Plot twists in TV shows keep audiences on their toes, waiting for the next episode or even the next season to see how their favorite characters roll with the punches coming from the writers’ room. Unfortunately, while some plot twists are surprising and exciting, others leave audiences slack-jawed and with tears in their eyes.
Tragic plot twists, like killing off beloved characters, often move TV plots forward more than any other. Many tragic plot twists are so memorable that they are the first plot twists that come to mind when thinking of a TV show. Many tragic plot twists that result in the death of a character are also the most divisive, splitting fanbases on whether or not they were the right direction for a show to lead. Regardless of whether they were the right decision, they make a mark in TV history every time they shock fans.
15 George O’Malley’s Death Blindsided Fans
Grey’s Anatomy is known for shocking fans by killing off beloved characters. One of the show’s earliest, most heart-wrenching twists sees one of the original five interns killed off much sooner than expected. In the Season 5 episode “Now or Never,” George O’Malley drops a bombshell on his friends and colleagues by joining the military with an imminent ship-out date, surprising viewers who had come to love the young surgeon.
When a “John Doe” is brought into the ER after being hit by a bus, panic ensues after he writes the number “007” on Meredith’s hand: George’s nickname. The fandom was completely blindsided and forced to deal with the death of such a beloved character. Unfortunately, he’s not the last to suffer such an unexpected fate in this show.
14 There Is A Secret Countdown To Marshall’s Father’s Death
How I Met Your Mother
One of How I Met Your Mother’s most iconic and memorable twists occurs in “Bad News.” In a turn of events that caught both the characters and the audience off guard, beloved side character Marshall learned that his father has died of a heart attack. This was even more tragic since Marshall had just received good news regarding his fertility.
This twist shocked actors Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan because the pair was kept in the dark about the death until the day of shooting. Their personalized scripts even had a different ending to the episode. Interestingly, there was a countdown hidden in ordinary objects from fifty to one throughout the episode, with Marshall hearing about his father’s death in front of a parking meter that said: “EXPIRED.”
13 Poussey Washington Is Killed During A Peaceful Protest In The Prison Cafeteria
Orange Is The New Black
Poussey Washington’s unpredictable Season 4 death in Orange is the New Black was so poignant that it directly affected the events of every subsequent season. According to show creator Jenji Kohan, several cast members were “outraged” to learn of her death following a peaceful protest in the prison cafeteria.
Poussey’s death is one of the most heartbreaking TV deaths in recent memory. To many fans, it felt like it came out of nowhere. Although surprising, this moment is unfortunately appropriate for Litchfield as well as real-life prison scenarios.
12 Walter White Lets Jane Asphyxiate On Her Own Vomit
In the widely acclaimed Breaking Bad episode “Phoenix,” fans were stunned upon seeing Walter White sit back and watch Jane suffocate on her vomit. He actively decides not to help her because her death would mean that he could control Jesse once again.
This death, while unforeseen, had significant plot relevance and won Bryan Cranston an Emmy for his performance. In his memoir, A Life in Parts, Cranston mentioned that he pictured his own daughter as Jane rather than her actor, Krysten Ritter. He further described the scene as “the most harrowing [thing he] did on Breaking Bad.”
11 Carl’s Death Was Nothing Less Than Out Of The Blue
The Walking Dead
Perhaps one of the most out-of-the-blue deaths in recent memory and certainly one of the most controversial was that of Carl Grimes. This Walking Dead Season 8 plot twist was deeply tragic, altering the paths of numerous characters on the show. When defending the new character Siddiq, Carl is bitten by a walker on the ribs and subsequently hides it until it’s too late.
As one of the most significant deviations from the comics, Carl’s death came as a shock to many. Many viewers feel that the choice to kill off Carl was a mistake, and if the nosedive in the show’s subsequent ratings is any indication, the fans may be right.
10 Joyce Summers Suddenly Dies After Recovering From Brain Surgery
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
“The Body” appears in Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is of the most critically acclaimed episodes in TV history. The episode opens with Buffy arriving home to find her mother, Joyce Summers, dead on the couch. This death comes out of nowhere as Joyce was recovering well from surgery for a brain tumor and had a budding love interest.
“The Body” explores the raw and visceral reactions that an unexpected death elicits, including an impressive performance from Anya Jenkins’ Emma Caulfield. Anya tearfully admits that she doesn’t know how to act and doesn’t understand why Joyce can’t return to her body. For a group of young people who deal with death often, Joyce’s death affects everyone involved deeply.
9 Saul Goodman Chooses Prison Over Freedom
Better Call Saul
Fans had been desperately hoping for Saul Goodman to escape his past, but Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul decided to take a rather different approach. Saul willingly renounces his criminal career by accepting all the terms of his sentencing, even if it means spending the next 87 years in prison.
That said, he only does this because he wants to see Kim Wexler again; in other words, Saul would have likely never returned to Albuquerque without Kim around. This conclusion wasn’t very pleasant, and many viewers would have preferred a nicer ending for Saul, but it just feels right.
