Living in the 21st century makes us viewers well-accustomed to violence on the screen. We’ve seen every detail of the human body thanks to movies like Saw. Blowing up heads doesn’t make us wince anymore. It’s banal – you can eat your meal in front of such scenes without so much as frowning.
However, there are still TV series which make us react. Maybe it’s the violence, brutality, or just a scene that shocks us thanks to brilliant script-writing. Often, fan-favorite series hold these kind of scenes as the key to why they are loved so much: the shocking scenes that still surprise our violence-numbed minds.
These shows, like 24, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, have all mastered the art of surprise and playing with our feelings, whether by their sheer brutality or the way they pushed back limits of what could be shown or not on TV. From brilliant and traumatizing character deaths to lack of answers to the viewers’ questions, these series made it to every list of top TV shows because of these scenes, and they sure made it to this Top 10 list shocking scenes in TV history.
10. Machine Gun Rampage – Breaking Bad
When you first start watching Breaking Bad, it’s impossible to picture Walter White doing something as violent and gruesome as massacring people with a machine gun.
The series finale was acclaimed from critics and viewers. Walter, on his death bed, decides to take revenge on the neo-Nazis who double-crossed him, killed his brother-in-law, took Jesse captive and threatened his wife, his son and his sister-in-law. Installing a machine-gun in his car, he remotely starts it to kill the whole crew he went to meet. After, Jesse strangles Todd to death to retrieve the key to set himself free. Walter kills Uncle Jack with a head shot as he is about to tell him where his money is. The scene’s brutality is incredible and magnificently done. You’d never believe Walter White would do such a thing.
9. The Final Scene – The Sopranos
The Sopranos series finale is something the entire world continues to talk about. The open ending is popular in Japanese culture, but not here in North America.
The last scene of the world-acclaimed series shows the Sopranos family at a restaurant. There’s a weird man glancing at them, hinting that he might attempt something, and Tony’s stressed out as his daughter is set join them once she parks her car. When she comes in, visibly worried, Tony looks up at her and the screen goes black…the credits then roll.
It’s literally unbearable for the viewer not to know what’s going to happen next. Is it bad? Is it good? There have been debates about what happens after the infamous Cut to Black scene for years and there are still no clear answer, which makes this one of the more shocking scenes in TV history.
8. Hershel’s Death – The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead features a lot of deaths to its characters. Like, a lot. And most of them are shocking, if not all of them. But Hershel’s murder is one that stays with you and, in my opinion, is equivalent to the brutality of Game of Thrones‘s infamous “Red Wedding” scene.
Hershel Green is built up in the first half of season 4 as a protagonist. When the whole prison community is dying from some kind of super-flu and turning into walkers all around him, Hershel goes right in the battle ground and tries to save as many as he can, putting his life in serious danger.
His execution was what marked the in-coming death of season 4’s antagonist, the Governor, who coveted a prison Hershel and his friends held. When Rick convinces everybody they can live together, it goes against the Governor’s will to kill the prison group, and at the very moment we think Hershel and Michonne will survive, the Governor beheads him violently. What makes the scene so shocking is the build-up. Right before Hershel is killed, the viewer is persuaded he’ll survive. But in the end, his head is brutally chopped off.
7. Jon Snow’s Death – Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is full of tragic, disturbing, brutal and violent character deaths. We all know that no character is assured to survive, and yet, we all assumed Jon Snow would be there until the end. It’s not confirmed yet that he has died, and I hope not given his popularity.
It’s just a terrible moment for the viewer as the Starks are dealt another blow to their dwindling clan. Jon is brought outside of Castle Black to see his uncle return, but of course, it’s a trap. When he gets there, his men stab him one after the other “for the Watch” because he was starting to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch together. It’s shocking because the viewer – and the reader – had assumed Jon would take a greater part into the story and would be there until the end, maybe even sit on the Iron Throne. Now, we’re just hoping Melisandre will be there to bring him back to life, even if the actors and show directors have confirmed Snow’s death.
6. Teri’s Death – 24
Played by Leslie Hope, Teri Bauer gets an early death in 24‘s first season. Killed by Nina Myers, her husband’s lover, on the day of the California Presidential Primary, Teri was the wife of Jack Bauer, played by Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland.
Innocent, Teri dies slowly into her husband’s arms at the end of season 1 and is given the first silent clock of the show at 12:00:00. Her death eventually has an impact on Jack Bauer, the protagonist, for the suceeded seven seasons. His relationship with his daughter degrades quickly because she blames him for her mother’s death, and it is also hinted later that Jack’s heroin addiciton are his way of coping with Teri’s death.
