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Death is a part of life, and it’s also a big part of television. 2011 was no exception there. We took a look back at some of the more memorable deaths from TV this year. Whether they died by their own hand, their own sword, an oncoming train or at the hands of someone they thought they could trust, how each character died and how their death impacted the story factored into our choices as much as who the character was.
Spoiler Warning: Obviously this list contains spoilers from TV shows that have aired over the course of this year. Tread lightly if you aren't up to date on your favorite shows!
Before we get to the list, there were a few people whose deaths were so memorable, they made our list for Best TV Moments In 2011 and are therefore not included in this list. You’ll see them and a few others among the honorable mentions at the bottom.
Ned Stark - Game of Thrones
When it comes to the most memorable deaths on television for 2011, HBO's adaptation of Game of Thrones probably deserves a list of its own. George R.R. Martin, the author of the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, clearly has no qualms when it comes to killing off his characters, and D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, co-creators of the HBO series have followed suit. In its amazing debut season, Game of Thrones lost many of its main characters and some in truly spectacular fashion - like Viserys' "Golden Crown" - but none resonated with viewers quite like the loss of Eddard 'Ned' Stark, Lord of Winterfell (and many more titles).
At the end of "Baelor" - the second to last episode of the season - Ned is brought out before the crowd at King's Landing where, after his forced confession, he is supposed to be pardoned. However, King Joffrey has other plans and we, along with his daughters Sansa and Arya, have to stand by horrified as Lord Stark is decapitated by his own sword. It was not only shocking but also left many viewers understandably heartbroken. A warning. Be prepared for many, many more. Ned knew as well as anyone that when you play the game of thrones, well, you know the rest.
Otis - The Walking Dead
Otis’ death on The Walking Dead was less about the loss of the character so much as it was a defining moment for the character that killed him. Sure, Otis seemed like a nice enough guy and not one who deserved to be used as walker-bait, but aside from wondering if we might have learned of Sophia’s fate sooner, had it not been for Otis’ untimely death, it’s difficult to really feel the loss of the man who we were really only just getting to know. But his death, or what led to it certain added relevance to his place within the story.
Shane saw the opportunity to slow the oncoming walkers down by offering them a feast in the form of a man with a few more years and a few more pounds on him, and he took it. Before that moment, we’d seen a few glimpses of Shane’s darker side, but Otis’ death sealed the deal. While Rick has proven to be a man to stop everything in an effort to save one person, Shane proved to be the opposite in offering a person’s life to walkers in exchange for his own. Was he right to do what he did? That’s up for debate. What is right anymore in The Walking Dead? Rest in peace Otis.
The Doctor - Doctor Who
The Doctor will someday die, and he lies. In Season 6 of Doctor Who we saw the unthinkable happen, an impossible astronaut walked out of a lake, shot the Doctor and took his life. Removing him from the universe. But this is no ordinary creature that was killed; he was a Time Lord from Gallifrey. And we found out what happens when the last of the Time Lords passes from existence.
There are rules to time travel in the Doctor Who universe, and it shouldn’t be possible to save the Doctor because his death is a fixed point in time. It’s a pivotal moment in history. But this is a show about the impossible being resolved into something simple and beautiful. When the Doctor was killed time stopped and happened simultaneously. Time became stuck and all encompassing on that day. It’s unwise to try and briefly sum up how the time travelling madness and fractured timeline were resolved. More important is how much the universe needs the Doctor, not just to save the day, but to keep balance and order. He said it himself; if the Doctor was killed on April 22nd, 2011 then that’s what must happen. No possible way to change that. Also, the Doctor lies.
Piney - Sons of Anarchy
Piney's demise came following a brief confrontation between himself and Clay, which ended with Clay blasting Piney in the chest with a shotgun. As sad and undeserving as Piney’s death was, it certainly was a brilliant twist for the series on a number of levels. For one thing, Piney was one of the founders of the club, so to be killed by Clay was obviously a huge deal. His death also proved to be another line for Clay to cross in an effort to keep the past a secret, and maybe to erase one more connection between himself and John Teller, and the foundations of SAMCRO.
In addition to being one of the founding members of the club, Piney was also Opie’s father, which made his death an even bigger factor for the series as well as the club. Opie had already lost his wife Donna to the club, so it isn’t difficult to see how learning that Clay killed his father would push him over the edge and set him on the path for vengeance, which he almost achieved. In the end, Clay survived, Opie left, and Piney’s gone forever. His death leaves one more scar on the armor of the club, which is already showing a number of self-inflicted battle wounds.
Li’l Sebastian - Parks and Recreation
Sebastian may have been li'l, but his impact on this town, and the Parks Department, was anything but li'l." For reasons that are completely unclear to outsiders (and to poor Ben Wyatt), the miniature horse Li'l Sebastian was an icon of Pawnee, the star attraction at the Harvest Festival and big enough to impress even Joan Calamezzo. When he died, half of Pawnee wore black armbands in remembrance; even Ron Swanson, ever stoic, choked up remembering the little guy-- "Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect."
Though Li'l Sebastian was old, he was gone too soon, and his funeral was the mark of a life well-lived-- tribute songs, 14th-century Italian poems, an In Memoriam slideshow produced by Entertainment 720, and most memorably, a torch-lighting ceremony powerful enough to burn Ron's eyebrows clean off. Even well into the winter, Leslie was comforted during her ethics trial with her own stuffed Li'l Sebastian-- which, not quite coincidentally, you can buy for yourself at NBC.com. Li'l Sebastian may have never had to answer questions like "Who are we? Where are we going in life?"-- because he was a horse-- but for some reason he inspired the citizens of Pawnee, and that was enough.
