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The Saddest TV Deaths of All Time

We still haven't emotionally recovered from the deaths of these beloved TV characters.

Sure, we know they're not real people, but the characters on our favorite TV shows start to feel like real-life friends after awhile. That's why it's so devastating when we're abruptly forced to say goodbye. Characters dying on TV shows can be powerful and even cathartic, not to mention the way it raises the stakes and propels the plot forward—but that doesn't mean it's not also deeply upsetting. At the risk of opening old wounds, here's our look back at the saddest TV deaths of all time. Read on to see if your pick made the cut, but be warned, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead.

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Lexie Grey, Grey's Anatomy

still from grey's anatomy

Of all the deaths on Grey's Anatomy—and there have been so many—Lexie Grey's (Chyler Leigh) demise still hits the hardest. Maybe it's Meredith's (Ellen Pompeo) gutted reaction, maybe it's Mark (Eric Dane) refusing to let go of her hand, or maybe we'd just grown especially fond of Little Grey over the years.

Jack Pearson, This Is Us

still from this is us

After a season-and-a-half of teasing us with the promised reveal of how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died, This Is Us saved the gut punch for a post-Super Bowl episode, in which Jack escapes the fire fans had assumed killed him—only to die from cardiac arrest shortly thereafter. Way to keep us guessing. And crying.

Glenn Rhee, The Walking Dead

still from the walking dead

The cruelty of Glenn's (Steven Yeun) brutal death on The Walking Dead is that the character had just recovered from a close call the prior season, and the show killed off Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) first, making viewers think that Glenn was safe. The sadistic way this murder of a beloved character played out was enough to make some fans quit the series for good.

Will Gardner, The Good Wife

still from the good wife

Somehow everyone managed to keep the secret that Josh Charles would be leaving The Good Wife midseason, making Will Gardner's death that much more shocking. The burst of violence when his client opened fire in a courtroom was already surprising, but the reveal of his body truly took the audience's breath away.

Poussey Washington, Orange Is the New Black

orange is the new black

Orange Is the New Black fans weren't the only ones upset by Poussey's (Samira Wiley) death: Her accidental suffocation by a CO during a peaceful demonstration is one of the major inciting incidents for the prison riot that takes place over the subsequent season. In real life, the show launched a criminal justice reform fund in Poussey's name.

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Lady Sybil Crawley, Downton Abbey

downton abbey

Complications from childbirth are very real, and they were even more of a problem in the 1920s. It's certainly not unbelievable that Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) would die after giving birth, but for Downtown Abbey fans who had come to love the character, this plot development felt a little like a betrayal nonetheless.

Lucy Knight, ER

still from er
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

ER was influenced by the medical dramas that came before it and proved hugely influential on those that followed. The character surviving a tragedy only to die from complications shortly thereafter—like poor Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin)—has become something of a staple, and also pops up on several non-medical dramas on this very list.

Finn Hudson, Glee

still from glee

The real-life death of Cory Monteith had to be addressed on Glee, which devoted an entire tribute episode to the character of Finn and the actor who portrayed him. Viewers never learned how Finn died, but that didn't matter—what did were the heartbreaking performances from Finn's friends, who also happened to be Monteith's.

Mrs. Landingham, The West Wing

still from the west wing
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The rules of dramatic irony suggest that you should never agree to a future conversation with someone, and you should never make note of picking up your first new car, unless you are prepared to get into a fatal collision in said new car before the conversation can ever happen. Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) learned this lesson the hard way.

Lane Pryce, Mad Men

still from mad men

Unlike other prestige dramas we could name—including a few on this list—Mad Men didn't really traffic in character death. That's what made Lane Pryce's (Jared Harris) abrupt exit so shocking and so upsetting. While his despair had been evident for some time, it still felt sudden and left those around him (and the viewers) reeling.

RELATED: The Saddest TV Episodes of All Time.

Sun-Hwa Kwon and Jin-Soo Kwon, Lost

still from lost

How do you pick the saddest character death on Lost, which had killed off every character by the series finale? (Literally! Turns out the final season was everyone in purgatory.) You have to go with your gut, and ours says that nothing hit harder than Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim) drowning together after deciding they couldn't bear to be apart.

Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

still from buffy the vampire slayer
20th Television

Tara's shocking death on Buffy the Vampire Slayer sent shockwaves through the climax of the season, as her girlfriend Willow (Alyson Hannigan) went full-blown dark in search of vengeance. The controversial choice to kill off one of the show's few queer characters, immediately after she'd reunited with Willow, was made all the more painful by the fact that actor Amber Benson had been added to the opening credits just for her final episode.

Gary Shepherd, thirtysomething

still from thirtysomething
MGM Television

In the early '90s, TV characters didn't drop dead with quite the frequency they do now. Gary's (Peter Horton) sudden death in a car accident was a true shock to the system, especially since thirtysomething fans had been primed for the death of Nancy (Patricia Wettig), who was battling ovarian cancer, instead.

Rayna James, Nashville

still from nashville
Mark Levine / CMT

Connie Britton's decision to leave Nashville before the series' conclusion meant that her star character, Rayna James, needed a dramatic sendoff. That came in the form of her death, which follows a familiar pattern on this list of the saddest TV demises: car accident, complications after she seemed to survive.

