There are plenty of drama shows out there that kill important supporting characters and main characters without a second thought. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and so many others. It's almost harder to find a solid drama that doesn't kill off key pieces.
That being said, you can't simply kill someone for the sake of it. Yes, sometimes people need to die for the direction of the show, but if directors and writers do it right, there's some level of shock — factoring in both the timing of death and the act of death — in addition to significance in the show.
Sons of Anarchy hit on almost every single death. Even the deaths of semi-significant small characters, like Donna Winston (tragic) Dawn Traeger (vicious), were surprising. Ranking every death on a show that featured over 200 deaths is a little excessive. No one really cares about unnamed Mayans Motorcycle Club member being shot multiple times.
But the big ones hit everyone in some capacity.
Piney Winston was a co-founder of the Sons of Anarchy (SAMCRO). Only two of the orignal nine members have major roles in the show, with Clay Morrow being the other. Lenny "The Pimp" Janowitcz is the only other member alive at the time of the show, but he's improsoned and only seen in a few episodes.
Piney was well past his prime throughout Sons of Anarchy, but he wasn't afraid to get after Clay, when had the proper motivation.
Unfortunately, that cost the old man his life in the end, taking a bullet to the chest courtesy of Clay himself in Season 4.
Deputy Chief of Police David Hale made it his life mission to make sure Charming was protected the right way. He didn't like that Chief Wayne Unser was in bed with SAMCRO.
Eventually, he learned to tolerate the group. It's at that point he meets his untimely demise when he was run over after an attack at Half Sack's funeral. Talk about a jaw-dropping way to start Season 3.
Quite a few of the deaths on this list were tough to swallow because you become invested in the characters over the course of the show — which isn't unique to Sons of Anarchy. You spend hours on end with these characters, they become part of your routine.
But Half Sack Epps wasn't around for a long time, yet his death was tough. He was only a member of the cast for two seasons. That's because June Stahl sent Cameron Hayes into a tailspin. Hayes lost his mind, went after Tara and Abel. Half Sack was there to protect her and the baby, but was unable to do so, losing his life in the process. Perhaps the noblest death on the show, from a character who seemed like an all-around good guy.
His death also led to the funeral in season, where things got nuts.
August Marks proved to be just as much a problem as Damon Pope, who also met his demise courtesy of SAMCRO. He may have taken orders from Pope through years, but by no means was this guy a lackey. He became a thorn in SAMCRO's side and took things a step too far when he killed one of the club's most important members, so Jax made sure to take him out before he took off himself.
What's more surprising: the fact Wayne Unser lived through almost the entire show or the fact cancer didn't kill him? Unser was a fairly important character when the show first started, but he more and more important the longer the show ran.
Unser still met his end, like most everyone. Although getting shot in the chest isn't exactly the ideal way to go, he was able to lay his life on the line for the woman he loved, spending some of his last moments on Earth with her.
Juice Ortiz could have saved a lot of people a lot of trouble if he just opened his mouth — to the right people. Instead, the second he was intimidated, Juice ratted SAMCRO and others out, yet he still wound up in jail later.
And let's just say, he didn't seem to have a great time while he was in the big house. You could argue it was a fate worse than death — so getting the shiv from Ron Tully may have been a little more tolerable.
What an absolute mess this guy was. Otto Delaney has to be the worst-case scenario for anyone adopting this lifestyle.
He starts the show in jail, with poor vision in left eye from a SAMCRO related incident. Then he loses his right eye. His wife, Luann, was killed in the fourth season. Not long before he gets blown away, Otto deliberately bites his off.
His death was essentially a mercy kill. Otto was barely a human by the end of his time.
By the time Clay Morrow died, it was long overdue. There was still some level of satisfaction with it, but it would've been much more had he been taken out before Opie died.
In a different way from Otto, Clay had devolved into a sub-human, turning on everyone who'd cared for him. He was a pretty selfish person from the jump, but it had gone too far by the end.
ATF Agent June Stahl was the worst. She created so much unnecessary turmoil for SAMCRO.
Her meddling and manipulation led to the death of Donna Winston, Opie's late wife, as well as Half Sack, the latter leading to the abduction of Jax's son, Abel.
She even framed a fellow agent Amy Tyler — whom she had a relationship with — in order to manipulate a murder case, where she was the actual murderer.
Opie was jerked around a ton throughout the show, even though he'd gone clean at the start of the show. At least he had the chance to blast the person responsible for the majority of his misery.
The fact Gemma Teller Morrow's death is fifth on this list should be enough to illustrate the importance of each member of the Mount Rushmore of Sons of Anarchy Deaths. Her own son killed her, for crying out loud.
Gemma made her own bed, though. She tried to manipulate everyone and everything along the way to get what she wanted. And when things seemed to go sideways just a smidge, she overreacted and created a much bigger issue. The best example of that is, of course, the murder on this list she's responsible for. (That's a tease!)
Bobby Munson may have been the best human being in SAMCRO. He tried to help pretty much everyone along the way, and always wanted the group to go legit.
So it seemed brutally unfair when he got his fingers chopped off and an eye carved out. (Not that anybody should go through any of that. Well, maybe Stahl.) Then he gets shot in Jax's arms when the rest of SAMCRO thought they'd finally gotten back the soul of their group.
Such a sad moment that happened so suddenly.
Opie Winston was the heart of Sons of Anarchy and SAMCRO. He and Jax had their rough patches, but they were brothers. Unfortunately, that's ultimately what led to his demise in the end.
While in San Joaquin County Correctional Facility, Jax was given the chance get himself out by leaving Tig behind to be tortured until his death and sacrificing either Opie or Chibbs to Damon Pope's wolves. Jax refused the offer.
Pope then forced Jax into a scenario where he had to choose one of his three brothers. Still refusing to pick one, Jax was ready to offer up himself — which is when Opie stepped in.
Opie went down fighting, but the numbers disadvantage was too much. His death drastically changed the tone of the show and Jax's direction in life.
Jax Teller was the star that stirred the drink in Sons of Anarchy. For all the drama the club dealt with, Jax's internal conflict and familial issues were the driving for of the show. He constantly worked to set things right, battling those closest to him every step of the way.
He never really did get things right, losing nearly everyone close to him along the way.
Then he made one last mistake that cost him his life. Jax took that as a last chance to tie up loose ends and rather than force his brothers to kill him, he ended his own life.
Tara's death was the most brutal visually and the most frustrating in the show. It crushed Jax and sent him on the warpath. It deflated an already lost SAMCRO. Gemma, Tara's killer, became a shell of herself.
Opie's death changed the tone of the show and Jax's outlook on life. Tara's turned him to the combination of a puddle and a blood-crazed warlord. If she lives, the show has a drastically different ending.