In most cases, the main characters of a television series are meant to give the story a notion of stability, ushering audiences through the events of each season. However, some series prefer to completely subvert this trope, killing off main characters in shocking twists that change the storyline forever.
Even more heartbreaking, some series can’t even wait until its first season has aired before spilling a main character’s blood. As such, there are several instances wherein a popular TV show has callously killed off one of its principal characters in its earliest episodes.
10 The Ninth Doctor (Doctor Who)
Doctor Who broke the audience’s hearts early on in its rebooted run, which kicked off with Christopher Eccleston’s memorable turn as the Ninth Doctor. Eccleston brought a renewed energy to a character who had remained dormant for over a decade, making it all the more tragic when his incarnation was killed off at the end of the first season, leading to David Tennant’s beloved tenure as the Tenth Doctor.
After defeating the Daleks in the season finale of the rebooted series, the Ninth Doctor sacrificed his own life to save his companion, Rose Tyler, who herself was dying after being exposed to a time vortex. The Ninth Doctor lived long enough to bid farewell to Rose before regenerating, marking the final time that Eccleston would ever play the character in live-action.
9 Dino Ortolani (Oz)
The HBO prison drama Oz pulled a bait-and-switch on audiences in its first episode, presenting Jon Seda’s inmate Dino Ortolani as its protagonist. The pilot was largely centered around Dino as a character until his sudden death at the end of the episode proved that the story had never been about him at all.
At the end of Oz‘s pilot episode, several of Dino’s enemies take revenge on him after he kills another inmate. Dino is beaten, drugged, and set on fire, finally burning to death at the end of the episode. Ultimately, Dino was not Oz‘s main protagonist, but his death would spark many of the events that transpired in later episodes.
8 Roseanne Conner (Roseanne)
After remaining a staple of the sitcom genre in the ’80s and ’90s, Roseanne returned to television with Roseanne Barr returning as the eponymous character. Her return was short-lived, however, after Barr came under fire for controversial tweets, leading her to be killed off after only one season of her rebooted series.
Roseanne Conner is killed offscreen in between the first and second seasons of the series, eventually revealed to have suffered an opioid overdose. Roseanne’s problematic exit from her own show led to the series being rebranded as The Conners, which is currently in its fifth season.
7 Teri Bauer (24)
24 changed television forever with its action-packed real-time story, led by Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. While Jack has been the de facto protagonist of 24 since its inception, the series has also seen several other main cast members come and go throughout the years. Among these was Teri Bauer, Jack’s wife, who unfortunately didn’t survive the events of 24‘s first season.
Leslie Hope’s character seemed likely to survive the events of Day 1, given her close connection to Jack Bauer, but 24 quickly pulled the rug out from audiences when she was shot and killed by Nina Myers. Teri’s premature death marked a turning point in the series, leaving Jack to avenge his fallen wife in future episodes.
6 Helen Flynn (Spooks)
Spooks followed several British intelligence agents as they fought various threats to their country. Among these agents was Junior Case Officer Helen Flynn, played by Lisa Faulkner, who served as one of the primary characters in the show’s first few episodes. Helen was quite unexpectedly killed off, however, in the unforgettable second episode of Season 1.
Helen received a particularly gruesome death at the hands of the ruthless killer Robert Osborne, who angrily dips her face in a boiling hot deep fryer when her partner refuses to give him the information he wants. Helen was eventually shot by Osborne, marking a surprisingly heinous death that came incredibly early in Spooks‘ run.
5 Allen Francis Doyle (Angel)
Allen Francis Doyle was a character created for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series Angel. He served as a major character in the spinoff’s first episodes, gaining popularity as a member of Angel’s team. However, it was always the writers’ intention to kill Doyle off in the first season, a plan which came to fruition in Episode 9, entitled “Hero.”
Doyle died while turning off the Beacon, a device meant to wipe out any and all human DNA. The energy output from the Beacon was enough to kill Doyle, but not before he passed on his power of precognition to Cordelia through a kiss. It is possible that Doyle would have returned in future seasons, but the actor, Glenn Quinn, unfortunately passed away before any such plans could come to fruition.
4 Amberle Elessedil (The Shannara Chronicles)
Notable for featuring an early appearance from Elvis actor Austin Butler, The Shannara Chronicles followed a group of heroes who set out on a journey to protect a sacred tree from a horde of evil demons. Among these main heroes was Amberle Elessedil, an elf princess who sacrificed herself at the end of the first season.
In the midst of a battle with the demons, Amberle reveals that she has become the seed for a new sacred Ellcrys tree. Sacrificing her own lifeforce, Amberle is transformed into the new Ellcrys tree, vanquishing the demons and saving the day. The Shannara Chronicles would continue for one additional season after her death.
3 Paul Hennessey (8 Simple Rules)
8 Simple Rules was a 2002 comedy series centered around the Hennessy family and its patriarch, Paul, who was portrayed by John Ritter. The series was a generally upbeat sitcom, earning it a second-season renewal. Unfortunately, Ritter’s character would not be present therein.
Shortly after the series was renewed for a second season, John Ritter died quite suddenly, putting the show in a very precarious situation. Eventually, 8 Simple Rules did return, explaining that Paul had died suddenly offscreen. The series would deal with the aftereffects of both Ritter’s and Paul’s death throughout its final two seasons.
2 Ned Stark (Game Of Thrones)
The first season of Game of Thrones largely revolved around Sean Bean’s character, Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. However, Ned Stark made some very bad decisions in the first episodes of the series, crossing several dangerous individuals after the death of King Robert Baratheon. This led to the character’s shocking death in the penultimate episode of the season, entitled “Baelor.”
After being betrayed to the Lannisters by Littlefinger, Ned was sentenced to public execution in the town square. With his two daughters, Arya and Sansa, looking on, Ned was beheaded in front of a crowd of spectators that had been led to believe that he had betrayed his king and country. This shocking moment changed Game of Thrones forever, signaling to audiences that no character was ever truly safe.
1 Viserys Targaryen (House Of The Dragon)
Set two centuries before the events of Game of Thrones, the prequel spinoff House of the Dragon truly followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, leaving no character safe from an untimely death. Although the series was clearly setting Princess Rhaenyra up as its protagonist, Paddy Considine’s King Viserys Targaryen retained top billing throughout the first season until his death in the eighth episode.
The first episodes of House of the Dragon revealed that Viserys struggled with an unknown medical condition that would surely end his life eventually. After suffering for decades, Viserys eventually succumbed to the disease, which had left him little more than a husk of a man. In his dying breaths, however, Viserys accidentally sparked the beginnings of a war between his own house and the Hightowers.
NEXT: 15 TV Shows That Lied To Their Audience
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