If nothing else, 2013 was a brutal year for television viewers. Nearly all of the top, Emmy-worthy dramas killed off key characters in big displays of violence — sometimes as fake-outs, but more often than not, it was the real deal.
As the year comes to a close, and a new year of small-screen killing sprees begins, here's our look back at 10 of the best TV deaths 2013 had to offer.
Before going any further, it goes without saying that there are MAJOR SPOILERS for many shows ahead. Read no further if you're behind on the following: Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Eastbound and Down, Family Guy, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Justified, Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead.
Brian Griffin, Family Guy
Why not start with the fake-out? In fairness, TV's sharpest-tongued dog died the true death, even if it didn't last for more than a handful of episodes. Retcon aside, Family Guy took the death seriously in the moment, creating one of the most buzzed-about small-screen deaths of the year. As a conversation piece alone, Brian's death ranks among the biggest of 2013.
Kenny Powers, Eastbound and Down
And why not follow the fake-out with another fake-out? Even if his death wasn't real, it was epic Kenny Powers dreamed up the perfect demise for the movie version of himself, creating the perfect ending for the HBO comedy series as a result. TV doesn't get much better than future Lindsay Lohan and future Alexander Skarsgard burning future Danny McBride on a funeral pyre.
The Nazis + Lydia, Breaking Bad
This one was real, and it was a bloodbath. Most fans saw it coming, what with Lydia's Stevia addiction and Uncle Jack's white-supremacist gang all but begging for all of the bullets. But just because it was predictable, doesn't mean it wasn't thrilling as hell. Walter White's final plan went off without a hitch (if you don't consider Walt dying from an accidental self-inflicted gut shot a hitch), and it yielded the year's most satisfying shootout.
Richard Harrow, Boardwalk Empire
How many shows have the nerve to kill off their fans' favorite character? Well, actually, a bunch of shows on this list. But Boardwalk Empire takes the cake for pulling Richard away just as the sharpshooter was eyeing a happy ending. It shouldn't have come as a shock, considering this is the same drama that killed its second lead in its second season. Nevertheless, Richard's death left fans reeling under the boardwalk, staring out at the water and pouring one out for the half-faced hitman.
Merle Dixon, The Walking Dead
The deaths of the Governor and Hershel are freshest in our minds, but those weren't the best The Walking Dead had to offer this year. That honor goes to Michael Rooker's swan song in the episode "This Sorrowful Life," essentially a one-hour sendoff for the one-handed Dixon brother. Merle wasn't always a good guy, and he certainly wasn't ever a nice guy, but that doesn't mean he deserved to have his fingers chewed off by the Governor. That was just over the line.
Arlo Givens, Justified
It happened so suddenly that it was almost as if it didn't happen at all. The irascible Arlo Givens was so loud and proud in his obnoxiousness, to the point that his off-screen death felt like a bit of a cheat — but only at first blush. Justified excels when it leads you toward one path, then sucker-punches you with a completely different outcome. That's exactly how they played it with Raymond Barry's unforgettable Arlo, who always seemed like he could lie and cheat his way out of anything … until he couldn't.
Clay Morrow, Sons of Anarchy
I'm still processing my feelings on the Sons of Anarchy season finale, and how it handled the death of Tara Knowles-Teller. But I've processed Ron Perlman's exit from the show, and I can tell you this much: I didn't see it coming. Even when Clay was all out of story, even when all signs were pointing toward his eventual death at Jax's hand — I just didn't expect it, certainly in terms of timing. Sons rarely, if ever, shies away from making tough calls. But killing off its biggest-name actor halfway through an episode, with two full hours of the season and one final season still to go, was a bigger move than I ever gave the show credit for.
Nicholas Brody, Homeland
Say it with me now: Finally. The cockroach is squashed. It was a long, strange journey for Damian Lewis' is-he-or-isn't-he-a-villain, and it came to an end in the season three finale. After an unbalanced season that sent countless critics and fans heading for the hills, Brody's death was the slate-cleaning boost that Homeland desperately needed. Kudos to the writers for finally pulling the trigger, and to both Lewis and Claire Danes for making Brody's death one of the hardest scenes to watch all year long.
Hank Schrader, Breaking Bad
After besting Tuco Salamanca and taking out the Cousins in two of the show's most breathtaking action scenes, Hank wasn't able to pull out a third victory in his gunfight against the Nazis. Instead, he became the subject of one of the most depressing deaths in television history. At least he got to put the cuffs on Walt before he was shot to death and thrown into a hole, surrounded by little more than dust, dirt and
The Red Wedding, Game of Thrones
Hats off to David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin and everyone else involved in pulling this off; it was, after all, the main reason why Benioff and Weiss wanted to make the show to begin with. But beyond that, I can't even write about what happened to the Starks. I'm still too traumatized. I will say this: The North Remembers.