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


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 


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


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


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


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 


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.

4. Family Guy — Brian


It seems odd to kill someone off in a cartoon, let alone a talking dog, but executive producer Steve Callaghan argues it was a solid way for the show to “shake things up,” continuing, “it seemed more in the realm of reality that a dog would get hit by a car, than if one of the kids died. As much as we love Brian, and as much as everyone loves their pets, we felt it would be more traumatic to lose one of the kids, rather than the family pet.” Unlike the Simpson’s pup Santa’s Littler Helper, animals don’t live very long.

3. Mad Men — Lane Pryce


Season five of Mad Men affected me so much, I had to start watching Parks and Rec right away to return to my chipper self. The TV drama has a lot of depressing themes and moments, but Lane Pryce’s hanging is so awful because he does it in the office, which consumed his life. We all know Don Draper’s world is a revolting one, but the suicide showed viewers there are heartbreaking consequences to working in the competitive New York advertising world. It’s not all cigars and irresponsible sex with Don.

2. Wilfred — Henry Newman


Ryan Newman converses with a canine in this amusing, underrated FX series, and when his dad gets footage of him seemingly talking to himself at home, there’s a rift in the family. Ryan swears he isn’t crazy but his father Henry won’t have any of it. Then Henry tumbles down a flight of stairs and dies. Anyone who likes this show knows Ryan has some serious growing up to do, but he can’t evolve with the hovering of his overbearing sister or suspicious father. This also gives Ryan more time with Wilfred, and nobody else has to know something unusual is going on with him.

1. Ally McBeal — Billy Thomas


At the beginning of the season, Billy was the one that got away for Ally McBeal, who’d dated him throughout youth and college until he transferred schools to break ties with her. Billy went on to marry somebody else but the sparks between he and Ally never fizzled, and this caused some problems in their law firm. Sadly, his character eventually gets a brain tumor and dies. After knowing each other all their lives, Billy and Ally had something special, but she really needed to move on from her childhood sweetheart. I always wanted her to marry Robert Downey Jr.’s character, who seemed much better for her adult self, but he was written off the show to tend to his addiction problems.

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What did I miss? Let me know in the comments section.

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