Death is never an easy subject. From the moment we learn about it as children, it is something that haunts us, ever existing in the backs of our minds. We deal with the knowledge that everyone we love will eventually die someday. Despite the fact that we understand this, it doesn’t make it any easier when tragedy strikes, and we are left without an important person in our lives. In fact, even as we grow into adults, it doesn’t get any easier to cope with.
Does it come as any surprise, then, that the deaths of TV show characters can also leave us in a horrified state? Even the writers seem to know how death can affect the audience, and they’ve used it to move the plot along or give the main character a greater motivation. We understand that sometimes a character’s death is necessary and can add a much-needed dimension of emotion to the story, but it’s still hard to watch sometimes.
Over the years, there have been some character deaths that have stayed with us for quite a while; in fact, there are some that we still aren’t quite over. Because of this, it might be considered pouring salt into old wounds as we look back at tragic TV deaths that we still haven’t gotten over. Get those tissues ready; we’re taking a painful trip down memory lane.
Here are 15 of our picks.
15. Jin and Sun – Lost
Jin and Sun had a beautiful yet tragic history together. They were both aboard the plane that crashed into an unnamed island in the Pacific Ocean. Because Jin knew no English, the two of them often clung to each other as opposed to spending time with other people. Eventually, they separated, but Jin came around and became part of the group, both fixing their marriage and conceiving a child. Together, they worked with great hope to leave the island, and audiences grew an attachment to them.
Unfortunately, every dream we had for this adorable couple was dashed when they left the island in a submarine. They didn’t get very far, and the sub began to sink. Knowing that they weren’t going to make it, they held each other tightly as the water began to rise, consuming them with no way out. Jin and Sun were so close to freedom and civilization, only to find that their hopes would be taken from them and placed at the bottom of the ocean along with their bodies. The worst part is that this happened shortly after they were physically separated and reunited.
14. The Tenth Doctor – Doctor Who
Doctor Who has featured many notable performances, particularly in the role of the Doctor himself. Yet, there are few that have been more universally loved and praised than that of David Tennant. His time as the Tenth Doctor heralded some of the most fun and interesting episodes the entire show had to offer. However, we all knew that (like any other Doctor) David Tennant’s ride would eventually come to an end. But, oh man, was it incredibly painful to watch.
After the Doctor knew he was about to change form, he traveled through time to see all of the people that he had grown to care about over the years. Then the score rose, and he could feel the change happening all around him. He then uttered the tragic phrase, “I don’t want to go.” That one line put a lot of tears in our eyes as we knew that was the last time we would go on an adventure with David Tennant as the Doctor. Don’t get me wrong, though — we all love Matt Smith — but David Tennant was so classic and brilliant from start to finish.
13. Lori Grimes – The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is a show full of the morally gray. Every character has done something questionable or has hurt someone to make us doubt whether we want to root for them or not. But that serves to benefit the show because it makes us believe in its post-apocalyptic setting. Tons of people on the show have died, but the one we’re still not over is the passing of Lori Grimes. Lori was the wife of the main character Rick Grimes, but she started a relationship with Rick’s best friend after she believed that her husband had died. When Rick returned, it caused some severe problems, and she was even shunned as a result.
That said, it never changed the kind of person that Lori was — one that was willing to put her own life on the line for others. After discovering that she was pregnant, she went through a lot of emotional trauma before delivering the baby. However, there were complications during the pregnancy, and she was forced to choose between saving her life or that of her baby’s. Without hesitation, she chose for the doctors to save the child and not her. The last words she ever said, “Goodnight, love,” were to her firstborn son Carl, and we’ve been heartbroken ever since.
12. Leonard Snart – Legends of Tomorrow
When Wentworth Miller was introduced in The Flash as Captain Cold, there was something about the character that made him interesting to watch on-screen. As time went on, Leonard Snart became more of an anti-hero before joining the Legends, as orchestrated by Rip Hunter. Snart originally had a hard time being one of the good guys, but as he learned to play nicely with the team, he was easily the best part of the show. That’s what made his departure all the more tragic.
The team had to take down the Time Masters, and they eventually stumbled across their base of operations outside of the time stream itself. They rigged a central mechanism to explode, but somebody had to stay inside to detonate it themselves. After both the Atom and Heat Wave had tried, it was Leonard Snart who shoved them out of the way and did it himself. His death saved the entire timeline, but the fact that the show’s greatest character was gone was saddening for sure. To make matters even worse, he has returned to the show, but as a member of the Legion of Doom. That is just unfair, DC.
11. Bobby Singer – Supernatural
Sam and Dean Winchester lived horribly sad lives. After their mother was killed by a demon when they were just kids, their dad was never around because he was on a revenge quest to kill all kinds of demons. His dad eventually lost his life while trying to attain his goals, and that left Sam and Dean all alone. They never had any family, and those that they got close to always seemed to die in the process. However, they always had one person who was willing to help out, and that was Bobby Singer.
