks it’s hotel staff rushing him to check out, but it’s actually an unseen person with a gun who shoots him and then steals sensitive files from his briefcase. And then the season — and series — ends.
Normally, we’d be annoyed about a show we were enjoying ending on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved, but we just couldn’t muster up enough concern for Thompson to care one way or the other about it. He was terrible, and then he died, and then we shrugged.
2. David Banner – The Death of the Incredible Hulk
The classic series The Incredible Hulk ran from 1978 to 1982, but it didn’t get a proper finale until the 1990 TV movie The Death of the Incredible Hulk. We think that title’s a little spoilery, but we suppose it leaves room for metaphor. Like maybe it’s the story of how long-suffering drifter David Banner (Bill Bixby) finally cures the affliction that turns him into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) when he’s angry, thus “killing” his alter ego.
That would be a nice subversion of expectations, and the filmmakers could have drawn viewers in with the provocative title before surprising them with a smart resolution. The plot goes that way for a little while, but it was the ’90s, and that was an exceedingly stupid decade for comic books. Death manages to get out ahead of everything becoming “extreme” and the advent of ridiculous leg bandoliers, but it still totally squanders that title’s potential.
After a series of events that include Banner pretending to be a mentally handicapped janitor and a spy network trying to steal a scientist’s research, the climax has Hulk pursuing villains onto a plane. The aircraft explodes, and the Hulk falls to the ground, turns back into Banner, and then dies. That’s right, a character who has bashed through more walls than the Kool-Aid Man and who is described in this movie as having a metabolism so fast that wounds heal in seconds dies in an incident that would have just made his comics counterpart angrier.
1. Professor Xavier – X-Men
The ’90s X-Men animated series has one of the best theme songs of any cartoon and one of the weirdest finales we’ve ever seen. While debating a “Mutant Containment Bill” that arose as a result of all of the stuff mutants blow up in almost every episode, X-Men leader Professor Xavier gets a brainload of a psychic attack beam that looks like a remote control from the ’70s. This public incident sets off Magneto’s final war against the normies.
All of this sounds awesome, but the show reduces most of the epic battles to recaps in news reports while the X-Men hang out at home and try to contact aliens for help. Eventually, they go and talk to Magneto, and he agrees to take a break from all the genocide to help the call go through. None of this saves Xavier’s life, but they have a full episode to fill.
Xavier regains consciousness just long enough to make everyone cry with his goodbyes. It’s genuinely a heartfelt and emotional scene … until his space-girlfriend, Empress Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire, appears to stick a gadget on his head that beams him onto her spaceship. She says that the Shi’ar can keep him alive, but only as long as he stays with them, so while this whole episode frames itself as a prolonged death scene, the show was skittish about actually killing characters off.
So technically, Xavier doesn’t die, but he does go to a bird-people hospital in space. And if that doesn’t scream “obvious metaphor for heaven,” we don’t know what does.
Which superhero TV show deaths let you down the most? Let us know in the comments.