TV Character Deaths We're Still Not Over

By Thom AlvarezLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:26:46 PM ET
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The line between fantasy and reality can blur a great deal for fans of popular TV shows. Once you fall in love with your fictional favorites, you can’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to them, but the writers don’t always listen to fan preferences.

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Some deaths are so shocking — Ned Stark, anyone? — they continue to send painful stabs to the heart years after the show has ended. Here are 30 TV character deaths we’re still not over. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Zeek Braverman, ‘Parenthood’

Maybe Zeek Braverman (Craig T. Nelson) had his flaws, but the patriarch of the Braverman family on the popular family drama Parenthood proved he was still a loving and caring father. He wanted the best for his family, and it came as a shock to many fans when Zeek died during the drama’s series finale in 2015.

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Photo Courtesy: Justin Lubin/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Zeek succumbed to his failing heart in the end, and even though his death happened off-screen, fans won’t forget his final line, spoken to his wife: "Boy, we did good, didn’t we, Camille?" While Zeek’s death in the finale was depressing, fans are comforted knowing he was satisfied with his life.

Mr. Hooper, ‘Sesame Street’

Sometimes, a show doesn’t choose to kill a popular character. Instead, the actor who portrays the character dies, and producers have to make a hard choice: replace the role with another actor or kill off the character. When actor Will Lee died in 1982, producers of Sesame Street decided to deal with the death of his character, Mr. Hooper, on the show.

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They didn’t avoid the subject and used the opportunity to educate children that death is a natural part of life. It happens to everyone, even your favorite people on television. Mr. Hooper’s death was certainly sad, but it was also one of the proudest moments in television history.

Michael Cordero, ‘Jane the Virgin’

Just when you think Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) can finally be happy, life changes. On Jane the Virgin, it looked like Jane and Michael Cordero (Brian Dier) would live happily ever after during their season two wedding. Unfortunately, Michael was shot, and although he didn’t die right away, he later died from complications resulting from the gunshot. His collapse left fans aching from the sadness. Could it actually be true?

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Some viewers remained in denial, hoping it was a nightmare, but Jane eventually accepted his death and her life as a widow. That meant fans also had to accept the fact that Michael was really dead — at least until the final season. In true telenovela style, the writers resurrected Michael with an outrageous storyline.

Teri Bauer, ‘24’

Some television shows work hard to wake up viewers and make them realize they’re not messing around — they’re serious dramas. That’s what happened during the season one finale of 24, in which Jack Bauer’s (Kiefer Sutherland) wife, Teri (Leslie Hope), died tragically. No one saw it coming.

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Viewers had to watch in agony as Jack rushed to his beloved wife — after leaving her with a person he believed was a trusted friend — only to find her slumped over in a chair, dead from a gunshot wound. Jack (and millions of fans) cried as he held Teri’s lifeless body, constantly repeating he was sorry for letting her down. It’s an image no fan will ever forget.

Ned Stark, ‘Game of Thrones’

Fans could provide a never ending list of upsetting deaths on the epic HBO series Game of Thrones. The show is famous for its brutal deaths, but none was quite as shocking as the first major death in the first season: the show’s main character — up to that point — Ned Stark (Sean Bean).

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Everyone’s favorite warden of the north was beheaded at the order of perhaps the most hated character through all the seasons: Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Fans were shocked at the death, even those who knew what happened in the books. It didn’t matter if you knew the death was coming. It was still traumatizing to watch.

Jack Pearson, ‘This Is Us’

From the early days of the hit NBC series This Is Us, viewers knew the Pearson family patriarch, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), had passed away sometime before the show started. However, how he died was a big unanswered question. They finally got their answer in a successful post-Super Bowl episode in the show’s second season.

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Jack woke up to the smell of smoke and rescued his family (including their dog) from their burning house. Unfortunately, he inhaled too much smoke and went into cardiac arrest. It was a heartbreaking moment, knowing Jack died a hero. For fans, there weren’t enough tissues to soak up their tears.

Keith Scott, ‘One Tree Hill’

The popular 2000s teen drama One Tree Hill may have focused on the teenagers of Tree Hill, North Carolina, but there was one shining adult star that tugged on everyone’s heartstrings: Keith Scott (Craig Sheffer). He was a father figure to Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) and a hopeless romantic to Lucas’s mother, Karen (Moira Kelly).

