As morbid as it is to call a death 'great,' or rank them, for that matter, Boardwalk Empire saw so many characters meet their untimely end during its five-season run that showing some appreciation for the often exquisite ways the now deceased HBO's bootlegging drama did away with its characters is only fitting. A macabre but well-deserved spotlight given the spectacular series' penchant for producing sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful and always memorable departures. It was kill or be killed.
What makes a TV death great? Well, some are shocking, some are extremely emotional and some are just downright disturbing. Many on the list are all three. Here are the 35 greatest deaths on Boardwalk Empire. It should be noted there are spoilers in this list if you are not fully caught up on every episode of Boardwalk Empire.
35. Hammonton Hijacking
It only seems fitting to kick off the list of Boardwalk Empire's greatest deaths with one that occurred in the pilot. Jimmy and Al, Nucky and Torrio's muscle at the time, struck up a friendship when they met early in the episode titled ”Boardwalk Empire" and it didn't take long for the two to stick up one of Arnold Rothstein's shipments. The hijacking goes south pretty fast and the masked robbers (the masks looked rad) are forced to gun down everyone there. This includes Jimmy hunting one guy into the forest and sticking the shotgun right in his face. It's a beautiful rack-focus shot from the master Martin Scorsese that sets the gorgeously grisly bar high for the rest of the series.
34. Mr. Bennett
It's a testament to Boardwalk Empire that Mr. Bennett's suicide, which we rightfully called one of HBO's most shocking scenes, appears so early on the greatest death list. The moment in the fifth season premiere when Margaret's boss stops delivering his upbeat speech and pulls out a revolver was such an abrupt tonal shift that no one could have foreseen what happened next. Boardwalk is well known for the many murders that have been committed over the course of its run but the several suicides are just as spectacular. This is just the first.
33. Jim Neary
The second season finale, ”To the Lost,” was a bloodbath. There's just no other way to put it. Several minor and major characters met their untimely ends in the game-changing episode. Seriously, Boardwalk Empire was never the same after this one. Not a complaint, the bootlegging series just started being more thematically driven. Jim Neary's death, in a wonderful montage reminiscent of The Godfather, carries even more weight now that the viewer has seen him and Nucky as kids. This was a long-time relationship that came to an incredibly violent end. Jimmy and Richard, perhaps our most prolific pair of hitmen, force the State's witness to write a suicide note/confession before blowing his brains out.
32. Joe Masseria
At one time, Lucky Luciano would have done his own killing, but after the seven-year jump between seasons four and five, he's now in a position that allows him to delegate the dirty work. And his position only improves after the off-screen hit on Joe Masseria during "Golden Days for Boys and Girls." Joe the Boss was his boss until Tonino and Benny took care of him (as Lucky stared himself down in the mirror). It's a lovely scene, following Luciano showing his grief as the murder is taking place--although he does seem a little more contemptuous while standing over the body. "The fight is over."
31. Dean O’Banion
This death should probably rank higher on the list, since Dean O'Banion was a primary antagonist for a few of Boardwalk Empire's central characters. And that's probably why the otherwise incredibly visceral hit on the Chicago crime-boss doesn't feel as special as it could be if either Van Alden or Capone had personally pulled the trigger. Still, it was pretty satisfying to see the annoying thorn in the Chicago scene's side get what was coming to him in "Marriage and Hunting." And what was coming was about 20 bullet holes. It was especially clever for the hitman to shake O'Banion's hand because it leaves only his left free for him to try and defend himself.
30. Hans Schroeder
Hans Schroeder only appeared in one episode, the titular pilot, but he's a very important figure in the series. Margaret's first husband was sure easy to hate, an abusive drunk who ended up killing their unborn child, so it was 'nice' to see Nucky step in and put a stop to the violence. With more violence. Of course, the boss of Atlantic City's underworld didn't do the deed himself; instead, he dispatched Eli and his deputy to beat the wife-beater to death and dump him in the ocean. Hans definitely deserved his fate and soon his kids would be calling the man who had him killed dad.
