For the last decade or more, television has been experiencing a Golden Age. Gone are the days when TV was looked upon as the red-headed step-child of the all-conquering big screen. These days, many critics and fans believe that the truly great writing, directing and acting talent is plying their trade in television. Any previous divide between TV actors and film actors is almost non-existant at this point, and with so many different outlets for getting shows on the air, there is more incentive than ever for a creative person to bring their projects to TV.
It only makes sense, then, that a list of the 15 TV show betrayals that were too painful to handle will include many of the shows responsible for this current Golden Age Of TV. Television is the perfect place for betrayal, as its serialized nature means that audiences can be watching characters on their screens for years at a time. This creates a natural attachment to the people they watch each week, a bond that is much harder to create during the relatively small timeframe of a two-hour movie.
And when something terrible happens to those characters we love? Well, we feel those betrayals.
15. Gemma Murders Tara, Her Son Jax’s Wife (Sons Of Anarchy, 2013)
Tara Knowles’ untimely demise in Sons Of Anarchy‘s sixth season finale has to go down as one of the most grisly deaths in TV history. As if being drowned in the sink by her mother-in-law, Gemma Teller, wasn’t enough, Gemma made sure to finish the job with a couple of stabs of a meat-fork to the back of the head. Ouch!
It was an emotional, frenzied attack and the savagery of it took a lot of fans by surprise, despite the fact that a simmering enmity had existed between Tara and Gemma from the very beginning of the show. Gemma thought that Tara was betraying her son and the motorcycle club their lives all revolved around. In the end, we all knew it was probably going to lead to one of them killing the other… but like this? Jax’s reaction as he cradled his dead wife in his arms, surrounded by the carnage of the scene, was almost too painful to handle.
14. Michael Kills Ana Lucia And Libby (LOST, 2006)
“WALT! WALT! WALT!”
Whenever one thinks about the character of Michael Dawson from LOST, it’s hard not to think of actor Harold Perrineau wandering around the island, constantly yelling for his estranged son at the top of his lungs. Michael and Walt’s story was an interesting one, though. Prior to being on Oceanic Flight 815 together, Michael and Walt hadn’t seen each other for almost 10 years, after Michael lost a custody battle with his ex-wife, Susan. But when she died, they were thrust together, and swiftly crash-landed on the island with everyone else.
This made Michael’s devotion to Walt all the more compelling and upsettingly desperate. He was a man who had lost a decade with his son and wanted nothing more than to connect with the boy, but both struggled to bond with each other. Therefore, whenever Walt was kidnapped by The Others, viewers understood Michael’s distress. But, they didn’t expect that, in order to be reunited with Walt, he would shoot Ana Lucia and Libby dead and set the potentially villainous Henry Gale/Ben Linus free! The twist was a complete shock to fans, and showed that Michael was a man who would literally do anything to see his son again.
13. Floki Kills Athelstan (Vikings, 2015)
Vikings were not exactly known for their level-headedness and loyalty, and this is one of the things that makes History’s hit show such an enjoyable watch. Viewers know that, at any given time, characters can turn on each other in the pursuit of their own desires. The show has been characterized by this theme of shifting loyalty almost from the beginning, as our ‘hero’ Ragnar Lothbrok is introduced as an ambitious young warrior with designs on Earl Haraldson’s throne. Ragnar kills and succeeds the Earl, but is then betrayed by his own brother Rollo, who covets Ragnar’s wife Lagertha as well. Rollo is eventually forgiven and brought back into the fold by Ragnar… but then betrays him again at the end of season 3!
So, as you can see, few characters in Vikings can be trusted for very long. But we reckon the worst betrayal came when Floki, Ragnar’s mentally unstable close friend, murdered Athelstan, a former monk who arguably became Ragnar’s closest confidante. Travis Fimmel gave a superb performance as a distraught Ragnar is shown carrying Athelstan’s body up the side of a mountain for burial.
12. Jay Garrick Is Revealed To Be The Villainous Zoom (The Flash, 2016)
The Flash has actually given us two massive betrayals in its relatively short time on the air. In season 1, the revelation that Barry Allen’s mentor Dr. Harrison Wells was actually the time-travelling villain Eobard Thawne was shocking enough. But we’ve chosen to include season 2’s betrayal in this list instead, because it was masterfully played by the show’s creative team, and because it kept fans guessing for much of the season.
