There used to be a certain rhythm and rhyme to television. There were fewer networks and stricter limits on what subject matter would be considered too risqué to bring to television. But with the changing times and expanding options came a host of brand new avenues for storytellers. Now, creators have been able to mine entire new tones and worlds that they would have been banned from just ten years ago. And in that time, that expanded scope has helped allow a number of shows – dramatic and comedies, live-action and animated – to pull for an entire other set of emotions.
Even tamer genres like sitcoms have come out with dramatic shocking turns and dark humor in a world where jokes about coffee used to be the norm. As the internet brings more ways for viewers to watch, and peak TV brings us more and more entertainment options, some creators have used this opportunity to really hit us where it hurts. To use their shows to take our hearts right out of our chests and break it into tiny little pieces all over the ground. There are a lot of scenes and story lines that just destroy the viewer. Sometimes it’s a graphic and disturbing shift for our characters, or maybe it’s a shocking tragic end for a character that no one saw coming. And sometimes, it’s just the moments that made us ache even weeks later. Here are 15 TV scenes from the past decade that messed audiences up. There are many spoilers below, obviously.
15 Fargo: The Space Ship
Fargo has been a relatively low-scale series. The second season of the show takes place in the 1970s, exploring the events that were hinted at during the first season of the show. And it call comes down to a climatic gun battle between the police and crooks known as the Sioux Falls Massacre. The battle sees most of the characters we’ve come to know on both sides of the law battling it out in and around a small motel. It all comes down to Patrick Wilson as hero cop Ed on the ground, one of the last crooks choking the life out of him. But just when everything looks at its bleakest, three lights fill the sky. A damn spaceship hovers over them both, drops a spotlight over them, and gives Patrick Wilson the chance to shoot his attacker in the head. And then it just, leaves. It’s an insane twist that leaves viewers gasping in shock as soon as it happens, and pretty much the rest of the night.
14 Riverdale: A Teacher Gets With A Student
Riverdale is one of the craziest shows on television right now. It’s willing to go crazy when the situation calls for it, creating a show where the usual teenage drama that people would expect to see from this kind of show can also sometimes include the owners of a maple syrup company being involved in the drug trade. But the show went in a completely unexpected direction when Archie, the nominal star of the show, found himself in a romantic relationship with one of his high school teachers. But it’s not just that the muscular Archie fell in with his teacher, but that the teacher turns out to not even be the person she claimed to be. It turns out she’s on the run and a serial liar, spinning a story about hiding out from a dangerous ex-boyfriend before going on the run again. It was an early indicator of the level of crazy our heroes were going to have to deal with going forward, and the kind of thing that makes audiences realize they can’t prepare for anything in this series.
13 True Detective: The Tape
True Detective was a massive success for HBO (well, the first season was), and helped convince the world that Matthew McConaughey is a good actor with his nihilistic speeches as Cohle on the show. But at the center of the southern gothic crime drama is a mysterious conspiracy. But when our heroes finally uncover the true meaning of the Yellow King, they wish they hadn’t. After years separated, Cohle brings his old partner Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) to a secret place and reveals that he’s got proof the cult identified with the Yellow King have been murdering women for decades. At this point, Cohle shows Hart a tape that features a little girl they had been looking for her two decades earlier. We mercifully don’t get to see the whole tape, but the snippets we do see (mixed with the growing disgust and horror on Hart’s face) forces us to imagine the worst scene possible. The moment breaks the viewer for a second, and the audience is right there with Hart in horridly turning off the tape and trying to think of anything else.
12 The Americans: The Suitcase Scene
The Americans has been one of the most intense shows on television since it started airing six seasons ago. The show, about a married couple in 1980s Washington DC who are actually Russian spies, has been forced to remove characters in some of the harshest ways anyone has ever seen on television. And none were more shocking than the suitcase scene. What’s the suitcase scene? Well, the married couple are forced to remove a body from a building, and try to do so without making a scene. So in their hotel room, they proceed to fit the body into the suitcase. For a TV show, the scene is surprisingly graphic and sickening. It’s a chilling moment within the show, but most viewers have to watch the scene through their fingers. It’s worse than anything in Saw, seriously.
