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In Memoriam: The 10 Most Traumatic Television Character Deaths of 2012

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | December 10, 2012 | Comments ()


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If you thought last year was a tough year for character deaths, with the passing of Ned Starks, Gus Fring, and Jimmy Darmody, not to mention Lil' Sebastian, 2012 actually managed to up the stakes when it comes to traumatic character deaths. There's been a lot of talk this year about how cable television has become increasingly violent (and some naysayers are whining about it), but within that violence, some of television's most beloved characters have met their demise. It's been more than just minor characters, too: Shows are gutting major players in order to better gut their audiences.

Below, we rank the 10 Most Traumatic Character Deaths of 2012. There are spoilers, obviously, so if you haven't caught up on any of the following shows and expect to at some point, you might be wise to skeedaddle: "Dexter," "The Walking Dead," "Sons of Anarchy," "Boardwalk Empire," Game of Thrones," "Community," "Mad Men," and "Breaking Bad."

Seriously. LOTS of spoilers herein. This post should be reserved only for television enthusiasts who are also caught up on the above programs.


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The Walking Dead, Shane Walsh -- It didn't come as too huge a shock, as the last half of the second season of The Walking Dead seemed to be working its way toward a showdown between Rick and Shane, and Rick is obviously positioned as the lead character in the show, so we'd expected that he'd come out on top. The circumstances surrounding his death, the involvement of Carl, and what we learned about the infection from Shane's death, however, lent considerably to the heavy second-season finale, which would ultimately lead to one hell of a powerful third season.

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Community, Star Burns -- Maybe I'm behind, but I didn't realize until today how heavily involved in Community the man who played Star Burns -- Dino Stamatopoulos -- was. He co-wrote Abed's Christmas episode, and was a writer and consulting producer on Community (although, he departs along with Dan Harmon). Hell, the guy has an Emmy for his writing work on "Mr. Show." Anyway, it was unsettling, to say the least, to discover that Star Burns had died in a meth lab explosion on a sitcom, and while it was later discovered that Burns is still alive, his supposed death can still be considered sufficiently traumatic.


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Dexter, Isaac Sirko -- The biggest problem with the death of Issac Sirko (played nimbly by Ray Stevenson) was that it came to early. Sirko is the best character that Dexter has had since The Trinity Killer, and he deserved a better death than the anti-climactic one that wrapped up what was essentially a nearly season-long dead-end plotline to divert our attention away from the less compelling, major story of the season: The love triangle between Dexter, Debra, and Hannah.


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The Walking Dead, Lori Grimes -- No. Lori was not a fan favorite on The Walking Dead. In fact, viewers had been begging for her to be killed off since the debut season. But still, in her late pregnancy, and in the way she sacrificed herself for the life of her child, Lori redeemed herself enough to make her death a devastating one.

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Breaking Bad, Drew Sharp-- I don't think we ever learned the name of the poor kid on a bicycle that Todd shot and killed after a successful heist, but DAMN that was cold, made all the more grave by the opening of the subsequent episode in which the poor kid's body was disposed of. If there was any doubt about the pure evil of Walter White, how he handled the death of the kid dispelled it.

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Game of Thrones, Ser Rodrik Cassel -- The death of Serk Rodrik at the hands of Theon was not just unnecessary, it was mean, and all the more painful to watch because of the way that Theon botched the beheading. Ser Rodrik was a good man, a mentor, and ultimately, a casualty of Theon's misplaced pride.

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Mad Men, Lane Pryce -- We might have expected the death of the Sterling Cooper's fastidious accountant within the episode -- after all, he'd already failed at one suicide attempt -- but no would have ever seen it coming just an episode prior. The suicide by hanging added a somber and heart-sad note to an already heavy season of "Mad Men."

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Boardwalk Empire, Owen Sleater -- For my money, this was the most surprising death of 2012, although those with a better sense of Prohibition-era history probably saw it coming. Nucky Thompson opened a box to find his right-hand man's dead body inside, and the gut punch was only compounded by the heartache of Owen's mistress, Margaret, whose sobs spoke for many of us who had grown inordinately fond of Owen despite his limited screen time.

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Sons of Anarchy, Opie Winston -- Before season five of Sons of Anarchy flew off the rails, jumped the shark, tracked back around and swallowed it, many of us SoA fans were simply despondent that Opie had quit SAMCRO and no longer had a seat at the table. He was the show's fan favorite, a guy who had suffered for four seasons, and who had sacrificed so much, so it was doubly painful to see him have to sacrifice his life -- brutally -- for the good of a club that no longer deserved a man as good as Opie.

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Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmentraut -- On the scale of shock and awe, it wasn't quite on the scale of Gus Fring's death at the end of season four of Breaking Bad, but Mike Ehrmentraut -- bodyguard, hit man, voice of reason -- had grown into not just someone we liked, but maybe the most likable character on Breaking Bad. The needlessness of his death, moreover, removed the last bit of sympathy anyone might have had for Walter White, completing the transformation from anti-hero to a pure, spiteful evil f**king villain.

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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Brooke Michelle

    No T-Dog?

  • Lester

    What the hell? No mention of Omar in the Wire? That was devastating...

  • If only you knew what really happened to Ser Rodrik ..

