If there was one thing 2018 taught us, it’s that “shocking” is a truly relative term — and we’re not even talking about real-life instances here. Yes, it’s pretty hard to blow anyone’s mind these days, including that of TV viewers, making truly gasp-worthy small-screen character deaths few and far between. But that didn’t stop several showrunners from doing their worst — er, best, to totally kill you with these on-screen passings. Obviously, spoilers ahead.
Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) — “This Is Us”: We’ve known the Pearson family patriarch was going out long before the second season got around to showing how he died. The wham episode (which aired after the Super Bowl) packed a punch because of the twist that sees Jack of cardiac arrest due to smoke inhalation after a house fire the entire family manages to make it out of alive.
Kanan (50 Cent) — “Power”
Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) — “Fear the Walking Dead”: Madison’s death was one of several bombs the “Walking Dead” franchise dropped on fans this year. Dickens’ exit left fans in a zombie-like haze they had barely recovered from by the time Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes said farewell to the main series.
Agent Reeves (Duane Henry) — “NCIS”: Pauley Perrette’s planned exit was far less dramatic than Henry’s surprise goodbye in the same episode.
Many, many residents of Westworld — “Westworld”: Several characters on Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s HBO sci-fi series died on the Season 2 finale, including Bernard, Charlotte Hale, Elsie, Robert Ford, Dolores and Maeve — to name of a few of the many. The shocker here is the group is divided into those who stayed dead, didn’t stay dead, and may or may not still be dead.
Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) — “Star Trek: Discovery”: Dr. Culber’s death marked the passing of another small-screen LGBT characters death, made even more frustrating because the beloved doc was one half of “Star Trek’s” first gay couple on TV.
Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) — “Gotham”: Goodbye, Jerome. Hello, The Joker.
Alison (Ruth Wilson) — “The Affair”: Allison’s death at the end of Season 4 was a shock, but not as much of a shock as the behind-the-scenes story of Wilson’s exit. Read about that here.
Anika (Grace Byers) — “Empire”: The death of “Kitty Boo Boo” was clearly a long-time coming, as “Empire” co-creator Danny Strong told TheWrap, but knowing Anika had it coming didn’t help us contain our gasps during her Andre-assisted suicide.
David Rosen (Josh Malina) — “Scandal”: Truly the only real White Hat on the Shonda Rhimes political drama, David Rosen was never going to make it to the end of the series finale.
(Almost) everyone on Earth — “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”: This season was literally named after the end of the world, so it really would have been more shocking if no one died. Yes, pretty much everyone kicking the bucket (at one point or another) by the end of “AHS” Season 8 was expected. But the real “OMG!” for Ryan Murphy fans came when the clock was turned back and (mostly) everyone on the good side of the end-of-days battle was revived, thanks to Mallory (Billie Lourd).
So many Crains — “Haunting of Hill House”: Netflix’s TV adaptation of the horror novel of the same name is packed with tragic moment upon tragic moment for the Crain family, but the deaths of Nellie and Olivia cut deeper than anything else the show throws at you. Oh, and if you didn’t cry over Hugh’s sacrifice in the finale, then you are truly dead inside.
Bill (David Haig) — “Killing Eve”: It’s hard to say there’s anything about the Sandra Oh-led BBC America spy thriller’s first season that isn’t shocking. But Bill going out was, uh, definitely up there.
June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) — “Forever”: Basically the premise of the whole show is that they’re dead, but it was a secret. Surprise!
Martin Riggs (Clayne Crawford) — “Lethal Weapon”: Riggs’ death was definitely a kick in the head — in-universe, that is. Roger Murtaugh losing his partner suddenly would have hit fans harder if it wasn’t already very clear Fox was killing off Riggs before the Season 3 premiere even aired, due to on-set spats between Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford. Now that behind-the-scenes drama? Yeah, that was shocking.
Dede (Shelley Long) — “Modern Family”: The ABC sitcom teased a major character death leading up to its annual Halloween episode, and fulfilled that grim promise with the sudden passing of Mitch and Claire’s mother.
Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) — “House of Cards”: Doug outlived his idol, Frank Underwood, making it all the way to the end of the series before being taken out by Claire herself.
Jesus (Tom Payne) — “The Walking Dead”: Hardly the first death for the long-running AMC series, but definitely one of the hardest to hit fans so far.
Nick (Frank Dillane) — “Fear the Walking Dead”: Before Kim Dickens’ exit, Dillane was killed off the series and we thought we’d never recovery. Nick, one of the few remaining original characters, was shot in the chest by Charlie, sending us into tears for days. The death was made even more shocking by the fact that Dillane asked to be written off.
Eden (Sydney Sweeney) — “The Handmaid’s Tale”: Young, sweet Eden’s execution marks a turning point in Season 2 of the Hulu adaptation. The moment horrifies Serena Joy and makes her question her beliefs about Gilead’s dystopian society.
Werner Ziegler (Rainer Bock) — “Better Call Saul”: Werner’s death proves that Mike Ehrmantraut is becoming the man you always knew he would be before “Breaking Bad.”
Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn) — “Castle Rock”: Pangborn is accidentally offed by his lover Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek) just over halfway through the first season of Hulu’s Stephen King-universe series.
Honorable mentions for least shocking deaths go to Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) and Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) — for obvious reasons.