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13 shocking and brutal TV character deaths that still haunt us

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The deaths of major characters are nothing new in television, but they can still pack a punch for devoted fans.

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Whether it’s death by sword, gunshot, zombie, or even — in one of this year’s most memorable exits — by faulty Crock-Pot, TV history is filled with shocking deaths that shook audiences to their core and remained conversation topics long after the characters’ exits. In many cases, the characters don’t even need to meet their end on-screen for the moment to resonate days and even seasons later.

Here are 13 TV character deaths over the last decade that likely still send shivers down your spine.

Warning: Major spoilers ahead, including newer episodes from The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, HomelandSons of Anarchy, This Is Us, and The 100, as well as older moments from Mad Men24, Lost, Dexter, House of Cards, Lost and The Sopranos. Read on at your own risk.

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson, ‘This Is Us’

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Everyone knew it was coming due to the premise of the series and a heap of foreshadowing ahead of the fateful episode, but the circumstances surrounding Jack Pearson’s death weren’t revealed until audiences watched every painful second unfold. That such a beloved character could be killed by something as simple as a faulty Crock-Pot — or more specifically, the smoke caused by a fire the Crock-Pot ignited — made it that much more tragic. Fans’ grief in the episode’s aftermath even prompted Ventimiglia to issue a public apology to Crock-Pot.

Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee, ‘The Walking Dead’

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Let’s get one of the freshest (and possibly most brutal) deaths out of the way first, shall we? Sure, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) was killed in the same brutal way, with a barbed-wire bat bashing in his skull. But Glenn’s death was by far the more devastating, not only for the manner in which it happened (his skull was visibly caved), but also for the fact that he left a sick and pregnant wife behind to grieve. That’s not to mention the fact that he was one of the last remaining original characters and the moral center of the group. RIP, sweet pizza delivery boy.

Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell, ‘Game of Thrones’

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Wife of both King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) and King Tommen Baratheon (not at the same time), and short-lived queen of Westeros, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) was a major political player for several seasons of the immensely popular HBO series. But viewers were left stunned when she was burned alive by the wildfire that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) set upon the Great Sept of Baelor. Her death was so devastating for her third husband, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), that he kills himself after seeing the sept burn.

Jared Harris as Lane Pryce, ‘Mad Men’

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The death scene was quick – the men walk into the office to find their financial officer and partner hanging in his office, unable to live with himself after some shady embezzlement. On his desk is his letter of resignation, digging the knife in even deeper. Knowing how his now-widowed wife would suffer, and seeing the grief (and guilt) in everyone’s eyes was enough to make the suicide scene a powerful one.

Julie Benz as Rita Bennett, ‘Dexter’

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So sweet, so innocent, so naive. We had chills for weeks following the dramatic scene when Dexter arrived home to see his wife, Rita (played by Julie Benz), soaking in a pool of her own blood in the bathtub, Rita’s open eyes 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 played into a deeper facet of the storyline, as it was set up to bring back awful memories of Dexter’s own mother’s death. To say this moment was shocking would be an understatement.

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Lexa, ‘The 100’

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There was much debate over the shocking death of Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) in The CW’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama. Her death stirred controversy, not only because many fans felt she was one of the more complex and interesting characters on the show (it was her, after all, who brought the 12 clans together to fight Mount Weather), but also because she was a lesbian. Many felt the death reinforced the idea that shows always “bury the gays,” and hers was one of many recent LGBT character deaths from both that show and others. Truthfully, Lexa was likely killed off simply because Debnam-Carey could no longer play the role due to her obligations with AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. Many fans were so outraged that they pledged to stop watching The 100 altogether and flip to Fear the Walking Dead instead. Needless to say, the death was a truly sad one for fans. Making it worse, her death was accidental, caused by a stray bullet.

Leslie Hope as Teri Bauer, ’24’

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Teri’s death was the catalyst that turned Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) into even more of a badass Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent than he already was. She only appeared in the first season of the Fox show as Jack’s wife, but her death set the stage for what was to come. Jack finds her slumped over a chair, dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach, and carries her away in his arms. The death led to Jack leaving the CTU, getting addicted to heroin, and becoming estranged from his teenage daughter. The aftereffects were felt long after Teri was gone.

Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, ‘Homeland’

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A USMC sergeant, Nicholas (Damian Lewis) was a hero after he survived being held as a prisoner of war by al-Qaeda terrorists for eight years. But had he actually become one of them? Well, sort of. Despite conflicting feelings over whether to go through with several suicide attacks, he gets blamed anyway when 200 people die from a bomb that was hidden in his car. After fleeing the country, escaping death on several occasions, and indulging in drugs, Nick simply couldn’t hide from the reaper anymore. He ended up caught and hanged in public after being found guilty of treason, leaving his unborn child behind. He did appear, however, in the fourth season of the Showtime series as part of a hallucination.

Brighton Sharbino as Lizzie Samuels, ‘The Walking Dead’

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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. The fact that she did (while uttering those four words) made it all the more disturbing.

Drea de Matteo as Adriana La Cerva, ‘The Sopranos’

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She was the perfect girlfriend for Tony Soprano’s protégé Christopher Moltisanti. But Adriana (played by Drea de Matteo) met her ultimate demise after she revealed that she had become an FBI informant. In true gangster form, she was taken into the woods to be, er, taken care of. After crawling away in sheer panic, she was unable to outrun Silvio’s (Steven Van Zandt) bullets.

Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’

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Ned, as he’s known to friends and family .was an honorable lord. Surely, he wouldn’t die in the first season, right? Wrong. Viewers were intoduced to the uncertainty that defines the Game of Thrones after he is executed at the behest of King Joffrey. This program meant business right out of the gate. Nothing and no one was off limits.

Maggie Siff as Tara Knowles, ‘Sons of Anarchy’

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Typical of the FX series, this death certainly came as a surprise to viewers, but more troubling was the way it happened. Not only was the beloved wife of 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, by repeatedly stabbing Tara in the head, was absolutely appalling. There’s no doubt that it left viewers with jaws agape long after the dreaded episode ended.

Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes, ‘House of Cards’

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Blink and you might have missed it. One moment reporter Zoe Barnes is standing on a subway platform with then-House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and the next 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?

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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