29. Frank Capone
Even though he wasn't a major character, every time Al Capone's brother Frank was onscreen he stood out. Mostly, because he was the voice of reason in the increasingly insane operation run by his unstable brother. In true Boardwalk Empire fashion, it was exactly this dynamic that then figured into the more reasonable Capone's demise in "Erlkonig." During a huge brawl that breaks out when Al tries to force a bunch of factory workers to vote his way, Frank is shot at least a hundred times. The full Sonny Corleone treatment.
28. Agent Emmett L. Coughlin
As you can see, there have been a lot of murders on Boardwalk Empire over the years yet Agent Coughlin's death might be the most macabre. There's something supremely unsettling about a married couple killing together, especially when the sick act only seems to strengthen their bond. In "You'd Be Surprised," Van Alden, now going by George Mueller, and his second wife Sigrid bludgeon and then suffocate the nosy federal agent right in their living room. There's no denying the teamwork involved but, well, there are better ways to make a relationship stronger. "Please, avert your eyes."
27. Salvatore Maranzano
There have been many casualties in Lucky, Meyer and Benny's recent rise through the ranks and "Friendless Child," the penultimate episode of the entire series, featured one of Boardwalk Empire's most stylish hits. The trio of gangsters not only manage to make Nucky surrender all of his territory, they also force him to take out Salvatore Maranzano, the boss Lucky 'defected' to after taking down Joe Masseria. You may remember him from earlier on the list. Maranzano seems to be safe in a government building until Eli and a few other men in hats stroll in and kill the Sicilian like he's Julius Caesar. It was his favorite play.
26. Lucien D’Alessio
The D'Alessio brothers were all arguably big kills on the series. However, of all of the D'Alessio brothers to be killed in "The Emerald City" and "A Return to Normalcy", Lucien's murder is by far the most enjoyable to watch. While being held captive by Jimmy, Chalky and Nucky, Lucien defiantly dares Darmody to shoot him and, well, you don't have to ask twice.
25. Del Grogan
Despite Owen Sleater's relatively short run on the series, he manages to establish himself as quite the badass pretty quick. Not only does he have a brief, victor-less standoff with Richard, the ultimate Boardwalk badass, but he offs a few people in particularly gruesome fashion. In "Peg of Old," the relatively new character makes a big impression when he runs into an old NRA acquaintance and then strangles him to death in the bathroom. I guess garrotted is the proper term. Anyway, it's a quick, vicious scene that's hard to forget.
24. Cousin Franco
Poor Cousin Franco, he just didn't know when to keep his dumb mouth shut. Which is pretty much all the time if you're hanging around with the unhinged gangster Gyp Rosetti. Gyp killed a lot of people in Boardwalk's third season (he only had one, more on that later), but the brutal way he disposed of Tonino's cousin has to take the cake. At the end of "A Man, A Plan...", Gyp decides to punish Franco for his loose lips by burying neck deep in the sand. That seemed like punishment enough but it wasn't enough for the mob boss and he finished Franco off with by beating his head in with a shovel. That's nasty.
23. Joe Miller
The only man on Boardwalk Empire with a temper that rivals or perhaps even surpasses Gyp Rosetti's is Al Capone. Al is one of the most vicious killers on the bootlegging drama and likely to explode at any perceived slight. In the middle of the fifth and final season, the Chicago boss savagely beat one of his own men to death for nothing more than a joke. However, it's easy to do those things when you're the boss, which is why his brutal attack on Joe Miller is the one that made the cut. After Miller, one of O'Banion's men, tuned up one of Al's buddies, Torrio's muscle got his revenge in a bar during "Blue Bell Boy." It was like a no-holds-barred wrestling match to the death.
22. Mickey Doyle
Given Mickey Doyle's longevity, not many of Boardwalk Empire's major characters survived as long as he did, the Polish-turned-Irish gangster probably should have a better spot on this list but his death was not that spectacular. Sure, there was something fitting about the 'cockroach' finally getting his because he tried to weasel himself a better deal the whole showdown scene in "Friendless Child" was a little anti-climactic. Nucky brought all those troops to surrender and Mickey (and also Arquimedes) are shot and forgotten in the flash of the muzzle. He probably didn't deserve better but still.