When Teddy Sears was introduced early in the season as Jay Garrick, a classic character from the comic books and earlier wearer of the mantle of The Flash, fans were happy. Introduced around the same time, however, was the main villain of the season: Zoom, a truly terrifying speedster who was more brutal and intimidating than anyone Barry had faced before. In episode 14, Zoom murdered Jay, but it was all a ruse. It was soon revealed that Zoom was actually Jay Garrick all along… only he wasn’t the ‘real’ Jay, but rather Hunter Zolomon, a serial killer from Earth-2 posing as Jay, who went on to murder Barry’s father in front of his very eyes. If any of this sounds convoluted… well, it was! But it was also exciting and emotionally resonant TV.
11. Dewey Crowe Is Shot In The Head By Boyd Crowder (Justified, 2015)
Justified was a wonderful Southern crime show that ran for six years and featured two stellar central performances from Timothy Olyphant as lawman Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as verbose hillbilly criminal Boyd Crowder. The writing was always top notch, and fittingly, the show managed to go out on a high with a final season that felt fitting for everything that had preceded it.
In a show that was always full of humour, despite its often serious subject matter, Dewey Crowe was consistently a source of genuine mirth. It made him perhaps the most purely likeable character in the show, even though he was a low-level criminal with an even lower-level IQ. There was something pathetically hapless about Dewey, whose harebrained schemes inevitably failed every time. There was little malice to him, which meant fans took him into their hearts. Which, naturally, made it a bitter pill to swallow when Boyd, who Dewey had always seen as a friend and mentor to him, shot the poor guy in the head. Boyd felt he couldn’t trust Dewey anymore, and even right up until the end, Dewey didn’t see it coming.
10. Angel Becomes Angelus After Sleeping With Buffy (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 1998)
In ‘Surprise’, the season two episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy and the mysteriously sexy vampire-with-a-soul Angel finally consumate their relationship. But, in a remarkably nasty twist from Joss Whedon and his writers, Angel loses his soul in this moment of perfect happiness with Buffy. This returns him to his original vampiric persona, the sadistic Angelus, and he becomes a terrifying enemy to Buffy and her Scooby Gang. He murders Jenny Calendar, Buffy’s mentor Giles’ girlfriend, and concocts a scheme to awaken the demon Acathla. Ultimately, his soul is restored long enough for Buffy to be forced to kill her one true love, condemning him to hell.
Now, even though Angel found his way back from hell and went on to star in his own spin-off show, we don’t feel that diminishes the power of this betrayal. Buffy gave herself to someone she loved, and he loved her back, but it turned him into a monster. Even when Angel regains his soul (which means he can feel remorse for all the awful things he’s done as Angelus), he and Buffy can never fully commit themselves to a full relationship, for fear of the tragic consequences.
9. Rick Finds Out His Best Friend And Wife Had An Affair While He Was In A Coma (The Walking Dead, 2011)
This betrayal was baked into The Walking Dead right from the start, and is something that still affects the surviving characters currently on the show. It’s an appealingly murky situation initially, without true clear cut bad guys and good guys. You could say that Rick was betrayed by his best friend and his wife, who became romantically involved while he was in a coma, and you’d be right. But you could also say that Shane and Lori had no idea if and when Rick would ever wake up, and with the world becoming a post-apocalyptic zombie land, perhaps they needed the simple human contact to get through it all. It’s not a clear cut thing.
Of course, in season 2, it becomes more cut and dry, with an increasingly unhinged Shane behaving more antagonistic towards Rick, challenging his leadership of their group. In the end, Rick is forced to kill his best friend in a heartbreaking moment, expertly realized by actors Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal.
8. Mac Finds Out Joni Cheated On Him While He Was Fighting In Vietnam (Quarry, 2016)
Quarry, Cinemax’s critically acclaimed 1970s-set crime drama, recently wrapped up its first season. Across eight episodes of incredibly acted and brilliantly directed drama, the show gave viewers no shortage of emotionally charged moments. Perhaps the one with the most impact, however, occurred in the very first episode.
