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Sh*t Just Got Real: The 8 Ballsiest Deaths In Modern Television

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | November 20, 2013 | Comments ()


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We modern, savvy viewers have seen plenty of death and destruction on television to the point where we should be numb a this point. To a certain extent we are. The throne rooms on Game Of Thrones may be littered with bodies at this point and we wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Because we’ve come to expect it with that show. But every show starts out fresh. We don’t know what to anticipate. How ballsy will it be? How ballsy will it become. These are 8 of the best, most stakes-raising TV deaths of the modern era. There are no spoilers in the bold type nor, hopefully, in the images so you should be safe to scan and read about the show you’re current on. But, as ever, proceed with caution.

The Walking Dead — “The Killer Within”: For a show about zombies and death this series took its sweet time killing off such an important character. Sure a few other regulars bowed out earlier on (Dale, Shane), but it was Lori’s death that was the real game changer on this show. Ever since her demise (and Andreas as well), the show has been vastly improved. There was a similar death on Dexter that actually had the opposite effect. Instead of improving, the show took a sharp U-Turn into the badlands. If only they had mercy killed it earlier.
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Deadwood — “Here Was A Man”: This HBO show started strong right out the gate by killing off their most recognizable character and actor in the first season. All you Western history buffs may have seen it coming, but the death of Wild Bill was a stunner for those of us just getting out bearings in the world of Deadwood. Lost was supposed to pull off something similar in their premiere with Jack Shepard, but they lacked the courage of their conviction.
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Boardwalk Empire — “To The Lost”: Martin Scorcese’s show about New Jersey gangsters was in danger of being appealing only to hat and necktie fetishists. Until, of course, they raised the bar and disposed of the handsome, young Jimmy Darmody. Michael Pitts was set up to be the main foil for Buscemi’s Nucky and it was absolutely shocking to see him go. After that we learned to buckle our seat belts for the final episodes of Boardwalk. You don’t know who’s going to get it this Sunday.
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Game Of Thrones — “Baelor”: Much like Deadwood, Game Of Thrones set the tone early. As I mentioned above, I don’t think anyone dying would shock and surprise us at this point, but Entirely Headless Ned? Oh yes.
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The Wire — “Middle Ground”: You can’t really accuse The Wire of ever having low stakes. They killed adorable young Wallace in Season 1 and didn’t look back. But I don’t think any of us expected Idris Elba’s Stringer to go out. Not that early in the game.
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Downton Abbey — Season 3, Episode 5: It was bold as hell to kill off everyone’s favorite daughter on Downton. After her death, of course, Cousin Matthew’s was barely a blip on the radar. We already knew to expect the worst.
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Buffy The Vampire Slayer — “Passion”: Whedon has since become famous for bumping of his cuddliest characters. Especially those happily ensconced in a relationship. And though you couldn’t exactly call Jenny Calendar cuddly (that’s no where she dangles it), her death deeply upset Giles. And that upsets us. This was the first lesson we had to learn about the cruelty of Whedon. That makes it the hardest.
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Sons Of Anarchy — “Aon Rud Persanta”: I didn’t think they’d actually do it. Certainly not two episodes from the finale. Sure Opie’s death was profoundly upsetting, but Clay? That’s our major player. That’s Hellboy. They killed Hellboy! Those bastards. It needed to be done, but that doesn’t mean I really expected them to have the balls to pull it off. Well done, show. Who’s next?
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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • JLVerde

    Creighton Bernette in Treme. I had just fully fallen for the character and then he went and committed suicide.

    I also agree that Omar's death (The Wire) was more upsetting than Stringer Bell's. Stringer's death was only shocking because it happened so early in the season. I was really rooting for Omar to make it out alive and live a long life with his cute boyfriend sharing Honey Nut Cheerios.

  • LD

    The Deadwood scene is pretty poetic. The music and the reactions of the entire camp was damn emotional

  • Idle Primate

    what about that time they killed Kenny?

  • Quatermain

    Those bastards!

  • lowercase_ryan

    No love for Arlo Givens? I knew it would happen but NOBODY would ever have guessed the timing of it.

  • John W

    Lori's death could have been so much more impactful if it had been handled differently. Anyone who's read the comic knows what I'm talking about.

    Of course the writers did Sarah Wayne Callies no favors the way they handled her character (or Laurie Holden for that matter).

  • Haystacks

    Supernatural killing off Bobby Singer made me throw a pillow at the wall.

  • Pawesl

    Wire spoiler
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    Omar's death was more shocking to me considering the way he died.

  • The husband and I were so bummed. We actually sat around speechless and depressed for most of the following day. It was as if a real person we'd known had died.
    And yeah, it was worse that he went out in such an awful, pointless way.

  • Sirilicious

    I was pretty shocked at the mass murder in Jeremiah. I loved the final goodbye of Cordelia on Angel, the shocker being that we still cared, since her character wore out its welcome long before then. I think 24's s1 execution needs a mention too. Bobby in Third Watch. That hurt. Jack Harkness grandson in Torchwood.

