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Death has never been particularly absent in the modern era of television, and some of the most memorable episodes of television have been based around characters saying farewell. (Or getting killed before they have a chance to.) Viewers have seen literally hundreds of TV characters die in the last few years, with some far more heartbreaking than others.
As such, we looked back over the past two years – the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 TV seasons – and pulled out 11 deaths that tore half of our collective heart from our chest and used it to pummel the other half into a tear-shaped pulp. And we start off with a shocking demise that ended a relationship that millions of people had loved for years. (Spoilers to follow, obviously.)
Henry Allen (The Flash)Barry Allen’s story is one formed by tragedy, as the (no longer permanent?) death of his mother at the hands of Reverse-Flash took away both parents Nora and Henry, who was imprisoned until the beginning of Season 2. He wasn’t around a ton as a free man, but Henry was still able to talk to Barry without a wall of glass between them. And so when he was murdered as part of Zoom’s not-so-great plans, in an episode that came JUST AFTER Barry had finally gotten a full grasp on his mother’s death, the heart-stomping impact was palpable, and the look on Grant Gustin’s face is everything we were feeling inside. Thankfully, John Wesley Shipp’s time with the show will continue, and possibly Henry’s, too, in some form.
Derek Shepherd (Grey’s Anatomy)Behind-the-scenes problems probably had more to do with Derek’s death than Shonda Rhimes’ original grand plan. But if you were the kind of audience member that ignored that kind of headline fodder, then this could rank up there with the most surprising and emotionally draining TV deaths you’ve ever experienced. McDreamy was a small screen staple for 11 years, give or take some latter-day episodes, and we’re glad that Grey’s Anatomy chose to jump forward in time so that our mourning period couldn’t be extended by Meredith’s. Also, it served as a cautionary tale for why you shouldn’t check your phone while stopped in the middle of a highway.
Jodi Hubbard (Mom)Sitcoms have always been known for getting serious on occasion, usually when a Very Special Episode topic comes up, but CBS’ Mom is a show with subject matter mired in dark drama. No story about addiction could go any other way. Still, who could have known that the young addict Jodi (Emily Osment) would have been seemingly rescued from that life and her boyfriend by Christy and Bonnie, only to succumb to it one final time that ended in an overdose? Not even Alvin’s death a season earlier was quite as tragic as this oh-so-familiar tale of rehabilitation gone askew, and Mom delivered not just one, but several tearjerking episodes centered on Jodi’s passing.
Beth Greene (The Walking Dead)Few TV deaths rocked the Internet as hard as Beth getting shot in the head by that moody asshat Dawn, although half of the outcry was admittedly people railing against the show for giving the beloved character such an avoidable fate. Beth had made it all the way from Season 2’s earliest days, with legitimate character development as time passed, and her biggest moments came in the months just prior to her disappearing. I suppose we should all thank that nuisance of a plot shift for basically taking her out of the drama before killing her off for good, but it really just made it seem like she’d be back in a bigger way after that arc ended. Sigh.
Josette Laughlin (The Vampire Diaries)Now, Jo isn’t one of those characters who was around for 10 seasons and had thus cemented herself inside the hearts and minds of viewers, but the manner in which the helpful and non-practicing witch went out was a major blow to the heartstrings. When Jo’s last episode began, it looked like her biggest problem would be having a wedding planner bedridden with the flu or a panic attack, but just when she was about to recite her vows, her twin brother Kai appeared and stabbed her (and her unborn twins) to death right there at the altar. She was then sorta resurrected as the vampiric spirit Florence and was then killed off again. Say it wasn’t so, Jo.
Hodor (Game of Thrones)Normally, when the distinction is made for a death to be a major one, it means a good percentage of the central narrative will be affected, but that wasn’t exactly the case with Game of Thrones’ repetitive goliath Hodor. Still, the character’s function within the epic tale had no bearing on how masterfully his time-spanning death sequence crushed viewers into whimpering balls of snot, as he sacrificed himself to save Bran, the very character who put him in such a perilous position to begin with. We also learned why the character is only able to say his own name in that scene, making the phrase “Hold the door” a legitimate cause for a nervous breakdown in public.
