There are obviously spoilers floating around here for a variety of different series. You have been warned.
TV has been killing people off for a long time. And every so often – though more often in recent years – shows have been bringing those people back to audiences that had largely accepted the fact that the characters were gone. I’m not talking about obvious fake deaths existing to serve a contained A-story, and I’m not talking about end-of-episode/season “Is he/she dead?” cliffhangers that are immediately explained when the next episode begins. I mean ones where it temporarily sinks in both on the series and in many viewers alike, and the show is happy to let it happen. Everybody loves pigeonholed classification, right?
Here are 9 examples of that happening on television. There will be groaning.
Arrow – Sara Lance
In the comic superhero world, character deaths have been retconned and washed over almost by necessity over the years, and things aren’t all that different on the TV side of things, as evidenced by Arrow’s Sara Lance (and really, almost everyone else at one point). After skipping around between the good guys and bad guys, Sara was killed by Thea in the Season 3 premiere, which seemed legit at the time. But before anyone could even be legitimately surprised by her Lazarus Pit resurrection on Arrow proper, it was revealed she would be a main character on the spinoff Legends of Tomorrow. So this was kind of a double whammy of a falsely earned shock and then a dampened return shock.
24 – Tony Almeida
Over on 24, Jack Bauer “died” a couple of times, but no one ever actually thought the show was going to go on without him. On the flip side, it seemed like Tony Almeida was a definite goner after he was seemingly killed off in Season 5. After all, he wasn’t there for Season 6 at all. And then came Season 7, which revealed that what we thought was Tony’s death was just a villain’s plan to turn Tony into an antagonist, which also seemingly worked until it’s revealed that Tony was doing exactly what Tony wanted to do. As WTF moments go, seeing Tony’s face again scored a 24 out of 25.
Family Guy – Brian Griffin
In Season 12, Family Guy ran a promo campaign where they teased a major character’s death, and the victim turned out to be Brian, who got positively mauled by a car in a dark-as-night scene. Now, many didn’t really expect Brian to be gone forever, especially once a countdown clock seemed to imply his return was imminent, but there were still tons of people who thought it was a permanent change, and they didn’t like it. Mostly thankfully, the show loopholed Stewie’s trashed time machine and the youngest Griffin was able to still make it back to the past to save Brian from the animation afterlife. Vinny, we hardly knew ye.
Dallas – Bobby Ewing
The classic drama Dallas gave the world one of the most egregious examples of a TV show reneging on a character’s death, in the form of Patrick Duffy. Season 8 ended with bad luck Bobby getting hit with a car and dying, which was definitely a major stunner, and his death played into the events of Season 9. However, fans wanted more Bobby, so the entire season was notoriously explained away as a dream of Pam Ewing, and Bobby returned for Season 10. Even weirder: Bobby’s death was also referenced in crossover fashion on Knott’s Landing, but the dream aspect was never cleared up, and he was never referred to again.
Pretty Little Liars – Alison DiLaurenitis
For years, Pretty Little Liars held viewers to the belief that Alison was killed after disappearing, since corpses in graves tend to imply such things. And after all that time of letting audiences get to know Alison through flashbacks and hallucinations, it was later revealed that she’d actually been alive all along and on the run from the tormenter “A.” Okay, so this situation is slightly different from the rules I set up earlier, but it still applies because the story held her death as fact for so long before revealing it all to be a sham. Certainly not as cheap a maneuver as some others on this list, but still quite disarming when she came back.
Prison Break – Sara Tancredi
Sometimes TV shows bring characters back in ways that are integral to the plot, and then sometimes it’s issues behind the scenes that play into how character stories progress. Such was the case for Prison Break, which wrote off Sara via decapitation in Season 3 after actress Sarah Wayne Callies left the show. But fans losing their heads over it, coupled with the actress’ desire to return, caused the creative team to wash away her death as being faked so that she could return to the lives of the brothers Lincoln and Michael.
Revenge – Victoria Grayson
Although Victoria’s “death” on Revenge was only an issue for less than two episodes, and even though Victoria wasn’t really the kind of person who would impulsively kill herself by destroying her fabulous home, her presumed suicide-by-explosion in Season 4 seemed just fucked up enough to be true for a little while. The plan itself was solid, as setting Amanda up for her death would be the perfect form of revenge, and Victoria’s hatred ran deep enough that the ultimate sacrifice wasn’t totally out of the question. But it was, and she was revealed to be alive not long after, only to be killed in the series finale, which was the very next episode.
Community – Star-Burns
Another rare example of a comedy pretending to send someone off into the ethers happened on Community, when one Season 3 episode ended with Greendale student Alex “Star-Burns” Osbourne seemingly getting blown to pieces when the meth lab in his car trunk explodes. It was a weird surprise, but not entirely out of place in a show where weirdness bloomed. After all, actor Dino Stamatopoulos was also a writer and producer on the show, so it’s not like he was leaving it all behind completely. But then during a future-montage in the Season 3 finale, it was revealed that he faked his own death. And it was like, “Oh, okay. Cool.”
The Walking Dead – Glenn Rhee
In the first five seasons of The Walking Dead, shocking moments happened on a regular basis, but the show almost broke the world a couple of months ago when it appeared fan favorite character Glenn was killed by walkers after Nicholas committed suicide. The cast and crew played coy in the following weeks, but a later episode revealed he narrowly avoided death (in an unrealistic way) and is still alive and well. It might not have felt like such a dupe had the “death” scene ended more ambiguously, and if actor Stephen Yeun’s name not been removed from the show credits. Glad to have him back, but it felt corny all the same.
Head to the next page to let us know which of these fake deaths shocked you the most.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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