Television has never been as popular as it is today. A post-pandemic world has left viewers salivating for binge-worthy shows, and lots of them. In many modern series, episodic storytelling has replaced a single story arc per season. An often heartbreaking consequence of these longer and more profound stories is that some characters don’t make it.
Killing off television characters has become much more popular in the 21st century. Writers seem to enjoy developing a character, getting the fans invested in them, and then killing them off, sometimes at the most unexpected times in the least expected ways. While there are no R-rated television shows on basic cable, with streaming networks becoming more popular, some TV deaths have become surprising and brutal. Here are the ten most shocking and horrific television murders ever.
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10 Anatoly Ranskahov: Daredevil
The Netflix and MCU collaboration of the 2010s bore gritty and dark fruit as it fleshed out NYC’s lesser-known superheroes. There is no surprise that a Daredevil series would feature significant violence. Enter Anatoly Ranskahov, Russian mob boss in Hell’s Kitchen, NY. Anatoly is a boss, but everyone answers to or pays Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. Fisk follows strict rules about his illegitimate business dealings. Very few people even know Kingpin’s real name, and those who do know better than to approach him in public and call him by his name.
When Ranskahov interrupts Fisk during a dinner date, Fisk ignores him and has his assistant Wesley deal with the matter. Outwardly, Fisk shrugs the incident off with little or no discomfort. Inside, he is losing his mind. Shortly after his dinner is concluded, he catches up with Anatoly. Fisk drags the Russian out of his car, beats him to a pulp with his bare hands, and uses the car door to turn his head into a red paste, spraying blood on himself and Wesley. It is one of the only times we see Fisk lose his cool, and it left viewers shaking in terror.
9 Victor: Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad had its fair share of horrific murders, but Gus Fring’s murder of his long-time friend and associate, Victor, just to make a point was the most shocking. Protagonist Walter White is greedy and power-hungry and doesn’t like being told what to do. All that does not sit well with long-time drug lord Gus Fring. Fring could kill White, but Walter cooks the best meth in the world, and Gus wants to milk that money cow for as long as possible.
So instead, he slits his friend’s throat. In the first episode of season 4, Fring brings White and partner Jesse Pinkman in line through intimidation. Fring attacks Victor, cutting his throat open with a box cutter and forcing his neck back so the blood sprays over the others. Arguably the most surprising murder of the series, it was one of the more gory ones, and it sets the tone for the whole season. Gus gets his due in the end, as does White, but Pnkman lives with the memory of poor Victor’s blood being sprayed all over his clothes.
8 Rita Morgan: Dexter
A show about a serial killer with a code is bound to serve up a decent selection of memorable murders, but Rita’s—Dexter’s wife—murder was shocking and horrific indeed. Dexter Morgan may be a serial killer, but he’s like a superhero or vigilante in many ways. He kills the bad guys, and he has a secret identity. When fellow serial killer “The Trinity Killer” discovers Dexter’s identity, it’s terrible news for his family.
By the third season, Dexter has gotten in deep with his cover of being normal by getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Rita, and having a baby together. Unfortunately, when John Lithgow’s Trinity killer finds them, poor Rita doesn’t have long to live. Dexter discovered his wife dead in a bathtub filled with blood—with their young son Harrison sitting nearby in a scene reminiscent of Dex’s childhood.
7 Adriana: The Sopranos
Adriana was Christopher Moltisanti’s girlfriend through most of The Sopranos’ run. Moltisanti was Tony Soprano’s protege, and typically, everyone was happy that the two were together. Unfortunately, Adriana La Cerva had been forced into FBI servitude as an informant early on in the series. When she is found out, it’s not long before “The Family” retaliates.
As she and Silvio make their way down the freeway, the reality of her situation crashes down on Adriana, and she begins to cry because she knows what’s about to happen. “In true gangster form, she was taken into the woods to be, er, taken care of. After crawling away in sheer panic, she was unable to outrun Silvio’s bullets” (Link 4). Christopher never really gets over Adriana’s death, and it haunts him until his time comes.
6 Robin: The Boys
The Boys is loaded with bizarre superpowers, leading to many of the goriest television deaths ever. The very first in that series was the short-lived character, Robin. As the series opens, we meet mild-mannered Huey and his girlfriend, Robin. They have a brief conversation and leave the electronics store where Huey works. They step outside, and while talking about Billy Joel, Robin’s body (except for her hands, which Huey was holding) is turned into goop as A-Train runs right through her at the speed of sound. This is just minutes into the series premiere.
