Critics and fans have nearly universally agreed that we are currently in the golden age of television, highlighted by masterful dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards. It’s dramas like these, and so many others (that will be mentioned throughout this list) that have demonstrated how to present tense and believable drama fueled by raw human emotion, and how to truly disgust and shock viewers everywhere.
There are many television programs that live and die by this “shock factor,” but those won’t be mentioned here, because it’s easy to shock an audience, but it’s not easy to invoke a visceral reaction from them. In the scenes that follow, the creative teams behind the greatest television dramas set out to build tension slowly, until it reached its overflowing boiling point, at which point they would magnificently reach a narrative crescendo, in which all the shit would hit the giant industrial sized fan. M
any of these scenes left viewers without answers, attempting to rearrange their thought patterns because of the horrors they had just been witness to. Prepare to relive some truly harrowing television moments.
Without further ado, here are the 25 Disturbing TV Scenes We Never Wanted To See.
25. 13 Reasons Why – Hannah’s Suicide
13 Reasons Why is hard to watch, for both good and bad reasons. The high school drama angle can prove to be a little too much at times, but when the show really wanted to shock its audience, it delivered in spades. Hannah Davis, the show’s ominous narrating character told us from the very beginning of the show that she was driven to suicide because of numerous children who went to her school. What the audience didn’t know (and wasn’t prepared for) was that the Netflix original program would show her death in such graphic detail.
24. Hemlock Grove – Werewolf Transformation
Hemlock Grove is a terribly gritty interpretation of classic fictional horror stories and motifs, and thanks to the help of horror master Eli Roth, it’s also incredibly gory. The most brutal part of the show is easily the first werewolf transformation the audience is introduced to. We see skin ripping apart, nose and mouth protruding, and terrible deafening screams as the werewolf completely takes over.
Werewolves have been done in cinema for ages, from The Wolf Man, to An American Werewolf in London, and even more recently in The Wolfman reboot. Even a movie with a $150 million budget couldn’t touch the sheer horror of watching this transformation from one of Netflix’s many genius original programs. It has the texture, grit, and gore that those other werewolf stories lack.
23. Game of Thrones – Baratheon Baby is Murdered
It’s hard to keep watching Game of Thrones because of how brutally it displays acts of violence, but not many of those acts can compare to the horror of knowing an infant child is being murdered just out of frame. Suggested violence can sometimes trump actual violence. An audience can get wrapped up in the actual staging of the scene by the cast and crew, but suggested violence allows for no such contemplation, and we’re left imagining in our own minds exactly how the death was carried out.
It seemed like Game of Thrones was consistently trying to tell its audience that nothing was off limits, but this single moment pushed that idea further than it had ever been pushed prior. The world was just hoping that the families would draw the line at murdering infants, but no such luck.
22. Breaking Bad – Todd and Andrea
There are few characters in television history that inspire as much hate as Todd Alquist in Breaking Bad. He was a child/girlfriend/dream-killer who delivered one of the most intense and brutal killings in all of televised programming.
The audience was so pleased seeing Jesse happy for what felt like the first time ever (note: this was also the last time he would be truly happy) and using his greatest strength to help out both Andrea and her child.
It’s especially heartbreaking because the audience assumed the point of view of Jesse throughout most of the show, seeing through his eyes the kind of evil that Walter White could cook up. And there were many shocking deaths throughout Breaking Bad’s run, but none other had the kind of emotional impact that this moment did – when Todd shoots Andrea point-blank as a helpless Jesse watches in horror.
21. Mad Men – Lane Pryce
This has got to be the most devastating moment throughout all of Mad Men. A show that displays the devastation of a single man’s family and professional life can be tough to watch sometimes. But having someone like Lane, a character who appeared to have the closest to modern sensibilities, end his own life was just heartbreaking.
The worst of it was that Lane ended his life because of a single mistake that the audience had seen the characters of Mad Men commit since the pilot. It felt like a telling sign of things to come. Most of the genius of Weiner’s writing was that we were able to see something so tragic, and then still have sympathy for the problems of the characters we’d been with for years. At the end of the day, it seemed like Don, Roger, and Pete were killing themselves and becoming new men week by week.
20. American Horror Story – School Shooting
School shootings are a tough topic to approach in television or film, and to display it in all of its terrifying and gory details might be considered a little too much by viewers. That’s exactly the reaction that this American Horror Story scene received from audiences everywhere, as thousands of angry viewers took to the internet to protest the episode and its intense content. With that being said, it’s an incredibly honest and intense look at what these acts of violence can actually look like.
