Sometimes TV shows like to prove that they can do anything. This usually comes in the form of wild twists, big reveals, and, on occasion, shocking main character deaths. We're not talking the typical "end of series" deaths or ones that we get prepared for in advance (RE: a sick main character or way too much foreshadowing). We're talking about the crazy, unexpected demises of some of the biggest characters on television. These main character deaths are so shocking that we still can't believe these series decided to take such a big risk!
With their main character deaths, each of these shows saw a reset. ~Everything~ changed! It's a huge gamble for any series to make, but we're especially impressed with the ballsy shows that killed off a main character in the first season! It's undeniable, though, that this trope keeps people guessing. If shows are willing to kill one of their biggest draws, then what else will they do?! We love unpredictable television! Here are all the unexpected main character deaths that left us totally shook. Oh, and FYI — spoilers abound, so read at your own discretion!
This main character death is unexpected because not even the writers planned it. During filming for the first few episodes of the second season, John Ritter unexpectedly passed away. So, the writers decided to continue the show and write his death into the series. This lead to the patriarch of the Hennessy family dying from an aortic dissection, the same way that John himself had died. It's one of the most heartbreaking main character deaths of all time because of all we know about what went on behind-the-scenes.
When an actor wants to leave a show, there are several ways they can go about it. Writing characters off is common, and there is no lack of creative solutions for giving a character a memorable exit. When Josh Charles decided to leave The Good Wife, the show handled it in the most surprising way by killing him off. Will is shot inside a courtroom by his client. Will's death was shocking because it completely changed the way the show operated. Plus, if he hadn't decided to exit the show, his death may have never transpired, let alone been handled in such a tragic way.
The first season of 24 was truly a no good, very bad day for everybody. None more so than for Teri Bauer (Leslie Hope). After inadvertently finding out a good friend is actually a devious mole trying to further an assassination attempt on a presidential hopeful, Teri practically has her fate sealed. She spends most of the season in danger (like we said, really bad day) due to her affiliation with her husband Jack (Kiefer Sutherland). But we never expected what happens in the season finale when the mole murders Teri to keep her secret under wraps. This comes right on the heels of finding out Teri is pregnant and her reconciliation with Jack, leading viewers to think a happy future is ahead of them. Boy, were we wrong!
Wells (Eli Goree) is a part of the 100, a group of juvenile delinquents sent to Earth to see if it is livable for humanity to return to the planet. He jumps out as an early leader, trying to maintain order and help things move smoothly for everyone. So, when he was murdered by another member of the group in episode three, we were *shocked*. He was clearly emerging as one of the most important characters, and before he could have a solid arc, he was gone. It was then that viewers learned that The 100 had no qualms about killing people off.
Pro tip: Don't Ambien and tweet. Or, maybe, just don't tweet at all if you're going to have the problematic views of Roseanne Barr. Her racist tweets directed towards a congresswoman lost Barr her job and the character she had played on television for decades. As a result of her tweets, ABC fired her from the Roseanne reboot that had just ended its first season back on the air. As a result, it was rebranded as The Conners to focus more on the rest of the family, and the matriarch was killed off after an opioid overdose. This is one of the many main character deaths that was unexpectedly brought about due controversy behind-the-scenes.
Sure, she came back, but when Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) died at the end of the fifth season, fans were aghast. How in the world would the show go on without its heroine?! Her witchy BFF ends up bringing her back (horrifyingly enough, ripping her out of heaven), but for a few episodes, fans really thought she might be dead. It's a huge gamble to kill off the person whose name is *literally* in the title of the show! But Joss Whedon is known for killing his darlings. Despite the fact that she came back, it's easy to say that a piece of Buffy truly died that day.
Graham (Jamie Dornan), or The Huntsman depending on how you know him, was an integral part of Once Upon a Time's first season. He was the first fairy tale character to come close to remembering who he used to be before the curse took over the town of Storybrooke. Too bad he broke up with the Evil Queen Regina Mills (Lana Parrilla)! Due to her broken heart, she ended up breaking Graham's heart — literally! She crushed it in her hands after unearthing it from the vault she had been storing it in. His demise comes about in only the seventh episode of the series, and it's hugely shocking since his romantic arc with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) was just beginning and his importance was becoming more clear.
We knew things weren't looking good for Lane (Jared Harris). He was deep in debt, unappreciated at work and at home, and overall struggling to get by. But what we didn't expect was that his troubles would lead to him hanging himself in his office at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The other partners at the firm find him and cut him down, grieving the loss of someone who was struggling but hid it until it was too late. Mad Men nails the quiet moments but it's the shocking twists like this that always leave us floored on this slow-moving show.
After 11 seasons on Grey's Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey decided that it was time to move on. So, the real question was, what would his swan song be? In true Grey's Anatomy fashion, it was highly dramatic and emotional. Derek ends up dying after a fatal car accident when he is pronounced brain dead and taken off life support. It was a shocking end to one of the most prominent characters on the show. This is one of the most tragic main character deaths considering he left behind his wife Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and three children, the third of which was still on the way. The suddenness of this death will always make it hard to handle.