11 Archer: Wait, Did Archer Just Die?
Archer centers around Sterling Archer, the best spy in the world. He also happens to be a drunk sarcastic jerk, with barely enough empathy to go around to his own daughter. His own indifference to his life doesn’t make it any less appealing though, and he’s had to try and make due with his complicated feelings on the subject. But in the seventh season finale, his overconfidence and blasé attitude towards danger left him clinging to life. In a shocking twist, Archer is shot by the villain and falls face first into a swimming pool. But then another Archer walks in and captures the villain. But the successful Archer is revealed to be a robotic duplicate made by the mad scientist Krieger, and the real Archer is the one bobbing in the pool. It took an entire season for the mortified fans to find out if he even survived the experience. The answer is yes, but he’s been in a coma ever since, living out a noir-inspired storyline in his head.
10 Rick & Morty: Rick Tries To End Things Tragically
One of the most popular shows on television right now, Rick & Morty centers around the crazy sci-fi adventures of a mad scientist and his grandson across an infinite universe of dimensions and realities. But that setting hasn’t stopped the show from exploring more mundane and dark aspects, such as wasted potential and regret coming back to haunt those who swear they have no feelings. The hardest moment comes in season 2, after Rick briefly resumes a romantic relationship with a hive mind alien species called Harmony. When she realizes what a toxic influence Rick is, she ends up leaving him. A despondent Rick returns home, and ends up alone in his garage, working on another device. But it becomes painfully obvious that the machine has been built for one purpose: to kill Rick. And the only reason the laser doesn’t explode Rick’s head is because he was too drunk to sit up straight. The ramifications of the scene hit hard, especially when the viewer realizes Rick spends days knocked out, and his family never checks on him. Just… ouch.
9 Breaking Bad: Bye Hank
Breaking Bad has already become one of the most noteworthy television shows of all time, even just a few years after it concluded. The tragedy of Walter White, trying to pay for his cancer treatment with drug money and finding himself drawn further into a world of crime and murder, is full of moments that break the spirit of any viewers. After spending the final season trying to bring him down, Walt’s DEA brother-in-law Hank ends up on the wrong side of a group of Neo-Nazis. Walt begs for Hank's freedom and survival, but all Hank can do is point out just how stupid Walt has been for working with these men. It’s a slow burn towards an inevitable explosion, and ends with Hank dead in the dirt. Walt cries into the dirt, and so does every viewer who can manage to reach a pillow before they just start screaming.
8 The Walking Dead: Glen Meets Lucille
In the zombie apocalypse hellscape that is The Walking Dead, the undead ghouls shambling around the remains of the world are frightening, sure. But they’re not the worst part. The greatest monster in this world… is humanity. Sure, it’s not the most original take in the world, but it’s still a fascinating exploration of men, women, and even children trying to retain their humanity in a world where that factor is almost a weakness. So while the friends fallen to the Walker hoard are depressing, it’s nowhere near as upsetting as when we see our heroes killed by other human beings. The Governor made a strong showing back in seasons 3 and 4, but it’s Negan who broke viewers like no one else. Introduced after episodes of whispered mentions, he comes in swinging – literally, using a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat to just ruin series mainstays Glenn and Abraham. The ensuing beat down was heart-wrenching and barbaric.
7 Game Of Thrones: The Red Wedding
Come on, how could it this NOT be number one? One of the most brutal shows on television, Game of Thrones had already created a name for itself as the show where no one was safe. The de facto lead character had even been quickly executed at the end of the first season. But none of that compared to the shock and surprise viewers dealt with when it came time for the Red Wedding. At this point in the series, our heroic Starks are finally turning the tide in the war against the Lannisters. But a betrayal by a minor character leaves Robb, Talia, and Cat open for some gruesome ends at the hands of their former allies. A number of people who’d already read the books made sure to capture their loved ones' reactions to the moment, and it’s easy to see why so many people were absolutely shook by this one.
6 Legion: Aubrey Plaza Was The Bad Guy The Whole Time
Legion is one of the strangest shows to hit television, mixing a strange combination of comic book imagery and mind-bending visuals with an exploration of madness and mental health. The show follows the absurd world of David Heller, a young man with extreme superpowers and severe mental problems. He looks back at his memories and friendship with Lenny, as played by Aubrey Plaza. The character is his best confidant, closest friend, and it turns out, imaginary. The entire identity was a fake persona created by the psychic parasite called the Shadow King. And just like that, every moment David shared with his friend becomes a completely different shade of dark and frightening. Aubrey Plaza keeps dropping some of her career best work as the show progress, and the gut punch that was Aubrey Plaza turning into the bad guy still hurt even when she became a really fun villain for the duration of the season.
