Plot twists in TV shows keep audiences on their toes, waiting for the next episode or even the next season to see how their favorite characters roll with the punches coming from the writers’ room. Unfortunately, while some plot twists are surprising and exciting, others leave audiences slack-jawed and with tears in their eyes.
Tragic plot twists, like killing off beloved characters, often move TV plots forward more than any other. Many tragic plot twists are so memorable that they are the first plot twists that come to mind when thinking of a TV show. Many tragic plot twists that result in the death of a character are also the most divisive, splitting fanbases on whether or not they were the right direction for a show to lead. Regardless of whether they were the right decision, they make a mark in TV history every time they shock fans.
10 O’Malley’s Death In Grey’s Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy is known for shocking fans by killing off beloved characters, and one of the show’s earliest, most heart-wrenching twists sees one of the original five interns killed off much sooner than fans expected. In season five, episode twenty-four, “Now or Never,” George O’Malley first drops a bombshell to his friends and colleagues by joining the military with an imminent ship-out date, shocking enough for fans who had come to love the young surgeon.
When a “John Doe” is brought into the ER after being hit by a bus, panic ensues after he writes the number “007” into Meredith’s hand: George’s nickname. Fans are hit again with an enormous blindside and are suddenly faced with the death of fan-favorite George O’Malley – certainly not the last in the long-running medical drama.
9 How I Met Your Mother Counts Down To Marshall’s Father’s Death
one of How I Met Your Mother’s most iconic and memorable twists occurs in season six, episode thirteen: “Bad News.” In a turn of events that catches both the characters and the audience off guard, and immediately after receiving good news about his fertility, beloved side character Marshall (Jason Segel) learns that his father has died of a heart attack.
This twist even shocked Segel and Lily’s actor (Alyson Hannigan) because the pair was kept in the dark about the death until the day of shooting, with their scripts having a different ending to the episode. While the twist caught everyone off-guard, there was a hidden countdown hidden in ordinary objects from fifty to one through the episode, up to Marshall hearing about his father’s death in front of a parking meter that said: “EXPIRED.” The episode has been ranked as one of 2011’s top TV episodes.
8 Orange Is The New Black Kills Off Poussey Washington
Poussey Washington’s Shocking Season Four Death In Orange is the New Black was so poignant that it shocked viewers and directly affected the events of every subsequent season of the series.
According to show creator Jenji Kohan, several cast members were “outraged” to learn of her death following a peaceful protest in the prison cafeteria. Poussey’s death is one of the most heartbreaking TV deaths in recent memory. To many fans, it felt like it came out of nowhere; while surprising, it is appropriate for the stories told in Litchfield and real-life prison scenarios.
7 Walt Lets Jane Die On Breaking Bad
In the widely acclaimed Breaking Bad episode “Phoenix,” fans were shocked after a whirlwind episode to see Walt sit back and watch Jane suffocate on her vomit and actively decide not to help her.
This death, while shocking, had significant plot relevance and won Bryan Cranston an Emmy for his performance. While shooting the scene, Cranston said in his memoir, A Life in Parts, that he pictured his own daughter as Jane rather than her actor, Krysten Ritter, describing it as “the most Harrowing [thing] I did on Breaking Bad.”
6 Carl’s Death In The Walking Dead Came As A Shock
Perhaps one of the most out-of-the-blue deaths in recent memory and one of the most controversial, Carl Grimes’ death in the eighth season of The Walking Dead was a shocking and tragic plot twist that altered the paths of numerous characters on the show. When defending the new character Siddiq, Carl is bitten by a walker on the ribs and subsequently hides it until it’s too late, bonding with sister Judith.
One of the most significant deviations from the comics, Carl’s death, came as a shock to many. Many fans feel that the choice to kill off Carl was a mistake, and if the nosedive in the show’s subsequent ratings is any indication, the fans may be right.
5 Joyce Summers Suddenly Dies In Buffy The Vampire Slayer
In what many critics have lauded to be one of the best TV episodes of all time, “The Body” is the sixteenth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The episode opens with Buffy arriving home to find her mother, Joyce Summers (played by Kristine Sutherland), deceased on the couch. This death comes out of nowhere as Joyce was recently recovering well from surgery for a brain tumor and had a budding love interest.
The episode explores the raw and visceral reactions that an unexpected death elicits, including an impressive performance from Emma Caulfield (playing Anya Jenkins), who tearfully admits that she doesn’t know how to act and doesn’t understand why Joyce can’t return to her body. For a group of young people who deal with death often, Joyce’s death affects them all deeply and also shocked audiences when it happened.
4 Dexter Can’t Save Rita In The Season 4 Finale Of Dexter
Rita Morgan (played by Julia Benz) was Dexter Morgan’s girlfriend and then wife for the first four seasons of dexter. In the season four finale, Rita was killed by Arthur Mitchell, though Dexter didn’t discover her until after he had killed Mitchell himself.
Producers of Dexter told The Getaway that season four would end with a series-changing twist, which led to heavy speculation that a central member of the cast would be killed off. While many speculated that Rita might be killed off despite being alive and well in the Dexter novels, her death was still a shock to Benz and fans alike.
3 Sophia’s Discovery In The Walking Dead
Another deviation from its comic origins, The Walking Dead had one of its most heart-wrenching deaths in season two, when, after a harrowing search, it was discovered that Carol’s young daughter Sophia had been bitten and turned into a walker. It was an emotionally wrought scene when it was revealed that Herschel had been keeping walkers in his barn, including Sophia, but it came to a head when Rick was forced to put Sophia out of her misery by shooting her.
The moment was shocking and tragic for viewers after the search had been coming up empty for so long, only to discover that she had been so close the whole time.
2 Derek’s Accident In Grey’s Anatomy
Derek Shepherd’s Season Eleven Death On Grey’s Anatomy marks one of the TV show’s most surprising and heartbreaking twists in the show’s history. When Derek is on his way to resign from the President’s brain-mapping program, he arrives at the scene of a motor vehicle accident and pulls over to help. Once the scene has been cleared, Shepherd pulls away and is hit by a semi-truck. Unfortunately, the attending physicians miss a brain injury at the nearest hospital, leading to brain death.
Patrick Dempsey had been the male lead of Grey’s since the show’s conception in 2005, so his abrupt death and departure from the show shocked fans. The twist led characters on new and exciting paths, but many Grey’s fans are willing to admit that they haven’t quite gotten over this death yet.
1 Glenn And Abraham Die At The Hands Of Negan In The Walking Dead
The season seven premiere of The Walking Dead picked up on an excruciating cliffhanger that saw Negan deciding on who of the survivors were to die by his famous baseball bat, Lucille. Ultimately, it would be Abraham Ford and Glenn Rhee, much to the shock of fans. This twist was jarring for fans, especially since Glenn had been a fan favorite since season one, thanks to Steven Yuen’s performance.
Despite this twist shocking TV viewers, the show’s writers stayed true to the comic origins, with Glenn’s death being adapted faithfully. Abraham’s death, however, was not originally at the hands of Negan during the group’s initial meeting with the Saviors and was instead at the hands of Negan’s right-hand man, Dwight.
NEXT: The 10 Most Nonsensical Plot Twists In TV Shows