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How could they?! The 10 most shocking recent TV character deaths

No character is safe. With today’s TV dramas, we imagine every actor gets their weekly script and reads anxiously in hopes that their demise isn’t penned on page five. The worry is real, because these days, sudden character death happens more often than not. And you’ve got to admit, it makes for compelling, edge-of-your-seat TV. Sometimes the death is expected, but often we’re taken completely off guard, either by the death itself, or the manner by which the character meets their end.

Here are 10 of the most shocking TV kill-offs that had viewers reeling in their couches. Oh, and just in case: major spoilers ahead.

Zoe Barnes, House of Cards

Zoe Barnes's death - House of cards

Blink and you might have missed it. One moment reporter Zoe Barnes (played by Kate Mara) is standing on a subway platform with then house majority whip, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and the next thing we know, she’s she’s midair, staring down the business end of an oncoming train. Time to frantically hit the rewind button – did we really just see that? Surely, this must be a dream sequence. No one saw it coming.

Rita Bennett (Morgan), Dexter

Dexter: Rita's death

So sweet, so innocent, so naive. We had chills for weeks following the dramatic scene when Dexter arrives home to see his wife, Rita, (played by Julie Benz) soaking in a pool of her own blood in the bathtub, eyes open displaying her final submission. The character’s surprising death was compounded by its method: vengefully at the hands of the Trinity Killer (played wonderfully by John Lithgow) in his signature fashion. The scene plays into a deeper facet of the storyline as the it is set up to bring back awful memories of Dexter’s own mother’s death. To say this moment was shocking would be a gross understatement.

Shane Walsh, The Walking Dead

The walking dead: Shane's final scene

The lead villain in a show usually lasts at least a few seasons, because he or she can really bring the tension, and people love back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse games. So viewers were bamboozled when The Walking Dead let Shane (Jon Bernthal) – the key antagonist – die in the second season of the show. His death, however, was an important one, as it was the first to let viewers (and cast members!) know that no one was off limits. Still, that didn’t make it any less troubling.

Opie Winston, Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy Harry 'Opie' Winston Death Scene Opie Killed Season 5, Ep. 3 "Laying Pipe"

Viewers were riddled with shock and disappointment when Opie (played by Ryan Hurst), a loyal member of the Sons of Anarchy and long-time best friend of club President Jax Teller, was not just killed, but brutally dispatched in the show’s fifth season. Even worse is that he sacrificed himself to save his brothers, who are also forced to watch him get bludgeoned to death with a lead pipe. And as if that weren’t enough, his death is preceded by that of his sweet and innocent wife, who was accidentally shot dead in a car after an attempted hit on Opie. It’s not surprising that show creator Kurt Sutter had to respond to a number of “Nooo! Why Opie!” inquiries following the fateful episode.

Lizzie Samuels, The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead Carol Kills Lizzie HD

It’s the death that sparked plenty of controversy, and an unlimited number of Internet memes that gave a whole new meaning to the four words “look at the flowers.” After displaying clear signs of severe mental illness, including murdering her own little sister, Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) meets her fate in front of the flowers, as Carol reluctantly executes the girl for the greater good of the rest of the survivors. Up until the last minute, we weren’t sure if Carol could go through with it. And the fact she did (while uttering those four words) makes it all the more disturbing.

Dr. Derek Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy

Greys Anatomy 11x21 Derek Shepherd Heartbreaking Death Scene

As the most recent shocking television death, Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), leading man of the popular ABC show for more than a decade, meets his demise after a truck pummels his car. Jabbing the knife deeper into viewers’ hearts, just before the accident, Shepherd had finished coming to the aid of victims in another car accident. Creator Shonda Rhimes twists the knife deeper by making us watch his wife pull the plug to the soundtrack of Snow Patrol’s How to Save a Life. How cruel.

Eddard Stark, Game of Thrones

Eddard Stark's Death - Game Of Thrones

“Ned,” as he’s known to friends and family – played by Sean Bean – is an honourable lord. Surely, he can’t be killed, right? Wrong. In the first season, viewers are roped into the uncertainty of the show after he is executed at the hands of King Joffrey. This program meant business right out of the gate. Nothing and no one is off limits.

Charlie Pace, LOST

Lost: The death of Charlie Pace

As one of the first shows to popularize the idea of killing off main characters, many of the LOST deaths shocked viewers. But one of its saddest – even though we sort of knew it was coming – was that of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan.) After realizing that death was looming at his door, and escaping it a number of times, Charlie knew his time would arrive soon. And viewers knew, too. But it was still unsettling when the show actually followed through with it. Surely, he’ll be saved at the last moment, right? Nope. Sigh. Goodbye, Charlie.

Adriana La Cerva, The Sopranos

Sopranos - Adriana La Cerva - The Cat

She was the perfect girlfriend for Tony Soprano’s protégé Christopher Moltisanti. But Adriana (played by Drea de Matteo) meets her ultimate demise after she reveals having been forced into becoming an FBI informant, and is taken into the woods to be, er, taken care of. We guess karma was at work, since the drug-addicted Christopher eventually ends up meeting his maker at the hands (literally) of Tony, too.

Tara Knowles, Sons of Anarchy

sons of anarchy tara death scene

Typical of the FX series, this second entry certainly came as a surprise to viewers, but more troubling was the way it happened. Not only is Tara (Maggie Siff) the beloved wife of the troubled biker clan President Jax killed, but the act is committed by his drunk mother Gemma who wrongfully believes Tara is about to sell her son out. And how she does it is absolutely appalling, having undoubtedly left viewers with jaws agape long after the dreaded episode ended. RIP, Tara.

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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