The past year has been a new high for television deaths: HBO’s gloriously gaudy swords and dragons-cum-softcore porn Game of Thrones, and the far less watched NBC horror-drama Hannibal have elevated the act of killing characters to an art form. Eyes gouged, torsos stabbed, heads lopped off, people turned into carrion sculptures or filet mignon — no characters are safe on these two shows. Sometimes they even come back, only to be killed later. Hannibal‘s brilliant Season 2 finale, which would have been the single most depressing and lurid television finale of all time had the show not been renewed, sees our title character killing everyone. Literally, everyone with whom Hannibal comes in contact during the last episode dies, or appears to be in the process of dying when the credits roll. Of course, as this year’s Season 3 reveals, not everyone did die.
(There’s also that moment in House of Cards Season 2 when a certain southern politician throws a certain inquisitive journalist in front of a train, and basically broke Twitter for that entire weekend. But House of Cards isn’t on the same level as Game of Thrones or Hannibal.)
Television deaths are nothing new. Starting with the first episode of Hill Street Blues in 1981, television viewers have slowly been purged of any assurance that their favorite character will love. No one expected Ricky to waltz into his living room and shoot Lucy in the face, and the first truly violent TV show, The Untouchables, was derided by mainstream writers and mothers everywhere for its graphic (by ’50s standards) violence, but Steven Bochco’s sprawling cop drama put into motion the momentous ploy of unexpectedly killing characters.
There have been some great TV deaths that channel Bochco’s sense of visceral spontaneity: Deep Throat, Fox Mulder’s pseudo-mentor, getting shot at the conclusion of The X-Files‘ first season; Leland Palmer, possessed by the evil entity BOB, ramming his gray-haired head into the wall in the second season of Twin Peaks after beating his niece to death; Principal Flutie being eaten by The Pack of possessed students (and subsequently replaced by the mean Principal Snyder) halfway through the first season of Buffy; virtually everyone in The Sopranos, etc.
But not every show has been so liberal with its slaughter. Some shows — even the most violent ones — let characters live who we’d really rather see die. We give you five television characters we wish were killed, but sadly weren’t. In case it wasn’t obvious: major spoilers everywhere.