Our main character, Mac Conway, has returned from fighting for his country in Vietnam to a terrible public reception. He was part of some sort of controversial incident (the full extent of which will be heartbreakingly revealed in episode 8), and is now struggling to settle back into civilian life in a country that is unwelcoming to him. He is approached by a mysterious man named The Broker, who wants to enlist his services as a hitman, but Mac resists. At least, until he finds out his beloved wife, Joni, had been cheating on him while he was overseas. The reason this betrayal is so powerful is because it acts as the catalyst for the entire show, as it is what gives Mac the final push into accepting The Broker’s offer and saying “yes” to the idea of killing people for money.
7. Christopher Moltisanti Is Suffocated By His ‘Uncle’ Tony Soprano (The Sopranos, 2007)
Christopher Moltisanti, Tony Soprano’s ‘nephew’ (who wasn’t actually his nephew, but rather Tony’s wife Carmela’s cousin) was an integral part of The Sopranos for almost its entire run. Often credited as the show that gave birth to the current golden age of TV, David Chase’s note perfect mafia drama was chock full of amazing writing and unbelievable performances. Throughout the course of the show, Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) relationship with Tony (the late and great James Gandolfini) goes through many ups and downs. Chris is volatile, narcissistic and impulsive, and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. He is constantly frustrated at his own perceived lack of progress in Tony’s organization, and often goes down a self-destructive path.
By the time he and Tony are driving together in season 6, and an obviously impaired Chris loses control of the vehicle and rolls it into a ditch, their relationship was at an all-time low. Tony is able to get out of the wreck, but Chris is badly injured. He begs Tony to help him, but when Tony sees that the car seat (that could have had Chris’ daughter Caitlyn in it) has been impaled by a tree branch, he takes the opportunity to suffocate Chris, finally ridding himself and the world of the destructive, if tragic, addict.
6. Nina Myers Kills Teri Bauer (24, 2001)
The death of Teri Bauer in the final minutes of 24‘s first season was a defining moment for the show, and for serialized TV in general. 24 was revolutionary at the time. The concept of following a set of characters over one 24-hour period, with events occurring in ‘real time’, hadn’t been attempted before. Factor in that the show was a fast-paced action drama featuring terrorists, double crosses, explosions and even more double crosses, and it made for a breathless 24 episodes.
The show resurrected the career of Kiefer Sutherland, and he went on to become one of TV’s most beloved heroes of the modern age, as the all-action, one-man-army that was CTU agent Jack Bauer. We reckon that the death of his wife, Teri, at the hands of his former lover and CTU turncoat Nina Myers, was the betrayal that defined who Jack Bauer would be over the course of the show. It also showed that in 24, nobody was safe, and that unpredictability became another hallmark of its 8 seasons, TV movie and event series revival.
5. Hank Schrader Dies Because Of His Brother-In-Law Walter White (Breaking Bad, 2013)
For our money, this was the most bitter pill to swallow in Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan’s superlative crime drama. Hank Schrader, brother-in-law to Chemistry teacher turned meth-cooking drug kingpin Walter White, initially started out as something of a stereotypically cocky jock mostly used as comic relief. But he developed into one of the most nuanced and memorable characters on the show. Hank was a DEA Agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and over the course of the series became obsessed with catching ‘Heisenberg’, unaware that his target was Walt the whole time. Hank was always presented as a good, hard-working guy who loved his wife and his extended family. He had genuine warmth for Walt, Skyler, and the handicapped Walt Jr. and it made his ultimate fate all that much harder to handle.
By the time the harrowing but utterly brilliant episode ‘Ozymandias’ aired, Hank was fully aware of Walt’s secret. It all came down to Hank in the dirt of the desert, a neo-Nazi holding a gun to his head and Walt begging for Hank’s life to be spared. You see, Walt didn’t want his brother-in-law dead; he had actually called the neo-Nazis to kill Jesse, his former meth-cooking partner. But all of Walt’s bad decisions and lies had led Hank to being there in that moment. Hank wound up being shot in the head and buried in the desert, and it was Walt’s fault, even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself.