    Passion is in my Buffy top 3.

  • Sandra

    Ugh, Cordelia's goodbye ripped me up, mostly because, as you said, I was kind of shocked I had any cares left. That episode gets sort of lost leading up to the finale, but it's so good.
    But the Buffyverse death that hit me the hardest was actually Doyle's on Angel in what, the sixth or seventh episode of the first season? He was a sweet guy, that ultimately well-meaning, affable guy who just can't help being a fuckup, and it came clear out of nowhere. That one hurt.
    Oh lord, and Fred. But I usually just skip clear over the "Fred's dying!" episode and go straight to the dragon-slaying at the end because I hate crying for 45 straight minutes.

  • Sirilicious

    I never felt the Doyle pain as much as a lot of the fandom seems to. I know it was a big deal, but i don't really feel it. Fred, on the other hand... I don't skip, i wallow and wail through that ep every time.
    It just occurred to me, where is The Body in this trip down morgue lane? It might not be tha ballsiest death, but it was defnitely the ballsiest aftermath of death.

  • Sandra

    On my every-couple-of-years marathons I'll slog through everybody's deaths, even Fred and Joyce's, but it ain't pretty. And if I get livingroom concensus on skipping over The Body, I'll take it.
    I think the reason Doyle's death resonated with me so much was because it really clarified the tone of Angel going forward, and quickly at that. It was like, "Okay, we're six episodes in and you've killed the dopey, sweet screw-up without even a smidge of warning. So you're THAT show." It was the first bit of real pain in a series filled to the brim with harsh life lessons and it just plain stung.

  • foolsage

    I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar. - Hoban Washburn

    (I know that was a movie, but it was the ending of a TV show, and daaaaamn was that one painful.)

  • Sean

    God yes. How many people have you talked into watching the show and the movie called screaming at you ? I have received this call a half dozen times "You motherfucker! Why did you let me watch that?". Often at odd hours.

  • Michelle

    Oh dear god. I was "lucky" enough to see Serenity at a sneak preview in Boston about six months prior to the movie actually coming out. I spent those six months FUMING about Wash and having to endure all of the die-hard Whedonites go on and on about how they couldn't wait to see the movie and I was just waiting for them to be crushed by Wash's death. Because I give you a lot of leeway, Whedon, but there was zero reason to kill Wash. DAMNIT.

  • Michelle

    And please don't mistake me - I love Whedon. I just felt like it was such a disservice to the character and the show. Kill Zoe? Fine. Kill Simon? Great! Inara? I heard she was going to have an incurable disease anyway. Gah.

  • foolsage

    To be fair, Whedon was expecting that to be the end, so, yes, he wanted to kill someone and make it count. Killing any of them would have hurt, honestly, and he killed two. But I loved Wash more than Shepherd Book.

  • Aaron Schulz

    I thought Alan Tudyk requested it. But that is pretty classic Whedon.

  • mograph

    Hill Street Blues: Joe Coffey?

  • Sean

    Shit, what about the pilot? Killing Hill and Renko. Biggest shock in TV history at that point. Then magically resurecting them for the regular series.

  • e jerry powell

    THEY KILLED MY COOTER!

  • lowercase_ryan

    Drake did it?

  • e jerry powell

    But seriously, Grant Bowler had to work out a lot for what, thirty naked minutes across seven episodes, only to be shown up by Joe Manganiello on a regular basis. At least on :Ugly Betty" he only had to compete with Eric Mabius.

  • Dualla's suicide in Battlestar Galatica pretty much ripped my soul out when it happened.

  • Katylalala

    Ugh, that was a gut-punch for me too. I was not expecting it to be that...I can't even come up with the word. Not exactly surprising but still, it punched me.

    Though I never was on board the Dualla/Lee coupling. Made no sense and I hated every second of it. Lee is for Kara, dammit.

  • Sean

    I had expected her to get killed earlier in the series. Her death wasn't shocking. Only the manner.

  • seth

    Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake.

  • Mz Black Widow

    when Radar read the report, I sobbed ... forever

  • kirbyjay

    I still sob when I see it
    Lt Col Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors............

  • AvaLehra

    Sybil! I can't even with Sybil.

  • laylaness

    That bitch Lori. I was all like, FINALLY.

  • PerpetualIntern

    Entirely Headless Ned just made me giggle.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Mine was Taquil in 'Frisky Dingo'. He just jumped right into that monster's mouth.

  • Steph

    It was Ronnie's death that got me the most.

    'I would like to have seen... Hannah Montana'

    Devastating.

  • Aaron Schulz

    What about cody? or Cody 2? Or Xander Cruises twin?! Oh god your skins so soft, like a baby.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Nearl Crews was pretty unexpected. Also, a lot of Xtacles died unexpectedly.