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Keith tragically died in the show’s third season in one of the most pivotal episodes. His brother, Dan Scott (Paul Johansson), took revenge on his brother by shooting him in the famous school shooting episode. Fans were heartbroken, and everyone agreed that Keith Scott deserved better.

Rita Morgan, ‘Dexter’

For fans of Dexter, Rita Morgan’s (Julie Benz) death was a smack in the face. During season four, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) begged his wife to leave early for their honeymoon in order for her to escape the season’s Big Bad, the Trinity Killer. She agreed, but after Dexter killed Trinity, he returned home to find a voice message from Rita.

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Instead of leaving for their honeymoon, she rushed back home to pick up her forgotten ID. When Dexter heard the voice message, he knew something was wrong. He later found Rita’s lifeless body lying in a blood-filled bathtub. He was clearly devastated, as was everyone else who watched the shocking episode.

Dr. Romano, ‘ER’

Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) probably wasn’t the most popular personality on ER, but his ultimate death left fans gasping. First, he suffered immense pain in the show’s ninth season when a helicopter outlandishly severed his arm. Fans were shocked and thought things couldn't get any worse for the character.

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However, in the show's 10th season, another helicopter accident caused a chain of events that ultimately killed the famous doctor. Shards of metal flew as Romano tried to run to safety, but he didn’t escape death a second time, and many fans were supremely frustrated after the episode aired. Most complaints focused on the coincidence of his demise. It was a moment not soon forgotten.

Omar Little, ‘The Wire’

The Wire involved many bloody deaths, but none of them were as shocking and frightening as the random death of Omar Little (Michael K. Williams). For five seasons, Omar ruled the mean streets of Baltimore. He was invincible; no one could defeat him. Of course, there was always risk related to his job, so it was probably only a matter of time before his time ran out.

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He was eventually shot in the back of the head, not by a gangbanger or a policeman, but by the young drug dealer Kenard (Thuliso Dingwall). Omar Little was supposed to survive anything, so watching his surprising death left many fans heartbroken for weeks.

Matthew Crawley, ‘Downton Abbey’

No one expected Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) to die on the popular British drama Downton Abbey. He was a beloved character, so maybe fans should have known better. After all, favorite characters often die tragically. In the final moments of the show’s third season, Matthew’s wife, Mary (Michelle Dockery), had just given birth to their son, and he headed home to tell his family the happy news.

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If you’ve watched a lot of TV, you know that when a character drives somewhere in a season finale, you should be on the edge of your seat. Matthew, who had survived World War I and Spanish influenza, was happy to finally be a father when a truck struck his vehicle. He laid under his car with blood pouring down his face, and viewers were devastated. Most still aren’t ready to say goodbye to Matthew.

Jin and Sun Kwon, ‘Lost’

It’s hard to pick a tragic death from Lost when the show had so many shocking deaths. However, one of the most devastating moments was the joint death of Jin and Sun Kwon. The couple had just reunited and promised never to leave each other — ever. When characters make promises like that, it’s a sign to be concerned about their fates. You can probably expect at least one of them to die.

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When Sun (Yunjin Kim) got stuck inside a submarine following an explosion, Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) gave Jack (Matthew Fox) his oxygen tank and vowed to stay with the love of his life. Sun begged Jin to save himself, but he refused to budge. They drowned together, holding hands, and everyone cried watching their deaths.

Chet Hunter, ‘Boy Meets World’

Sometimes a character doesn’t have to be in a main role for his or her death to affect everyone. That’s what happened on Boy Meets World with Chet Hunter (Blake Clark), who visited his sons, Shawn (Rider Strong) and Jack (Matthew Lawrence), during the show’s sixth season to confront his issues. He decided to stay with them so they could finally be a family.

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However, that didn’t happen. Chet had a sudden heart attack and passed away, leaving Shawn and Jack without a father once again. Viewers were devastated by the episode, as their hearts broke for Shawn and Jack. They deserved a father, and just when they finally had one, he passed away. It’s an episode many fans will never forget.