21. Phil, Ralph and Scotty
One of the lessons learned over the five seasons of Boardwalk Empire is don't push Nelson van Alden/George Mueller too far. To borrow a phrase from a popular comic-book, 'you won't like him when he's angry.' While on the run from a previous murder (one still on the docket), George Nelson is forced to take a job selling irons but when he becomes the target of office bullies he burns one of their faces and starts looking for a new job. In "Marriage and Hunting," George Nelson runs into his former co-workers and they once again push him past the breaking point. They didn't know who they were dealing with. The iron should have been a sign.
20. Rowland Smith
Since Rowland Smith was only on the show for one episode, "Blue Bell Boy", it's surprising just how effective and affective his death is. It might be because he's just a kid, and a charming one at that. Or maybe, because it was an extra-emotionless Nucky who pulled the trigger. Either way, the sudden bullet to the back of the head was an incredible and lasting image. Owen acts like the audience's surrogate, sharing in our surprise before dropping back into his cool character. Remember, this was right around the time he was with the boss' wife, so that gunshot was also a chilling message.
19. Pearl (and Liam)
This entry is another example of how Boardwalk Empire can take relatively minor characters and craft incredibly memorable deaths. And it's also another example of cheating since it's a two-for-one deal. After a scumbag named Liam slices up Pearl, Jimmy's girl decides that living with the scars, both emotional and physical, is too much and she takes her own life in "Nights in Ballygran." It's doesn't take Jimmy long to exact his revenge, asking his new best buddy and expert sniper Richard to kill him at a cafe. Once he's done scarring the crap out of/reassuring him, of course. It's an epic death in one of the series' best best episodes.
18. Sally Wheet
Sally Wheet is another character whose death should probably come later in the list but the execution, pardon the pun, kept it in the middle of the pack. She became pretty significant to the series in the fourth season, somewhat filling the Margaret and Mabel void in Nucky's life, and her death definitely took its toll on our protagonist. Still, the way that the whole showdown with the Cuban authorities in "Cuanto" was shot left a lot to be desired. The impact of the loss was lasting; if only it felt that way at the time.
17. Manny Horovitz
The shooting of Manny Horvitz was a really interesting and tense moment because it pitted two of the audiences' favorites against each other, thanks to Richard being the one tasked with murdering Horvitz. And when there is a showdown on Boardwalk, it's almost always to the death. Richard wasn't too pleased with Manny thanks to his involvement in the murder of the Darmodys, especially Angela (hm, another not yet discussed), so he looked for a "Resolution" in the aptly named third season premiere. Manny managed to survive another attempt on his life that involved a hitman knocking on his door but that dead guy wasn't Richard Harrow.
16. Billie Kent (and Babette)
Billy Kent's death in "The Pony" was explosive both literally and figuratively. Although she was never one of my favorite characters on Boardwalk, the manner in which she (and Babette) went out was truly spectacular. There haven't been many explosions on the series but I don't think that's the reason this hit stands out. It was shot beautifully yet also a bit shocking to see the show destroy its beautiful set. It put a literal hole in the Boardwalk and made way for the Onyx Club and the deaths that would occur at the new non-segregated location.
15. Agent Eric Sebso
Remember when I said it was a bad idea to push Nelson van Alden too far? Well, one of the first people to learn that lesson the hard way was his partner, Agent Eric Sebso. The small and timid man was always a bit weary of the religious zealot he found himself shackled to in the bureau and in"Paris Green" he paid the ultimate price for accepting that assignment. In order to prove his loyalty, Sebso allowed Nelson to take him to a religious ceremony to be baptized. Instead of the Deacon pushing him under the water, Nelson took on those duties and held his partner under until he drowned. Pretty chilling.