Finn Collins (The 100)The 100 is one of TV’s latest examples of high-concept sci-fi that doesn’t sacrifice heartfelt drama in telling its action-packed post-apocalyptic story. That was proven in full by the Season 2 midseason finale, which killed off lead character Finn for his previous “crime” of massacring a bunch of Grounders. The dread of this death’s inevitability weighed on viewers, and when the time finally came, the sadness was momentarily dwarfed by the shock that Clarke was the one who killed him, not wanting to give the Grounders the chance to give him anything but a quick death. I guess it’s supposed to make us feel better, but it doesn’t.
Root (Person of Interest)When a character dies in a characteristic fashion doing what they believe they were meant to do, then it shouldn’t be such a heartbreaking moment when they go, right? Nope, that’s bullshit. Case in point: we knew the final season of Person of Interest would raise the stakes higher than ever and that not everyone would make it to the end, but for Amy Acker’s hacker extraordinaire and Machine enthusiast Root to go down in her efforts to save Finch from being shot…well, let’s just say this would be a lot easier to take if we were made of circuits instead of human things. When her voice came out of The Machine, I’m pretty sure Hell cooled down a bit.
Leo Hendrie (Chasing Life)A show about cancer does not connote a barrel of chuckling monkeys opening up with each episode, and while Chasing Life did have a lot of warm heartfelt moments, there were understandably a variety of depressing beats as well. And the show rarely got viewers ugly-crying harder than when Leo died in his sleep. We knew it was an inevitability, since he also had cancer, but he and April fell for each other and got married and got our hopes up that happiness was lasting. But it wasn’t, and many raged against the creative team for taking him away from April (and us) so soon.
Zeek Braverman (Parenthood)Okay, so there’s no one out there that didn’t see Zeek’s death coming by the time Parenthood came to an end after six seasons. He got sick, and no one gets sick during a final season if perfect health is to follow, but did that make it any less sad to see this family patriarch bow out after all those years? Of course not, even though it helped that he got to walk Sarah down the aisle (among other family moments). But losing a parent is never fun, even when that parent was created entirely in the mind of a writer.
Shireen Baratheon (Game of Thrones)Is it some major tragedy that young Shireen Baratheon isn’t around on Game of Thrones to show off her Greyscale scars during Season 6? Not for any plot-related reasons, but that is no indication that her Season 5 death was a soft and subtle moment that went by unnoticed. Thanks to some of the most awful advice anyone has ever given, Stannis heeded Melisandre’s words and allowed his young daughter to be immolated to appease the Lord of Light. It was a scene both horrific and shattering, and the act completely broke the once-powerful Stannis, allowing us to live vicariously through his pain and paving the way to his death not long after.
Bobby Munson (Sons of Anarchy)In its seven seasons on FX, Sons of Anarchy killed so many people that you’d think a state of emergency would have been needed in California. And while the biker drama hemorrhaged big characters in later seasons, none made us quite as sad as when we watched good ol' wishy-washy Bobby’s downfall in Season 7. He suffered having an eye gouged out with a spoon, he has his fingers lopped off, and then just when it looked like he would live past the torture, he was surprisingly shot in the head in front of Jax, who wept openly while we not-quite-sobbed quietly into our couch cushions like the rugged beasts we all are.
And because there are only so many places that our hearts may wander to mourn, here are some of the biggest Honorable Mentions that missed the cut for one reason or another.
Ziva David (NCIS)It was sad enough when Ziva left NCIS, and even sadder when it was revealed she wouldn’t be returning for Michael Weatherly’s final episodes. But little did we know the finale would officially kill her off and reveal her and DiNozzo’s child, thus prompting the Special Agent to call it quits. Had actress Cote de Pablo been in the episode, it would have definitely made the official list.
Lexa (The 100)There’s no doubt that Lexa’s death was emotionally affecting and came as quite the shock to most, but actress Alycia Debnam-Carey was signed on for Fear the Walking Dead, which would knowingly cut into her time on the CW sci-fi drama. And the impact of her death was more noticeable because of her recent romance with Clarke and its placement among a relatively high number of LGBT deaths on TV.
Peter Gregory (Silicon Valley)The loss of Peter Gregory from Silicon Valley is especially saddening the longer the show goes on and shows off its brilliant writing. But the heartbreak really comes from the real life death of actor Christopher Evan Welch, who delivered the perfect foundation for a fantastic run as the eccentric billionaire who kicked off the show’s central plotline.
Which Of These Recent TV Deaths Broke Your Heart The Most?