Hodor, Game of Thrones

still from game of thrones

As with Lost, the body count on Game of Thrones was exceptionally high. But that doesn't mean certain deaths don't stand out. Hodor's (Kristian Nairn) may not have been the most shocking—that would be Ned's (Sean Bean) in Season 1, or Season 3's gruesome Red Wedding—but it was the most poignant. He died saving Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who (we learned) had inadvertently wrecked Hodor's mind and reduced him to one nonsense word decades prior.

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Tara Knowles, Sons of Anarchy

still from sons of anarchy

The violence of Tara's (Maggie Siff) death made it that much harder for viewers to endure. Sons of Anarchy fans had come to appreciate Tara as something of a moral compass for Jax (Charlie Hunnam)—her murder at the hands of Jax's mother (Katey Sagal) pulled the rug out from under him, and set the stage for the remainder of the series.

Lance Sweets, Bones

still from bones

John Patrick Daley has become a successful director over the years, but unfortunately, that meant his character on Bones needed to make an exit. Sweets is shot and killed in the Season 10 premiere, delivering some iconic parting words: "The world is a lot better than you think it is."

Rita Morgan, Dexter

still from dexter

The tragedy of Rita's (Julie Benz) death is that Dexter (Michael C. Hall) seems to win—he dispatches the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) and should have been able to save Rita in time. But his wife and the mother of his child, one of Dexter's few tethers to the world, had been murdered long before his final confrontation with her killer. The reveal is gutting.

J.T. Yorke, Degrassi: The Next Generation

still from degrassi the next generation
WildBrain Distribution

Over the course of six seasons on Degrassi: The Next Generation, J.T. (Ryan Cooley) went from annoying kid to—dare we say it—mature and compassionate young adult. His stabbing and subsequent death was tremendously upsetting, a shocking moment even for a teen series that had made a name for itself as a show that was willing to "go there."

Bellamy Blake, The 100

still from the 100
The CW

Bellamy (Bob Morley) made it so close to the end on The 100 that we didn't really see his death coming—and we certainly couldn't have predicted that it would come at the hands of Clarke (Eliza Taylor), who not only killed Bellamy but also any hope Bellarke shippers had that those crazy kids would one day make it work. If it's any consolation, the two actors eventually got married in real life!

Sarah Lynn, BoJack Horseman

still from bojack horseman

BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) had plenty of rock bottoms, but none were lower than his bender with his former child co-star Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal), culminating in her death. On a series that never shied away from darkness, Sarah Lynn's overdose still felt particularly bleak, an unpleasant reminder of the swath of destruction in BoJack's wake.

Marvin Eriksen Sr., How I Met Your Mother

Bill Fagerbakke as Marvin Eriksen in How I Met Your Mother
20th Century Fox Television

The death of Marvin Eriksen (Bill Fagerbakke)—beloved dad of Marshall (Jason Segel)—happens off-screen on How I Met Your Mother. Instead, the audience learns about it just as Marshall does, when his wife Lily (Alyson Hannigan) breaks the devastating news. Segel knew his co-star would be delivering a twist but asked not to be told in advance of filming what it was, making his gutting response, "My dad's dead? I'm not ready for this," totally improvised and viscerally real.

Nate Fisher, Six Feet Under

Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause in Six Feet Under

In almost every possible way, Six Feet Under is a show about death, but it was still shocking when they killed off de facto main character Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) with several episodes of the final season left to go. A serious brain disorder that Nate was diagnosed with seasons prior is the culprit, and the moment he flatlines in the hospital with brother David (Michael C. Hall) sitting next to him rocked already traumatized viewers.

Howard Hamlin, Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian on Better Call Saul

You gotta hand it to Howard Hamlin: His death makes for what is arguably the most talked-about and unforgettable scene in the entire run of Better Call SaulPatrick Fabian's character shows up to confront Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) about the increasingly cruel pranks they've been playing on him, only to become collateral damage in Lalo's (Tony Dalton) war against Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).

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Amber Volakis, House

Anne Dudek and Robert Sean Leonard on House

Season 4 of House ended on a real down note, with the deterioration and eventual death of Amber (Anne Dudek) following a bus crash that both she and House (Hugh Laurie) initially survive. As she struggles in the hospital, House is able to recover a memory from before the crash that diagnoses Amber's condition—because of her injuries, her body is unable to process the amantadine she was taking for the flu. But it's still too late, and she dies with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) holding her in her hospital bed.

Michael Cordero, Jane the Virgin

Brett Dier in Jane the Virgin
The CW

Yes, yes, this death was eventually retconned in the telenovela twist we should have all seen coming. But it was still heartbreaking for Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) and Jane the Virgin fans when her newlywed husband Michael Cordero (Brett Dier) seemingly dies from an aortic dissection caused by a gunshot he took to the chest months earlier—just as he's embarking on a new life path by taking the LSATs.

Adriana La Cerva, The Sopranos

Drea de Matteo in The Sopranos

There are plenty of character deaths to catalog on The Sopranos, and they run the gamut tonally from absurd and sort-of comic to majorly gut-wrenching. Given that Christopher's (Michael Imperioli) fiancée Adriana (Drea de Matteo) is not directly responsible for any violence herself, unlike most of the other players who get whacked, her death goes in the second bucket. Despite enduring abuse at Christopher's hands over the years, she still tries to stay loyal to him and the rest of the family after she's blackmailed into cooperating with the FBI. Confessing to him is a death sentence, even though it's one that nobody—including her executioner Silvio (Steven Van Zandt)—seems thrilled to be carrying out.

This story has been updated to include additional entries, fact-checking, and copy-editing.

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