We’ve all been there. Happily glued to our favourite shows, either on the edge of our seats or snuggled up with a cuppa in our comfort zone, when they only go and pull the rug from underneath by killing off a beloved or behated (yes I made that up) character…just like that. How very dare they! We question what we’ve seen, “It can’t be real can it?”, “OK, this has to be a dream/flashback right?”, “they’ll find a way to resurrect them won’t they?” These moments of despair are our way of dealing with grief over the loss of pretend people in a TV show.
It’s not stupid to mourn them though. Good (and bad) art should bring you to tears. And some of these people have been with us for years, decades even. Others might have only been on our screens for a short time, but they made a significant impact. Whatever the case, to feel sorrow or disbelief shows that you are an empathetic person. Truth be told, I rarely ever cry at real-life events, but I could switch on the telly and flick channels, catch five minutes of Neighbours (which I never watch) and if Bouncer the dog died I’d weep for a week. I’m not sure what that says about me? Anyway, let’s get on with Part 1 of Unexpected TV Deaths That Made Me Scream at My Screen!
*Be warned—there are going to be some pretty gruesome pictures and upsetting stories in this list.
Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones
OK, I am starting with Game of Thrones because frankly my entire list could be made up with GOT characters but that would be very dull—there were so many to choose from. Ros, the prostitute, almost made this list because I was so sad when that bastard Joffrey arrowed her to death. It feels like GOT started the whole “surprise! you’re dead!” thing, by killing off the lead character Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in S1. I honestly thought he’d be back as a ghost or zombie, but no, he was proper dead. No head dead. For good. After that, you knew that anyone, no matter how popular or big a character they were, they all had a chance of snuffing it. And they did by the droves. Several were bumped off at the infamous Red Wedding, and an entire city was taken out by Wildfire thanks to the conniving Cersei. It’s easier to list who didn’t die by the end: Boring Jon Snow, The Stark children (well, three of them), Tyrion, Ser Brienne of Tarth, Bronn, Grey Worm, and even though he wasn’t seen in the final season—which is an actual crime—Jaqen H’ghar of the Faceless Men is still out there (waiting for me, hopefully).
It is my vow to pick only one character per show, and so after a long and pointless debate with myself, I decided to go with Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) as my choice for this list. He died at the hands of The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) while fighting for Tyrion. He so nearly won too, but right at the last moment The Mountain found some strength, and literally crushed Oberyn’s head with his bare hands, after pushing his eyeballs into his skull. It was very gruesome, very shocking and to see his lady breakdown as she watched on in horror was really upsetting.
Bob Newby, Stranger Things
I was never sure about Bob Newby (Sean Astin) in Stranger Things. I have trust issues with people who are super nice all of the time and the fact that he was a Newby in both name and nature. I suppose we should have guessed that Bob wasn’t going to last long as everyone shipped a romance between Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Jim Hopper (David Harbour) so when Bob came into the picture as the new boyfriend of Joyce, I must admit that I thought he was going to turn out to be a paedophile or something else nefarious. I totally got Bob wrong. He really was one of the good guys, and he died a truly terrible death, being ripped apart by a pack of Demodogs sent by the Mind Flayer. Poor Joyce could only helplessly look on as her perfect man was eaten alive.
Zoe Barnes, House of Cards
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) was one of the leading characters in the first season of House of Cards, playing a reporter for the Washington Herald and quite the sleuth. She was breaking great stories as an interesting journalist, with the help of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) but more importantly, her character had a great arc. At first, she became the mouthpiece for Frank, publishing breaking news in his political scheming. This led to her having an affair with the man who gave her this power. But she had distanced herself from Frank after having suspicions of him being dangerous, and she was starting to dig into the recent death of U.S. Representative Peter Russo, who officially committed suicide. She was getting too close to the truth and was asking too many questions about Frank’s whereabouts at the time of Russo’s death that despite her changing her mind about Frank’s involvement he had to get rid of her.
In the first episode of S2, Frank lured her to a subway station and pushed her in front of a train, killing her immediately. Not only was her death shocking for killing off a main character, but for it to happen in the first episode of the season was a real surprise. Plus the fact that Frank himself got his hands dirty for this one, and didn’t ask his weasely sidekick Doug to do the job really showed you just how far Frank was willing to go to save his bacon. It’s hard to know theses days where Frank Underwood ends and Kevin Spacey begins, which makes this cruel murder of a naive, bright young woman all the more disturbing.