The rudeness and shock for the viewer and Huey, as he holds what is left of Robin, is terrifying. They were just walking down the street and became collateral damage for a speedster on speed, just cruising around town. The shock, combined with the utter disregard for Robin’s life, puts Huey on his path. Huey never really gets justice for Robin, and A-Train gets away with barely an acknowledgment of the incident. Huey and the boys often get the last laugh on the Supes.
5 Warren: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Willow was the heart and soul of the “Scooby Gang” and just as popular a character as Buffy herself. When Warren kills her girlfriend Tara and wounds Buffy, Willow’s personality takes a complete one-eighty. She goes from the chipper, optimistic moral compass to a vengeful and powerful witch. Warren, despite his laughable abilities, had tormented the gang all season. When things don’t go his way, he brings a gun to their home and murders one of them (albeit unintentionally).
Originally something of a comic relief character, he slowly becomes much darker throughout the series, revealing himself to be a psychopath with a savage hatred of women. Driving Willow over the edge, she takes swift and terrible vengeance on the wannabe supervillain. She magically binds and tortures him. Then she forces a bullet slowly through his body and finally rips his skin off, killing him. Warren wasn’t the first bad guy on the show to die, but he was the most horrific, and more so because our sweet little Willow Rosenberg was the one who did it.
4 Joffery Baratheon: Games of Thrones
Not one viewer shed a single tear for the late King Joffery. Perhaps the least-liked character in all of TV history, this little monster gets his early in the fourth season. He is poisoned at his own wedding, much to the relief of his would-be bride, Sansa Stark. Joffrey had spent the first three seasons of this epic series tormenting every person he came across, especially Sansa.
Joffrey broke his promise to her and executed her father in front of her. He put the father’s head on a spike for all to see and forced Sansa to look at it and say her father was a traitor and deserved what he got. When he is poisoned and dies in the most gruesome fashion for all to see, his uncle Tyrion is accused of the murder. Two seasons later, the true perpetrators were revealed—Lady Olenna Tyrell and Lord Petyr Baelish.
3 Tara Knowles: Sons of Anarchy
Sons of Anarchy ran for seven seasons, but the seventh season was missing a significant character, Tara. In the season six finale, another central character, Gemma Teller, murders Tara. Tara is protagonist Jax Teller’s wife and mother of his youngest son; Gemma is Jax’s mother.
Over the first six seasons, Tara and Gemma have a strained relationship, but they usually land on the same side. Tara is strong, intelligent, stubborn, and not to be underestimated. Gemma is equally strong and driven, but she drinks and uses drugs, which frequently leads to disastrous results.
When Gemma mistakenly believes that Tara is going to sell Jax out to the Feds and take away her grandsons, she loses control. No one thought Gemma would straight up murder Tara, but that’s precisely what happened. The manner of the murder intensified the shock of Tara’s death. Gemma stabbed her in the head repeatedly with a carving fork.
2 Glen: The Walking Dead
Everyone on The Walking Dead can die at any time; it is a zombie apocalypse, after all. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, fans love debating the many differences between the two mediums. The two stories have the same foundation, but almost every major event is different, like two parallel universes. One of the rare occasions in which an event happens not exactly but nearly the same way is Glen’s death.
Glen is one of the first people Rick meets along his journey, and he’s married to a pregnant Maggie when the saviors confront the group. In both versions of the story, Neagan, in a display of power and dominance, caves Glen’s head in with his barbwire-wrapped baseball bat, Lucille.
The comics show a slightly different scenario, however, with fewer people witnessing the event. The TV version has Neagan first kill Abraham, who stays defiant through the beating. Then Daryl jumps up and punches Neagan in the face but is quickly subdued. Neagan declares that he must redo the demonstration so that they understand, and Glen is the next batter up. In both versions, he dies calling for Maggie as Neagan casually smirks.
1 Maude Flanders: The Simpsons
The Simpsons is the longest-running sitcom of all time and one of the longest-running TV shows in general. Over the years, many Simpsons characters, especially Homer, have incurred injuries that would, without a doubt, kill a real person. One of the great things about cartoons is that they can walk off anything; cartoon physics is entirely different from the real world. With that in mind, it is genuinely shocking when a cartoon character dies. So when, in the eleventh season, Maude Flanders is killed off, it’s stunning.
The Simpson and Flanders families were attending a race at the Springfield Speedway. During a break in the action, scantily clad women shoot T-shirts at the crowd with an air cannon. Homer taunts the women, goading them to fire in his direction, and they do. At the last second, Homer bends down to pick something off the ground, causing the T-shirt to fly past Homer and into Maude standing behind him. The impact knocks Maude backward and off the grandstand. She dies on impact with her husband and children staring at her lifeless body in horror and disbelief.