5. Fried To Death – Spooks
Helen, played by Lisa Faulkner, on BBC1’s show Spooks, met a gruesome end in the second episode of the show, which drew over 8 millions viewers. A recruit in the series, she is fried to death.
Many viewers complained over the violence of the scene, though it is not seen on the screen, but highly implied: her arm is first dipped in the bubbling frying oil, before her head is shoved in, too. She is finished off with a bullet to the brain. What was shocking was that “there was no indication in the first episode or the beginning of the second that the series would contain such disturbing and shocking violence which effectively sets a new benchmark for what can be shown at that time of the evening,” explained the Dailymail in a review of this episode.
4. Dr. Melfi Is Raped – The Sopranos
The Sopranos, due to its theme and the universe in which the drama takes part, was sure to bring to screen its share of shocking moments. Among them was Dr. Melfi’s brutal – and enraging – rape scene in season 3.
It starts with the psychiatrist walking alone in a parking lot where she is grabbed from behind and pulled onto a staircase where she is brutally raped. It’s a very difficult scene to watch. It becomes worse when Melfi goes into a fast food chain only to see her rapist’s picture on the wall stating “Employee of the Month.” She later battles with herself whether or not she should tell Tony Soprano about her rape, knowing fully he would get him killed for that. In the end, she decides not to because she wouldn’t be able to live with knowing she caused someone’s death.
3. Lori Grimes’ Death – The Walking Dead
Lori Grimes was probably the most hated character of the show (along with Andrea) because of her lack of parental skills and her “secret” relationship with Rick’s best friend, Shane. Yet, she did not deserve to die so gruesomely.
In the middle of the third episode of season 3, Grime’s long-awaiting baby arrives. Hershel was supposed to deliver it, but he’s not around as the prison where they’re holding camp is under attack by walkers. She’s with Maggie Greene and her own son, Carl Grimes, when the complications arrive. She needs a c-section to deliver the infant, or both Lori and her baby will die. Lori chooses to die to let her child live and have a chance at beating this world.
With a knife, Maggie cuts her open and takes out the baby after Lori says her final goodbyes to her son. To be sure, his mom doesn’t return as a walker, Carl gets up and shoots his mom in the head before dashing out the room. A walker later eats what remained of Lori. The brutality of the scene is, in my opinion, found in the fact that her tragic death happens in the middle of an episode and in the middle of a fight. No one is around. No one knows. And the final shocking blow comes with Carl pulling the trigger on his mother.
2. Two Face – Breaking Bad
Gustavo Fring meets a very disturbing death in Breaking Bad‘s season 4 finale. Even the actor, Giancarlo Esposito, admitted to have been shocked by how he looked right before dying.
Walter White is behind the horrible end to Gus. Walt installs a bomb on an older man’s wheelchair in the room of a nursing home before Gus visits. When Gus comes to inject Hector with a lethal poison, the old man starts clicking his bell frantically, which triggers an explosion. Gustavo walks out of the room, horribly disfigured (and you can see the muscle inside his eye socket move), adjusts his tie and collapses on the floor, dead. The state of Gus’ face is terrible and shocking, mostly because of how the camera reveals it to the viewer.
1. The Red Wedding – Game of Thrones
The Rains of Castamere is the episode that earned David Benioff and D.B. Weiss a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. It also is the episode that ends with the scene that’s known as “the Red Wedding.”
That scene, in the book, got a large quantity of readers to furiously abandon reading, and it’s worsened version in the show got a lot of viewers to give up on the Game of Thrones… for a short while. Though everybody got spoiled at one moment or another about the infamous scene, knowing what happens, even in details, is not close to what it does for those who watched it.
Television has never seen such brutality before. Based on many historical massacres, the Red Wedding is the worst blow to the Stark House, which most viewers and readers prefer. Robb Stark is built as a hero, and one who will avenge his father, Ned Stark, who was killed by psycho-brat king Joffrey Baratheon. However, Robb takes a number of stupid decisions that’ll cost him his life, notably breaking his engagement to one of Walder Frey’s daughter when he falls in love with a lovely woman on the battlefield. Trying to right that wrong, he sends off one of the Tully’s to marry Frey’s daughter and everything seems alright until the banquet door closes and the Lannister’s song, The Rains of Castamere, starts to play. Then follows the most well-known and most brutal massacre in TV history.
The performance of the actors is phenomenal and I still have goosebumps when I remember Robb’s last call to his mother, or the way Catelyn cries her son’s name for the last time. And of course, it had to get worse. The following episode begins with Arya Stark’s arrival to the wedding ceremony just in time to see her brother’s corpse mounted on a horse, with his head replaced by his wolf’s.
Sources : www.wikipedia.org; www.youtube.com; www.dailymail.co.uk