Bobby Singer was a friend of Sam and Dean’s father and took up that role for the two brothers. He always helped them out in a pinch and gave them all kinds of advice in crises (usually involving words like “idjit”). Bobby had actually died before, but the writers of Supernatural have no problems resurrecting people from the grave, so we never thought that they would finally really kill him off. Then it happened. Bobby finally met his end once and for all, and we were left without one of the coolest characters on the show. Sam and Dean had then run out of father figures in their lives.
10. Joyce Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy’s mother, Joyce, suffered a lot of problems throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Being a precursor to shows like Supernatural, the show featured all kinds of resurrection and mystical elements during its run. However, the pain was definitely felt when Joyce was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor. She began losing cognitive function, and her memory became severely impaired, which was hard to watch, considering she was such a great source of counsel and wisdom.
Then something hopeful happened. As is true for some people who develop tumors, she was offered a chance to remove it through surgery. She accepted, and the operation was successful. In fact, after she went back home, her brain function seemed to be on the up and up, and our love for her was completely restored. Then, after a horrible event involving a god, Joyce went to live with a friend. While they were watching a show, she had a sudden brain aneurysm and died within minutes. It’s always said that the worst deaths are the ones you don’t expect, and that was never more true than with Joyce. Her death spurred on a lot of dangerous actions by the rest of the characters, and we really couldn’t blame them.
9. Leslie Shay – Chicago Fire
When it was originally pitched that a show surrounding firefighters would be produced, it seemed like an interesting choice. In fact, this setting was used to create some heart-pounding events and got us to really care about the team that risked their lives every day as the first responders. Leslie Shay was one of the protagonists of the team in season one and season two. She was a powerful character in the show and proved to be someone that the audience latched on to. Being a lesbian who was betrayed in the past, she appeared to viewers to be an underdog type of character that they could relate to.
Then Real Never Waits came along. I remember a time when it was heresy to ever think about killing off a main character, but that is no longer the case today. One particular fire put Shay and another fireman into a burning building. While they were trying to rescue a patient, an explosion happened. The partner was thrown back, and worse, a pipe fell and crushed Leslie’s skull, killing her instantly. It seemed too terrible to be true, but when the funeral came along, we knew for sure what had just happened.
8. Teri Bauer – 24
In several ways, 24 set the bar for what thrillers should be. By delivering each episode in supposed real-time, the show delivered a permanent sense of tension throughout every season. The first season began when Jack Bauer’s wife was kidnapped, and he went on a brutal manhunt in order to find her. Teri Bauer became horribly scarred as a result, but for Jack, she was a woman worth fighting for. It constantly gave him motivation, and we all rooted for him in the long run as a result. Everything he did was excusable because he did it to find his wife.
Thus, we were all understandably shaken up when Teri Bauer was killed. It was a tragic scene and really put Jack through the wringer, but it was probably something the audience needed to see. Too many times, we see the hero save the girl and take down the bad guy. This was a perfect reminder that in the real world, the good guys don’t always win. Nevertheless, we’ll probably never be the same after Teri Bauer’s death, making reruns of 24 that much more painful.
7. Henry Allen – The Flash
The story of Barry Allen is an unfortunate one. When he was just a young boy, a speedster stormed into his home and murdered his mother in cold blood. His father, Henry Allen, was framed for it sent to jail for a really long time. Barry then swore that he would prove his father’s innocence and get revenge on the man who killed his mother. He would often visit his father, and eventually, he actually got dad out.
Henry Allen was one of the important characters on The Flash. He always brought such a raw perspective to supernatural events, and it was hard not to like him. Considering that he was played by John Wesley Shipp (who played the Flash in a much older TV show), he was a legacy character of sorts. In fact, audiences expected that Henry would play a big role in inspiring Barry to stay on the side of good despite his mother’s death. However, the show’s writers broke Barry down once again when Zoom stormed into his home, grabbed Henry, and killed him in front of Barry. This shocking death moved Barry to change the timeline and create Flashpoint. And despite the fact that Shipp now plays the role of Jay Garrick, there’s always a small piece missing in the show with the absence of Henry Allen.
6. Rita Bennett – Dexter
Dexter is not a show for the weak of mind. It revolves around a serial killer who has to learn to re-focus his tendencies for the greater good of humanity. Towards this purpose, he only kills those who commit heinous crimes and those who deserve to be dead (by his standards, that is). This makes the show one of the most interesting stories ever created. A bit sadistic in execution, yes, but there is something quite fascinating about following the progression of an unfeeling character like Dexter.
