It's become commonplace for TV shows to kill off beloved characters over the last few years - with shows such as Game of Thrones and Grey's Anatomy dispatching of fan favorites in favor of drama and suspense. It would appear that no-one is safe anymore, and anyone's favorite character could be next.
Sometimes the deaths are graceful and subtle, and sometimes they are violent and heartbreaking, but in a generation when TV plays such a huge part of our lives, it's difficult not too get attached to some of those characters.
So while you sit and cross your fingers for the lives of Daryl Dixon and Tyrion Lannister, Screen Rant is taking a look at 13 Most Shocking TV Deaths of All Time. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead.
13 Hank Schrader - Breaking Bad
The finale of Breaking Bad was one of the most hotly anticipated TV episodes of TV back in 2013 – but the final season’s 14th episode was just as mind-blowing, if not more so. "Ozymandias" was the episode in which the rules changed – or rather, disappeared completely. All bets were off from that moment, which has since been called one of the greatest episodes of TV ever written.
One of the many things that made the episode so brilliant was the fact that it saw one of its main characters perish within minutes of the opening credits. After the previous episode cut to black during a shoot-out, Ozymandias picks up where it left off, and sees Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) held at point blank range by gang member Jack Welker (Michael Bowen), who has already killed Hank’s partner, Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada).
Hank, who had been a pivotal character in the series since the first episode, was at that point the only authority figure who knew about Walt’s (Brian Cranston) involvement in the crystal meth business, and the one who had the chance to end the situation before if got any worse. He was also an incredibly real and human character; a product of Vince Gilligan’s outstanding writing. Which is why it was so painful to see him killed so suddenly, and so soon in the episode. And whilst both Walter and the viewers may not have seen it coming even when it was so imminent, as Hank said himself – “He made up his mind ten minutes ago”.
12 Hershel Greene - The Walking Dead
“Nowadays, you breathe, and you risk your life.” Hershel Greene’s (Scott Wilson) farm was the home base of The Walking Dead's second season. He was originally cold to the group of traveling survivors who came to his land after the zombie outbreak in search of a safe haven. However, after the newcomers turned into friends – one of them even falling in love with his daughter, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) – his kindness and generosity shone through. He became a father figure to the group, with strict morals and a deep care for his own.
Unlike many of the show’s lead characters, Hershel never resorted to violence in arguments, nor did he kill anyone who wasn’t a "walker." Generally, any character is fair game to be killed off in The Walking Dead, but Hershel’s death still came as a shock. While burning bodies with Michonne (Danai Gurira) in the woods outside the prison, both characters are captured by The Governor (David Morrissey). Michonne had previously taken both The Governor’s eye and his zombie daughter, and so she would have been the obvious target of his blood lust.
However, after the two are taken hostage, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) begins to bargain with The Governor, insisting that they can live in harmony. For a moment, it seems Rick’s words have hit home – The Governor lowers the katana he’s stolen from Michonne. He then whispers “liar” and slices Hershel’s neck open. As if this sudden turnaround isn’t shocking enough; when Hershel doesn’t immediately die, The Governor continues to hack at his bleeding body until the job is finished.
11 Dr. Kutner – House M.D.
Like most medical dramas, House M.D. portrays a lot of deaths in a lot of ways. It also discusses a lot of the technicalities which cause death – such is the nature of the show, and of Dr. Gregory House's (Hugh Laurie) obsession with puzzles. Whilst Amber Volakis’ (Anne Dudek) passing was marginally more gut-wrenching to watch, Dr. Kutner (Kal Penn) definitely wins the prize for most shocking death in the series.
Due to Kal Penn getting appointed as associate director in the US Government's Office of Public Engagement, he needed to leave the show quite suddenly – which he absolutely did. During a usual sort of case – or as usual as House’s case get – Kutner repeatedly fails to show up for work. Concerned for his well-being, Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps) and Dr. Hadley (Olivia Wilde) turn up at his apartment to check on him – and find his body lying in the bedroom. Artfully shot so that you see almost nothing of the scene, it soon becomes apparent that Kutner has committed suicide. It brings Dr. House to the brink of a breakdown, partially from masking his grief, but also due to his need to explain why it had happened – especially when Kutner seemed like the happiest and most comfortable of the team. This sentiment echoed through viewers, none of whom had seen this fate coming.
However, on re-watching the season, it is masterfully subtle how apparent and yet hidden Kutner’s depression is. It is, in fact, detectable, but only once you know the whole story – which could be considered uncomfortably close to reality.
10 George O'Malley - Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy is known for the unceremonious slaying of its main characters. Whilst it has become more expected in recent years, with Shonda Rhimes apparently competing with George R. R. Martin to see who can ruin more lives, back in season 5, it was pretty shocking to see Grey’s lose one of its key cast – and one that had been around since the very beginning, at that.