Will Gardner, ‘The Good Wife’

Will Gardner (Josh Charles) was considered by most fans to be the male lead of The Good Wife. He was named partner at the law firm and managed to woo Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) into giving their love story — from college — another chance. In one of the most shocking episodes on the show — and in TV history — Will was shot when his mentally distraught client grabbed a courtroom cop’s weapon and initiated a panicked shootout.

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When Will stepped in, he took a bullet to the neck, and fans couldn’t believe it. He later died at the hospital, and everyone was devastated to lose their favorite lawyer.

George O'Malley, ‘Grey's Anatomy’

You could put together another giant list of pivotal deaths from the popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, but possibly the most devastating death occurred in the show’s fifth season when fans were distracted by the possibility of losing Izzie (Katherine Heigl) to cancer and losing George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) to the Army. Fans didn’t see it coming when the unidentifiable patient hit by a bus turned out to be George.

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Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) finally made the connection between John Doe and George when he wrote "007" (his nickname) on her palm. Fans were devastated in the final scene when the elevator doors opened to the afterlife, revealing George had died.

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William Hill, ‘This Is Us’

Even though you saw it coming, William Hill’s (Ron Cephas Jones) death on This is Us was still devastating. William, AKA Shakespeare, became a crucial character in the show’s first season, but viewers knew he had cancer from the beginning. He reconnected with his son, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), just in time to make peace before his death.

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The father-son duo went on a road trip to Memphis so William could show off his hometown, and Williams said his final farewell there with Randall by his side. In his final scenes, Randall placed his hands on both sides of William’s head and told him to "breathe with me." William breathed with his son until he passed away, and fans couldn’t stop crying.

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Jack Thornton, ‘When Calls the Heart’

It was supposed to be happily ever after for Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing) and Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow) on the popular Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart. They had just gotten married in the show’s fifth season, but tragedy struck in the season finale when Jack, the handsome Canadian Mountie, was killed while trying to save the lives of several recruits.

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It was a blow to everyone, including the fans. Viewers had to watch as Elizabeth learned her beloved husband died just weeks after their happy nuptials. It was an episode no one expected, and many viewers say the show hasn’t been the same since the death.

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Joyce Summers, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t a stranger to death, but the majority of the deaths were from ghouls or beasts. Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), suffered a different death — a brain aneurysm. It was devastating to watch every character react to the death —Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) vomiting on the floor, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) collapsing and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) panicking over not knowing what to wear to the hospital.

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This episode was one of the first to remind Buffy (and viewers) that the fantasy world doesn’t escape real-life tragedies. Buffy’s mother died out of the blue, leaving everyone devastated by one of the best — but most emotional — episodes in television history.

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Jen Lindley, ‘Dawson's Creek’

Everyone was happy when they found out during the series finale of Dawson’s Creek — thanks to the show’s five-year flash forward — that Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) became a mother. That was great news, but the show couldn’t possibly end there. It’s a drama, after all.

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The show had to go on to destroy viewers’ hearts by revealing that Jen died of an undiagnosed heart condition. It was an unexpected, unfortunate death that was made even more gut-wrenching by Jen’s tearful recorded video message taped for her daughter before she passed away. Fans wanted Jen to have a happy ending. She did get to have a daughter, but it’s extremely sad she didn’t get to watch her daughter grow up.

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Dan Conner, ‘Roseanne’

In the original series finale of Roseanne, Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) revealed that the whole series was a book she had written based on her life, although she had made some changes throughout the show. What did she change? Roseanne shocked viewers by revealing Dan Conner (John Goodman) actually died from his heart attack at the end of the show’s eighth season.

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No one expected this news. How could Dan Conner have died a season prior to the finale? How could he have died at all? It was upsetting news, and no one knew how to process the information. However, when the Roseanne reboot premiered in 2018, Goodman returned to his role as the Conner family patriarch. Fans were confused, especially when the show didn’t address his previously revealed death.

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Rayna James, ‘Nashville’

Fans of CMT’s Nashville were shocked when the show’s main character, Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), tragically died from complications following a car accident. She had just survived an attack by her stalker when the police car she was in was hit by another vehicle. She made it to the hospital, and it looked like she would survive — but then things took a drastic turn.

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Rayna died, leaving both her husband, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), and fans devastated for weeks. They were unsure how the show could continue without Rayna, but Britton had decided it was time to move on. Hopefully, she didn't regret her decision as much as fans regretted it.