5 The Handmaid's Tale: The Execution
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most powerful shows to come out in the last decade, bringing viewers to a world where the patriarchy has transformed into an even more restrictive forces against women. None of the women we follow are allowed the freedom that should be allotted to them. And that kind of control over their lives is amplified and expanded by the harsh punishments the authority is willing to dole out on the women who just tried to live their lives. Ofglen is revealed to be a lesbian, and brought to trial for being a "Gender-Traitor." The trial also includes Martha, Ofglen’s lover. While the verdict leaves Ofglen alive (thanks to her still-functioning ovaries), the same can’t be said for Martha. So, the two women are taken out of the court and given just moments together in a van before Martha is taken out and coldly hanged from a crane. It’s tragic and brutal, especially with Ofglen’s screaming echoing through the rest of the scene.
4 You're The Worst: Jimmy Proposes To Gretchen, Then Bolts
You’re The Worst centers around main characters who are just, like, seriously the worst. But in finding each other, sardonic writer Jimmy and manic depressive publicist Gretchen have managed to start something that even maybe resembles a healthy relationship. Their burgeoning relationship has gone through highs and lows, but always managed to survive their innate dramas. At least until the third season of the series. After a difficult series of events concerning his family, Jimmy finally decides to surprise Gretchen with a picnic under fireworks. And he fulfills the surprise by pulling out an engagement ring. It’s seemingly a beautiful turn for the show – until Gretchen accidentally uses the F word (family) and sends Jimmy literally running. He jumps in his car and drives off in pure silence, leaving her on the side of the hill. It’s heartbreaking but perfectly in-character, and ruins any viewer who really thought love was going to pull it out.
3 Bojack Horseman: Sarah Lynn Dies
There haven’t been a lot of really soft moments in the entirety of Bojack Horseman. The animated Netflix series that centers around a former sitcom star dealing with his life in an absurd take on Los Angeles. His toxic personality causes him and his loved ones nothing but trouble over the course of the series, but the most destructive relationship might be to Sarah Lynn, the girl who played his youngest daughter on a sitcom in the 1990’] Sarah Lynn has since grown into a talented musician and a bit of a drug fiend. She tries to stay sober, but falls off the wagon towards the end of the third season and went on a bender that spans two weeks and the entire country. At the end of it, Sarah Lynn and Bojack go to the planetarium. Bojack has an epiphany about love and relationships, and shares these feelings with Sarah Lynn, only to realize Sarah Lynn has died next to him. If a scene was ever going to drag your heart out of your chest and drop it, this is the one. It leaves you just as much of an emotional wreck as Bojack. And that’s saying something.
2 Atlanta: The Cereal Commercial
Donald Glover has been on a meteoric rise for almost a full decade now. But the peak of his creative work so far might just be Atlanta. The comedy about an aspiring rapper in Atlanta and his manager cousin was one of the best new shows to come out of 2017, and it’s already ensured that Glover and FX have a long standing relationship. The best episode of the series so far though has been B.A.N. In it, Paper Boi (the aforementioned rapper) appears on a talk show to discuss the offensive nature of his songs. The episode is structured like a normal episode of the talk show, broken up by short sketches in the form of commercials. And while most of them are funny, it’s one in particular that stands out. In a parody of cereal commercials like Coco Puffs, a wolf tries to steal cereal from a group of kids. But an officer brings him down, hard. It’s a brutal scene, and the kids are soon recording the arrest and standing up to the increasingly confrontational cop. It’s incredibly intense, and lingers in your mind for days even after you watch it. It’s one of the best commentaries on racism in television right now. And it managed to do it in just over a minute.
1 It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: Mac Feeds Dennis Something Shocking
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is actually one of the longest running prime-time comedies on television right now. But with its stars all preparing new projects, it seems that the show might be winding down to a close. This a show that thrives on messing with the audience, blatantly showing the darker and seedier elements of the world that most shows would have no idea how to even approach. The craziest might actually be when Mac and Dennis decide to try and live in a suburban setting for a month, and find themselves going crazy. In an attempt to calm Mac down, Dennis gets his friend a dog. But the dog does not last long before Mac snaps, kills it and feeds it to Dennis in his famous mac and cheese. It’s a shocking moment that leaves you breathless in shocked laughter and dawning horror, especially when Dennis starts finding bits of hair in it.