4. The Rayburn Siblings Cover Up John’s Murder Of Danny (Bloodline, 2015)
“We’re not bad people. But we did a bad thing.”
This quote perfectly encapsulates what Bloodline, Netflix’s compelling thriller-drama, was about at its core. It is the story of the Rayburns, a wealthy and well-respected family from the Florida Keys, and the dark secrets in their past and present that threaten to bring everything crashing down around them. The core of the show’s first season was the relationship between John (Kyle Chandler), a detective with the local sheiff’s office, and Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), his black sheep of a brother who had been an outcast from the family for reasons that become clearer as the season progresses. Danny gradually becomes a liability to the family that can’t be placated anymore, and when he threatens John’s daughter, John snaps and murders him. He then concocts a scheme with his other brother, Kevin, and sister, Meg, to cover up the murder.
There are a few betrayals at play in this situation. Danny is betraying his family, by conducting illegal business on their property, but it is revealed that Danny was viciously beaten by his father when he was a teenager after he was blamed for the death of Sarah, his younger sister. Mendelsohn is scintillating as Danny, portraying a man with a deeply complicated relationship with his family, and Chandler is similarly excellent as John, a man trying to keep everyone together but who did an unforgivable thing in the heat of the moment.
3. Shane Vendrell Blows Up Friend And Strike Team Partner Curtis Lemansky (The Shield, 2006)
As old as this moment in TV is, it still stings.
Curtis ‘Lem’ Lemansky, played with laidback charisma by Kenny Johnson, was easily the most likeable member of the law-breaking Strike Team in Shawn Ryan’s excellent cop drama The Shield. In a show that was extremely intense 90% of the time, Lem was a welcomed change from the rest of the characters. He did bad things, mostly when he was with his brothers in blue Vic, Shane and Ronnie, but he was just… nicer about it than they were. There was just something warm about Lem, and that was the reason he was singled out as the weak link of the group by Internal Affairs agent John Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker).
Kavanaugh wanted to make the Strike Team answer for their crimes (which were many), and it was this obsession that ultimately caused Lem’s death. Kavanaugh leaked false information that Lem had ratted on the team, and Shane took it upon himself to take care of his friend, rather than risk him implicating them. In a moment that sticks with us to this day, Shane dropped a grenade in Lem’s lap, weeping for his friend as he died in front of him. Walton Goggins’ (making his second appearance on this list of betrayal) performance in this moment is devastating.
2. Ross Cheats On Rachel (Friends, 1997)
“We were on a break!”
If you say this to anyone, anywhere, chances are they will understand the reference. That shows just how much Friends has become an integral part of the public consciousness. The show was truly a phenomenon, and arguably the best sitcom ever made. The Ross and Rachel ‘will they, won’t they’ saga captivated TV viewers for years in the 90s and early 2000s, and helped make Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer household names.
Its appearance on a list like this is testament to the craft behind a show like Friends. Very few comedies genuinely affect people emotionally; their primary purpose is to make you laugh, not make you cry. But sometimes comedies come along with characters that feel real and are three-dimensional, and they can therefore be put into storylines with more dramatic heft. When Ross cheated on Rachel, and they had that conversation about whether they were going to stay together, it was heartbreaking and yet somehow still funny. That’s pretty special.
1. The Red Wedding (Game Of Thrones, 2013)
Here it is, number one on our list of TV betrayals that were just too painful to handle…
The Red Wedding.
Many of the moments we’ve spotlighted so far were extremely emotional, and hit viewers squarely in the feels. But The Red Wedding, which took place in the Game Of Thrones episode ‘The Rains Of Castamere’, went above and beyond emotion. It was borderline traumatic for some viewers, made a massive impact on the show’s fanbase and had lasting consequences on the characters in the show.
It was the sort of moment that caused many fans to say they were done with the show, so irate were they over the treatment of some of their favourite characters. Some felt that it was akin to George R. R. Martin, who wrote the A Song Of Ice And Fire saga that the show was based on, showing gleeful contempt for his audience. So, not only were characters on the show betrayed in the worst possible way, but the audience felt betrayed too!
Really, The Red Wedding had to be number one. Right?