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Lori Grimes, ‘The Walking Dead’

When you’re watching a television show focused on post-apocalyptic, zombie-infected America, you should expect some tragic deaths. Sadly, Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) had one of the most tragic deaths in television history. Pregnant, she started having contractions inside an abandoned prison. Her daughter had to be delivered via C-section, and Lori didn’t survive the blood loss without medical attention.

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Fans shed more than a few tears for Lori when she ultimately sacrificed herself to save her daughter. What made the episode even more emotional was that Lori’s older son stayed behind to shoot her afterward so she wouldn’t turn into a zombie. It was an episode fans certainly didn’t expect.

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Lane Pryce, ‘Mad Men’

Mad Men is a series that didn’t seem to have many consequences, but that changed with the death of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). The British partner at the agency racked up a huge amount of debt and finally lost control, mistakenly forging Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) signature on a business check.

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He knew this was a serious error, and viewers wondered how he would deal with the complications. However, no one thought Lane would painfully hang himself inside his office late at night. It was a shocking, devastating death that certainly raised awareness for suicide prevention.

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Adriana La Cerva, ‘The Sopranos’

It’s hard to leave the mob and escape death, and The Sopranos’ Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) learned this lesson the hard way. Viewers and characters on the show were surprised to find out Adriana had been working as an informant for the FBI. Not surprisingly, Tony (James Gandolfini) ordered her execution.

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Adriana had no idea her death was coming when Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) took her for a drive. At that point, viewers knew what was about to happen. Adriana thought she was going to see Christopher (Michael Imperioli). Instead, Silvio suddenly shot her. It was shocking for her and for fans who still loved her — even if she was a traitor.

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Dolores Landingham, ‘The West Wing’

No one wanted to see Dolores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) die on The West Wing, but her death was very ironic. She had just bought her very first new car when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The president’s personal secretary was driving to the White House to show President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (Martin Sheen) her new car.

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Unfortunately, she never made it to her destination. Viewers loved the wisecracking, nurturing Dolores. No one understood her quite the same way as President Bartlet, and her loss was devastating on the show. People still remember her death to this day.

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Bob Newby, ‘Stranger Things’

Netflix’s popular science-fiction drama Stranger Things has had many deaths, including season one’s Barb. Fans called for justice for her death, but it’s really Bob Newby’s death from season two that deserves justice. Bob (Sean Astin) was the romantic partner of Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), and fans fell in love with his nerdy, good-humored behavior.

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So when he was tragically killed by a gang of Demodogs (baby Demogorgons) toward the end of season two, jaws dropped on every viewer. No one was expecting that to happen. Bob made Joyce happy, and she suddenly had that ripped away from her, just when he was about to run into her arms.

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Edith Bunker, ‘Archie Bunker's Place’

Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) became a beloved television show character in the 1970’s sitcom All in the Family. When it was announced she tragically suffered a stroke in her sleep prior to the spinoff, Archie Bunker’s Place, fans were devastated. Archie (Carroll O'Connor) finally broke down, expressing his emotions in a poignant speech.

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Archie unforgettably said, "It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be the first one to go. I always used to kid you about you going first. You know I never meant none of that, and that morning when yous was laying there. I was shaking you and yelling at you to go down and fix my breakfast. I didn’t know. You had no right to leave me that way, without giving me just one more chance to say I love you." Cue the tears.

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Derek Shepherd, ‘Grey's Anatomy’

Fans couldn’t imagine Grey’s Anatomy without Derek Shepherd, AKA Dr. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey). After 11 seasons of watching Derek and Meredith’s (Ellen Pompeo) relationship blossom and grow, Derek tragically died following complications from a car accident. He survived at the scene, but the hospital he was taken to wasn’t fully equipped to treat the trauma.

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Derek knew what needed to be done to save him, but as the patient, he was helpless. This was the harshest part of the story for many fans. He was pronounced brain dead, and Meredith had to ultimately pull the plug, telling him it was okay. Fans were heartbroken to lose Derek, but the show had to go on. Characters still continue to remember Derek’s motto: "It’s a beautiful day to save lives."

