The 20 most heartbreaking TV show deaths of all time

HBOTV has seen many fallen heroes.
  • If you’ve been grieving the loss of a TV character for the past few years, you’re not alone.
  • Shows across all genres kill off characters we’ve come to know and love.
  • While some are more of a shock, and others we’ve clearly seen coming, they all hurt the same.

Television writers are masterful creatures. They write these complex characters, make us fall madly in love with them, and then kill them right there in front of us.

Through the years we’ve seen some of our favourite characters – who, let’s be honest, are essentially real people to us – walk both onto and off of the silver screen. When their storylines come to a tragic end, we grieve for them as if we’ve lost one of our dear friends. Then there are the times we’ve sobbed unexpectedly at deaths we didn’t think would affect us at all, probably because the character was a less-than-stellar human being. Alas, there we are, eyeballs glued to the screen, tissues glued to our eyeballs.

Whether you’ve felt heartbreak in real life or not, you’ve definitely felt it from the comfort of your couch – or bathtub, or bedroom, or wherever it is you consume television. And if you haven’t – well, first of all, I don’t believe you – here are 20 of the most heartbreaking deaths on TV for you to check out in no particular order.

Spoiler alert: If you’re years behind on TV, you may want to turn back now.


Derek Shepherd of “Grey’s Anatomy” died on season 11, episode 21.

ABC

Patrick Dempsey’s character — also nicknamed McDreamy — died after saving the lives of a family out on a scenic road. His car got hit by a truck and he was taken to a small hospital nearby where, in classic TV irony, the only person who could have saved him was himself.

ABC

The episode shows his wife, Dr. Meredith Grey, at the hospital with him, grieving and telling him it’s OK for him to “go.” Viewers around the nation sobbed as they mourned the 11-season love story that finally came to an end.


George O’Malley of “Grey’s Anatomy” died on season five, episode 24.


The dying character played by T.R. Knight started the episode as an unidentified patient — he was hit by a bus and dragged for blocks. Viewers found out it was George just as the other characters did when he wrote “007” on Dr. Grey’s hand.


The heartbreak and devastation carried over into season six, which opened with Dr. O’Malley’s funeral.


Lexie Grey of “Grey’s Anatomy” died on season eight, episode 24.


On the unforgettable season eight finale, members of the surgical team were on a plane that crashed in Idaho. Lexie was crushed under a piece of the plane and died in the forest from a number of injuries.

ABC

Her last words were “Meant to be,” repeating Dr. Mark Sloan’s words to her as he held her hand and talked about their amazing future together. Their love affair began on season five and they were off-again-on-again ever since.

ABC

Mark Sloan of “Grey’s Anatomy” died on season nine, episode one.

ABC

One episode after Lexie’s death, Mark died as well. The season nine premiere showed McSteamy — that was his nickname because, well, look at him — on life support. A monitor showed his decreasing vitals until … “beeeeep” … he’s gone.

ABC

Watching Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Callie Torres break down, it’s near impossible not to shed a tear with them.


Teri Bauer of “24” died on season one, episode 24.


The first season of “24” is a saga of kidnappings, murders, and attempts at framing various characters for different things. Ultimately, during the season finale, Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer finds his wife dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach.


Viewers were so happy to see Jack finally reunited with his wife, so when it was revealed that he found her lifelessly strapped to a chair, the death was all the more heartbreaking.

24/Fox screencap via Amazon Prime

Joyce Summers of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” died on season five, episode 16.


On this episode, Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, comes home to find her mother cold and unresponsive on the couch. She goes through a series of emotions and reactions as she tries to deal with the situation, and the audience goes through all of them with her.


“The Atlantic” called this “Buffy’s best episode,” because of the way it tackled the raw emotion and the real-time reactions of adolescents to death.

Source: The Atlantic


Rita Morgan of “Dexter” died on season four, episode 12.

Showtime/IMDb

The death of Julie Benz’s character came as a shock to her TV husband Dexter, a serial killer played by Michael C. Hall. On the episode, he had found and killed an enemy of his, and decided the love he had for his family outweighed his need to kill others.

Showtime

He returned home to find Arthur — the enemy — had gotten to his family before Dexter got to him. The destruction of this new leaf Dexter wanted to turn makes this a heart-crushing death on so many levels.


Ellie Harp of “One Tree Hill” died on season three, episode 13.


