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The Saddest TV Episodes of All Time

If you're looking for an ugly cry, these heartbreaking TV episodes have you covered.

After a long day, there's nothing like turning on your favorite TV show, sitting back, and bawling your eyes out. OK, that may not be everyone's idea of a great time, but there's no denying the cathartic pleasure of revisiting tear-inducing entertainment. That's why we took it upon ourselves to compile the saddest TV episodes of all time. If you're looking for something to watch that's guaranteed to send you into hysterics, try one of these devastating classics from our definitive list. Just be warned there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.

RELATED: The Saddest TV Deaths of All Time.

The Saddest TV Episodes Ever Made

"Into You Like a Train," Grey's Anatomy

still from grey's anatomy

It's actually harder to find a Grey's Anatomy episode that won't make you cry given the breakups and character deaths that have served as the backbone of the series for the past 20 years. It doesn't get much sadder, however, than Derek (Patrick Dempsey) telling a dead patient's grieving fiancé, "She wanted you to know… that if love were enough… that if love were enough, that she'd still be here with you."

"Memphis," This Is Us

still from this is us

Like Grey's AnatomyThis Is Us seems to be genetically engineered to make us feel things. The first season of the series threw the audience into its weepy multi-generational story, but nothing provoked a more emotional response than Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) final trip with his dying biological father (Ron Cephas Jones) and their last goodbye.

"Everyone's Waiting," Six Feet Under

still from six feet under

Of all the great TV series finales, Six Feet Under is surely the one most likely to leave you a snotty mess. In showing when and how each character dies—scored to Sia's "Breathe Me"—the final montage gorgeously underscores the theme of the series while delivering one gut-punch after the next.

"The Body," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

still from buffy the vampire slayer
20th Television

No show has tackled death quite like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in the pivotal episode "The Body." While there had been a high body count on the show since the beginning, this gutting installment largely dispelled with the supernatural, instead offering a grounded, at times unbearably realistic look at the loss of a parent.

"Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

still from the fresh prince of bel-air
Warner Bros.

Yes, sitcoms can make you cry, and not just from laughter. Any fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air will tell you they lost it at the ending of this classic episode, in which Will (Will Smith) reunites with his estranged father, only to be disappointed by him again. "How come he don't want me, man?," Will cries. Cue the tears.

RELATED: 20 Best TV Shows Based on True Stories.

"Independence Day," The Wonder Years

still from the wonder years
20th Television

Based on the nostalgia factor alone, watching The Wonder Years can be an overwhelmingly emotional experience. But nothing hit quite as hard as the finale, which had Kevin (Fred Savage) dropping bombshells in his final monologue: His dad (Dan Lauria) died the following year, and he and Winnie (Danica McKellar) didn't end up together.

"Jurassic Bark," Futurama

still from futurama
20th Television

Set to the haunting "I Will Wait for You" from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the final scene of this Futurama episode memorably shows Fry's beloved dog waiting (and waiting and waiting) patiently for his return. What we know—and the dog doesn't—is that Fry would never return to the 20th century. Who knew an animated sci-fi sitcom could wreck us so effectively?

"Whenever You're Ready," The Good Place

still from the good place

The series finale of The Good Place isn't sad in the way most of the other episodes on this list are—it's more bittersweet. But after watching and loving these characters for years, it's hard to see them move on past the afterlife into whatever comes next, especially when that means Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) parting ways.

"My Screw Up," Scrubs

still from scrubs

The reveal at the end of "My Screw Up"—that Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) is actually at the funeral of Ben (Brendan Fraser), whose death he hasn't been able to accept—pulls the rug out from under the audience and had us scrambling for the tissues.

"The Door," Game of Thrones

still from game of thrones

On a show with as many brutal deaths as Game of Thrones had, why did Hodor's (Kristian Nairn) death leave such a lasting impression? Perhaps it was because of the circumstances of his demise, one of the more noble sacrifices of the show's run. Or maybe it was because we finally learned that Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright ) was responsible for the cognitive impairment that had reduced his loyal caretaker to saying just one word.

RELATED: 6 TV Plot Twists That Audiences Hated.

"The Candidate," Lost

still from lost

As with Game of ThronesLost excelled at character death. But while the sixth season proved contentious for fans and critics alike, it also featured the most impactful goodbyes, as Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) decided to stay by Sun's (Yunjin Kim) side, and they both drowned together after expressing their love for each other one last time. Well, at least until the afterlife.

"The Quarterback," Glee

still from glee

The real-life death of Cory Monteith forced Glee to address his absence, and the result was this raw, incredibly painful exploration of loss. Rachel's "To Make You Feel My Love" is hard to endure, given that Lea Michele had just lost her real-life boyfriend. And now, after Naya Rivera's tragic death, her performance of "If I Die Young" is also unspeakably sad.

"If Tomorrow Never Comes," Nashville

still from nashville
Mark Levine / CMT

Many fans stopped watching Nashville after ABC canceled the series, but it found new life on CMT—and extinguished Rayna's (Connie Britton) shortly thereafter. Even if the show had lost some of its luster for viewers, her death packed a powerful punch.

