The 10 Most Shocking Deaths in Television History

If you’ve been following my work here on World of Female for any amount of time, you know I’m a big TV buff. At any given time, there are no fewer than five shows I’m completely in love with. I love drama. I love comedy. I love sci-fi. Despite that, I’m pretty picky about what I actually watch. There is a lot on week to week and season to season and I’m a busy lady. In order for me to really love a show, I have to find the characters interesting. There has to be something about the characters that intrigues me and makes me care about them, even if I don’t necessarily like them. I get invested with them. I feel like I know them. For that reason, seeing a character I’ve gotten to know over the course of a series get killed off can be hard to swallow. Even so, nothing instantly makes a show far more interesting than killing off someone you don’t expect to die or killing someone off unexpectedly. The most shocking deaths in television history have all managed to do that. I can honestly say I didn’t see any of these swan songs coming and more than a few of them left me with my jaw on the floor. Two quick things to mention before we begin. First, there are a few shows that do the unexpected character death thing especially well. If a particular show has had multiple genuinely shocking deaths, they’re listed together. Second, and I’m sure this goes without saying but I should say it anyway – SPOILER ALERT! Now, without any further ado, let’s take a look back at 10 of the most shocking deaths in television history.

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10: Lawrence Kutner

Series: House
Played By: Kal Penn
I can honestly say I didn’t see this one coming – not even a little bit. There were no clues. There was no indication Lawrence Kutner we were about to say goodbye to Lawrence Kutner. Doctor Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) was so shocked by the sudden death of his ‘duckling’ that he convinced himself something else had to be going on when, in fact, nothing was. I think that’s really what made this episode so powerful. It was disturbing. It was emotional. It was perhaps one of the best episodes the show ever ran.

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09: Boone Carlyle

Series: Lost
Played By: Ian Somerhalder
Some will almost certainly argue with me about my decision to put Boone on this list and not Charlie or Locke but I chose Boone for one simple reason – he was the first. Technically, death was no stranger to the show up until that point but until then, the people who met their untimely end were secondary characters. Boone was the first main cast member to be killed off. Not only was he the first main cast member to be killed off, he was also a fan favorite. With Boone’s death in season one (episode 20, Do No Harm) the show was letting us know that no one was safe. It was a point that was driven home time and time again over the course of the series but never more powerfully than with Boone. While watching the episode, I kept thinking that Jack the medical genius would find a way to save him. Everyone loved Boone. There was no way they would kill him off. When they did, it felt so real. It was incredibly well done and a great way to introduce us to the very real dangers of the island.

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08: Donna Winston

Series: Sons of Anarchy
Played By: Sprague Grayden
Let me just start this off by saying that yes, Opie dying was incredibly shocking. I didn’t see it coming at all and, truthfully, I had my eyes covered from the moment it became clear that Opie was the long teased death SOA fans had been expecting until the moment the scene was over. Opie was one of my absolute favorite characters on the show and Ryan Hurst is one of my absolute favorite actors, period. Even so, for me, no SOA death could ever top the death of Opie’s wife, Donna. It was just so tragic on every possible level. While  this is a show about outlaw bikers and all of the danger that comes along with that lifestyle, it was still incredibly difficult to watch Donna die. She was collateral damage. She was an innocent bystander. Worst of all, the terrible mistake that took Donna’s life was based on a lie. It was really the first glimpse we got of just how dangerous this life really was and how dedicated the show was to making sure that danger was felt, and believed, by the audience. No one is safe in Charming and Donna’s death proved that.

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07: Jimmy Darmody, Owen Slater and Gyp Rosetti

Series: Boardwalk Empire
Played By: Michael Pitt (Jimmy), Owen Slater (Charlie Cox) and Bobby Cannavale (Gyp)
Words cannot express my shock and anger when Jimmy Darmody met his violent end at the hands of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). Although his character had been making all the wrong moves for ages and making some very powerful enemies, I really thought he might escape harm and find a way to work with Nucky. I have to admit though, my real sadness had little to do with the character and far more to do with the actor. I adore Michael Pitt and loved seeing him every week. At least I still had beautiful Charlie Cox and the new addition to the cast, the always brilliant Bobby Cannavale … at least until both of those characters died off as well. While I had a bad feeling about Owen thanks to the decisions he was making in his personal life, I thought Gyp would stick around for at least another season. Bobby’s flawless performance really sold the character and made him both terrifying and intriguing. Unfortunately it was not to be and both characters were gone by the end of the third season as well.

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06: Dale, Shane and Lori

Series: The Walking Dead
Played By: Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Jon Bernthal (Shane) and Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori)
Now I really, really had a hard time including Dale, Shane and Lori on this list because, while I might be alone in this one, I really didn’t think their deaths were all that shocking. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I was fairly surprised by Dale’s exit but in all honesty, it’s a show about zombies. I think I went into it assuming everyone would die. For me, I found Lori annoying right away and I was never as big of a fan of Shane as I believe I was supposed to be but I was pretty heartbroken to see Dale go. I struggled with including Dale, Shane and Lori on this list for the same reason I struggled with including Opie and Piney from Sons of Anarchy. In the worlds these characters live in, death can never really be a huge shock. Both shows also play that danger very real. You know they live in a dangerous world. They don’t pull any punches about that.