George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) started alongside the other interns in the first episode of the series, and quickly established himself as the "nice" guy – awkward and adorable. By season 5, he had fallen in and out of love with Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), married Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) in Vegas, and then soon after cheated on her with his best friend, Izzie (Katherine Heigl) – as well as performing open heart surgery in an elevator, of course.
In season 5, viewers became totally absorbed with Izzie’s battle with cancer, and for most of the season it was unclear whether or not she would survive. This is why we were dealt a tough blow when, in the season finale, a John Doe turns up in the ER with injuries that, as well as ultimately claiming his life, make him completely unrecognizable – and turns out to be none other than George. After spending the entire episode thinking that this patient was just another medical mystery with which to pepper the story, the moment we see the maimed O’Malley tracing his nickname, “007,” on to Meredith’s hand was so unexpected that it left more than one fan shouting at their TV.
The real-world gossip was that T.R. Knight was leaving the show after falling out with Isaiah Washington, who played Preston Burke – but Shonda had everyone believing that George had left Seattle Grace Hospital to join the army right up until the big reveal.
9 Dr. Lucy Knight – ER
It's the middle of a Valentine’s Day Party in the ER, the staff are playing loud music and generally enjoying the holiday. However, Dr. Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) is nowhere to be seen. She had, previously in the episode, been trying to convince Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) that their patient was suffering from Schizophrenia after witnessing some odd behavior.
Whilst making a check, the patient sneaks up on Dr. Carter, stabbing him in the side. He falls to the ground, calling for help – but cannot be heard due to the music playing in the halls for the party. He tries – and fails – to push himself to his feet, and eventually gives in to the fact that he’s stuck on the floor. When he opens his eyes, he sees a terrible sight on the other side of the bed. Lucy is also lying on the floor, pale and in a pool of her own blood.
The shock of seeing her there after already being taken aback by the stabbing of Dr. Carter is almost too much to bear – and though Carter lives, Lucy, sadly, does not, and he is forced to deal with the guilt of not listening to her diagnosis sooner.
8 Marissa Cooper - The OC
After two seasons of getting to know the kids from The OC, there was a lot of teen angst type emotion flying around. The drama multiplies as the show moves along, and ultimately culminates in the season 3 finale, in which Marissa is run over by her drug dealer.
Originally a reasonably "good" girl, Marissa’s decline begins when her father is arrested for fraud and her family goes bankrupt. She later finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, and turns to drugs and alcohol for an escape.
During a trip to Tijuana with her ex-boyfriend, Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie), and their friends, Marissa is hunted down by her drug dealer and involved in a malicious accident before anyone is able to save her. Throughout the series, Marissa and Ryan had a “will they/won’t they” relationship which had viewers begging for their happy ending – unfortunately it wasn’t to be, and Ryan was left pulling her dead body from the wreckage.
7 Mike Delfino - Desperate Housewives
Desperate Housewives may be one of the most over-the-top TV dramas in recent history. And yet somehow it managed to stay relatable enough for viewers to care deeply about the characters and their relationships. Mike Delfino (James Denton) was with the show from the early days, turning up as a lovable handyman and winning the affections of Susan (Teri Hatcher).
Through the show, we watched Mike and Susan fall in love, get married, get in trouble, get broke, have a baby, break up and then get back together, and so much more. They were the most adorable couple on the show, and even though he had drug and money issues, there was something about Mike that made him totally un-hateable. He was a genuine character who loved his wife and family so deeply – which was what made his death so unbearable.
What made it so shocking and unexpected was the manner of the death. After getting in trouble with a loan shark, Susan finally convinces Mike to go to the police – however, whilst leaving the house, he is killed by the loan shark in a drive-by shooting, right on the porch of his house, in front of his wife – but not before his final act of love, as he pushes her out of the way of the gunman. We’re then treated to a heart-breaking flashback of their relationship as she cradles his bleeding body.
6 Neal Cassady - Once Upon a Time
At times, Once Upon A Time can be a pretty cheesy show – but that doesn’t detract from how addictive it is. After a rocky return to Emma’s (Jennifer Morrison) life, Neal (Michael Raymond-James) is eventually welcomed back into the lives of the fairytale characters he once left.
After a rocky relationship with his father, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), Neal forgives him, and Rumple repays him by giving his life to save his son. However, during a trip to the Enchanted Forest with Rumple’s girlfriend, Belle (Emilie de Ravin), they are tricked into bringing him back to life by the Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader) – who fails to mention that the price for his resurrection is Neal’s life. That isn’t the end though – Rumple refuses to let his son die for him, and forces the two of them to live together in the same body. But there isn’t enough room for them both, and they end up going mad.
On realizing what has happened, Neal uses his brief time at the surface of consciousness to beg Emma to use her magic to split them, knowing that they can’t both live for much longer without sacrificing each other. Reluctantly, she agrees, and Neal disappears, leaving only a heartbroken and grieving Rumplestiltskin.