In the same vein as “Buffy,” when Peyton walks into her birth mother’s home and finds her dead, lying among her music collection and listening to her favourite song, she completely breaks down. It’s another raw moment from a high schooler that goes on to resonate with young hearts across the country dealing with grief themselves.


Lori Grimes of “The Walking Dead” died on season three, episode four.


Lori, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, died from complications during childbirth. While that is undeniably heartbreaking on its own, the real tearjerker here is that her son Carl had to shoot her to prevent her from becoming a zombie.


Denny Duquette of “Grey’s Anatomy” died on season two, episode 27.

ABC

Denny was a patient at Seattle Grace Hospital. He and Dr. Izzie Stevens, played by Katherine Heigl, fell in love — which lead Izzie to do some unethical things to keep him alive — and they got engaged.

Buena Vista Television

She cut his LVAD wire, which moved him to the top of the transplant list. But as fate would have it, Denny died anyway after his body rejected the transplanted organ. It’s hard not to break down right alongside Izzie in this one.


Eddard “Ned” Stark of “Game of Thrones” died on season one, episode nine.

HBO

Ned discovered King Joffrey wasn’t actually an heir to the throne. He was betrayed by his friends — the people he thought were his friends — and was beheaded by the order of the king.

HBO

Ned was a storyline hero and the favourite character of so many viewers who were truly devastated to see him go. What made this even more devastating was that his daughter Sansa watched his public beheading from the crowd.

HBO

Read more on “Game of Thrones” deaths here.


Jen Lindley of “Dawson’s Creek” died on the series finale.

CW/’Dawson’s Creek’

The final episode brought on nostalgia through flashbacks and un-aired versions of the show. Michelle Williams’ character suffered from a fatal heart condition — she died and left behind a video for her daughter, who was then raised by Jack.


Wallace of “The Wire” died on season one, episode 12.


Michael B Jordan’s character was a young drug dealer, but he also took care of children and seemed to have a heart of gold. He was shot and killed by his friends after deciding to leave the dealing life behind and going to the cops about it. It was beyond difficult for viewers to watch the young kid beg for his life.


Nick Brody of “Homeland” died on season three, episode 12.

Showtime

Producers had said from the beginning their plan was to kill Damian Lewis’s character at some point, but it was the kind of thing fans just didn’t want to believe. His public hanging came as a shock to many, and watching Claire Danes’s character Carrie witness it added to the pile of emotions.


Marissa Cooper of “The O.C” died on season three, episode 25.

Fox

The season three finale was the end of the road for Mischa Barton’s character. After being hit by a drunk driver — who was actually competing for her love — she and Ryan Atwood, played by Benjamin McKenzie, were driven off the road, landing upside down.


Their epic love story came to an end as Ryan cradled Marissa in his arms, telling her she was going to be OK.


Keith Scott of “One Tree Hill” died on season three, episode 16.


Keith died at the hands of his younger brother Dan during a shooting at Tree Hill High School. Dan let everyone believe the shooter — a student who actually didn’t kill anyone aside from himself — was the one who killed Keith.


The cold-blooded family betrayal, loss of a storyline hero, and subsequent grieving from every single character on the show makes this not only heartbreaking, but unbelievable as well.


Will Gardner of “The Good Wife” died on season five, episode 15.


Fans were distraught after the show’s male lead was shot and killed in the courtroom. Just hours before he died, Josh Charles’s character had called Alicia Florrick, — they had a complicated relationship to say the least — but she never found out why.


On the following episode, Alicia, played by Julianna Margulies, imagined him apologizing and asking for them to be together. That’s one heartbreakingly unresolved ending.


Dolores Landingham of “The West Wing” died on season two, episode 21.


As his father’s former secretary, Mrs. Landingham had been a loyal supporter of President Jed Bartlet since he was a child — always keeping him grounded. Kathryn Joosten’s character was on the way to the White House to show the president her new car when she was in a fatal crash.


Lt. Col Henry Blake of “M*A*S*H” died on season three, episode 24.


McLean Stevenson’s character had finally been discharged from the army and was on his way home. Before he could get there, his plane was shot down in the Sea of Japan.


If you’re a fan of the show, you know that this one stung. It was extremely rare for main characters on a show to be killed off in a way that hit home for so many people at the time.

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