10 Most Shocking TV Deaths (and Why They Were Good For Their Shows)

Death isn’t easy to accept, even if it’s not real. There’s a reason we cry over the demise of people in film, television and books, and the unexpected murder of a beloved male character on The Good Wife shows just how attached we can get to these fictional folks. Fans were so fraught with emotion, the showrunners released a statement and letter of explanation to audience members, although the answers didn’t change the fact that many loyal viewers were a mess. TV series can definitely throw us off with seemingly random killings, but sometimes the losses actually benefit the programs. Here are some TV show deaths that ended up fostering good storylines, among other things. In case it’s unclear, this post has major spoilers, so you might not want to read on if you’d rather watch the shows yourself.

10. The O.C. — Marissa Cooper

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Remember that fun, outgoing, beautiful girl in The O.C. pilot? Well, she went downhill after her father stole a bunch of money, her parents got divorced and her preppy boyfriend started messing around with a pretty blonde. I was a huge fan of The O.C. in high school and my dad always said Marissa’s story lines just kept getting worse and worse. He felt she ought to be written off the series, and that’s exactly what Josh Schwartz did at the end of season three.

“The day after [the death episode] aired or the night it aired, there was a real outcry from a big contingency of the fans of the show,” Schwartz revealed around the time of The O.C.’s 10-year anniversary. “I think a lot of good stuff happened in Season 4 that came from it, but it was definitely a big decision for the show … It was a hundred percent a creative decision for the show and it was born out of both feeling creatively like it was the direction the show needed to head and also, quite frankly, a function of needing to do something big to shake up the show at the end of that third season to both get the show to come back for a fourth season and, I think, to give the show a real creative jolt in Season 4 and move the show in its own surprising, unexpected direction.”

The O.C. only lasted four seasons, but it ended on a good note for Ryan, the lead. He went to Berkeley, cleaned up his act and seemingly helped out a troubled youth at the show’s conclusion, just as he’d been assisted immeasurably by the Cohen family. The show was really about Ryan, not Marissa, and I think her death reminded fans of that.

9. The Good Wife — Will Gardner 

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The Good Wife fans were recently blindsided and devastated by the death of Will Gardner, who was fatally shot in court. “I’ve lost beloved television characters before. I have grieved before. But sitting on my couch watching The Good Wife on Sunday night was unlike any experience I’ve ever had as a viewer,” wrote Entertainment Weekly‘s Samantha Highfill.

While they share her pain, showrunners Robert and Michelle King stand by this decision, “To us, there always was a tragedy at the center of Will and Alicia [Florrick’s] relationship: the tragedy of bad timing. And when faced with the gut punch of Josh’s decision, made over a year ago, to move on to other creative endeavors, we had a major choice to make. We could ‘send him off to Seattle,’ he could be disbarred, or get married, or go off to Borneo to do good works. But there was something in the passion that Will and Alicia shared that made distance a meager hurdle. The brutal honesty and reality of death speaks to the truth and tragedy of bad timing for these two characters. Will’s death propels Alicia into her newest incarnation.” Sometimes only a drastic event can bring out real change, which we can expect to see in Alicia from here on out.

8. House of Cards — Zoe Barnes

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We all know Frank Underwood is a sociopath, but for me, it took his murder of journalist Zoe Barnes to see just how disgusting he really is. After telling her to delete their text messages from her phone, he pushes her onto the metro tracks, traipsing away without a care in the world as others scream at the sight. It was a shocking move for the first episode of season two, and it sure set the tone for the rest of the season.

7. Game of Thrones — Red Wedding

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Remember when Game of Thrones killed off like, everyone and the Internet exploded? I’ve actually never watched the HBO program, but the reaction was so widespread and insane that I, like many others, wound up hearing all about the jaw-dropping “Red Wedding” installment. Fans were traumatized, yet Vulture’s Nina Shen Rastogi acknowledged the value in showing viewers what it’s like to lose something they cherish, “But with the exception of the stabbing of pregnant Talisa, which felt too crassly calculated and on-the-nose, I thought this Theater of Cruelty finale was bracing, harrowing and – dare I say it? – cleansing. I’m gutted to see Catelyn go, but she went in a blaze of righteous fury, like a Greek goddess self-immolating, and that seems fitting, at the very least.”