Robert Romano, ER
Back in the early 2000s I was unemployed for a couple of months and found myself getting into ER, which was then showing on daytime TV. Obviously the ER is full of tragedy, so most deaths weren’t exactly a surprise. For instance, the slow and sad death of Mark from brain cancer was heart-wrenching but not unexpected. In contrast, the death of Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) almost knocked me off my chair! Dr Romano wasn’t a nice guy. He was obnoxious, insensitive, competitive and would throw any of his colleagues under a bus to get to the top of the ladder. Over the seasons, he did warm up a little and even showed a little compassion at times. In S9, his arm was chopped off by a helicopter propeller blade, which seemed to reset him back to his very worst ways, now with added bitterness and resentment. He gets a robotic arm though (the perks of being a surgeon I suppose) and is able to keep on working. It seems that helicopters really had a grudge against Romano; as after the first one failed to kill him another one fell from the hospital roof and landed on him squishing him into non-existence. It was quite silly, but I was still shocked by this sudden wipeout and I cried a lot when I realised he hadn’t somehow jumped out of the way in the nick of time, and really was a goner.
Ryan Chappelle, 24
Similarly to Romano, Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze) in 24 was a prat. Chappelle was the Regional Division Director of CTU, who often bogged down operations with a heavily bureaucratic and patronising style of management. Chappelle’s demise happened on Day 3 while trying to locate Stephen Saunders, the mastermind behind a bio-terrorist attack who was threatening to release the deadly Cordilla virus into the general population (I know what you’re thinking conspiracy theorists). Saunders orders President David Palmer to execute Chappelle to prevent the bio-attack. I didn’t really think the execution would happen though. I mean, this is Jack Bauer, the man who saved the world while in heroin withdrawal. Bauer who could give Chuck Norris a run for his money. Bauer would easily prevent his bosses death, right?
The tension builds, Bauer tries his very best to defeat Saunders before it comes to this, but FAILS. Chappelle knows he has to die to save millions of people. He can’t bring himself to the pull the trigger or say goodbye to his wife and kids. So Jack reluctantly has to, with a bullet to the back of the head. I cried ’til I could barely breathe. Yeah, Chappelle was a douche, but it wasn’t fair! He died a hero though and didn’t try to dodge the bullet in desperation or escape. He accepted his fate, and it bought Bauer some time—like, ten minutes in 24 Land—to take down Saunders.
Joyce Summers, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The whole episode of Buffy, “The Body” was pretty damn heartbreaking. While it was at the end of the previous episode that Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) found her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), lying motionless with her eyes open and skin deathly pale, it had been left on a cliffhanger—was she really dead? Paralysed? Under a spell? Could she be resurrected by one of the Scoobies? Joyce had undergone brain surgery for a tumour in the show but had survived and was young and otherwise in good health so to learn that she really was dead and there was nothing anyone could do was really tough. Tough not only for us viewers but for Buffy and the whole gang.
Everyone took the news and dealt with their grief in different ways. Buffy had to remain strong and become guardian to her little sister Dawn and had to break the devastating news to her at school. Xander became angry, Willow panicked about needing everything to be perfect and finding the most appropriate outfit for Joyce, and Anya, who had no idea of the concept grief, became upset as she didn’t know how to be upset. They were surrounded by evil and death on a daily basis but had not had to deal with losing anyone so close to them before, and especially not in such a human and mortal way.
Gus Fring, Breaking Bad
While Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), a drug kingpin and a thorn in the side of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), was always likely to bite the dust, the way it played out was very shocking indeed. Having discovered that Gus was planning to learn Walt’s meth-cooking skills then get rid of him, Walt cooked up a plan using his rival’s enemy, Hector Salamanca. With a pipe bomb equipped to his wheelchair, Hector rang his little bell and assassinated Gus—but his death wasn’t instantaneous.