  • Aaron Schulz

    we need to put that thing in a cabinet where your fatass cant sit on it

  • emmalita

    There are not enough Frisky Dingo references.

  • PDamian

    It was hard to be surprised or shocked by Sybil's and Matthew's deaths on Downton Abbey -- for me, at least. The ways they went and the ways in which their deaths and their aftermaths were presented were very well done, of course. But I'd read so much in the press about Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens leaving the show that I knew it was coming, so the element of surprise was lost and the shock rather diluted.

    My big death shock came on Law and Order, many years ago. I had no idea George Dzundza wanted to leave the show, so Max Greevey's shooting at the beginning of the second season left me gasping. Chris Noth as Mike Logan screaming into the phone at Max's wife, "Marie! MARIEEE!!!" had me screaming, too.

  • frozen01

    Sybil's death wasn't really shocking, sure, as there was a build up to that. It wasn't that surprising. But Matthew's? They gave you little warning. Cutting back and forth for a few seconds meant you kind of knew it was coming, but I'll admit, I still gasped when it was a certainty.

    Then again, most people (myself included) don't read about the actors' comings and goings like that, so maybe that helps.

  • Twillahiss

    There was a major death on Person of Interest recently that shocked and saddened me.

  • Sirilicious

    I thought it was really weird when that person and another person suddenly kissed. BUt by the time of the death i though, "Oh, ok, THAT'S why". So it felt unnatural and i didn't care much about the death.

  • Twillahiss

    Yeah, trying to wedge an instant love connection in there was awkward.

  • BWeaves

    I couldn't believe they would kill off Rory in Doctor Who, until they killed him in almost every episode to the point that it became a running joke.

  • sourbob

    I realize this show sort of wrote itself off the cultural landscape with its craptacular finale, but back before it went south, Dexter gave us Rita's heartbreaking death and that was one I was surprised to see mentioned only in passing.

  • chantal

    Ope trumps Clay for me. Hats off to Ron because after all Clay did, I felt sorry for him in his weakened state after he got shot. And then he was back to his shenanigans. But Ope... man that had me so far in my feelings. Last night was a shocker, but it was way past time for that to happen.

  • lillie

    But, the picture of Clay did spoil it for me I haven't seen that episode yet. Guess I was given fair warning to proceed with caution though.

  • Similar to the Wild Bill death, Rome killing off Caesar was both inevitable and shocking at the same time. Little credit to Big Pussy's demise as well. Seems tame now, but that was a major moment for Tony and Co. Also, Jack's wife getting it at the end of 24's first season pretty risky, especially at the time.

    But Thrones keeps the, uh, throne. Even though Benioff and Weiss didn't have a choice, I still think offing Ned in the first season was the balliest television decision in a generation.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Big Pussy was pretty shocking considering how early it was, but the one that really slammed me in the gut was Christopher. Gandolfini played it so masterfully.

  • Clay's death was long overdue, but it's a credit to Sutter and to Perlman that it still had the impact that it had. Had that death come last season or season before -- as Clay is descending into his mustache-twirling-cartoon-villain worst -- then it would have been satisfactory. But it wouldn't have felt like it did last night.

  • They did a fantastic job of telling a solid Clay story this year in bits and pieces that subtly and perfectly lead to his death. I'm glad they did because Perlman deserved the best.

  • Clay's death was shocking only in the sense that they finally went through with it. It's been a long time coming.

  • becks_

    Deadwood had some pretty shocking deaths. When they killed Bullock's son/nephew I really didn't see it coming. Such a brutal death too.

    The one that got me was Ellsworth though. I was watching the show with my boyfriend and he said that based on reactions he feels I was more in love with Ellsworth than Alma Garrett ever was.

    I should have expected the show to get messy since it opened with a gruesomely realistic hanging.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Jim Beaver always plays the greatest characters, doesn't he?

  • Idle Primate

    he does

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Ellsworth wrecked me. I was sad for weeks.

  • Mrs. Julien

    When we started watching The Wire, I made the mistake of looking up Idris Elba/Stringer Bell and learned that he was killed, but we were only in season one so I spent dozens of episodes waiting for his death. I will NEVER look up a completed series again. Nonetheless, it's not as bad as when Mr. Julien looked in a Star Wars comic before he saw The Empire Strikes back and the first page he opened was - wait for it - "I AM YOUR FATHER".

    We all learn not to shake our presents in different ways.

  • freetickles

    I had looked on IMDB and thought I had seen that Elba was in all five seasons, so it came as a shock to me. I did spoil Omar's death for myself, though.

  • Sean

    But Stringer went out like a man. Proud til the end.

  • Mrs. Julien

    He did, but I didn't need to know he was going to go out at all.

    I loved the way Omar was killed. It was perfect.

  • Sean

    It was totally appropriate. Totally random. Just like the life he choose.

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