Imagine you’re sinking comfortably into your couch and you begin to watch your favorite television program: you have a bowl of popcorn in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Nothing could be better. Suddenly, a longstanding member of the show is killed off! Now, your jaw is dropped, the wine and popcorn have both spilled all over you and the couch, and your dog is having the time of its life in cleaning up the mess you accidentally created in your panicked shock.
It used to be that death on TV was rare, but even with the growing number of characters meeting their ends in practically every genre show out there, the initial, devastating blow never gets any easier. Whether in science fiction, fantasy, or horror, the creative teams behind some of the greatest shows on television certainly know how to ruin a perfectly good evening.
SPOILER WARNING: Massive spoilers below regarding major characters from various shows!
15 LEXA (THE 100)
When fans first met Lexa in season two’s “Fog of War,” director Steven DuPaul introduced her as Heda, commander of the 12 Clans. A fierce warrior and nemesis to the series’ star, Clarke, the two went on to form somewhat of an uneasy alliance in hopes of uniting the clans and making peace with the Sky People, and eventually, grew to love each other. Unfortunately, for both Clarke and viewers, this relationship did not last too long.
In the sixth episode of season three, “Thirteen,” Clarke was about to be killed by Lexa’s adviser, Titus, in hopes of convincing Lexa to wage war against Arkadia. Able to avoid the bullets because of Titus’ lack of skill at shooting, Clarke was stunned — as was everyone glued to their television screen at the time — when a stray bullet hit and mortally wounded Lexa. While she did return for one more episode at the end of the season as an aide to Clarke in the City of Light (“Perverse Instantiation”), her death was abrupt and felt sort of unnecessary — so much so that fans created a petition to bring her back with no such luck.
14 CARSON BECKETT (STARGATE ATLANTIS)
“Stargate,” the light-hearted science fiction adventure franchise, was not known for killing off main characters; however, in quite a surprising move, Carson Beckett, the friendly Chief Medical Officer, was written off the show at the end of season three. Written by Martin Gero and directed by Will Waring, the very intense episode, “Sunday,” saw Beckett braving almost certain death to save a colleague. After his friends did their best to talk him out of it, Carson operated and successfully removed an explosive tumor from another doctor’s head. Placing the tumor in a box and handing it over to an explosives technician, the growth detonated, killing Carson before he could get away.
Not only was this a major blow because of how genuinely kind and funny Carson was, but his death was also gut wrenching because of his friendship with the ever-obnoxious Rodney McKay. Fans were able to see glimmers of kindness and hope in Rodney’s character as the series progressed, with much credit due to his relationship with Carson. In their final scene together, Rodney told the spirit of Carson that he was “the closest thing to a best friend I ever had.” Hang on, where are the tissues?
13 ALISHA DANIELS (MISFITS)
At the start of “Misfits,” the show about super-powered juvenile delinquents, Alisha Daniels was a party girl able to experience instant sexual arousal (apparently a super power), but eventually gained the power of clairvoyance. In season three, Alisha and Simon were a couple, and the season itself, was “Misfits” at its finest. In the eighth and final episode of the season, “The Cycle of Life and Death,” directed by Jonathan van Tulleken, Alisha and Simon made up after a brief fight, but were blindsided by a villain from their past who had come back from the dead. Without any warning, she slit Alisha’s throat, leaving her to die in Simon’s arms.
What made this death so heartbreaking was the fact that both Alisha and Simon had grown so much as characters over the course of their three seasons on the series. Their relationship, while unexpected, developed naturally and smoothly, making them the heart of the show. With Alisha’s murder, Simon believed it was his destiny to travel back in time to ensure their future together; but unfortunately, not only did the episode mark Alisha’s departure from the show, but Simon’s as well, forcing fans to say goodbye to the heart of “Misfits.”