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05: Maude Flanders

Series: The Simpsons
I know, I know – how could I put Maude Flanders on this list over, well, most of the deaths I listed in the “honorable mentions” section at the end of this article? The answer is simple. Shows like The Simpsons just don’t kill off characters. They just don’t do it. For that reason alone, the death of Maude Flanders was completely unexpected. The death of a cast regular had been announced well in advance so when the episode finally rolled around, the show kept us on our toes by guessing who would be going. There were close calls with Lenny, Moe and several other series regulars but when it came time for Maude to die, it was hard not to be taken aback. Seeing Ned dealing with the death of his wife was surprisingly touching on a show that doesn’t often take itself so seriously.

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04: Lexie Grey

Series: Grey’s Anatomy
Played By: Chyler Leigh
This is the death that got the entire internet in an uproar. People loved Lexie and were heartbroken that her character was so suddenly and unexpectedly gone. We all knew some characters – main characters – were going to be taking their last breaths but no one thought it would be Lexie. The backlash against the show was immediate and furious but creator, Shondra Rimes, stuck to her guns, insisting Lexie’s death had been the right move for the show and for Chyler Leigh. Was it true? Fans weren’t appeased but the death doesn’t seem to have had a hugely negative impact on the show’s ratings so I suppose the gamble paid off.

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03: Rita Morgan and Maria LeGuerta

Series: Dexter
Played By: Julie Benz (Rita) and Lauren Velez (Maria)
There is little argument about this one. Rita Morgan’s death was definitely one of the most shocking television deaths of all time, certainly the most shocking Dexter death to date. I’m quite certain the show will never be able to top that, short of killing off Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) or Dexter himself (Michael C. Hall). I have to say though, killing off Maria LeGuerta, especially at the hands of Debra, comes pretty damn close. Both deaths came in the final moments of their respective season finales and both deaths left me with my jaw on the floor long after the episode ended. I have no idea where the show will go next season but one thing is certain, Dexter isn’t afraid to make bold moves and kill off major characters. Perhaps Debra isn’t as safe as I think she is.

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02: Ned Stark

Series: Game of Thrones
Played By: Sean Bean
I can honestly say, I didn’t see this one coming – not even a little bit. This was, by far, one of the most shocking television deaths of all time. If you hadn’t yet learned that Game of Thrones meant business, the death of Ned Stark definitely showed you that it did. The idea that a character that seemed so integral to what the show was all about could be killed off so suddenly was absolutely jaw dropping. I would like to say more about this one but really, all this time later, I’m still at a loss for words over this one.

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01: Marvin Eriksen Sr. (Marshall’s Dad)

Series: How I Met Your Mother
Played By: Bill Fagerbakke
Some of you may be surprised to see this death ranked so highly on my list but for me, it was the single most shocking, most realistic television death in history. This is the way it really is. You’re going about your business and everything is fine and suddenly you get news that someone you love dearly is gone. When Bad News (season 6, episode 13) began, we all knew something was going on. There was a fairly obvious countdown running throughout the episode and clearly that countdown was leading to something big. Some thought it may have been Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) finding out they were having a baby and that seemed to be confirmed as a cab pulled up and Lily rushed out to meet Marshall. As the episode title tells us though, she did not come baring good news and one of my most devastating moments in sitcom history played out before us as the episode ended.

Honorable Mentions

Alan Ruck, Sutton Foster, Kelly Bishop in a scene from Bunheads. Photo by Randy Holmes for Disney Enterprises Inc.
Alan Ruck, Sutton Foster, Kelly Bishop in a scene from Bunheads. Photo by Randy Holmes for Disney Enterprises Inc.

I’m not really going to get into details on the honorable mentions because, quite honestly, this article has already far exceeded the 1,000 words I was intending it to be and I sincerely doubt a whole lot of people are reading the descriptions anyway. There is one honorable mention death I really wanted to include on the above list but just didn’t have room. It was the last death cut off the list and it caused me a great deal of stress. That death is Hubbell Flower (Alan Ruck) from the brilliant ballerina based series, Bunheads. Hubbell is set up to be a main character in the series but he doesn’t even make it through the pilot. Honestly, I wasn’t sold on the pilot right up until that final twist. Hubbell is dead and his brand new wife, Vegas showgirl, Michelle Simms (Sutton Foster) is suddenly not just widowed but also stuck in a small town where she knows no one aside from her mother-in-law; an eccentric dance teacher named Fanny (Kelly Bishop). Killing off Hubbell at the end of the very first episode was a surprising way to kick off the show, to put it mildly. If this had been a top 20 list, Hubbell’s death would’ve certainly been on here, along with some of the other deaths on our honorable mentions list below.

Teri Bauer  (Leslie Hope) – 24
Jenna Sommers (Sara Canning) – The Vampire Diaries
Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg) – Seinfeld
Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) – E.R.
Dee Dualla (Kandyse McClure) – Battlestar Galactica 
Adriana Le Cerva (Drea de Matteo) – The Sopranos
Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) – The Wire
Terry Crowley (Reed Diamond) – The Shield


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