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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?