Game of Thrones returns to our screens this summer for a seventh, and second-to-last, season - leading many fans to speculate on which major characters are going to bite the big one this year. The fantasy series has become known for killing off huge chunks of its cast each season, as seemingly no one is safe in Westeros. From season one and the shocking death of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) to season six’s brutal killing off of Hodor (Kristian Nairn) (among many, many others), fan favorites are at risk in every episode.
While Game of Thrones might have the worst reputation for slaughtering major characters at every turn, it’s far from the only genre show with a tendency to kill off everyone in sight. Star Trek may have created the term ‘redshirts’ to refer to unimportant characters who are introduced just so that they can be killed, but these fifteen shows don’t worry about redshirts. Instead, they happily kill off major characters after multiple episodes (or even seasons) of development - and only a handful of them come back to life.
-- Spoiler Warning: This list contains spoilers for recent deaths in all shows mentioned. --
Lost was an incredibly complex show that combined time travel, alternate timelines, mysteries, murder, and all kinds of mysticism to create one of the 2000s most popular series. It also had no problems killing off major characters - picking up speed on character deaths as the show went on (much like Game of Thrones). From the moment that Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on the island, anyone might meet their end, and in an incredibly imaginative number of ways. Plenty of people were murdering each other, vicious polar bears are running wild, drowning is always a possibility, and of course, there’s a nuclear explosion, just in case the other possible demises were a little too boring for you.
On top of all the (relatively) normal deaths, there’s also the big question that fans were left with at the end of the series: were they all dead this whole time? In one timeline (a ‘sideways reality’) the dead are reunited in a purgatory universe before they can move on… although not all the major characters who died show up.
14 Legends of Tomorrow
Like Lost, Legends of Tomorrow likes to play with time travel and alternate timelines - for a slightly more easily explained reason, of course! As this team of heroes travels through time to fix ‘aberrations’ and maintain time itself, they’ve broken every possible rule, and almost every major character has died at one point as a result.
In the season 2 episode "Doomworld", the Legion of Doom (using the Spear of Destiny) created their own alternate reality, one where the villains are in control and have slaughtered all the heroes of the Arrowverse. Then, in "Aruba", once the Legends have dealt with Doomworld, fans are treated to a real bloodbath of a finale. The Legends head back in time, deciding to break the cardinal rule of time travel and return to a place that they have already visited, even interacting with their former selves. They save the day (sort of…) but with two sets of Legends running around at the same point in time, the only way to remedy the paradox is for the duplicates to meet their sticky ends.
13 The Flash
Time travel just lends itself to killing everyone off, it seems, as The Flash is yet another time-jumping series that does all kinds of damage to its main characters. The series also likes to revisit deaths, as more than one character has met their end several times over - including Barry’s (Grant Gustin) mom, whose death is a major plot point (every time), and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), who has been killed in multiple alternate timelines but it still going strong in the main one.
Cisco has also lost his brother, Barry has lost his father, Iris (Candice Patton) spent the past season running from her death, HR (Tom Cavanagh) took Iris’s place and met his own end, Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) shot himself… the list goes on and on. Even the titular character himself isn’t safe in this universe - in the season 3 finale "Finish Line", Barry steps into the Speed Force, seemingly giving up his life and leaving Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) to take up the mantle of The Flash. (Or maybe not?)
The finale Arrowverse entry, Arrow itself has been getting quite main-character-death happy in the past few seasons, although it has always been comfortable killing off major players. From day one, plenty of people in Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) story have bit the dust - both of his parents (in fairly horrific ways), and his best friend Tommy (Colin Donnell) all die within the first couple of seasons.
Of course, the show doesn’t stop there. While most of Team Arrow managed to make it through several seasons intact, one of the biggest deaths in the show was that of the Black Canary (Laurel Lance, played by Katie Cassidy), a moment that shocked comic fans who expected to see her end up with the Green Arrow. Arrow also has a bit of a habit of bringing people back from the dead - or from near-death. The White Canary (Caity Lotz), Thea Queen (Willa Holland) and even Oliver himself have been brought back from an almost certain demise (or even actual demise). The season five finale really upped the ante, however, with a cliffhanger ending that could potentially have killed off the entire super-team, leaving Oliver entirely alone.
iZombie cheats a little, because in this universe, being dead doesn’t mean that a character can’t still be an active part of the show! Set in a version of Seattle where a virus has turned an increasingly large number of people into walking, talking zombies, more than half of the primary cast are dead - or at least, undead.