Violet and Vivian Harmon - American Horror Story
We’re just one episode away from the conclusion of the first season of American Horror Story, so, without knowing whether the Harmon patriarch survives the season, we’ll offer this tribute specifically to Vivian and Violet. The Harmons had no idea what they were getting into when they purchased the beautiful, giant house full of angry ghosts, and two of three of them paid with their lives. Violet took her own life, which was an unfortunate and impulsive choice.
Poor Violet was left to wilt in that household while her parents were too caught up in their own problems to notice just how bad the situation had gotten for her. Meanwhile, Vivian died in childbirth, along with one of her two newborn babies, leaving Ben and her surviving half-ghost/rubberman baby to fend for themselves against the house. In retrospect, the characters’ deaths (including Ben’s, if that turns out to be his fate) probably should have been predictable. How often do we see the lead characters killed off at the end of the movie? Why shouldn't that apply to a horror TV series? Still, getting to know them and then seeing them fall victim to the house that has already taken so many other lives added a great twist to the series that was fantastically twisted already.
Rosie Larsen - The Killing
AMC's The Killing is about solving one question -- who killed Rosie Larsen? Sure, many others arise as a result but her death is not only the titular killing but obviously also the narrative focus of the entire series. What other death this year can claim that much significance? And on top of that, the death was also quite harrowing both the murder itself and the many grisly details that surface during the resulting investigation.
The much talked about new series, based on the critically acclaimed Danish show Forbrydelsen (or The Crime), opened with the teenage girl being chased through the wilderness at night. She screams for help but to no avail. She's caught. Her body is soon discovered, bound and drowned in the trunk of one of a local politician's campaign cars. The series also opened to critical acclaim before slowly (the key word is slowly) frustrating a lot of viewers into submission making The Killing, love it or hate it, one of the most talked about series of the year. And, as a result, Rosie's murder easily becomes one of the most important deaths of the year if only for the endless discussion it fostered. The Killing remains unsolved and the case continues next season on AMC.
Charlie Harper - Two and a Half Men
There are many ways to get rid of a character on TV. In the wake of Charlie Sheen’s departure from the series due to a variety of widely publicized issues, Sheen’s character Charlie Harper was given the most final (excluding sci-fi/fantasy series and soap operas) kind of write-off , in that he was killed off. His death occurred during the break between seasons, with Season 9 opening with the reveal that Harper died in a tragic accident, having been hit by a train while on his honeymoon with Rose in Paris. Whether it was really an accident or the result of a fit of rage on the part of his new bride, who admitted she’d recently seen him with another woman, we man never know.
Would the series have been better off cancelled than to go on without it’s lead character? Possibly. Some would probably argue that it would, but considering the series’ ratings remain well above average by comparison to other sitcoms on TV right now, it seems fans are still happy to tune in, even in the absence of Sheen and his character Charlie Harper.
Roxy - It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
“Frank’s Pretty Woman” opened the seventh season unleashing Fat Mac upon the world, while squashing the hubbub of Dee’s possible motherhood, and also presented quite possibly the funniest vomit shock-gag I’ve ever seen. But none of these Gang characteristics exemplified the blackly comedic “je ne se quoi” of the series as well as Roxy the gravel-voiced prostitute, played by pitch-perfect Alanna Ubach. As Frank’s favorite whore, she’s as close to love as Frank will get, so he wants to marry her. As a crack-smoking fetishist rolling backwards in money, she’s as close to the American Dream as Dee can imagine, so she wants to emulate her. If only she’d lasted more episodes, she could have extracted the same basic and selfish desires from everyone else in the show.
Unfortunately, she dies unceremoniously, and is disposed of in much the same way, adding a dark edge to Roy Orbison’s least creepy hit. (Oh yeah, this was a semi-parody!) If, in the middle of the first season, you didn’t expect this series to eventually showcase a dead hooker being abandoned in an apartment hallway, then you probably aren’t the sharpest denim in the boiling pot. R.I.P. Roxy.
Bill Henrickson - Big Love
Bill Henrickson’s death in the final minutes of HBO’s Big Love was not the epic event it could have been. Disregarding the fact he was assassinated, there was no blatant foreshadowing and the man who gunned him down had only a few grievances to back up his utter loathing of Bill. True too is the fact we don’t get to see much of the showdown between Bill and neighbor Carl, as producers chose to cut to a shot of the women working together in the kitchen as Bill is gunned down.
What made Bill’s death so great was not the way it played out onscreen, but rather what it meant for the Henrickson clan, and especially, Bill’s first wife, Barb. As Bill lay wounded in the road, he gave the priesthood to his wife, a gesture of confidence he had never been able to exude prior, a gesture that meant a lot for the unity of the family’s future. I always figured Big Love would end on a dark note, but I never thought it would juxtapose nicely with a moment that was so bright.
Gus - Breaking Bad
Jimmy - Boardwalk Empire
Sophia - The Walking Dead
Pierce - Community (“Darkest Timeline”)
Jesus, Nan and (maybe) Tara - True Blood
Sheriff Graham - Once Upon a Time