  • mikem

    Breaking Bad, Drew Sharp— I don’t think we ever learned the name of the poor kid on a bicycle...

    Bicycle?

  • dizzylucy

    Walt killing Mike made me sad. Todd killing the kid stunned me.
    It wasn't so much Lane's death that got to me, but his coworkers finding him and having to take him down. Definitely affecting.
    I think I might be the only SOA watcher who never really connected with Opie, and wasn't so brutalized by his death.

  • Alex Kuhn

    I have never watched Sons of Anarchy, but my husband is an avid watcher. He got a bit behind and I found out that Opie died (somewhere on Pajiba, actually), and my husband wasn't caught up to that point yet. I kept my mouth shut like a good wife, and when he got to that episode, I made sure to casually ask if I could watch it with him so I could be there to hold him when he figured out what had just happened. It was brutal.

  • Az

    I still haven't been able to watch the Opie episode. My husband watched it and told me that I REALLY did not want to see that.

  • Sirilicious

    Semi-related, maybe.

    Some of the Sons couldn't watch the death either, so they turned their back. On Opie, as he was still alive, busy sacrificing himself. Cowards.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Theon didn't botch anything (for once). It is damned hard to sever a head from the body (not that I'm speaking of personal experience), if you've never done it before.

  • KatSings

    I think it's more a botched by comparison thing. Theon doesn't have Valyrian steel at hand, which is what is used in all the other beheadings we see that succeed with one blow. Theon does not, so he gets to look incompetent by comparison. But you are totally right - part of why guillotines came into fashion was because it was so damned hard to hack off a head.

  • Pssh, Lori's death was cathartic for fans, not traumatic. And she didn't redeem herself by bringing a poor defenseless infant into that f*cked up world.

  • John G.

    I don't care if the cool kids say they predicted Owen's death. That not only gut punched me, it punched through my gut. I was totally taken off guard and to this day I still think about it.

  • Pat

    Agreed. I actually think that his death was more shocking that Jimmy's, since they kept pushing Oedipus parallels on us during the final half of the season.

  • theotherone

    Why not unexpected the end of Amelia Pond Williams and Rory Williams was still pretty traumatic...

  • John W

    The writers of Walking Dead owe Sarah Wayne Callies an apology for the way they handled her character. Her character is portrayed much better in the comics and her death is a hundred times more devastating and shocking.

  • Az

    And that is one of the reasons why I stopped watching the show halfway Season 1.

  • in_heaben

    *waiting in line at starbucks. its taking forever* "shut the fuck up. let me die in peace" *sags against display case*

  • logan

    Opie's death hurt. He was a man looking for a home, looking for a family and all he got was pain and betrayal.

  • I know the first candidate for the 2013 list, and I'm still upset about it. That's the biggest signal I'll give, since to spoil it would be as wrong as the act itself.

  • Heisenberg

    What are you talking about?

  • @disqus_5iPX2cyzfR:disqus - don't want to spoil it for you or others. If you're not current going into season three of GoT, you might want to get on that. In the immortal words of Capt Reynolds, "They're not going to see this coming."

  • Heisenberg

    Oh, it's about a Game of Thrones death that will come in season 3? Ok then..

  • Alex Kuhn

    If we are talking about the same thing, I would have to agree. I still sob if I think about it too much

  • So totally. I almost threw the damn thing away and vowed not to return. Very upsetting.

  • Blake

    WTF NO ETTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?

    Star Burns? REALLY???

    I do though totally agree on Lane Pryce because we also lost David Robert Jones which means no more Jared Harris.

    Side note: I'd love to see Harris in G.O.T and Georgina Haig in anything please.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    I am with you on ETTA!

  • Puddin

    Walt killing Mike made me officially hate him. I was able to use mental gymnastics to justify EVERY other killing in that show, even the damn kid (no witnesses). But killing Mike was just pure fucking hubris and ego. I was always rooting for Walt in a twisted way. Now I want that asshole to burn. And I want Jessie to be the one to light the match.

    Dammit! Is it summer 2013 yet?!

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I know what you mean about the mental gymnastics. Most of what Walt does, if you get right down into his POV, makes a kind of sense. It doesn't make it any less evil, exactly, but when you can understand his angle on it, it's hard to think of him as the villain. The kid would have put him into villain territory if he'd been the one to do it, but as it was, it was just another nail in the hardcore anti-hero coffin.

    Objectively, of course, Walter's been one of the bad guys since the start of season four, at least, but subjectively, I think it was believable to be rooting for him without it being indicative of a fundamental character flaw on our part right up until he killed Mike (yeah, even Brock-- if nothing else, Walt is infallible with his chemistry, so I figure there was no danger of his dying) . That served no purpose, and couldn't ever be argued to serve a purpose. That was simple spiteful, prideful meanness and nothing else. If you can still get it up to root for Walter after that, in the absence of any kind of quest for redemption, you are probably a sociopath.

  • Monty

    I think you messed up the name of Mr. Show. Sketch comedy blasphemy!

  • La Schmoove

    The motorcycle kid on Breaking Bad was Drew Sharp. They said his name in the newscast.

  • pajiba

    Cool! Corrected. Thanks.

  • Rocabarra

    Yes, x 1000000, to all of these. I cried like a baby for both Opie and Lane - two characters who were too damn good for the company they kept.

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