Central zombie Liv Moore (Rose McIver) is killed in the first episode at a boat party, and she's resurrected almost immediately. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Major (Robert Buckley) is also turned/killed when he was stabbed, and Liv chose to save him by making him a zombie. While her co-workers and roommate are humans, almost all the other major characters are also deceased; Blaine (David Anders), Don E (Bryce Hodgson), Vivian Stoll (Andrea Savage), and a whole range of secondary zombie-types. There’s even some zombie-on-zombie violence, and of course, as Liv works in a morgue, each episode centers on a murder victim, bringing that body count even higher.
Westworld is another technicality of sorts, seeing as robots can’t really die… but these aren’t just any old robots. Instead, the ‘hosts’ of Westworld are essentially human, with some so convincing that not even the people around them know that they are not truly flesh and blood. They also believe themselves to be human, and cannot (for the most part) remember their many, many deaths. However, one of the biggest draws of the theme park for guests is the ability to kill the hosts - so they die time and time again.
Some, like Teddy (James Marsden) die as the hero; others, like Armistace (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) die as villains and outlaws. The ‘main’ character (if the show can be said to have one), Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) dies time and time again at the hands of the bitter and twisted Man In Black (Ed Harris). Then there’s the season finale, where it’s not just the hosts that meet a sticky end, but many of the humans, in an epic end to season one.
9 Breaking Bad
Usually, the death of a show’s protagonist would be a shocking twist for the audience, but in Breaking Bad, no one expected him to survive. In fact, the premise of the show is based on the fact that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is dying. However, the series still manages to challenge expectations, as Walter doesn’t die of the cancer that sets him on the meth-cooking path, but of a gunshot wound.
In addition to Walter himself, Breaking Bad kills off an impressive number of characters both major and minor, often slaughtering several per episode. White himself kills nearly two hundred characters in the show - although only seventeen of those die directly by his hand. The majority of characters are shot, but there are plenty of other deaths to be had in this series - people are crushed, asphyxiated, decapitated, overdosed, poisoned, blown up, run over, have throats slit, get axes to the back, and even set on fire. There's no shortage of variety here, at least.
This sci-fi mystery drama may keep its three main characters alive to the end - but only in one of the parallel universes that the series explores. Courtesy of the kind of timeline messing that seems to go hand in hand with genre shows and high body counts, some are even erased, rather than killed. Known as a series with an impressively high body count, Fringe separates universes and doubles up on death, but it also doesn’t shy away from killing off specific major characters.
Each season sees the death of at least one major player, starting with John Scott (Mark Valley) in season one, and ending with several of the Observers’ deaths in the finale. Fringe averages out at three bodies per episode, but while this may seem like a high number, many of these are faceless redshirt-types, rather than main characters. Still, with at least ten important people not surviving till the end, and a huge number of smaller deaths, Fringe certainly racked up the corpses.
A particularly violent and gory show, Preacher has just returned to the small screen for a second season, and it’s likely that the body count is just going to continue to rise in this one. The three main characters, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), Tulip (Ruth Negga), and Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) made it out of season one alive… but they’re pretty much the only ones who did. And given that Cassidy is actually a vampire, he’s technically not even alive to begin with!
Other than these three, the entire season one cast (and population of Annville) was killed off at the end of the first season, when the methane underneath the town couldn’t be vented and the whole place blew up. This was after Arseface (Ian Coletti) was killed when Jesse sent him to Hell, one of the Angels was shot by the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish) in Hell, Tracy Loach (Gianna Lepera) was suffocated by her mother, and various other (slightly less important) characters were killed off throughout the season.
6 The Vampire Diaries
Another CW show proving that this ‘young adult’ focused network has no problem going on massive character killing sprees, The Vampire Diaries only manages to average one death per episode… that is until undead ‘deaths’ are also factored in. Given that the series is set in a town rife with supernatural beings and vampires, this body count rises steeply when the end of the undead are included.