Walking out of the room in complete composure portrayed Gus as if he was non-human, and allowed the audience to think that somehow he’d survived being blown up—that was until he turned to the side, revealing the gruesome remains of his head; his eye socket was empty and the side of his face was bare flesh and bone. To Walt, Gus was almost like a monster he couldn’t get rid of, and even on the brink of death, Gus remained unfazed, straightened his tie, then fell dead to the floor. I remember my jaw actually dropping for this one, and several profanities spilt from my mouth in both horror and joy. Was it a bit OTT? Yes. Was it cool though? Also yes.
Maddy Ferguson, Twin Peaks
Everyone was aware that Laura Palmer’s killer was going to be revealed in Episode 14 of Twin Peaks “Lonely Souls” but somehow it didn’t even occur to me that for the killer to be revealed, another murder would take place. There was no hint in the lead up to her death that Maddy Ferguson would be the next victim. Laura’s parents were a little sad that she intended to go home to Missoula but were understanding and sweet about it. In most shows, you get an inkling that someone’s life is in danger, be it scenes shot from the point of view of their stalker, emphasis on how much they’re looking forward to the future, or they are just written into the show more before they get cut out completely.
None of that happened with Maddy. Leland Palmer was revealed to be BOB while grinning at himself in the mirror. Then in a gut-wrenching scene, he beats his niece Maddy (who looked just like his daughter Laura), dances with her while she is bloodied, stunned and terrified, kissing and groping at her like a feral animal. She is killed when he slams her headfirst into the living room wall. Even though I must have seen this scene a thousand times, I still whimper while it’s happening. So brutal, so realistic and so unexpected. Poor Maddy, the somewhat forgotten victim who only went to Twin Peaks to attend a funeral and ended up dead herself.
Glenn Rhee, The Walking Dead
Hell, I didn’t even watch The Walking Dead religiously by the time poor Glenn (Steven Yeun) met his particularly gruesome death, but I decided to watch it for this. The media had been bigging up the episode, and as our crew of zombie apocalypse survivors remained on their knees in front of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) since the last episode, we placed our bets as to who would take the brute force of Lucille, Negan’s barbed-wire covered baseball bat. There were two victims as it happened. The first was Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) who had his head smashed to a pulp in front of the mortified onlookers.
Then, as Negan shows the bloodied Lucille to Abraham’s friends, Daryl (Norman Reedus) punches him. This angers Negan who decides someone else has to die. For whatever reason, Glenn was the unfortunate chosen one. His wife Maggie (Lauren Cohan), pregnant with their first child, looks on in agony as her husbands head is obliterated. It’s genuinely disgusting and upsetting. Many fans thought they’d gone too far with Glenn’s death, but it was written just as the comics depicted it, and changing the storyline would have changed Maggie’s future role too. It had to happen, but it was tough to watch.
Most surprising of all is that I still fancy the pants off Jeffrey Dean Morgan despite his brutal behaviour.
Rita Morgan, Dexter
The death of Rita (Julie Benz) in Dexter was really hard to take. For three seasons we had witnessed her and Dexter’s relationship develop, get a bit rocky at times, but ultimately they did love one another. They were both very messed up and in that sense were perfect for each other. In Season 4, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) was stalking The Trinity Killer (John Lithgow), in a game of cat and mouse. All Dexter really wanted was to be able to lead a normal life, be a good father and husband, and it was at this point of the series that it seemed possible for him to achieve.
Unfortunately, Arthur (The Trinity Killer) was one step ahead of Dexter. Just as Rita was about to leave to catch a flight for their honeymoon, Arthur broke into their house, slashed her thigh and left her to bleed to death in the bathtub, in front of their two-year-old son Harrison—much like Dexter had witnessed his own mother being murdered and was left to cry while sitting in pools of her blood as a toddler himself. Like Trinity’s cycles, it seems that Dexter’s descendants might receive the same fate.
Rita was such a sweet, naive and kind woman and a brilliant mother. Killing her off was a real shock to me. I remember being seriously upset about it, ranting at my television and crying that it wasn’t fair! I know, I know get over it Laura, she was just a character in a TV show, but this one cut deep.
So that’s it! But before you start screaming at your screen for all the unexpected deaths that should have been on this list, I will be back this time next week with More Unexpected TV Deaths That Made Me Scream at My Screen! Until then, don’t have nightmares.