8 Joffrey Baratheon Sentences Ned Stark To Death
Game Of Thrones
Ned Stark’s unexpected execution was the trigger that led Game of Thrones fans down the rabbit hole of constant death. Although the Red Wedding was indeed surprising, it would have been far more impactful if viewers hadn’t already been sitting on the edge of their seats.
When Ned Stark graciously accepts the Crown’s terms and brands himself a traitor, the King whimsically decides not to pardon him. Joffrey orders Ilyn Payne to execute Ned on the spot, prompting a shocked reaction from Cersei, Varys, Sansa, Arya, and every single member in the audience. Game of Thrones was never the same after this point.
7 Gi-Hun Identifies Il-Nam As The Overarching Mastermind
Hundreds of people sacrifice everything while participating in the titular games, including players such as Kang Sae-byeok, Ji-Yeong, and Abdul Ali. A seemingly frail old man named Oh Il-Nam slowly becomes one of the more lovable characters in Squid Game.
Fans were upset when Il-Nam was eliminated during the fourth game, especially after learning about his heartbreaking backstory. To everybody’s surprise, the old man turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole concept. What’s worse is that Oh Il-Nam reveals his deception while on his deathbed, so fans can’t even be mad at him.
6 Wanda Realizes That Her Happy Family Doesn’t Actually Exist
Wanda Maximoff has wanted nothing more than to start a family with Vision. And yet, she willingly kills her partner to prevent Thanos from extracting the Mind Gem. The Titan casually reverts Vision’s death using the Time Stone before killing him anyway. Wanda subsequently fabricates an alternate reality known as The Hex, where she recreates Vision and somehow has two children with him.
WandaVision fans began suspecting that something was wrong during the very first episode, but their fears were confirmed only after they learn about Wanda’s unconscious actions. This twist is tragic for everyone involved, but none more so than Wanda.
5 Eleanor Crain Turns Out To Be The Terrifying Bent-Neck Lady
The Haunting Of Hill House
Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is arguably one of the best horror miniseries out there. It chronicles the history of the Crain family, starting with their two-month stint in the macabre Hill House. Nell is constantly haunted by the Bent-Neck Lady, a nightmarish apparition that manifests long after the Crains leave the mansion.
Nell takes her own life in Hill House, but even this moment wasn’t half as devastating as the discovery that she had been the Bent-Neck Lady the whole time. Nell’s neck is snapped in half during the attempt, and the house somehow transports her to specific moments in time before she actually dies.
4 Dexter Can’t Save Rita
Rita Morgan was Dexter Morgan’s girlfriend and then wife for the first four seasons of Dexter. In the Season 4 finale, Rita was killed by Arthur Mitchell, though Dexter didn’t discover her until after he had killed Mitchell himself.
Producers of Dexter told The Getaway that Season 4 would end with a series-changing twist, which led to heavy speculation that a central member of the cast would be killed off. While many speculated that Rita might be killed off despite being alive and well in the Dexter novels, her death came as a shock to Benz and fans alike.
3 Rick Has No Choice But To Euthanize Sophia
The Walking Dead
Another deviation from its comic origins, The Walking Dead had one of its most heart-wrenching deaths in Season 2. After a harrowing search, it was discovered that Carol’s young daughter Sophia had been bitten and turned into a walker.
It was an emotionally wrought scene when it was revealed that Herschel had been keeping walkers in his barn, including Sophia, but it came to a head when Rick was forced to put Sophia out of her misery by shooting her. The moment was tragic for viewers, especially after the search had been coming up empty for so long, only for them to discover that she had been so close the whole time.
2 Derek Dies After Being Struck By A Semi-Truck
Derek Shepherd’s Season 11 accident on Grey’s Anatomy marks one of the TV show’s most surprising and heartbreaking deaths. When Derek is on his way to resign from the President’s brain-mapping program, he arrives at the scene of a motor vehicle accident and pulls over to help. Once the scene has been cleared, Shepherd pulls away and is hit by a semi-truck.
Patrick Dempsey had been the male lead of Grey’s since the show’s conception in 2005, so his abrupt death and departure from the show flummoxed fans. The twist led characters on new and exciting paths, but many Grey’s fans are willing to admit that they haven’t quite gotten over this death yet.
1 Glenn and Abraham Die At The Hands Of Negan
The Walking Dead
The Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead picked up on an excruciating cliffhanger that saw Negan deciding who he was going to kill with his famous baseball bat, Lucille. Ultimately, it would be Abraham Ford and Glenn Rhee, much to the viewers’ chagrin. This twist was jarring for fans, particularly because Glenn had been a fan-favorite since Season 1 thanks to Steven Yuen’s performance.
Despite this sudden twist, the show’s writers stayed true to the comic origins, with Glenn’s death being adapted faithfully. Abraham’s death in the source material, however, was not originally at the hands of Negan, but instead at the hands of Negan’s right-hand man, Dwight.
NEXT: 10 TV Shows That Were Canceled After Just One Episode
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