14. Agent Warren Knox/James Tolliver
The next on the list is another federal agent and, like Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller, he was also a man known by two names. Agent Warren Knox a.k.a. James Tolliver was another late addition with a short stay that manage to make a large impression. The fourth season saw the formation of the FBI, and Agent Knox Tolliver was part of the upper echelon that included J. Edgar Hoover. He was even trying to push the idea of organized crime before anyone else in the bureau, but thanks to some unhealthy competition with his boss, his achievements were largely unacknowledged and ideas were stolen. This made the Agent strike out on his own and do some dangerous things, like threatening Eli in his own home. The ensuing fight and strangulation at the end of "Farewell Daddy Blues" is one of Boardwalk's most intimate killings.
13. Commodore Louis Kaestner
The more audiences learned about the Commodore, the easier it was to not only accept but root for the old pervert's death. A pivotal figure in the series' early years, he was a mentor of sorts to Nucky (although, the flashbacks position Sheriff Lindsay as the true father figure) and Jimmy's dad. Jimmy and the Commodore never had a great relationship, no surprise considering the latter knocked up the former's mother when she was just a girl, and, in true Oedipal fashion, Boardwalk had the son slay his father with a gigantic phallus. It was a major moment in the penultimate episode, setting the thematic stage for the shocking second season finale.
12. Angela Darmody
This was one of the most tragic deaths in the early years of the series. Just when Angela Darmody was finally coming into her own and escaping the violent shadow of her gangster husband, Manny Horvitz pays her a late night visit. The scene in "Georgia Peaches" is eerily quiet, the killer continuing to whisper even after he's killed one of the women. Of course, he was expecting a man to come out of the bathroom but it's not like he cares about sex. As the bullet in Angela's head can attest, he doesn't discriminate when it comes to killing. Don't worry, he got his. We went over that.
11. Maybelle White
Like the last entry, it's always tragic when someone on the periphery of the 'game' gets killed because of something or someone they know. Being a gangster is like being a superhero; it puts all those you love at risk. It's a weakness ready to be exploited and Dr. Narcisse is dirty enough to bring Chalky's daughter Maybelle into their confrontation. What makes the murder even more tragic is that it's Chalky's plan that results in her death near the end of the blood-soaked Season 4 finale, "Farewell Daddy Blues." Richard never misses.
10. Dr. Valentin Narcisse
As Season 5 was gearing up, Boardwalk Empire proclaimed that no one would go quietly. In the Season 5 finale, “Eldorado,” however, Valentin Narcisse’s death, while loud, was still quieter than expected, considering his story arc over the past couple of seasons. Instead of being killed by a main character, Narcisse was gunned down on the street, shortly after speaking with his hordes of followers in the city. He went out to rousing applause and adulation, however, which was probably exactly how the writer and intellectual would have wanted it. It’s also an ugly and brutish way to die in front of those adoring hordes.
9. Eddie Kessler
Eddie Kessler's death might be the saddest of all. Boardwalk Empire has killed off characters using suicide before but none of them were as emotional as the manservant's. At the end of "Erlkonig," Eddie chooses to jump out his window instead of potentially harming his boss by cooperating with the Feds. The letter he pens is painfully sad, and yet the whole sequence is also elegant and beautiful. It's so wonderfully composed that the image of the curtains blowing in the wind is burned into my memory. It's as effective as any gory shootout.
8. Gyp Rosetti (and Henchmen)
Speaking of gory shootouts, the third season finale, "Margate Sands," features the shootout to end all shootouts. I know this entry is technically reserved for Gyp Rosetti but it's worth spending a second on all of his henchmen slaughtered by Richard during his rampage through Gillian's mansion. Gyp makes it out of that skirmish alive; it's too bad I can't say the same about the entire episode. I mean that. Gyp was an exciting character and as much as I wanted him dead, I also wanted to watch his exploits continue. Well, Tonino made sure that didn't happen. Payback for Franco!
