There’s just no denying it anymore. We’re living the Golden Age of television, one of the largest and most significant eruption of high-quality television ever put in front of TV audiences. It wasn’t that long ago when TV felt stale and paled in comparison to films. Now, we’re seeing the biggest stars and the brightest minds moving to television. There’s been plenty of discussion about how TV is allowing actors and writers to explore characters and plot lines that film could never offer. This has a major impact on the audience too. We’re seeing things that we’ve never seen before. We’re being shocked and thrown for loops in ways we never thought possible. Because of this blast of television content, the past decade or so has offered us some of the biggest shocks ever witnessed. We decided to count these shocks down.
So, what qualifies as a shocking episode? Well, obviously, major character deaths and twists are bound to be on here. Let’s think of the incredible Scrubs episode from more than a decade ago, thus making it ineligible, “My Screw Up.” In this powerful episode, Dr. Cox is speaking to his brother (Brendan Fraser) as they walk through a cemetery. Cox asks his brother if he’ll be taking pictures, insinuating that they are on their way to his son’s birthday together. It’s at this moment that J.D. walks up behind and asks him, “Where do you think we are.” As Dr. Cox turns around, it’s revealed that his brother is not actually there, and it dawns on us and Cox that we’re at the brother’s funeral. Feels for days. We’re also looking for moments that we’ve never seen before and entire episodes that pack the biggest punches. These are the types of things that shock us. Here are the 15 Most Shocking TV Episodes of the Past Decade.
15. Doctor Who – “The End Of Time”
The heartbreak at the end of the two-part finale for the 2009 interim season of Doctor Who was one that all Whovians knew was coming, but no one was really prepared for it. It marked the end of David Tennant‘s run as the Doctor, and for many, this was like losing a limb. There was an underlying current throughout the season, a prophecy that stated, “He will knock four times.” We awaited these knocks and tried to guess who would deliver them, which baddie would end up killing the Doctor. The baddies all came and went and the world was essentially saved, but still, we heard no knocks. Then, they came. In what seemed like a harmless moment, Wilfred, stuck in a nuclear box, knocks to ask the Doctor to help him out. The Doctor needed to enter the box in order to release Wilfred and take the radiation into his own body. This would undoubtedly kill him. Thankfully, death holds off long enough to allow Tennant the opportunity of a farewell tour, culminating in his beautiful lament, “I don’t want to go.”
14. Deadwood – “A Two-Headed Beast”
Even though as a whole, the episode “A Two-Headed Beast” from Deadwood is amazing and memorable in its own right, the entire thing is overwritten by one event. The one major thing that any Deadwood fan remembers from the show is this one event—the fight between Dan Dority vs. Captain Turner. Not only is this the best fight in the show, but it might be one of the best and most brutal fights ever choreographed on TV. The beauty of this battle is in how ugly, sloppy, and brutish the whole fight is. It’s violent and hateful, slow and deliberate. There’s also the whole eye gouging thing which results in Turner’s eye being ripped out of his skull. This was a fight that stayed with the audience long after it ended.
13. Nashville – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) was one of the undisputed stars of Nashville. That’s why people were so shocked when the character was killed off in season five’s episode “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” In the episode prior, Jaymes narrowly avoided death at the hands of her stalker, but when she was in a police car on her way home, she was involved in a car accident. The following episode, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” opens with Rayna in the hospital. Phew! She survived again. But the accident caused injuries, and the injuries required surgery. Then, while she was in surgery, her organs shut down and she died. WTF!
12. The Wire – “Clarifications”
Omar was one of the best things about The Wire, and there were a lot of really great things about that show. For five seasons, Omar was the moral center of the streets, one of the few characters who had principles and honor. Even though he was loved for this by fans, he was still greatly feared by his enemies and those in the show. Even if you expected Omar to die because his lifestyle was not one that we could expect anyone to survive, by the way he was built up, we expected him to die a glorious death. Then, in “Clarifications,” the eighth episode of the fifth season, Omar was shot in the back of the head by a little kid, a nobody. We were as unsuspecting as he was when it happened.
11. American Gods – “Head Full Of Snow”
American Gods has had a number of shocking scenes and entire episodes in its first season, which just wrapped up not that long ago. In the very first episode, we watched a female god, Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, devour a man through her private area. The scene, while not wildly graphic, was an odd thing for an audience to experience to be sure. But that doesn’t quite compare to the most shocking episode of all, “Head Full of Snow.” In that episode, we watch what is likely the most explicit gay scene ever shown on TV, at least, on this side of p*rnography. While artistic and creative to make it much more than an explicit scene, this is not something we’re used to seeing on TV. We don’t imagine very many people would ever expect to see this on mainstream television either.
10. Lost – “Through The Looking Glass”
The season finale of the third season of Lost was one that cemented the show as one of the best on television. In addition to bringing the season’s events to a close and the death of several characters, including Charlie, “Through the Looking Glass” was infamous for the line “We have to go back.” For two seasons, the show had given us numerous flashbacks for the characters, informing us of their past lives. This was something we had gotten used to. In this two-part episode, however, the flashbacks we thought we were seeing turned out to flash-forwards. Even though many in the audience clued in long before the final scene, the “we have to go back” moment was momentous for Lost and was a highlight of the show, which was a cultural phenomenon at the time.
9. Game Of Thrones – “Baelor”
While there was certainly a large following of Game of Thrones fans that had read the books and knew what events would transpire in the first season of the show, there was a much greater number of people who were experiencing the show blind. Because of this, they were unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin‘s tendencies to kill off main characters for the hell of it. In the first season of the show, Ned Stark appears to be the main character. You could argue that the writing was on the wall for him to be a sacrificial lamb from very early on, but most people expected him to escape his predicament. As he was thrown down and made to confess to treason in order to have his life spared, we expected him to be freed, sent to the Wall, or something like that. Even after Joffrey went back on his word, we expected something to happen to change his fate. Anything. We were wrong.