It’s a shocking scene because television viewers aren’t used to seeing something so real and pertinent to our lives, and with acts like this being covered so constantly in the media, it’s hard to experience it again in a medium that is supposed to distract us from the horror that can occur in the real world.
19. Hannibal – Human Mural
Hannibal can be a truly menacing and disgusting show when it wants to, in addition to being one of the best written and directed programs ever conceived. Fuller understands how images can imply and demonstrate certain ideas that mere words cannot, and he uses the medium to its absolute fullest.
When we first see Hannibal open the ceiling door to the warehouse where the mural is being kept, and have a friendly interaction with the killer, it’s hard to actually comprehend the act of horror beneath him. The killer actually arranges a series of bodies with alternating skin tones to create the appearance of the human eye from an aerial view.
Leave it to Fuller to make something so artistically intriguing so inherently creepy. It’s made even worse in the opening to the show, when we see a man wake up and try to escape, only to realize he’s stitched to the others around him.
18. House of Cards – Zoe Barnes
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that House of Cards was able to secure a spot on this list. Frank Underwood had yet to prove that he was willing to throw anyone under the bus (or a train) to get a political advantage, and to keep himself safe.
It’s can be difficult to root for a character that is ruthlessly evil, but getting behind Frank is hard to resist. When Frank finally invites Zoe to an impromptu meeting to discuss what she’s learned and her commitment to Frank’s secrecy, it was easy for an audience to predict that he would be using leverage and his tough Southern charm to intimidate her.
To everyone’s shock, Frank eliminated all of Zoe’s future options outright by pushing her in front of an oncoming train. It was also hard to predict this outcome because of Kate Mara’s own popularity, which the audience believed made her “unkillable”. We were wrong.
17. The Twilight Zone – Time Enough at Last
This episode of The Twilight Zone was adapted from a short story written by Lynn Venable. The story follows a single man’s search for salvation in the rubble of his dying world. The main character, Henry Bemis is obsessed with books, and the episode revolves around those who would prevent him from reading them.
It’s a devastating episode that manages to touch on some very important, and still pertinent themes in society, such as anti-intellectualism, what we can expect from relying on technology too heavily, and the distinction between solitude and isolation. It’s made even more harrowing when at the end, he’s left picking up the shattered remains of his reading glasses, as he’s surrounded by the books he loves so much.
16. Deadwood – The Fight
Deadwood has produced some of the greatest episodes of television, period, and this might take the cake overall. It’s raw, and gut-wrenching, and it’s highlighted by an insanely violent wrestling match between Dan and Captain Turner.
It’s one of the best choreographed fights scenes in TV history, but it’s incredible because of how overly simplistic it was. It’s also the most “true to life” fight scenes ever filmed, as the two are bludgeoning each other to a pulp, and are falling over themselves, exhausted from the blows they’d been delivering. It avoids flips, and haymakers, in favor of an all out fist fight that is much more horrifying.
15. Law & Order – Indifference
This is a particularly interesting episode because it’s the only one throughout the entire run of Law & Order that needed to place a disclaimer at the end of the episode, saying it was only “inspired” by an actual case. The case is actually modeled after the real life Lisa Steinberg case, and it revolved around a child who has been inducted into the hospital with wounds that consisted with physical and sexual abuse.
It’s later discovered that her parents had been cocaine addicts, and their neighbor had actually seen her father beating her mother, and then her mother beating the child. The daughter later dies in the hospital, and the mother testifies against the father, stating that he had drugged her constantly, and forced her to abuse their daughter.
It’s a disturbing episode because it so closely depicts an actual case, and it depicted it with near-perfect accuracy. Seeing the parents struggle with drugs, and then eventually kill their daughter was tragic.
14. The Twilight Zone – The Lonely
The Twilight Zone is known for its strange and often depressing storylines, but few are able to trump the episode “The Lonely.” In the future, an inmate named Cory is sentenced to solitary confinement on a far=off asteroid for 50 years. During his fourth year of confinement, he is visited by a spacecraft carrying supplies for him. The spacecraft only has enough fuel to touch down for a little while and then take off again.
During this trip, the Captain of the ship leaves Cory with an extra special surprise; a feminine robot named Alicia. At first Cory is terrified of the robot, but he soon finds solace in her. The next trip from the Captain reveals that Cory has been pardoned for his crimes, but the catch is he must leave Alicia behind (she’s too heavy). Cory refuses and the Captain ends up shooting the robot in the face, before taking Cory in his ship.
