The Saddest TV Deaths of All Time

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Richard Evans
·8 min read
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Sure, we know they're not real people, but the characters on our favorite TV shows start to feel like real-life friends after awhile. That's why it's so devastating when we're abruptly forced to say goodbye. Characters dying on TV shows can be powerful and even cathartic, not to mention the way it raises the stakes and propels the plot forward—but that doesn't mean it's not also deeply upsetting. At the risk of opening old wounds, here's our look back at the saddest TV deaths of all time. Read on to see if your pick made the cut, but be warned, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead. And for more fictional deaths we're not over, revisit The Saddest Movie Deaths of All Time.

1

Lexie Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

Of all the deaths on Grey's Anatomy—and there have been so many, including as recently as this month—Lexie Grey's demise still hits the hardest. Maybe it's Meredith's gutted reaction, maybe it's Mark refusing to let go of her hand, or maybe we'd just grown especially fond of Little Grey over the years.

2

Jack Pearson, This Is Us

After a season-and-a-half of teasing us with the promised reveal of how Jack died, This Is Us saved the gut punch for a post-Super Bowl episode, in which Jack escaped the fire fans had assumed killed him—only to die from cardiac arrest shortly thereafter. Way to keep us guessing. And crying.

3

Glenn Rhee, The Walking Dead

The cruelty of Glenn's brutal death on The Walking Dead is that the character had just recovered from a close call the prior season, and the show killed off Abraham first, making viewers think that Glenn was safe. The sadistic way this murder of a beloved character played out was enough to make some fans quit the series for good.

4

Will Gardner, The Good Wife

Somehow everyone managed to keep the secret that Josh Charles would be leaving The Good Wife midseason, making his death that much more shocking. The burst of violence when his client opened fire in a courtroom was already surprising, but the reveal of his body truly took the audience's breath away. And for relationship enders that were less permanent, check out The Most Heartbreaking TV Breakups of All Time.

5

Poussey Washington, Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black fans weren't the only ones upset by Poussey's death: Her accidental suffocation by a CO during a peaceful demonstration is one of the major inciting incidents for the prison riot that takes place over the subsequent season. In real life, the show launched a criminal justice reform fund in Poussey's name.

6

Lady Sybil Crawley, Downton Abbey

Complications from childbirth are very real, and they were even more of a problem in the 1920s. It's certainly not unbelievable that Sybil would die after giving birth, but for Downtown Abbey fans who had come to love the character, this plot development felt a little like a betrayal nonetheless.

7

Lucy Knight, ER

ER was influenced by the medical dramas that came before it and proved hugely influential on those that followed. The character surviving a tragedy only to die from complications shortly thereafter—like poor Lucy Knight—has become something of a staple, and also pops up on several non-medical dramas on this very list.

8

Finn Hudson, Glee

The real-life death of Cory Monteith had to be addressed on Glee, which devoted an entire tribute episode to the character of Finn and the actor who portrayed him. Viewers never learned how Finn died, but that didn't matter—what did were the heartbreaking performances from Finn's friends, who also happened to be Monteith's. And for more moments that made us cry, these are The Saddest TV Episodes of All Time.

9

Mrs. Landingham, The West Wing

The rules of dramatic irony suggest that you should never agree to a future conversation with someone, and you should never make note of picking up your first new car, unless you are prepared to get into a fatal collision in said new car before the conversation can ever happen. Mrs. Landingham learned this lesson the hard way.

10

Lane Pryce, Mad Men

Unlike other prestige dramas we could name—including a few on this list—Mad Men didn't really traffic in character death. That's what made Lane Pryce's abrupt exit so shocking, and so upsetting. While his despair had been evident for some time, it still felt sudden, and left those around him (and the viewers) reeling.

11

Sun-Hwa Kwon and Jin-Soo Kwon, Lost

How do pick the saddest character death on Lost, which had killed off every character by the series finale. (Literally! Turns out the final season was everyone in purgatory.) You have to go with your gut, and ours says that nothing hit harder than Jin and Sun drowning together after deciding they couldn't bear to be apart. And for more contentious closers, check out The Most Hated TV Finales of All Time.

12

Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Tara's shocking death on Buffy the Vampire Slayer sent shockwaves through the climax of the season, as her girlfriend Willow went full-blown dark in search of vengeance. The controversial choice to kill off one of the show's few queer characters, immediately after she'd reunited with Willow, was made all the more painful by the fact that actor Amber Benson had been added to the opening credits just for her final episode.

13

Gary Shepherd, thirtysomething

In the early '90s, TV characters didn't drop dead with quite the frequency they do now. Gary's sudden death in a car accident was a true shock to the system, especially since thirtysomething fans had been primed for the death of Nancy, who was battling ovarian cancer, instead.

14

Rayna James, Nashville

Connie Britton's decision to leave Nashville before the series' conclusion meant that her star character, Rayna James, needed a dramatic sendoff. That came in the form of her death, which follows a familiar pattern on this list of the saddest TV demises: car accident, complications after she seemed to survive. And for more entertainment content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

15

Hodor, Game of Thrones

As with Lost, the body count on Game of Thrones was exceptionally high. But that doesn't mean certain deaths don't stand out. Hodor's may not have been the most shocking—that would be Ned's in Season 1, or Season 3's gruesome Red Wedding—but it was the most poignant. He died saving Bran, who (we learned) had inadvertently wrecked Hodor's mind and reduced him to one nonsense word decades prior.

16

Tara Knowles, Sons of Anarchy

The violence of Tara's death made it that much harder for viewers to endure. Sons of Anarchy fans had come to appreciate Tara as something of a moral compass for Jax—her murder at the hands of Jax's mother pulled the rug out from under him, and set the stage for the remainder of the series. And for more shocking moments, revisit these 17 TV Plot Twists That Completely Blew Our Minds.

17

Lance Sweets, Bones

John Patrick Daley has become a successful director over the years, but unfortunately, that meant his character on Bones needed to make an exit. Sweets is shot and killed in the Season 10 premiere, delivering some iconic parting words: "The world is a lot better than you think it is."

18

Rita Morgan, Dexter

The tragedy of Rita's death is that Dexter seems to win—he dispatches the Trinity Killer and should have been able to save Rita in time. But his wife and the mother of his child, one of Dexter's few tethers to the world, had been murdered long before his final confrontation with her killer. The reveal is gutting. And for more romances that ended in tragedy, check out The Most Heartbreaking Movie Couples of All Time.

19

J.T. Yorke, Degrassi: The Next Generation

Over the course of six seasons on Degrassi: The Next Generation, J.T. went from annoying kid to—dare we say it—mature and compassionate young adult. His stabbing and subsequent death was tremendously upsetting, a shocking moment even for a teen series that had made a name for itself as a show that was willing to "go there."

20

Bellamy Blake, The 100

Bellamy made it so close to the end on The 100 that we didn't really see his death coming—and we certainly couldn't have predicted that it would come at the hands of Clarke, who not only killed Bellamy but also any hope Bellarke shippers had that those crazy kids would one day make it work.

21

Sarah Lynn, BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman had plenty of rock bottoms, but none were lower than his bender with his former child co-star Sarah Lynn, culminating in her death. On a series that never shied away from darkness, Sarah Lynn's overdose still felt particularly bleak, an unpleasant reminder of the swath of destruction in BoJack's wake. And for more Netflix series worth watching, here are 16 Netflix Shows You Can Watch From Start to Finish This Weekend.