"All Good Things … Must Come to an End," Dawson's Creek

still from dawson's creek
Sony Pictures Television

Audiences first fell in love with Michelle Williams on Dawson's Creek, and she's been making us cry in TV and film appearances ever since. It's impossible to forget her cruel death at the end of the classic teen series, especially considering the gut-wrenching video she records for her baby daughter.

"The Son," Friday Night Lights

still from friday night lights

Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) is not a character we saw break down often on Friday Night Lights, which is why his complicated reaction to the death of his mostly absent father on the show was one of the series' most memorably upsetting moments. We experienced his anger and grief alongside him.

RELATED: The 25 Best TV Theme Songs Ever Written.

"The Graduates," The O.C.

still from the o.c.

There is no sad scene that can't be made sadder with the inclusion of "Hallelujah." Case in point: Marissa dying in Ryan's (Ben McKenzie) arms in the Season 3 finale of The O.C. Even knowing that Mischa Barton was departing the series, her final moments destroyed us.

"Wilson's Heart," House

still from house

With a notoriously prickly title character, House isn't always big on the emotions—which is fine, because he always got the job done. That's why it was so unexpectedly awful to see the Sherlock Holmes-inspired doctor (Hugh Laurie) fail to save Amber (Anne Dudek), who then died in Wilson's (Robert Sean Leonard) arms.

"A Hole in the World," Angel

still from angel
20th Television

In a season that unceremoniously killed off Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who had already been off-screen in a coma, you'd think Angel could give the audience a break. But no, in classic Joss Whedon fashion, the series finally paired up Wes (Alexis Denisof) and Fred (Amy Acker), only to have her die in his arms in the very next episode. Her last words—"Why can't I stay?"—might be the show's most poignant.

"What to My Wondering Eyes," Parenthood

still from parenthood

It's not just Dawson's Creek. There's just something about parents recording goodbye messages for their children. Kristina (Monica Potter) survives on Parenthood—and we are still breathing a sigh of relief over that—but that doesn't make her struggle with breast cancer any less tear-inducing.

"407 Proxy Authentication Required," Mr. Robot

still from mr. robot
USA Network

The final season of Mr. Robot deserved so much more credit than it got, particularly for this stunning episode, in which Elliot is forced to confront the truth about his past in a therapy session at gun point. It's sad, yes, but it's also just emotionally overwhelming. By the end, it's impossible not to be crying along with Rami Malek, delivering his finest performance to date.

"Goodbye," 8 Simple Rules

still from 8 simple rules
Buena Vista Television

As on Glee, the sudden real-life death of an actor gives the death of their character a tragic realism. The sitcom 8 Simple Rules decided to play it straight for the most part, and watching these characters grieve their father—as the actors grieved their co-star, John Ritter—is almost too much to take.

"Abyssinia, Henry," M*A*S*H

Still from M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H practically wrote the book on the brand of heartbreaking "comedy" that's all over cable and streaming these days. But perhaps the most devastating moment of the Korean War series happens at the end of Season 3, when Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake's (McLean Stevenson) plane is shot down off-screen as he's headed back to the U.S., having been honorably discharged, and Radar (Gary Burghoff) has to deliver the news. The hit show's producers were subsequently inundated with letters and even phone calls from shocked and infuriated fans.

"Blue Valentine," black-ish

Still from black-ish

Married sitcom couples always seem solid, even if their constant bickering provides a lot of the humor. That's why it was so destabilizing for black-ish viewers when Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) hit a rough patch and decide to separate after several seasons of being one of network TV's favorite pairs.

"Blue Valentine" is even shot in a different hue, the color draining out of the frame as the couple face their increasingly insurmountable problems. Dre and Bow eventually find their way back to each other, but this episode takes a jarringly realistic look at how even the "perfect" marriage can fall apart, and it's a pretty tough watch.

"Buck Begins," 9-1-1

Still from 9-1-1

By the time "Buck Begins" rolled around in Season 4 of 9-1-1, all of the other major characters had gotten their origin story episodes, each sad in its own way. The show about first responders in L.A. saved the roughest for last, however, finally revealing the source of Buck's (Oliver Stark) complicated, near-non-existent relationship with his parents. On the bright side, the Buckley Family Tragedy underscores the bond between Buck and his older sister Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), but between his well-earned abandonment issues and her abusive marriage, it's a lot to take in!

"On the Beach," ER

Still from ER

Ask any ER fan for their pick for the medical drama's saddest episode, and they'll probably give you a list. We're going with Season 8's "On the Beach," infamous for featuring the death of Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), who we'd known since the pilot. Mark is diagnosed with brain cancer earlier in the season, so his death is not unexpected, but that's what makes this episode such a tearjerker.

With the time he has left, he's determined to reconnect with his teenage daughter Rachel (Hallee Hirsch) and takes her to Hawaii, where he spent much of his childhood. To the ukulele strumming of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (instant tears in any context), Mark comes to terms with his mortality and fixes his family just in the nick of time—it's an unforgettable farewell to a beloved character.

"The Bent-Neck Lady," The Haunting of Hill House

Still from The Haunting of Hill House

Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House explores grief through the conventions of horror—specifically ghost stories—following a family as they move into the most haunted of all fixer-uppers and then years later, as they cope (or refuse to cope, as it were) in their own ways with what happened there. The episode that centers Victoria Pedretti's Nell is the standout, as it uncovers the tragic origins of the "bent-neck lady" who haunted her as a child.

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

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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