Warning: This whole article is full of spoiler alerts for anyone who’s been living under a TV rock.
Last week, the entertainment world was shocked when Patrick Dempsey’s McDreamy was killed of during a fateful Grey’s Anatomy hour fans will never forget. I had stopped watching Grey‘s a few seasons ago but even I came out of the woodwork to watch the gorgeous Dr. Derek Shepherd die. How did this huge incident occur? – in his car, when he stupidly fetches his phone while being parked in the middle of a highway and gets slammed into by a mack truck. What was he doing in the middle of a quiet highway? – He was pulling away after stopping to save the victims of a horrific car accident.
Derek didn’t die instantly due to the crash. He actually died due to the doctors screwing up at the “teaching hospital” where he was brought afterwards. Grey’s did an excellent job of showcasing Derek’s death. The entire time he was injured, he couldn’t speak but the viewers could hear his thoughts. He even told the doctors what to do and not to do, but unfortunately he only directed them in his head. Derek finally passed away when Meredith pulled the plug, sitting alongside him and telling him she and the kids were going to be okay.
I’m not including Derek’s death scene clip here, because anyone who ever watched Grey‘s should make a point to see the episode “How to Save a Life” in its entirety.
Dempsey reported that the whole idea to kill off Derek only began around February or March. He wasn’t originally supposed to bite the big one but when the suggestion came up, everyone just rolled with it. It definitely is a good way of letting people know that Grey‘s still isn’t afraid to make some bold attention-grabbing moves.
It’s also not the first time a major character was killed off on the show. Let’s go way back now….T.J. Miller’s character George O’Malley died after being struck by a bus, also due to saving strangers – he pushed a stranger out of the bus’ path. This was back in the premiere episode of Season Six, in 2009. Fans cared a fraction as much as they care about McDreamy’s death but George was still a well-liked, major character. The reason that O’Malley was killed was because Miller wanted off the show (unlike Dempsey). But it wasn’t a great choice, as Miller has barely been heard of since.
Let’s look at some other programs that had the cojones to piss off fans and kill off major characters. If the death happened in the final episode (i.e. Dan on Roseanne), it doesn’t count here.
Eddard Stark – Game of Thrones
This list would be a joke if I didn’t put Eddard Stark at the top. Viewers expected Sean Bean’s beloved character to lead the series for years to come, not get his head chopped off in the second-to-last episode of the first season. People were shocked, and impressed. It showed that HBO, show runners, and the storyline pushed limits in every which way. Don’t dare pick a favorite character – they may very well be dead by the end of the next show. Who else has since parted the world of the Seven Kingdoms? Too many people to count, but the next most shocking death was that of King Joffrey, who was poisoned in a very graphic purple-face moment, dubbing that wedding scene the Purple Wedding (Season 4, Episode 2).
Watch Eddard Stark and King Joffrey’s deaths:
Rita – Dexter
Fans of the good guy serial killer (good because he only killed very bad, murderous people) were never too thrilled that he actually married and had a fake life/identity with Rita. But most fans (however I won’t say all) didn’t actually wish her dead. Maybe a divorce or quiet separation? But the Trinity Killer had other plans during the show’s fourth and best season (tied for best with the first season). Dexter pushed Trinity and boy, did Trinity get even. Dexter comes home to find his pretty wife killed in the bathtub and his son covered in and sitting in her blood on the bathroom floor. Fans went nuts for how brilliant the program was. No one could believe how twisted it was that Dexter’s son would experience the very same thing that Dexter did as a child (watching his own mother murdered and being stuck and covered in her blood). It was so, so evil of Trinity to make Dexter’s son live that also and have Dexter see his son that way and feel guilty for being the cause.
Rita’s death left Dexter alone with their new baby son, as well as Rita’s two children, who every fan wanted gone. Luckily. they were written off within another season. Dexter was one of my favorite shows of all time, except unfortunately, it got worse with age. In the series’ final episode, lead character Deb (Dexter’s sister) dies, but by then no one really cared either which way.
Watch the scene:
Matthew Crawley – Downton Abbey
I don’t watch Downton but people who do friggin’ freaked when the handsome new husband of oldest daughter Mary died suddenly. Cause of death? – another dang automobile accident in the finale of Season Three. The reason for Matthew’s departure was actor Dan Stevens’ desire to leave the program, to fans dismay. “It is a very monopolizing job,” the actor told The Telegraph in 2012. “So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be.”
Nate Fisher – Six Feet Under
Another show in my list of all-time favorites is Six Feet Under. Fans were saddened when oldest brother and family leader Nate (Peter Krause) died an unexpected death in the hospital while recovering from a brain hemorrhage, while his brother David (Michael C. Hall) sat beside him. Suddenly, viewers went on a trippy mind trip with Nate, imagining David as a hippie stoner. They go to the beach in the back of a van, getting high, while their father drives. Nate goes into the water, symbolizing him letting go/dying. At that moment, he dies in the hospital bed.
Nate’s death was shocking but not very traumatic, considering fans were just three episodes from the show’s end. And by this point, viewers had coped with death after death…after death, after death. The outstanding HBO show followed a funeral home-running family, with every episode beginning with a person’s death, who then has his or her funeral at Fisher & Sons. The pilot episode showed Nate’s father (played by the fabulous Richard Jenkins, who visited regularly in hallucinatory visions) get hit by a bus, leaving the family to run the business. Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under was such a beautiful, thought-provoking show – I still miss it so much, as all fans do.
Watch the scene:
Lori Grimes – The Walking Dead
In the middle of the zombie apocalypse epic’s third season, the wife of leader Rick and mother of Carl died due to complications with pregnancy. Fans were relieved (some found her to be annoying) but many still had feelings of grief. It was a sad day in the show’s zombie-filled universe, no matter how you felt about the character, played by Sarah Wayne Callies.
Mark Greene – E.R.
Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) passed away from brain cancer during the hospital drama’s eighth season. Mark chooses to die in a house by the ocean, with the sounds of waves crashing in the background. He has time to say goodbye to his family in heartbreaking scenes. “Be generous – with your time, with your love, with your life,” he wants his daughter to know. With Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s beautiful beachy version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” playing, visions of Greene’s wife, Dr. Elizabeth Corday, and their baby playing are followed by Elizabeth finding Mark dead in his bed. This was the first time such a major character had died on E.R., despite minor characters having come and gone multiple times by then.
Christopher Moltisanti – The Sopranos
Tony’s nephew finally meets his end with three episodes left in the sixth and final season of HBO’s family mob drama. Christopher (Michael Imperioli) struggled with drugs and alcohol, survived shootings, and was generally a bit of an asshole, but he finally died at the hands of his own uncle. An injured Christopher begs Tony to help him avoid losing his license from behind the wheel of a crashed truck. Tony responds by finally ridding himself of the worry and the burden that was Christopher and suffocates him then and there. Chris’ character arc was perhaps the most turbulent in the show’s run, full of highs and lows – appropriate for a recurring addict. All of Tony’s mobster associates seemed doomed not to live out their natural life spans, and many felt that Chris’ way of dying was more than the character deserved.
Watch the scene: