(Spoiler Alert: Don’t read on if you don’t want to know who died on TV this year.)
This may have been the worst year ever for television deaths: Lead characters galore gave their final gasps, on shows from “Breaking Bad” to “Game of Thrones” to even the animated “Family Guy.”
We can’t remember a year with more rigor mortis. In a way, it’s a sign that TV is taking big creative risks: When a show demonstrates its willingness to kill major characters, there’s more drama the next time someone ends up in a bad situation.
Which doesn’t mean we didn’t spend a lot of time staring slackjawed at our screens this year. Here’s our look at the year’s biggest TV deaths.
The Starks, “Game of Thrones,” HBO
Cause of death: Murder by knives and bows
Eulogy: For those of us who hadn’t read the books and didn’t know what to expect, “The Red Wedding” episode was truly traumatic. One minute a party, the next a blood bath. We said goodbye to Robb Stark (Richard Madden), his wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin) and mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), as well as their soldiers. If ever there was a moment when we wished the show had veered from the books, this was it.
Clay Morrow, “Sons of Anarchy,” FX
Cause of death: Multiple gunshots
Eulogy: Yes, it was inevitable that Clay (Ron Perlman) would die, and soon. After being ousted as the leader of the SAMCRO motorcycle gang — sorry, club — he’d pretty much had a target on his back. But that didn’t make it any easier to watch him getting taken down execution-style as his successor, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), pumped him with lead. It was hard to watch Morrow’s calm resolve, the final, heartbreaking glance at Gemma (Katey Sagal), to pool of blood spreading across the floor. He had it coming, but it was nonetheless a brutal moment on a show that specializes in brutal moments.
Finn Hudson, “Glee,” Fox
Caused of death: Unknown
Eulogy: Forced by the real-life tragedy of Cory Monteith’s death, this passing was the year’s most heartbreaking. The 31-year-old died of a drug overdose on July 13, and the producers had to somehow explain the popular character’s absence. Finn Hudson’s cause of death was never explained. Instead, the “how” of Finn’s demise was purposely left out of “The Quarterback,” the tribute episode to Monteith’s character. The installment instead celebrated the 19-year-old character’s life, with on-screen friend and step-brother Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) even saying “Who cares?” as to the cause. “It’s one moment in his whole life,” he said.
Matthew Crawley, “Downton Abbey,” PBS
Cause of death: Car accident
Eulogy: The loss of Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) was quite enough for us. But, taking away Matthew (Dan Stevens) was more than we could take in one season. The actor wanted out, we get it. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t mourn the man we had come to respect as the head of the manor and the Crawleys’ biggest hope for a future. And, don’t get us started on how invested we became in his and Mary’s love affair, their marriage and finally their child. It just wasn’t right.
Joss Carter, “Person of Interest,” CBS
Cause of death: Bullet to the chest
Eulogy: Many fans were caught off guard with this one, as Taraji P. Henson‘s Detective Joss Carter was slain by Simmons as she attempted to protect Reese and herself. But for Henson, at least, it was no surprise — and she was actually looking forward to her character being offed. “I knew when I signed onto the project that the character would have a beginning, middle and end,” Henson told late-night talk-show host David Letterman. “I do more feature films, and television’s really not my thing … I thought it would be the perfect venue for me to do a television show and not be stuck for seven years.”
Deb Morgan, “Dexter,” Showtime
Cause of death: Taken off life support after gunshot wound
Eulogy: Did Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) finally pay the price for his life of serial killing serial killers? Nope, his poor sister did. Worse, not because Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) had to die, but because the series felt the need to do something big and dramatic for its final episode. Technically she was done in by a killer’s gunshot, and her brother taking her off life support. But really, she died of her TV show’s lack of inspiration.
Brian Griffin, “Family Guy,” Fox.
Cause of death: Hit by car
Eulogy: Is it weird to cry at the death of a cartoon dog in a comedy series? Don’t worry about it. Brian (Seth MacFarlane), the Griffin family dog on Fox’s “Family Guy,” was hit by a car and died from his injuries in a shocking episode. Mourn for him, yes — but that dog lived his 11 years. He drank hard, wrote two novels and hooked up with models. While bipedal and smarter than most characters on the show, Brian did his job as a true best friend to both Peter and Stewie. It was a tearful animated goodbye; Brian was truly irreplaceable to the Griffin clan. Oh wait, he was immediately replaced by new dog, Vinnie (Tony Sirico). Since the bipedal pooch’s death, a Change.org petition to bring him back quickly reached 5,000 signatures.
Walter White, “Breaking Bad,” AMC
Cause of death: Gunshot
Eulogy: On any other show, the death of DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) would be a more than generous sacrifice to the gods of TV. But “Breaking Bad” doesn’t do half measures. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) died the perfect television death: He vanquished all his enemies, made sure his family was set for life, freed Jesse, and then collapsed in a Christ pose in a meth lab of his own perfect design. Now, this is how you die.
Richard Harrow, “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO
Cause of death: Gunshot
Eulogy: Harrow (Jack Huston) could have easily lived out his days on a farm in Wisconsin with his new wife and their adopted son. But the man with half a face went full bore to protect the boy. His plan required him to carry out one last job, which went horribly wrong: He failed to kill the bad guy and shot a good girl instead. “Boardwalk” creator Terence Winter told TheWrap that if Harrow hadn’t been hit in the ensuing shootout, he might have killed himself out of shame.
Andrea, Hershel and The Governor, “The Walking Dead,” AMC
Cause of death: Suicide after zombie bite, beheading, and stabbing/gunshot, respectively
Eulogies: Last season, Andrea (Laurie Holden) was locked in a room with a zombie. Once bitten, never shy, she did the honorable thing and killed herself before she could rise again. In this fall’s midseason finale, Hershel (Scott Wilson) was decapitated by The Governor (David Morrisey), who was then stabbed through the chest by Michonne and apparently shot by his girlfriend. He deserved it.
Steve Newlin, “True Blood,” HBO
Cause of death: Sunlight
Eulogy: Formerly anti-vampire Steve (Michael McMillian) was all about self-preservation, so his values changed after becoming a bloodsucker. He certainly relished his newfound strengths, but was quick to join whomever had the most power. For his lack of loyalty, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) took no pity on him and forced him to meet the sun. His last words were a tribute to the romance he will never have with Ryan Kwanten’s character: “I love you, Jason Stackhouse!”