Death is inevitable, both in life and on television. But they differ in one important way: whereas the passing of a loved one in real life is a mortifying experience, a television death can become an excitable talking point for days, even weeks. Heck, a trio of recent deaths on Game of Thrones became the biggest dramatic television talking point in, like, forever.
Occasionally the line can blur, though. As viewers, as fans, we can get so invested in a show that we take a character's death personally, finding ourselves affected by their loss on a much deeper level - to the point that it can still sting months, even years later. Here are eight on-screen deaths that still hurt me to this day ...
(It goes without saying: spoilers abound.)
Sayid Jarrah and Jin & Sun Kwon, Lost
The worst part of this trio of deaths, in Season 6 Episode 14, wasn't even the way in which the three died - Sayid (Naveen Andrews) runs an exploding bomb to the far end of a submarine, and in the panic to escape the sinking ship Sun (Yunjin Kim) gets caught; Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) decides to stay with the woman he loves (also touching given that it subverted a recurring theme on the show: live together, die alone). The worst part of this trio of deaths was the reaction from those who escaped. Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Hurley manage to get out of the sub and make their way to the beach. Hysterical crying ensued, both on the show and at my house. Just a heartbreaking sequence of events, and proof of how attached I was to the core cast of Lost.
Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It's always interested me that the most dramatic episode of Buffy (maybe even one of the best episodes of anything ever) didn't deal with any kind of supernatural death, but with a completely natural death. Buffy's mum (Kristine Sutherland) dies of a brain tumour at the end of Season 5's I Was Made to Love You, and the cast spend the next episode - The Body - trying to deal with a natural death among all the monsters they normally face. Series creator Joss Whedon wrote and directed the episode, stripping the hour of all music and including visual effects to give a sense of disorientation. The cast played the material perfectly, and I felt I'd just lost a loved one as well.
Gale Boetticher & Gus Fring, Breaking Bad
A pair of major deaths in the Season 3 and Season 4 finales but shocking for different reasons: Gale's (David Costabile) death was shocking because of what it meant for the character of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who shot Gale point blank and later went into a tailspin during Season 4. Meanwhile, Gus' (Giancarlo Esposito) death was shocking because he walked away from a bomb with his face blown half to hell. I yelped at my screen, repeatedly. Also, are you impressed I could spell "Boetticher" without looking it up? You're not? Oh.
Lady Sybil Branson (nee Crawley), Downton Abbey
These "Most Shocking TV Death" lists always mention Matthew Crawley's fatal car accident at the end of the latest Christmas Special, but it was Sybil's (Jessica Brown-Findlay) death after the birth of her first child that had me sobbing on the couch. I was a classic bait-and-switch: Sybil had some complications during childbirth, but both she and the baby seemed to be fine (whew!) - only for the next act of the show to have her condition decline rapidly until she died of complications brought on by eclampsia. The shocked faces on the rest of the cast told the story. I mean, if you could see their faces through your own tears.
Anastasia 'Dee' Dualla, Battlestar Galactica
This is the one death on this list that I just didn't see coming. Did anybody? Dee (Kandyse McClure) and Apollo (Jamie Bamber) enjoy a nice evening together, after which Dee returns to her quarters, pulls out a pistol and shoots herself in the head. It doesn't make any more sense now than it did back when I first saw it happen.
Terry Crowley, The Shield
Sure, this one took place in the very first episode of the show - but it was a crazy act of violence that set the tone for the series. Actor Reed Diamond was listed in the opening credits of the pilot episode, but ended up getting shot in the face by the conclusion of the episode, at the hands of ruthless cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) as revenge for snitching on the strike team. It was a risk that paid off for the show, proving that anything could happen.
Lori Grimes, The Walking Dead
As I think about it now, I'm not sure whether I was more shocked that the show was actually willing to kill off Lori (Sarah Wayne-Callies), one of the worst characters on the show, if I was shocked that The Walking Dead ended up fearlessly letting Carl (Chandler Riggs) off his own mother so that she couldn't turn into a walker, or if it was something else entirely. As I wrote at the time, "I was a little misty-eyed. I sat on the couch, stunned, not wanting to hear or see anything else. I needed to dwell on what had just happened for a moment. I needed to recover. More than anything else, I'm surprised by that response."
Most of the Stark family, Game of Thrones
The whole reason for this blog coming into being. Ned Stark (Sean Bean) lost his head back in Season 1, while Robb (Richard Madden), Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and Talisa (Oona Chaplin) were slaughtered a couple of weeks ago. And when you consider the rest of the family, you have to wonder: could George R.R. Martin have punished the Stark family any more than he has so far? You're right, he probably could have.
A few deaths that didn't make the cut: though I was surprised by Aurora Bay (Claire Chitham) passing away after a motorbike accident on Outrageous Fortune, I mostly felt sad for Van (Antony Starr); I was shocked when Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) shot Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) at the end of Boardwalk Empire's second season, but Jimmy had to die; Omar Little (Michael K Williams) was a major character on The Wire, but his death was more surprisingly casual than truly shocking; and call me heartless, but the gruesome murder of Rita Morgan (Julie Benz) was surprising, but not shocking, on a show about murder (Dexter).
Which on-screen deaths have affected you as a viewer and fan? Have you ever been completely surprised by the death of a major character? Are there any characters you still find yourself missing occasionally?