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

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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  1. Mark and George on Greys!

  2. Yeah, that Good Wife reveal really deserved a spoiler alert. Not cool.

    I would add: Rita on Dexter, George on Grey’s Anatomy, & Jen on Dawson’s Creek. All surprising, all devastating.

  3. No one here watches Person of Interest? I still can’t believe they killed off Carter
    :(

  4. SPOILER

    Zoe from House of Cards! SOOO SHOCKING.

  5. Well thanks for the House of Cards spoiler.

    SPOLIER ALERT BELOW for Grey’s Anatomy, The L Word and Lip Service…

    George/Lexie/Mark – Grey’s Anatomy
    Dana/Jenny – The L Word
    Cat (the MAIN CHARACTER) – Lip Service

  6. I’m just gonna put this in the comments, because I feel like the other 100 people to say this didn’t put enough emphasis. SPOILERS. >.<

  7. That Ally McBeal death was a rough one! But I’d have to add the death of Joyce Summers on BtVS to this list, as well. That shook me to the core.

  8. Deep Throat in The X-Files

  9. Old school but I have never cried so hard when Gary died on Thirtysomething. A complete shock and was like losing a friend!

  10. George on Greys Anatomy and Dr. Kutner on House

  11. Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) from House M.D…. No one see it coming…

  12. Marissa Coopers’ death was not at all good for The O.C the show just went down hill without her

  13. UM HELLO!!!?? What about JEN from DAWSONS CREEK?!

  14. Joyce and Buffy Summer & Tara McClay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    Cordelia & Lindsey on ANGEL
    Wash on Firefly/Serenity

  15. What about Dana Fairbanks on “The L word”. She died after a bout
    with Breast Cancer. It was totally unexpected.

  16. You tottally missed dexter’s wife.

    And I have to disagree with you on Marissa Cooper from the OC; it’s true her character was only going downhill but her death only killed the entire show, that’s why they cancelled on season 4. It was the most terrible season ever, those storylines… ugh, really painful to watch. I must have been the only one that kept doing it.
    Maybe they should have ended the show with the 3rd season and not torture everyone like that, including poor Ryan.

    P.s: they backed down on the family guy’s dog death didn’t they?

    • Rita’s death had an impact on many levels. From a storytelling perspective, it was a last second reveal that hit man fans hard. After the peril presented by the Trinity killer, we were ushered into a sense that the danger had passed… only to find out that Trinity had one last victim before finding his way to Dexter’s table. Rita’s children were left without a mother. Harrison had to witness the death of his mother at an age no child could understand what happened or why. Friends and family could not believe Rita had been killed, as they were missing the pieces (Dexter courted Trinity too long to try to find a way to balance murder with family… a choice that took his away.) Even the emotionless Dexter was shaken by his failure to protect her. Unlike the novels, Rita was more than just a cover life, she became his tenuous link to humanity. Were it not for the events of the following season, Dexter may have well become truly broken, on a level even he never thought possible.

    • P.s2: my jaw dropped to the floor with zoey barne’s death on House of Cards; you expect tons of deaths in GoT but not something like that on HoC.

  17. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

    D: I HADN’T SEEN THAT EPISODE OF THE GOOD WIFE. UGH. NOW I’M SAD.

  18. omg, omg, OMG!!!!! the oc was about marissa and ryan // summer and seth… to kill marissa was a fail of the millennium omg, omg, OMG!!!!! AGAIN

  19. When Edgar got caught outside the safe room in 24, it was heart-wrenching to see him return to the main floor, look Chloe in the face and then keel over dead. Truly one of the more gripping on-screen deaths, but it gave Chloe more room to become Jack’s forever go-to. :)

  20. omg spoilers

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