12 MOIRA QUEEN (ARROW)
On “Arrow,” Oliver Queen’s present has been built on lies to protect his past. While Oliver’s life is steeped in deception, his mother, Moira, held a secret so devastating, it had the power to not only destroy the relationships she’d built with her children, but send her to prison as well. She belonged to a group of powerful individuals in season one, including Malcolm Merlyn, who had schemed to enact the Undertaking: a devious plan to destroy Starling City (by killing thousands), and then rebuild it to make it a beacon of hope. Thankfully, the Undertaking was thwarted by Arrow and his team, but it certainly put a damper on the mother/son/daughter relationship that had already been quite testy.
Eventually, Moira was able to gain Oliver and Thea’s trust again. While their familial ties were still strained, she honestly worked her way back into their hearts; that is, until “Seeing Red,” the season two episode in which Slade Wilson’s vendetta against Oliver flowed into Oliver’s personal life. Holding Oliver, Moira, and Thea hostage, Slade put a sword through Moira Queen’s stomach, killing her, and ensuring a vast amount of anguish from the remaining Queens and viewers alike.
11 LORI (THE WALKING DEAD)
A very pregnant Lori was holed up in a closed off room with Carl and Maggie in “Killer Within,” episode four of season three of “The Walking Dead.” Realizing the baby was on the way, Lori knew she wouldn't make it through childbirth, but she wanted her baby to have a fighting chance. Maggie cut open Lori’s stomach and took the baby out, and in a very disturbing close to the scene, Carl shot and killed his mother so that she wouldn't come back as a walker.
For fans of the comic, it was no surprise that Lori would eventually die, but for those who solely watched AMC’s adaptation of “The Walking Dead,” it was definitely a shock. However, no one could have predicted just how impactful her death would end up being. As Carl walked outside to show Rick the living baby, Rick lost it in an overwhelming, guttural reaction, collapsing to the ground. He knew that Lori was dead and was stricken with the guilt that Carl was the one to end her life. The juxtaposition of Rick’s primal outcry and Carl’s stoic mannerisms was what made the death itself so tragic.
10 MITCHELL (BEING HUMAN)
Throughout his three season stint on “Being Human,” John Mitchell — the show’s resident, century-old vampire — constantly struggled with his lust for blood and his desire to, well, be human. It wasn’t until season three that Mitchell really lost the battle, falling deeper into his addiction, and ultimately slaughtering a train filled with people. Mitchell, depressed by his actions, pleaded with his best friend and roommate, the werewolf George, to kill him. When Edgar Wyndham, an Old One, showed up at their door looking for Mitchell in “The Wolf-Shaped Bullet," George knew that Wyndham would use Mitchell and that his friend would never be able to lead a normal life. In a moment fueled by love and anger, George staked his friend, putting Mitchell out of his misery.
Mitchell’s death was intensely Shakespearian in its tragedy: a best friend killing his best friend in order to save his soul. No matter how poetic Mitchell’s exit was, though, it doesn’t change the fact that it was painstakingly agonizing. For three years, fans watched as Mitchell, George, and Annie fought for redemption and normalcy — but at least one character was never able to truly find what he was looking for.
9 TOPHER (DOLLHOUSE)
Joss Whedon is known for creating popular characters and then adding to their storyline in such a way that leads to a tragic death. In “Dollhouse,” Topher Brink was one such individual. Having created the very program that wiped the minds of Dolls and imprinted them with new memories, one of the companies behind the Dollhouse, Rossum, planned to use his designs to globally wipe every person’s mind. In “Epitaph Two: Return,” the series finale, the year is 2020 and Topher was under Rossum’s control. If he did not fix his program to ensure the worldwide mind-wipe, an innocent person would be murdered in front of him every day. Due to the mass amount of deaths he’d “caused” by not adhering to Rossum’s demands, Topher was guilt-stricken and became highly schizophrenic; eventually, Topher gave in.
While Topher’s death was certainly harrowing, it was also powerfully heroic. Topher realized that by manually detonating a bomb that would send a mass signal out to the world, restoring everyone’s memories, he could redeem himself. He did just this, killing himself, but saving the world. While Topher was able to atone for his sins, his fans were left devastated at his tragic storyline.