8. House – “Simple Explanations”
The episode “Simple Explanations,” from the medical drama House, gave fans a major shock when Dr. Lawrence Kutner, one of the show’s most popular doctors and one of the most promising doctors under House‘s tutelage, committed suicide. Behind the scenes, Kal Penn was taking a political job, so his character needed to be taken off the show. However, this was not advertised. The suicide was such a shock that House thought it was a murder. The event eventually contributed to House realizing that he was suffering from psychosis as well.
7. House Of Cards – Season 2 Premiere
House of Cards started off with a bang, but many fans felt that the sharpness of the show dulled down about halfway through the first season. Anyone who doubted the show’s power, however, was quieted with the season premiere of the second season. Zoe Barnes, who was a major player in the first season, is brought to a meeting at a train station. While there, Frank and Zoe come to an agreement to squash their beef, clean the slate, and start fresh. Yet, after Zoe deletes all the information she has on Frank, she drops a hint that she knows more than she’s letting on and continues probing Frank for more information. When he walks away, Zoe follows. Shockingly, Frank then pushes her into an oncoming train and walks away.
6. Twin Peaks – “Part 8”
If you’ve yet to tackle the Twin Peaks revival, you’re missing out on an experience like no other. While the brilliance in the original series was an acquired taste and the quality of the programming might not have aged all that way for many modern audiences (we still think it is one of the best shows ever made), the new series is a must-watch. That means the first two seasons are must-watches. Throughout the first seven episodes of season three, David Lynch‘s new series had already revealed that they weren’t going to be held back by the handcuffs that all other TV shows have been restrained by. The series felt, from the very beginning, like it was flexing its freedom in the face of everyone else. Then, we got “Part 8,” which might be better recognized with the title “Got a Light,” a question that the mysterious Woodsman character continues to ask people. This is one of the most experimental and free-flowing episodes of television ever made. The images on screen are often terrifying, and the randomness of them make them even scarier.
5. Dexter – “The Getaway”
By the end of Dexter’s run on television, many fans had tired of the narrative and were looking for closure, but there was a time when no other show compared to it. The edge-of-your-seat drama was sometimes too much for a body to handle, but the beauty of Dexter in the early goings was in his relationships. As Dexter himself started out more machine than man, we saw him grow and get close to other people as the show went on. The more he welcomed another into his life, the more we grew to love them. “The Getaway,” season four’s finale, made us regret letting any characters into our life. In this episode, Dexter begins to question his need to kill, choosing his family over his dark passenger for the first time. Yet, after he kills and disposes of the season’s villain, he returns home to find that his wife and child never left town like they were supposed to. He finds Rita, his wife, dead in the bathtub and his son sitting in a pool of her blood just as he was found in his own mother’s blood when he was a child.
4. Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias”
Breaking Bad had a lot of beautiful and mind-blowing moments throughout its run, but it was never better than it was with “Ozymandias,” the 14th episode in season five. In fact, we would be hard-pressed to find a better episode of television anywhere. Seriously, this may very well be the best episode of TV ever made. In the grand scheme of the show, most of the drama that had been built up since the beginning came tumbling down in “Ozymandias.” It was action-packed and one of the most revealing and satisfying episodes a fan could ask for. An enormous amount of information is finally passed through many of the characters, and we see the death of Hank and the end of Walt’s comfort.
3. Downton Abbey – “A Journey to the Highlands”
The season three Christmas Special for Downtown Abbey was supposed to be happy. It was supposed to be sweet. It was not, and it sent a shockwave through Downton Abbey fans’ lives in a way they never expected. After meeting his wife and new child at the hospital, fan-favorite and one of the stars of the show, Matthew Crawley, is killed in a car crash upon leaving the hospital. The TV-watching world was shaken as the secret of Dan Stevens’ departure from the show was kept secret. Much of the show’s plot revolved around Crawley, so people were unsure how it would continue, but they managed quite well.
2. Hannibal – “Mizumono”
As much as we loved Hannibal, it was a show that, in the end, felt like failed to live up to its great potential. There were moments when we thought this might become one of the best shows ever made. There were moments when it was the best show on television. When it was all said and done, we only had glimpses of greatness, glimpses like the episode “Mizumono,” which was one of the most magical, horrifying, and beautiful episodes of television ever made. The entire episode, the season finale of season two, was powerful and incredibly satisfying, but the final 10 minutes were groundbreaking. The haunting score seeping into your ears and the deliberate and slow-motion camerawork capturing scenes of such bloody carnage were a perfect match. It was a marriage of violence and beauty, so amazing that it seemed like the show had been created just to reach this scene. The impact on the audience was palpable.
1. Game Of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere”
While Game of Thrones has made a ton of noise over the years for shocking events, such as the episode we already discussed, “Baelor” and one we haven’t and won’t discuss when the Mountain made mincemeat of the Viper in “The Mountain and the Viper,” there is one episode which stands far above the rest for shock value. This episode was so shocking that reaction videos of fans watching it for the first time went viral all over the web. We’re, of course, talking about “The Rains of Castamere” or, more specifically, the scene of the Red Wedding. In one fell swoop, Game of Thrones eliminated several main characters, flipped the story on its head and turned the balance of power totally around. It was at this moment that people stopped trusting their instincts about who would survive and who wouldn’t. Watching Game of Thrones became an exercise in not getting too close to any one character lest they be slaughtered in front of you.
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