7. Dunn Purnsley
Dunn Purnsley was a mid-series addition who quickly became a major character on Boardwalk Empire. Early on, 'Buck' was just a small problem that Chalky encountered during a quick stint in prison, but he soon rose through the ranks to be the boss of the north side's second in command. This wasn't good enough for Dunn, though. He got into the heroin game with Dr. Narcisse and was soon sent to kill his former boss. The ensuing fight in "The Old Ship of Zion" is one of the show's most intimate as the two mercilessly beat on each other until Daughter puts an end to the struggle by stabbing Dunn in the back. It's an 'all-time' kind of scene.
6. Albert ‘Chalky’ White
Of all of the ways in which people bite the bullet on Boardwalk Empire, it's rare for a character to go out with dignity. Some do manage to accomplish the rare feat. More often than not, however, the person in question is caught off-guard or worse. And that's not even talking about the manner in which they are killed. Chalky, in "Devil You Know," is given one of those rare deaths. After making a deal for Daughter and her child's freedom, Chalky feels somewhat redeemed for and at peace with Maybelle's death. He almost welcomes the hail of bullets from the firing squad. All he heard was that sweet music.
5. Owen Sleater
Given his comparably short stay on Boardwalk, it might come as a bit of a surprise to find Owen Sleater with such a prestigious spot on the list. Regardless, it is absolutely well-deserved, and only fitting since his death was one of the biggest surprises in the series. It was also incredibly emotional. When Nucky opens the package at the end of "A Man, A Plan..." and discovers his right-hand man's body in a box, it was deeply unsettling. Then Margaret arrived on scene and it became so much worse. It was a real punch to the gut and an important moment for the series moving forward, as it also marked the end of Nucky and Margaret's relationship.
4. Agent Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller
The list includes several of his victims and now it's finally time to talk about Agent Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller's death in "Devil You Know." Like Chalky, who also happened to get shot in the sixth episode of the fifth and final season, George Nelson's death was rather dignified; the former prohibition agent was able to help in the Capone investigation and even strangled the Chicago boss before taking one to the back of the head. I don't know if I'll ever get the image of that exit wound out of my head. It was gross but a hell of a way to go. "I am Nelson Kaspar Van Alden!"
3. Richard Harrow
The most prolific killer on Boardwalk made it through many, many violent events before death finally caught up with him. Richard Harrow was instantly a fan favorite thanks to his unique appearance and skill set. I mean, his first kill was accompanied by the funeral march music. The half-faced man also had a soft-side, especially for the Darmodys, and his arc is all the more tragic since the fourth season sees him try and give up killing. As it happens, he's roped in for one last job in "Farewell Daddy Blues" and it ends tragically both for him and Maybelle White. The writers managed to make his final moments oddly beautiful and a fitting goodbye.
2. Jimmy Darmody
After the series finale, there was suddenly some doubt as to who should top this list. Capping off the already bloody second season finale, ”To the Lost,” damn near tops the list of greatest deaths to ever occur on Boardwalk Empire. It meets all the initial criteria laid out at the top of the list. When Nucky shoots Jimmy in the face it's shocking, emotional and beautifully done. And it was a game-changing event for the series. Killing off the co-lead isn't something you see in many dramas and it forever altered Boardwalk Empire, right down to the storytelling. There was a huge void to fill and the next three seasons did an excellent job. "To the lost," indeed.
1. Nucky Thompson
Nucky’s death didn’t have the surprise factor Jimmy’s had way back in Season 2, however, the writers carefully spent the entire season crafting an ending that wouldn’t feel fake or forced. In the Season 5 finale, “Eldorado,” Nucky is busy tying up loose ends in Atlantic City when he happens upon the kid that was working for him as an errand boy during the final season. Finally, all of the flashbacks in Season 5 become revelatory. Early on, they seemed to explain Nucky’s rise, but they really were about revealing the monster, a monster who willingly helped the Commodore to abuse kids for his own monetary gain. Nucky’s insides were always ugly, and when his assistant, revealed to be Tommy Darmody, opened fire, there was nothing but the truth laid bare. "You can't be half a gangster."
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