By the series finale, multiple vampires, werewolves, humans, and witches have been killed, and fans were bracing themselves for the last few big deaths of the show. Stefan (Paul Wesley) was potentially the biggest loss of the finale, as he sacrificed himself to give Damon (Ian Somerhelder) the life that he always wanted with Elena (Nina Dobrev). It was a fitting end to a show that has wandered through the living, dead, and undead for eight seasons, and killed off plenty of other characters along the way.
Unlike most of the other shows on this list, there is no complicated plot to Spartacus, no timeline jumping, alternate universes, undead protagonists, or supernatural mischief. Instead, the high body count in this Starz series comes simply from constant war and violence in ancient Rome. The show manages to rack up an average of twenty-five bodies per episode, and it's well-known for many of these deaths being brutally gory as well. This is actually a higher body count than Game of Thrones itself, but it does include plenty of redshirt ends and nameless deaths in that number.
Even the titular character met a bloody end in the series, as Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) was killed by Roman soldiers in season three. Other major deaths include Gannicus (Dustin Clare), who was crucified, Crixus (Manu Bennett), Illithia (Viva Blanca), and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), but we could list dozens more, as almost every major player died in the end.
4 True Blood
Back to the supernatural and undead types! True Blood, another series about vampires, werewolves, witches and supernatural types, clocks in at an average of three bodies per episode (although again, this doesn’t include the deaths of vamps and other already-dead types). As well as the usual bloodsucking deaths and various characters being ‘turned’ along the way, by the season finale, a huge number of the biggest characters were no more… truly dead, not just undead.
Tara (Rutina Wesley) was killed at the start of season 7, breaking the hearts of fans who had loved her since the start… but it was the death of Bill (Stephen Moyer) himself that really marked the end of it all. After becoming infected with Hep-V blood, Bill refuses a cure, and chooses to die in order to try and set Sookie (Anna Paquin) free. He dies by her hand, and she stakes him as they hold hands.
3 The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead doesn’t have the high body count per episode that some of the other shows on this list do, but part of that is because most of the population of this universe is already dead! Unlike vampires and iZombie’s zombies, however, TWD’s walkers are classic horror zombies, mindless and looking to kill.
The survivors don’t just have to worry about being eaten by the walkers, however, as they're just as often murdered by other human survivors who have given into their worst selves in this post-apocalyptic world. When Amy (Emma Bell) was killed off in the first season, it served as a warning to fans that no one would ever be safe in this world, and right up to the most recent shocker when Glenn (Steve Yeun) had his head bashed in by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), that's held true. Fans are waiting to see whether series star Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) will survive, or if he too will fall before the end.
At this point, almost every major character in Supernatural has died - including the ones who are still leading the show! Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester have been the stars of this monster hunting series since the pilot, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve never been killed off. They just tend to come back to life in some shape or form - much like the other current Winchester hunting on the show: Mary (Samantha Smith), who was recently resurrected after being dead since season one.
Multiple other major characters have met their end over the past twelve seasons, including mentor Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Crowley (Mark Sheppard), Castiel (Misha Collins), and a plethora of others that the boys have cared for over the years. After thirteen seasons, fans are starting to wonder where else the show can go, when the Winchester brothers are likely to die again, and most importantly, if their deaths might actually stick this time around.
1 Game of Thrones
What other show could have the top spot but Game of Thrones? There is rarely an episode of this fantasy epic where a popular character doesn’t die - and as the warring Houses of Westeros come together for a final confrontation in the face of a white-walker-y apocalypse, we imagine that there will be more deaths than ever in the final two seasons of the show. Fans are already speculating about who won’t make it through to the end, with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) currently in the top spot for most likely season 7 death.
Others are crossing their fingers that fan favorites Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) survive, although given the show’s history of slaughtering beloved characters and creators' promises of a bittersweet ending, it's highly unlikely that all three will see the series through. Some are even speculating that everyone could die in the end, if the White Walkers win while the humans of Westeros are duking it out over the Iron Throne. With only two seasons left of the series, we’ll find out soon enough.
Did we miss any of TV's most bloodthirsty series? Let us know in the comments.