13. Orange Is The New Black – Big Red
In Orange is the New Black season 5, the final breaking point between both Piscatella and Red was extreme, after Piscatella was able to decipher Red’s team’s plan to set him up. In the episode he ends up binding and gagging Nicky, Blanca, Red, Piper, Alex, and Boo, as he tells them that he’s going to enact his revenge on Red.
He begins by chopping off most of Red’s hair, dehumanizing her, and making her out to be less of a leader in front of her crew. He then start to cut open Red’s shirt, and Piper attempts to intervene, only for Piscatella to break her arm in the process. It’s more than we ever thought we would see from Piscatella – and far more than we ever wanted to see.
12. Sons of Anarchy – Season 6 Finale
Sons of Anarchy is a brutal, unapologetic story about family and revenge, and no episode fit that bill more than the finale to season 6. Audiences were screaming at their television sets the entire time, begging for the producers to stop the episode in its tracks, and to just end the show before Gemma confronted Tara.
Unfortunately, the producers went through with it, and Gemma ended up taking a grill fork and smashing it into Tara’s head. Gemma was strong in her convictions, and there was no staying her hand after Tara had ratted on Jax.
More than any other moment in the show, this seems to be the image burned into the minds of SoA fans everywhere, and it certainly left viewers unsure of how far the show would push the envelope in the future, luckily the creative team found a way.
11. American Gods – Lynching At The End Of The Pilot
American Gods is another Brian Fuller program that is just as violent, just as relentless, and just as masterful as Hannibal. In the very first episode of the series, we see a band of Vikings slaughtering each other for their god, we see a man lose his wife the day before he gets out of prison, and we also see that same man lynched at the hands of a modern techno-inspired god and his band of faceless men.
It’s as trippy as it sounds. Not to mention the fact that the faceless men had completely beaten our hero to a pulp minutes before putting a rope around his neck and fastening him to a tree. The episode ends as blood engulfs the man after he’s mysteriously saved, and we later find out that his (not so dead) wife was the one who slaughtered the faceless men and saved his life. It’s a hard show to follow, but an easy program to get behind.
10. Fringe – Opening
The opening scene of Fringe is terrifying for anyone who’s ever been a passenger on an aircraft, and it’s even scarier for those about to fly somewhere. It’s one of the craziest openings to a series, and it’s utterly disgusting.
We see a man having a serious panic attack as the plane he’s on travels through an electrical storm. As he gets up to begin walking towards the cockpit, he begins to mutate and rashes appear all along his face, and he hurls on an attendant attempting to return him to his seat. The entire plane begins to catch the infection almost instantly, and suddenly everyone is throwing up and their faces are falling off, including the co-pilots. The plane drifts through the clouds as the ominous intro music begins to play.
9. Fargo – The Tampon
Fargo has been continually pushing the creative envelope for years, taking an already existing film and creating something uniquely their own from its source material. Each and every season seems to improve on the Coen inspired storyline, and this season saw the introduction of an amazing character, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
The main thread of the show follows her and her boyfriend/parole officer, Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor), as they attempt to steal a stamp from Ray’s older brother Emmit (also McGregor). In the most outrageous act of villainy ever put to screen, Nikki leaves a still bloody tampon in the desk drawer of Emmit’s office in his home (where he usually keeps the stamp on the wall) when she attempts to break in and steal it.
8. The Americans – Elizabeth’s Nightmare
The Americans is, simply put, one of the greatest drama series of television ever created. It’s intense watching the Jennings deal with their family issues at home, while attempting to hide from the world, and their FBI-employed neighbor, that they’re actually Cold War spies working for the Soviet Union. Keri Russell gives a career defining performance as Elizabeth, and her backstory is rife with terrible circumstances, including the fact that her old Soviet martial arts instructor raped her during her training.
In this particular episode of the series, we find Elizabeth having a terrible dream that sees her daughter, Paige, finding her pastor dead by her parents hands. And then her pastor morphs into Nikolai Timoshev, Elizabeth’s old instructor, who Phillip killed in the pilot episode.
7. The Walking Dead – Negan Breaks Out Lucille
Surely, whether you’re a fan of The Walking Dead or not, you’ve either seen this scene, or it’s been spoiled for you on Facebook. As Negan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves he can play sadistic perhaps a little too well. It’s an episode consisting of Negan bullying and poking fan-favorite Rick Grimes until he’s about ready to burst. Negan proves in this one episode alone, that he’s more than just a man, he’s a force of nature that is ready to force the series back to life.