It was thus a shocking turn of events when Dexter began encountering Rita Bennett and learned that he had it in himself to genuinely care about her. Their relationship blossomed, convincing Dexter that he was more than just a demented individual. They eventually married and even had a kid together. That made the season four finale all the more devastating. The villain Mitchell threatened Dexter, and the two of them duked it out. After Dexter returned home, he found that Mitchell had already made good on his promises and that Rita was dead in the bathtub. When season 5 began, Dexter discovered that he was actually heartbroken by her death.
5. Eddard Stark – Game of Thrones
The roles Sean Bean plays in any production he’s in are not ones we expect to survive, but there was something about his character in Game of Thrones that had us thinking differently. His pivotal role in the series led us to believe that he would go on to do great things in the series. He was the head of one of the Houses, after all — why wouldn’t he remain a contender on the show? That said, we quickly learned that Game of Thrones isn’t afraid to kill people off, and Eddard Stark was proof of that.
What makes it so frustrating is that he didn’t deserve it. Eddard Stark was one of the few people in Game of Thrones who were actually decent human beings. He loved his wife and raised his kids well. He was honorable from beginning to end. Seeing such a powerful character taken to an execution by beheading was just brutal to watch. We would have loved to see Eddard Stark be much more prevalent throughout the rest of the series, and we’ll never forget his impact when he was on-screen.
4. Lance Sweets – Bones
Bones is an interesting show that provides a brilliant spin on the dime-a-dozen crime romps that you see on TV nowadays. One thing that we never thought would happen was the death of a major character. The show never dealt with the death of anyone, and so the audience just kind of assumed that it would never happen. Yeah, it teased it at points, but in the end, it was all happy. Booth, Brennan, and everyone else seemed like they were going to survive all the way through till the end of the series.
Thus, it was a shocking surprise when they put the life of Lance Sweets on the line. This character had been a main member of the show since the third season, and he met his end in the line of duty all the way in season ten. What made his departure all the more heartbreaking was that he had rekindled a romance with a woman, and she was pregnant with his child. In his last words, he basically stated that he wanted Booth and Bones to be the baby’s godparents. It seems certain that all of the lovers of this show were reaching for tissues.
3. Laurel Lance – Arrow
In its third and fourth seasons, Arrow had a habit of killing characters only to resurrect them later. That was why when a major death was teased at the start of season 4, there was a lot of speculation (and worry) in the backs of the viewers’ minds. Would it be Quentin Lance? Diggle, maybe? We weren’t entirely sure. But with the threat of Damien Darhk looming over the horizon, we knew that the anticipated death wasn’t going to be pretty.
While season 4 as a whole wasn’t as great as it could’ve been, one episode was particularly well done: the one with Laurel’s death. Darhk made good on his promise to punish Quentin Lance, and he did so by stabbing Laurel as she was the Black Canary. She had one last heartfelt moment with Oliver as she proclaimed her love for him before she succumbed to her wounds. Her death has since been a powerful motivation for Oliver and his team going forward. To make matters even worse, Prometheus rubbed salt into old wounds by having Black Siren come to Star City and pose as Laurel for a time. Don’t get me wrong, we all love Dinah Drake, but we still feel a sting due to the absence of Laurel.
2. Stefan Salvatore – The Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries was a show that seemed to never end. Once a big problem was solved, an even bigger one took its place. However, the show wasn’t about the problems — it was really more about the characters. Stefan Salvatore was the main vampire in the beginning of the show. He and his brother Damon grew an attachment to Mystic Falls and Elena Gilbert as they fended off all kinds of brutal monsters.
Damon was the unruly jerk, while Stefan was the heroic do-gooder. Damon often referred to his brother as having the “hero hair.” Stefan was motivated by always doing the right thing. He was willing to put his own happiness on the line in order to help other people. He ended up marrying Caroline, but it wasn’t long before their glee turned to sorrow. In the series finale, it came down to a Salvatore brother sacrificing himself to save Mystic Falls. And just like anybody with hero hair, it was Stefan who ended up standing in the path of danger and taking the blow himself. He died, and the show ended with a painful funeral. In the afterlife, though, Stefan and Damon got to see each other again.
1. Derek Shepherd – Grey’s Anatomy
Of all the TV shows willing to kill people off, Grey’s Anatomy is probably the most famous. Anytime an actor wants to leave the show, the writers seem to jump at that chance to kill the actor’s character off. So while the show has a lot of happy moments, it is mostly associated with featuring the most heartbreaking deaths. While the passing of George O’Malley, Mark Sloan, and Lexie Grey were all contenders here, it’s hard to deny that it’s the death of Derek Shepherd that still haunts us. His relationship with Meredith Grey was so heartfelt. They got married, they had children, and they saved many lives. What made Derek’s death so powerful was how we had to walk with Meredith as she adjusted to it. There was not a dry eye in the audience when she had to explain to her children that daddy was in an accident and wasn’t going to make it. As a result, every time that scene with Derek in the car plays, we all wish that it would play out differently. The ever-beautiful McDreamy was one of the highlights of the show, and his passing will forever be felt by fans.
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