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James Evans, ‘Good Times’

James Evans’ (John Amos) death on the 1970’s sitcom Good Times was one of the most devastating, shocking deaths in television history. It occurred out of the blue, without any warning at all. Who could forget the scene when Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) read the telegram telling her James had been killed in a tragic car crash?

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Photo Courtesy: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Everyone went from celebrating and happy one moment to utterly devastated. Florida was a widow, and no one had a chance to say goodbye to James. In a time when killing huge characters wasn’t yet the norm, fans were shocked and couldn’t process the news. One of their favorite characters was dead. How could they move on from that?

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Lt. Col. Henry Blake, ‘M*A*S*H’

The death of Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) on M*A*S*H is perhaps the most shocking, unannounced death in television history. His death has remained an iconic moment in television writing. He was finally on his way home, but the plane taking him back to the United States was shot down.

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Photo Courtesy: CBS/IMDb

His death was announced to the hospital staff by Radar (Gary Burghoff): "Lt. Colonel Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors." Instead of reacting to the news, hospital staff had to continue working. His death reminded viewers that M*A*S*H was still a show about war. It was a hard reminder, but it’s an episode fans still remember more than 40 years later.

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Susan Ross, ‘Seinfeld’

In an unexpected move from the show about nothing, Seinfeld famously killed off Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg), George Costanza’s (Jason Alexander) fiancée. Susan first appeared in season four’s “The Pitch” as an NBC exec. 

Susan
Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures Television/NBC/IMDb

After dating Susan on and off, George proposes to her in season seven. But as the wedding nears, George feels trapped and tries to sabotage their relationship. In the season finale, Susan suddenly dies after licking the poor quality (and toxic) wedding invitations George purchased. It’s rare that a show plays a character’s death for laughs, but yada yada yada — it worked.

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Nate Fisher, ‘Six Feet Under’

For a show that opens every episode with an unusual death, this HBO drama about a family-run funeral home sure knew how to pack a punch when toying with the fates of its main characters. After returning home for his father’s funeral, Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) helps maintain the family business for a time.

Hbo Six Feet
Photo Courtesy: HBO/IMDb

Early on, Nate escapes death several times. But a few episodes before the series finale, he suffers a brain hemorrhage. After a seeming recovery, Nate dies unexpectedly in the hospital, his brother asleep by his side. Most devastating of all, his mom Ruth (Frances Conroy) is on a camping trip and can’t be reached.

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Poussey Washington, ‘Orange is the New Black’

In season four of Orange is the New Black, several characters, including Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) and her best friend Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks), engage in a peaceful protest in the prison cafeteria. While trying to de-escalate a situation that erupts, Poussey is restrained and subsequently suffocated by a correctional officer.

Orange
Photo Courtesy: Netflix/IMDb

Taystee pushes through the crowd, curls up next to Poussey and sobs. Heartbreaking and shocking, Poussey’s death underscored the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and cast a spotlight on police brutality. After the series finale, Orange launched a criminal justice reform fund named after Poussey.

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Tara Maclay, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

If you’ve ever heard of the “Bury Your Gays” trope, you probably know that the shocking death of fan favorite Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) is a prime example of the cliche. Before the death in question, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was lauded for featuring a queer relationship between witches-turned-lovers Tara and Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan).

Buffy
Photo Courtesy: 20th Television/The WB/IMDb

After Tara and Willow (finally) get back together, Tara is hit by a stray bullet meant for Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). So stray that it just comes through the bedroom window. Tara’s blood splatters on Willow and her last lines are “Your shirt?” As a result, Willow goes all vengeful-dark-witch. (Big mood.)

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Siobhan Sadler, ‘Orphan Black’

Portrayed by Maria Doyle Kennedy, Siobhan Sadler — or simply, Mrs. S — was the foster mother of protagonist and clone Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris). Mrs. S’s allegiances are clouded by her mysterious past at first, but it becomes clear that she cares for her foster kids and granddaughter more than anything.

Siobhan
Photo Courtesy: @Iilithsternin/Twitter

That’s why it would’ve been just great to see this battle-hardened character live happily-ever-after with her family. However, after obtaining a paper trail that’ll bring down the big bads, Siobhan goes down in a fire fight. Bleeding out, Mrs. S clutches a photo of Sarah and Felix, whispering her pet name for them — “chickens” — with her final breath.

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