8 JONATHAN KENT (SMALLVILLE)
On “Smallville” — the drama about a young Clark Kent and his long journey to becoming Superman — Clark’s adoptive father, Jonathan, served as Clark’s moral compass on his destined heroic path. A down-to-earth, wise, mentor figure, Jonathan was not just the backbone of his family, but of the show itself. In the fifth season’s episode “Reckoning,” directed by Greg Beeman, all of this changed.
After finally sharing his secret with Lana, Clark proposed to his girlfriend. Unfortunately, later in the episode, Lana was killed after being hit by a truck. Even with his super powers, Clark was unable to save Lana’s life. Clark pleaded with Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude to turn back time and restore Lana’s life, even though he was told that someone else’s life would be taken in exchange. What he didn't realize was that that life would be Jonathan’s. Without a father to guide him, Clark had to become a man on his own. Playing God with time and fate had a detrimental effect on Clark and his family, as they lost the best man they’d ever know. Stupid Clark.
7 ELIZABETH FORBES (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES)
The thing about supernatural worlds is that, sometimes, something ordinary and natural can take a person’s life, and no amount of magic or powers will be able to set things right. In “The Vampire Diaries,” Elizabeth “Liz” Forbes, the sheriff of Mystic Falls, mother of Caroline (a vampire), and best friend to Damon (also a vampire), learned this the hard way in the show’s sixth season.
Written by Brian Young and Caroline Dries, and directed by Chris Grimmer, “Stay,” saw Liz in a comatose state at the hospital, surrounded by her daughter, Damon, Stefan, Elena, and Matt. Liz had suffered from cancer for the majority of the season, and despite her attempts to try to fix her mother’s disease, Caroline was forced to watch Liz slowly fade away. As all vampires are able to do, Caroline entered her mother’s memories, allowing Liz one last “happy” moment. Liz relived her fondest memory, in which Caroline first road a bike without training wheels. She was symbolically — and literally — allowing herself to move on because she knew Caroline was ready. Liz’s departure from the show was sad in that it couldn’t be avoided, but was done in a graceful fashion.
6 CHARLIE (LOST)
In its six-season run, “Lost” had its fair share of deaths, with some entering the category of utter shock and astonishment. One such death was Charlie. One of the original survivor’s of Oceanic Flight 815, Charlie was a drug-addicted rock star, who we learn from flashbacks was quite a selfish person, frequently looking out for himself over the well-being of his brother and bandmates. So why would such a character’s death be so difficult to handle? It’s because of his natural development and final acts of selflessness.
In “Through the Looking-Glass,” Charlie was on a ship with Desmond and a woman who was threatening to kill them with a grenade, and he'd just discovered some potential life-saving information for all of the survivors. Realizing that if the bomb were to detonate, not only would they all die, but also this might ruin the chances of the others being rescued, so Charlie locked himself in the room just before the bomb went off. The room flooded, Charlie and Desmond had a sincere moment of acknowledgment (including Charlie writing on his hand some very important information regarding Desmond’s love, Penny), Charlie floated away, and fans everywhere drowned in their tears.
5 DEE (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA)
With all of the mystery, suspense, and shocking secrets that the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” series brought forth in its four seasons, one of the most memorable and difficult to watch, was the death of Anastasia “Dee” Dualla. In “Sometimes a Great Notion,” the 11th episode of season four, Dee — a survivor of the Cylon’s human genocide and ex-wife of Lee Adama — feeling hopeless after the discovery that Earth had been wiped out in a nuclear Holocaust over 2,000 years prior, returned to her room after a night with Lee and shot herself in the head.