5 Ned Stark - Game of Thrones
It would have been impossible to make a list of TV deaths without including Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin is infamous for being ruthless with his characters – a fact which, to those who hadn’t read the books, was firmly solidified upon the death of Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean).
A faithful servant to the King, Ned Stark acted as King’s Hand under duress from his friend, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). However, upon Robert’s death, he was falsely accused of attempting to steal the throne from the King’s son and heir, Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
He was forced to make a false confession and beheaded in front of a crowd of subjects, as well as his daughter, who was betrothed to the Prince. The episode left viewers fully expecting something miraculous to happen, right up until the end. Surely, there was just no way that a huge TV show was just going to behead its lead character? Sean Bean had been on billboards and buses, and had been the face of the show up until that point – this was ground-breaking. And what’s more, it was this bizarre death that gained the show so much popularity. It was a totally new way of writing; because no-one is safe, the show is completely unpredictable, making it a must-watch – even if it does leave viewers constantly terrified that their favorite character will die.
4 Colonel Henry Blake – M*A*S*H
During the '50s and '60s, it was unheard of to have a character die rather than simply leave a show. However, the writers decided that killing off Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) was the appropriate way to have him leave.
In "Abyssinia, Henry," Blake makes the rounds of the 4077th, saying goodbye to all of his friends after being given leave. However, after his departure, Radar (Gary Burghoff) enters the operating room to read a telegram to the rest of the Army doctors as they perform a surgery. The telegraph informs the doctors that Col. Henry’s plane was shot down. “There were no survivors”.
The shock here came not only in that the viewers didn’t see it coming – but also in that the cast didn’t either. Whilst McLean Stevenson and Alan Alda knew of the imminent parting of Col. Henry, the rest of the cast didn’t know until right before filming the scene that Radar would be coming in with the news. Rumor has it that the cast weren’t told at all, and that their reactions on camera were real – however, writer Larry Gelbart dispelled this in his book, revealing that the death was not "kept a surprise from the cast until the moment when Gary Burghoff's character ran into the operating room to announce the news." Even so, a few minutes would not have been enough time to come to terms with it before filming the scene, and so it still came as a huge shock.
3 Rita Morgan – Dexter
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is a murderer. It’s the theme of the show, and so death is inherent. However, the death of a main character hadn’t really happened up until this point. A supporting character here and there, but Rita (Julie Benz) had been in the show since day one – and every episode since. She was the only physical thing tethering Dexter to his human side, and made him realize that perhaps he could, contrary to his previous belief, love.
The season 4 finale of Dexter saw an end to Dex’s pursuit of the Trinity Killer, Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), after a tense back and forth of threats between the characters. Just as Dexter has decided to choose his family life over his dark passenger, he returns home to find his infant son in a pool of blood – echoing his own traumatic childhood – before finding his wife, Rita, dead in the bath tub. In traditional Trinity Killer fashion, she has been placed in the bath and forced to watch herself die in a handheld mirror as her femoral artery was cut in the tub.
Anyone who managed to stay spoiler-free before watching this episode was aghast at the sudden twist of events. After being lulled into a false sense of security of the seemingly neat tie-up of the season just moments earlier, this scene was a real shocker.
2 Zoe Barnes - House of Cards
Struggling journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) was ambitious and naïve. Desperate to make an advance in her career, she made a deal with politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), with whom she was having an affair. He promises to provide her with political information about which she can write in return for their sexual relationship. However, toward the end of season 1, she ends their relationship whilst investigating Congressman Peter Russo’s (Corey Stoll) apparent suicide.
She eventually uncovers the fact that Underwood had murdered Russo. She follows the clues to him, and meets him in an attempt to draw out the truth. Upon realizing what she has discovered, he decides quickly – and without too much moral questioning – to push her in front of a Washington Metro train.
The murder of a main character in a show is uncommon enough, but Zoe was killed during the premiere of season 2, making it completely unexpected – and just to make it even more shocking, he did it while she was in the middle of a sentence. Used to getting what he wanted, he simply got bored of listening, and decided to remove the problem in the easiest apparent way – murder.
1 Joyce Summers – Buffy
Buffy’s mom (Kristine Sutherland) was a constant through the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While most others had ulterior motives for caring about Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Joyce just loved her for who she was. As the series moved on and she learned about Buffy’s true identity she was scared but supportive.
Before Joss Whedon began killing off characters in Buffy, it felt like quite a safe watch. There would be violence, sarcasm and monsters (which were usually more kooky than creepy) – it was always great fun, with just a little drama. However, after "I Was Made to Love You," all of that changed. After a fun episode involving robot girlfriends and a smattering of vampires, Buffy returns home in the final moments of the episode to find her mom’s lifeless body lying on the couch.
Following on from that was "The Body" – an episode revered for Whedon’s careful take on it. Based on his own mother’s death from a brain aneurism, the episode contains no music and is carried simply by the great writing and acting from the cast. It’s definitely an episode that requires Kleenex.
Did we miss any TV deaths that shocked you? Let us know in the comments