6. American Horror Story — Violet Harmon

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As fellow American Horror Story fanatics are well-aware, Violet Harmon dies early in season one. The thing is, audiences don’t know she’s deceased until the very end. Early on, she tries to kill herself by downing a bunch of pills, but spirit Tate Langdon seemingly saves her life in a bathtub. It isn’t until the season is about to conclude that he admits she actually died from an overdose and has been a ghost for quite some time. I was truly disappointed to see Violet go, but as AHS: Murder House shows, the entire Harmon family needed to die to become close again.

5. Breaking Bad — Hank Schrader 

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Hank’s murder was so powerful, the woman who plays his wife couldn’t even watch the scene. Betsy Brandt said of Hank’s (portrayed by Dean Morris) death, “I had to leave the room and make noise because I didn’t want to hear it either. I saw Dean the day before the Emmys, and I told him, ‘I get that it’s an imaginary world that we live in when we’re on the show, but it just breaks my heart that Hank’s not alive in it.'” Walter White appears broken up about Hank’s passing as well, but his immediate family finds out that Hank is gone and wants nothing to do with him. It took Hank’s death for Walt to finally leave his kids and wife alone for good. Walt wasn’t the one to kill his brother-in-law Hank, but he does say to Skyler, “Hank crossed me.” And that’s enough to assume Walt was at fault in some way.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=794639967 Natalie Metzger

    What about Rita on Dexter? I will never forget that episode.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500161949 Amanda Lee Worthington

    George from Greys Anatomy
    Abby on Dawson’s Creek

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=531401502 Andy Quayle

    NCIS Special Agent Todd – when she was shot in the head!
    http://ncis.wikia.com/wiki/Caitlin_Todd

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500161949 Amanda Lee Worthington

    Merle & Laurie from Walking dead

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=8115078 Michelle Dunn

    Tara on Buffy, just after reconciling with Willow. Blindsided. Huge plot trigger.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=54604044 Christy ‘Weathers’ Overall

    SYBIL? Downtown Abbey?

  • Laura Donovan

    Thanks for all the great additions, guys!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000733616376 Belynda Collard

    Tara from sons of anarchy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10034404 Sarah Rhea Reveles

      I’m still in shock over Opie’s death and then Tara had to be killed too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1215139509 Jack Estacio

    You missed Rita Morgan from Dexter. It is one of the most, if the most shocking TV show death ever. I get chills from it to this day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152979530 SarahLydia Forgath

    Tara AND Joyce on Buffy. Both were heartbreaking and completely unexpected, plus Joyce’s death resulted in some of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s best acting (“Mom? Mom? Mommy?”). Both deaths set the scene for the rest of their respective seasons. Imagine if Whedon never killed Tara, there would have never been Dark Willow or the yellow crayon scene.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003132518855 Catherine Green

      Thank you! I was shocked no one had mentioned btvs!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1708518911 Gabby Garlow

    Matthew and Sybil on Downton Abbey!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1421445262 Lisa Fermin

    George O’Malley from Grey’s Anatomy for sure :'(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1261997114 Emily Nielsen

    So I obviously shouldn’t have read this, seeing as I haven’t watched the second season of House of Cards yet…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=652700612 Caitlyn Emma

    What did you miss? Opie! Sons of Anarchy. Devastation. Also Tara Knowles. That was brutal, especially for a character that’s been through so much in the last 6 seasons.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636713805 Laura Inés Kenny

      Still not over of Tara’s death. It was totally unexpected and her death was horrible and painful. Dammit Sutter!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=546860098 Siobhan Kümm

    Oh, man…I guess I shouldn’t have saved this past weeks’ episode of The Good Wife for tomorrow night. SO bummed that I read this. =(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=754298778 Agatha Walton

    You forgot Kutner on House! That suicide totally came out of left field!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1236457639 Haydeé Loera

    You forgot Allison Argent in Teen Wolf. Still not over it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=711376096 Allie Ellis

    I have to throw in Keith Scott from One Tree Hill. I don’t think anyone saw him being killed just as he was finally happy

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10034404 Sarah Rhea Reveles

      Keith and Q were my immediate thoughts before I even started reading the list.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1404772335 Jill Kupper-Kallas

    Totally agree with Kutner on House AND Amber! What about James on Scandal too?!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1306801161 Psyco-nono Plizz

    where is ghost whisperer? when jim die, that is the most shocking moment ever!

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