“Battlestar Galactica” began as a grim and dire show about preserving the human race, and the writers always did a good job of making the viewer feel the loss of every person — whether a character you’ve met or someone off-screen. Dee’s death was one of the more severe moments in the show’s continuity, as her brutal suicide was completely unexpected and sudden. Not only did it personally impact much of the crew, but it also left the fans feeling fairly helpless about humanity’s future.
4 FRED (ANGEL)
Quiet, quirky, sweet Winifred Burkle. First introduced in season two’s episode, “Belonging,” Fred immediately became one of the most beloved members of Angel Investigations, not just by the viewers, but also by all of the other protagonists on “Angel.” Intelligent and fiercely loyal, Fred stole everyone’s hearts, which is what made her death in season five one of the worst of the series.
In “A Hole in the World,” while working as a scientist for Wolfram and Hart, Fred opened a sarcophagus — not knowing what was inside — and the essence of an Old One called Illyria blew all over her face. Acting as a parasite, Illyria took over Fred’s mind and body, essentially killing the woman whom everyone fell in love with, while still maintaining her appearance. While her death would have been hard enough as it was, Fred’s friends (and lover, Wesley), were forced to live and work side-by-side with a brutal god-like being who looked just like Fred.
3 IANTO (TORCHWOOD)
“Torchwood,” the much more adult-oriented spin-off of “Doctor Who,” was a show that’s not afraid of killing off its main characters (like how both Owen and Toshiko kicked the bucket in season two’s “Exit Wounds"). However, the hardest death of all would have to be Ianto’s. First serving as Captain Jack Harkness’ personal assistant, and then eventual boyfriend, Ianto's bravery increased throughout the series, until his final, courageous moment.
Alongside Captain Jack in season three’s “Children of Earth," Ianto tried to force the alien ambassador to the beings known as the 456 into an ultimatum. The ambassador locked them (and other government personnel) in a room, and released a virus. The virus killed everyone inside, including Ianto, who died in Jack’s arms. Ianto’s death is devastating in and of itself, but when Jack’s body revived after also being killed by the virus (he’s immortal and can only die for a short period of time), he awoke next to Ianto’s lifeless body — and it was brutal.
2 NED STARK (GAME OF THRONES)
When Bran was pushed out of a high window by Jaime Lannister in season one’s episode “Winter is Coming,” viewers (who hadn’t read any of the books), knew that “Game of Thrones” would be dark. When Drogo melted Viserys’s head in episode six, “A Golden Crown,” it was understood that eventually, awful people would get what they deserved; but when Eddard “Ned” Stark, who seemed to be the literal main character of the series — and the most moral at that — got his own head chopped off in episode nine, “Baelor,” all bets were off.
Secrets and betrayals placed Ned in chains, but even when he was on his knees in front of King Joffrey, admitting to a murder he didn't commit for the sake of his daughter, Sansa (who was to wed Joffrey), fans were sure he’d walk away with only losing his pride. Unfortunately, he didn't walk away at all, as Joffrey went back on his word that he’d spare Ned’s life, who ended up losing his head (literally)...right in front of Sansa. It was shocking, it was heartbreaking, and it was only just the beginning.
1 JOYCE SUMMERS (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER)
As stated in an earlier entry, Joss Whedon is known for killing longstanding characters, and has done so on numerous occasions in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” However, what he did in “The Body” with Joyce Summers was staggeringly human — something that might be hard to believe in a show about vampires and other supernatural entities.
When Buffy returned home early in the episode and called out to her mom, Joyce did not answer. Buffy walked into the living room, only to find her mom lying on the couch, unresponsive. What ensued was an episode — entirely without music — that showcased the devastation felt when a loved one dies suddenly. Whedon had been hinting at something being wrong with Joyce for multiple episodes, with her even needing to be in the hospital at one point, but it seemed like she was in clear. It's hard not to cry every minute of the episode, as every cast member pulled off incredible performances. As they all struggled with the various stages of grief, Buffy had to also deal with the feeling of being powerless, when so often, her powers could save the world.
What are your top deaths in genre TV? Sound off in the comments below!