Allison (Crystal Reed) is one of the original members of the Teen Wolf cast. Back when they were just babies trying to figure out all this werewolf nonsense, she and her father were invaluable in fighting the enemies that came to Beacon Hills. So when she dies fighting their latest enemy, the Oni, it had us shook. Out of everyone, she had proven that she was an adept fighter and survivor. Plus, it's never easy to watch a 17-year-old die. It turns out Reed wanted to leave the show to pursue different creative ventures. After all, she was 29 playing a teen! But instead of having her character move away, she passed away, and we're still not over it.
We've learned by now that anything goes on Game of Thrones. That didn't make the insane Red Wedding any more startling! When Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and Robb (Richard Madden) are brutally murdered at a wedding for supposed allies, it's one of the most mind-boggling moments of the series. In one fell swoop, the King of the North, his wife, and his mother are killed and the hope of a northern rebellion is lost. It's a hugely impactful moment and one that fans of the series didn't see coming. To this day, the Red Wedding is a masterclass in main character deaths and how unexpected they can be!
Sure, Nate's (Peter Krause) death came towards the end of the series, but it was a complete surprise nonetheless. When Nate suffers from a brain hemorrhage, it seems like it may be the end. After a stint in a coma, he awakens and doctors believe he'll be able to recover, giving everyone the sense that he will be just fine. So it was extra heartbreaking when he unexpectedly died the same day doctors assured his loved ones he'd be alright. We were given the false sense that Nate would survive the series, only to have him ripped from us at the last second. On a show about accepting death, it was still hard to fathom this one!
Stringer (Idris Elba) is a drug dealer, but not the typical kind. He works hard to legitimize his business, even going to the local community college to take business classes and learn how to be smart about his ~business~. But with crime comes a lot of danger. In the show's third season, Stringer is killed by a rival after a betrayal by the man who brought him into the criminal world. It's shocking how dismayed we are that this legitimately bad guy is killed as a result of his life of crime. Stringer had grown to be so much more than a drug dealer, so his death felt more like a hero dying.
This is one of the least surprising main character deaths on this list, but it was still difficult to handle. T.R. Knight made it known he was leaving Grey's after the sixth season. He had communication issues with Shonda Rhimes and was beginning to resent how little screen time he was getting. How vocal he was about on-set issues should've been the big red flag that he was going to die. Shonda killed off the important character in a tragic bus accident that left him so disfigured that his co-workers at Seattle Grace didn't even know it was him when he came into the hospital. Some main character deaths are a result of crossing a showrunner who has no qualms about killing anyone off!
The whole point of the Charmed Ones "Power of Three" was that it was a power shared between *three* sisters. So when one of the sisters actually died, we were pretty perplexed. Though, when you take into account the behind-the-scenes drama, it makes total sense. Shannen Doherty has allegedly never been easy to get along with, and it was no different on the Charmed set. Shannon decided to leave the show citing all the drama going on off-screen. It's presumed that Alyssa Milano and her were not the best of friends. So, Prue was killed off and replaced with another ~secret sister~ who ended up being on the show longer than Prue ever was!
Here is another lesson in not pissing off a showrunner. Charlie Sheen was beginning to go off the rails in 2010. He was #winning and claiming he was a warlock. He also happened to be talking smack about Two and a Half Men showrunner Chuck Lorre. So, CBS terminated his contract, and they killed him off the show. It was shocking that Charlie actually faced consequences for his actions and that the network so swiftly dealt with him and his character. Sometimes main character deaths are a result of artistic direction, but many times it's the actors nonsense that leads to their character being killed off. Oh, and in case you're wondering if Lorre forgot about it all, look no further than the fact that he killed a Charlie look-a-like by dropping a piano on him in the series finale.
On a show that would breed plenty of death throughout it's run (everyone may or may not have been dead the whole time), the first big casualty was Boone (a baby-faced Ian Somerhalder). Boone is one of the most proactive islanders, doing everything he can to try and find a way off the island where their plane crashed. After finding a small plane stuck in a tree canopy, Boone steps aboard it to see if the radio still works. In the process, the plane falls, sending Boone to the ground with it. He succumbs to his injuries and is the first of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 to die on the island.
The O.C. got dark for a teen show. At the end of the third season, after her high school graduation, the Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) is in a car that gets run off the road by her vindictive ex-boyfriend. She dies in the ensuing accident at the tender age of 18. It was a completely devastating moment for any O.C. fan. Marissa's death wasn't something many saw coming since most teen shows don't often deal with killing off one of their main characters. The show ran for one more season without her, but it just wasn't the same without our fave Orange County wild child.
Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, was likely never supposed to die. He was going to live on forever doing bad deeds and being a generally awful person. But in the teaser for season six of House of Cards, it was revealed that the corrupt politician had passed away. A huge reveal for a teaser, no? Well, this main character death makes sense when you think about what was happening in real life. Kevin was accused repeatedly of sexual assault, and as a result, Netflix cut ties with the actor and killed him off of House of Cards. For anyone who didn't know what was playing out behind-the-scenes, killing off this main character was huge.
Sean Bean's casting as Ned on Game of Thrones was a huge draw for fans. He was a big name attached to this fantasy project that no one quite knew what would happen with (Spoiler Alert: It was a huge success). Fans of the show that hadn't read the books were shook when Ned was killed in the ninth episode of the series. He was touted as the main character in the promotional footage, given tons of screentime, and seemed to be the guy we should all be supporting. But then, with the swing of a sword, his head was gone and Ned was dead. Game of Thrones hasn't shied away from main character deaths ever since, but the first big one was undoubtedly the most startling.