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They’re alive! The best TV death fake-outs totally had us fooled

Did they die, or didn’t they? Cliffhangers are common in our favorite television shows — sometimes literally — often leaving a popular character in peril and the show’s audience desperate to know the character’s fate. Did he really just breathe his last breath? Did she just utter her last line? Is any of this actually going to stick in the next episode?

While killing off a character is relatively common, perhaps just as common are shows that let us think a character is going to bite the big one, only to bring them back for all the Disney-esque feels. We’ve rounded up some of the best (or most annoying, depending on how you look at it) character death fake-outs to date. Note: Major spoilers ahead, so read on at your own risk!

Jon Snow – Game of Thrones

jon snow hbo

In what is arguably the most dramatic example in recent years, GoT fans could talk about nothing but the tragic presumed death of character Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in season 5, as Snow was seen lying in the snow, cold as ice, after having been stabbed multiple times. The show’s producers went to great lengths to pull off the hoax, with Harrington all but pinky swearing his character wouldn’t be back. Nonetheless, as many fans suspected, he wasn’t dead — not for long, at least. In season 6, Snow opened his eyes and gasped for air, having magically come back to life thanks to a resurrection ritual from the Red Priestess as part of an apparent ancient prophecy. Frankly, after so many heroes lost, we’re not sure how the show could have gone on without him.

Glenn Rhee – The Walking Dead

glenn rhee the walking dead

This “death” scene had many a fan gasping in horror for many episodes to come as we waited to find out Glenn’s (Steven Yeun’s) fate after season 6’s third episode. The original cast member and fan favorite fell beneath his colleague Nicholas, who had just shot himself in the head, and the scene ended with walkers feasting on flesh as Glenn writhed in agony. After a sufficient grieving period, we discovered that it was Nicholas’ flesh and innards that had been devoured by the walkers, as he acted as a shield for Glenn, giving him just enough time to scoot under a dumpster and hide out until the coast was clear.

John Locke – LOST

john locke lost

This one’s particularly confusing, since John (Terry O’Quinn) was (sort of) dead, but also sort of not. At first, he was murdered, and his body was transported in a coffin by plane. But then he showed up back on the island again.  Huh? So was he really dead? It was The Man in Black (also the Smoke Monster) that took on the form of John’s body. But even he/it was eventually killed. In the flash sideways, meanwhile, John was technically dead but, well, alive, in the afterlife. Do you follow? Welcome to the weirdness of Lost.

Sara Tancredi  Prison Break

Sara Tancredi Prison Break

Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) came close to death many times throughout the series’ run, but the craziest fake-out came in season 3, when she was apparently decapitated, and her head delivered in true “what’s in the box” fashion a la the Brad Pitt thriller Seven. But when season four debuted, we discovered that the noggin in the box actually wasn’t hers, but rather an impostor sent by the murderer to fool her foes and gain leverage.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil  The Defenders

matt murdock as daredevil in the defenders

We thought Marvel character Daredevil (Charlie Cox) died inside a crumbling building at the end of this superhero team-up series (well, sort of, anyway). But lo and behold, he somehow made it out and found his way to some nuns, including presumably his mother, Maggie, who cared for him. As many predicted, the fake-out was used to begin the Born Again story arc from the comics for season 3, whereby Matt goes into hiding.

Tara Thornton  True Blood

tara thornton true blood

We thought we’d seen the last of Tara (Rutina Wesley), best friend to Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse character, in the fifth season. Of course, a series about death-defying vampires always has an opportunity to bring people back. She was indeed “spared” by being turned. She was eventually killed (again) in season 7, but continued to appear as a ghost and in flashbacks.

Buffy – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

buffy the vampire slayer
Warner Brothers / WB/Fox

Surely no one believed that this series could have gone on without the title character. But indeed, the show attempted a death fake-out by killing Buffy off at the end of the fifth season, only to have her resurrected in her coffin — by magic, of course — when the sixth season commenced. She did remain “dead” for a good five months.

Bobby Ewing – Dallas

bobby ewing dallas

This is an oldie but a goodie, thanks to the hilarious nature of the situation. When Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing, left the show, they killed the character in a car accident at the end of season 8. But at the end of season 9, they found a creative way to bring him back: Just pretend everything from that season was all an elaborate dream! His return was marked by the famous shower scene, when his wife walks in on him lathering up and he acts as though everything is hunky dory.

Fox Mulder – The X Files

fox mulder the x files

Remember that time in season 7 when Mulder (David Duchovny) was apparently abducted by aliens and died? Yeah, most viewers didn’t buy it. Nonetheless, after Scully identified his body and a funeral was held, we found out in the season 8 episode DeadAlive that he was never actually dead. They exhumed his body, and whaddaya know, weak vital signs. Phew!

Kenny McCormick – South Park

kenny south park
Comedy Central

Oh my God, they really killed Kenny! After being “killed” off at the end of virtually every episode of the animated series as a recurring gag, fans were led to believe that Kenny, voiced by Matt Stone, was finally going to be killed off for good in season 5. Replacements were auditioned, including Butters and Tweak, but after plenty of experimentation, Kenny reappeared in season 6, again acting as if his demise had never happened. He now only “dies” once in a while.

Starbuck  Battlestar Galactica

starbuck battlestar galactica
Sci-Fi / Sci-Fi

While viewers thought Viper pilot Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) died when her ship exploded in the third season, she somehow reappeared minus some of her cockiness in the season finale, much to everyone’s shock, with her Viper in perfect condition as well. Was she an angel? One of the walking dead? Most annoying about the resurrection is that this was all left purposefully vague, so we’ll never really know.

Delphine Cormier  Orphan Black

delphine cormier orphan black
BBC America

Gone for many episodes, viewers were led to believe that the beautiful and smart scientist Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest in an underground parking lot in the series’ third season. Except she wasn’t killed after all, reappearing in the fifth season on a secret island where she was working on a cure to save the clones, particularly her love, Cosima.

Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead

rick grimes the walking dead

The most recent high-profile death fake-out to hit the small screen, Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) departure from the series was highly publicized. Even up to the final minutes of the episode, we were led to believe that the character sacrificed himself to save his crew. But no! OK, so he did attempt to sacrifice himself, but managed to survive, and was swept off to safety in a helicopter. While Rick is gone from the series, the character will appear in three spinoff TV movies that will presumably show another side of the apocalypse that involves those mysterious people in helicopters that Jadis has been working with.

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