In the most emotionally disturbing scene in The Walking Dead’s history, Negan kills series veteran, Glenn. And he doesn’t kill him cleanly; he beats the life out of him with his barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat named Lucille. We see Glenn wrestle to declare his love for his wife one last time as his eye is completely out of its socket. It left fans in awe of what the rest of the series had in store for them.
6. The Sopranos – Tony’s Curb Stomp
The Sopranos is often touted as the greatest television series ever created, and for good reason. It was surprising, clever, and wonderfully shot from beginning to end. Tony Soprano is easily one of the greatest complicated protagonists in televised history.
One of the reasons Tony is so compelling is because when he needs to get things done, he usually does it himself. No single action is more telling of this fact than when Tony curb stomps Coco’s face into the curb below the bar in a NYC café.
Tony’s never been one to conceal his rage, but this particular act of violence was fueled by so much hate, and the tension had been building up to this moment so well, and still, somehow, it was utterly surprising. That’s what made The Sopranos so incredible.
5. True Detective – A Killer Is Revealed
The first season of True Detective is a masterpiece – and the second season doesn’t count. The end of the third episode in season one, we finally get to see the murderer who had been committing such heinous crimes throughout the first few episodes. As Rusty monologues about life being like a dream, and seeing a monster at the end of it all, a nearly naked, machete-wielding man wearing a gas mask is revealed – seemingly the killer.
The fact Rusty later comes to the realization that he had taken down the wrong men only makes it more appalling. This moment, when Rusty’s ramblings about life and time make sense is incredible, it turns Rusty from an insane and broken man, to a wise and competent detective – even when he’s far removed from that profession. The strut across the field is also oddly reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which alone makes it worthy of this list.
4. Hannibal – Mason Verger Eating His Own Nose
There’s nothing surreally artistic built into this act of horror from Hannibal season 2; it’s just plain gross. The audience is very aware of Hannibal’s menace by the time this scene rolls around, but this act is visceral in the worst kind of way.
Mason Verger deserved it; he deserved all of it- but it’s still one of the most disgusting acts committed on a show that prides itself on carnage. Having Mason Verger totally drugged out of his mind, being told by Hannibal to consume his own nose, was just a hair over the line.
Due to Verger’s horrific acts, from rendering his sister infertile to torturing our beloved protagonist, Will, it’s hard not to root for Hannibal to deliver Mason his just desserts. Everyone was just hoping that dessert wouldn’t be his own nose.
3. Twin Peaks – The Black Lodge
Twin Peaks is a strange show. Those six words sum up the entirety of the program, and David Lynch is surely proud of that summation. The trippy crime thriller (though it’s so much more than that genre description) is obsessed with psychedelic dreamscapes and eerie thematics that leave its audience in disarray.
Many fans will point to Cooper’s initial dream in the third episode as moment when the series went to a truly disturbing and psychedelic place, but the Black Lodge is certainly the pinnacle of the shows narrative reach.
It’s in this scene that Cooper’s dream is proven to be an actual locale, even if its only in his subconscious. It plays out like a nightmare on film, and Lynch is able to craft a perfectly disturbing dimension without the reliance on special effects. Just master filmmaking, and some incredible performances.
2. The X-Files – Home
The X-Files is easily one of the strangest, most intriguing, and boldest television shows ever created, but “Home” might be the oddest (and the best) episode of the series. This earned the second spot on this list because of the sheer horror of the plot alone.
Mulder and Scully end up tracking down a group of brothers who buried an infant alive, only to find out that the brothers had been creating babies with their deformed, amputee mother for years. At the end of the episode, the eldest son and the mother escape, presumably to start a new family somewhere else.
This was the first network television episode in America to receive a TV-MA rating, which it deserved in spades. This is the kind of episode to leave you reeling at night, afraid to fall asleep, just in case your nightmare features one of the shocking moments throughout.
1. Game of Thrones – The Red Wedding
No true “disturbing television scenes” list would be complete without having “The Red Wedding” as a headliner. This is truly the most shocking and appalling episode of television ever aired, not to mention Game of Thrones was such a pop-culture phenomenon, that everyone was able to share their bewilderment at the same time. It seemed for a while that the producers and writers of the popular HBO series were just stringing fans along, getting them to fall in love with interesting and well-rounded characters, just to turn around and kill them in the next scene.
After the death of Ned Stark, it was hard to not root for the North to take it all, and of course, with Rob leading the pack, it seemed all but inevitable that we would get a major battle between the Starks and Lannisters. Unfortunately that dream was cut short when Rob, his wife, his mother, and his unborn child were viciously slaughtered during the bloodiest wedding of all.
Were there any we missed disturbing scenes we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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