Spoiler alert! This article is going to contain spoilers for This Is Us and 17 other major TV show deaths.
featured a death that was inevitable from the character’s first appearance on the show. Just like in real life, however, there’s no amount of preparing that can make it easier to go through such a loss. This Is Us
This Is Us prepped us last week when William ( Ron Cephas Jones) started getting his energy back. They said this is a normal side effect of ending chemotherapy, but ending chemotherapy also means there aren’t drugs staving off cancer. William has terminal cancer, so it was only a matter of time. So Randall’s ( Sterling K. Brown) road trip with his estranged biological father proved to be their final moments.
The mortality rate for television characters has increased dramatically in the last two decades. Really, since cable shows broke the mold, no one is safe. The good ones are able to make viewers mourn for fictional characters. When it’s just a publicity stunt or a blatant contract termination, it doesn’t hurt quite as bad.
Real-life losses like
John Ritter ( 8 Simple Rules) and Phil Hartman ( NewsRadio) — and now Bill Paxton, who was starring in CBS series Training Day when he died February 25 — are a different sort of heartrending tragedy.
Here are 17 more of most heartbreaking TV deaths of the last 20 years. Fictional characters only.
Want to argue for a more heartbreaking death? Tell us in the comments below.
Laurel Lance – Arrow This most certainly was NOT in the comics! She’s back now so that softens the blow a little bit, but Katie Cassidy’s goodbye episode of Arrow was brutal. Sent to the hospital after fighting Damin Darhk (Neal McDonough), the doctors made us think she was going to be okay before then flatlining her!
Adriana La Cerva – The Sopranos When a family member cooperates with the FBI, there’s really only one thing for a Soprano to do about it. That didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to Drea de Mattteo when Sylvio drove her out to the woods and chased her through the forest.
Rayna Jaymes – Nashville This is still so fresh. What a week for TV deaths, first William and then Rayna (Connie Britton). After an automobile accident, Rayna passed away in the hospital. Britton said she was ready to move on from Nashville. It’s still sad to see an exit so permanent, but Britton’s heartfelt thank you note to all the fans and her colleagues jerked even more tears.
Will Gardner – The Good Wife Josh Charles left the show in season five and The Good Wife would continue another two years. Being a TV drama, Will Gardner didn’t just move to another city. He was shot to death by his own client in the courtroom.
Maude Flanders – The Simpsons Bleeding Gums Murphy misses the 20 years cutoff for this list but Maude Flanders still affects The Simpsons. She fell from the top of the bleachers after being shot with a T-shirt cannon. That’s funny, but the show took Ned Flanders’ mourning seriously and stuck to Ned being a widower.
Matthew Crowley – Downton Abbey Mainly just because it was Dan Stevens and who would ever want to say goodbye to Dan Stevens? Times were tough in 1920s and cars didn’t have the sort of seatbelt and airbag technology we take for granted today. It didn’t even take texting and driving to cause Matthew’s fatal accident. He was just so happy to be a father he took his eyes off the road to appreciate nature. Always watch the road, kids.
Glenn Rhee – The Walking Dead On a show where anyone but Rick (Andrew Lincoln) could go at any time, The Walking Dead really had to psyche people out when a main character like Glenn (Steven Yeun) was done for. First they made everyone think Glenn died in a walker horde, but then he made it out. Only later, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) beat him beyond recognition as he called out to Maggie with his last words.
Sara Tancredi – Prison Break You didn’t think we forgot about Sarah Wayne Callies, did you? Perhaps her death in The Walking Dead was foretold, but on Prison Break it was her head in a box! Fortunately, fans demanded her return so she came back and she’s in the new Fox reboot, but for season three it sure felt permanent.
Denny Duquette – Grey’s Anatomy This was a real gut punch because the whole season, it looked like Izzie (Katherine Heigl) had done everything to save him, including violating protocol to get him a heart transplant. The transplant itself took, but Denny still died of a blood clot and stroke. The silver lining is this role made Jeffrey Dean Morgan a star.
Ned Stark – Game of Thrones It’s hard to get too emotional about a GOT death anymore, but this was the first and it was the one that told viewers anyone could die, even the freaking star of the show. And just when things were looking up for Sean Bean after famously dying in Goldeneye and Lord of the Rings too. For a while he had a meme going, #DontKillSeanBean.
Terri Bauer – 24 24 was a game changing show for executing its real time format an hour at a time for 24 hours, and showing the toll it takes on Jack, beginning with the loss of his wife (Leslie Hope).
Charlie Pace – Lost It’s hard to single out one death from Lost since the show was so good at making us attached to every character. In the end, it had to be Charlie sacrificing himself to warn Desmond it was NOT PENNY’S BOAT radioing the Oceanic survivors.
Curtis Lemansky – The Shield The clincher were Lem (Kenneth Johnson)’s last words. Starving from being on the run, Shane (Walton Goggins) handed him a sandwich and a hungry Lem said, “My favorite” before seeing the grenade drop beside him.
Lexa – The 100 Alycia Debnam-Carey became a series regular on Fear the Walking Dead so could no longer appear on The 100. Her death became a source of controversy, seen as yet another gay TV character punished for being in a healthy relationship (with Clarke). Lexa returned one last time in the City of Light helping Clarke fight A.L.I.E.
Wallace – The Wire Michael B. Jordan was only 15 when he played a teenage drug dealer on HBO’s landmark series The Wire. That made the stark reality of druglord Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) ordering his murder all the more tragic. When kids get in this deep, they can’t get out.
Rita Bennett/Morgan – Dexter Why didn’t Dexter (Michael C. Hall) kill Trinity (John Lithgow) sooner??? Once Trinity was onto Dexter, he knew how to hurt him. By the time Dexter finished him off, it was too late. Dexter came home to find Rita murdered in the bathtub previously by Trinity. This was the ultimate reminder that killing serial killers doesn’t make anything right. The victims they took away are still gone.
Joyce Summers – Buffy, The Vampire Slayer Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) herself came back to life twice, but her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) did not have magic to resurrect her. For all the supernatural demons and monsters on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Buffy spent one very real hour dealing with a loved one’s death.