(A pretty big and obvious SPOILER WARNING applies)
Over the years television has become bolder, brasher. Bold moves such as huge plot changing twists often include deaths of beloved characters. Some character deaths are minor, only contributing a bit of heartache moving forward on a show. Some character deaths are so big that their repercussions can be felt throughout the remainder of a series.
Death’s can also be silly and contrived, only serving as a plot device to move other characters or story in a certain direction. A death of a beloved character can spark heated debate and opinions. Though most shows on television today utilize death as a plot point, some just leave us wondering.
Kol Mikaelson (The Vampire Diaries – Season 4) – Season three of The Vampire Diaries introduced us to the entirety of the Mikaelson clan, including brothers Finn and Kol. Eldest brother Finn, devoted to ending his and his siblings “miserable” lives as vampires, posed a threat not only to the protagonists of the show, but the rest of the Mikaelson family as well. His death was swift but necessary. Youngest brother Kol, though, showed vital signs of excitement and a touch of trouble when undaggered and reunited with his family. He quickly became a fan favorite; his cute and mischievous ways were a welcome addition to the sometimes bland main characters. His all too controversial death in season four came after Elena and Jeremy White Oak-staked him, producing an outcry on social media. Not only was his death sloppy and heartbreaking, it also produced a vampire genocide that really didn’t seem to have much effect on the characters consciences or the vampire world moving into future seasons.
Death seems to be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to The Vampire Diaries. Characters constantly perish and are reborn again, one way or another. No season truly displayed this act more than season five, where some of our favorites characters, including Elena, Stefan, Alaric, and newcomer Enzo were resurrected from “The Other Side.” Accordingly, TVD introduced its popular new spin-off, The Originals, which centers on the Mikaelsons and their troubles in New Orleans. Every opportunity to resurrect Kol was given, especially after the season one finale of TO, where patriarch Mikael, matriarch and witch Esther, and brother Finn were all brought back into the land of the living one way or another. Kol still remains the one permanently dead Original. His loss is still felt and debated.
Peter Russo (House of Cards – Season 1) – The inaugural season of House of Cards not only brought some of the best small screen produced drama, but it introduced viewers to a bevy of new and exciting characters. Fans of the show rooted for Pennsylvania Congressman Peter Russo and his struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. He was a good guy who couldn’t settle or overcome his upbringing, an underdog from a rough home and it showed. That didn’t stop him from being one of season one’s best characters. Frank Underwood’s mission to turn Peter’s life around for his own gain was manipulative, though necessary for Russo. A good kick in the proverbial ass would straighten him out and put him on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, Underwood’s determinations wavered and Russo became more of a hindrance to our main character. Frank and his team manipulated Russo into a relapse, ruining his chances in office. The final act came when Russo, high, drunk, and down on his luck, confided in Frank. Frank sat back and watched his mentee slip, delivering his final act as he let Russo die of asphyxiation in a locked, garaged car. Russo’s death signified the gritty tone of House of Cards, introducing audiences to the real Frank Underwood. But Peter’s loss was felt through season two, leaving fans of his to struggle with whom to root for.
Tom Shayes (Damages – Season 3) – Similar to Frank Underwood was Patty Hewes. A powerful, successful New York City lawyer who didn’t let anything or anyone stand in her way. Patty wasn’t afraid to take the more immoral path when it came to fighting for a win. The high-powered woman had many enemies and many people who were ready to destroy her and her associates. Patty’s right-hand man and partner, Tom Shayes, suffered the brunt of her misdeeds. Tom fought for his place by Patty’s side, turning down amazing offers and opportunities for an easier life with his family. Tom’s loyalties to Patty delivered him the ultimate sacrifice – his life. Entangled in a high-profiled case with proven dangerous people, Tom was murdered trying to do the right thing, fighting to save Patty and the firm. Although his death was presented as the main mystery of season three, his final minutes on screen didn’t make his death any easier. His loss was evident through out the rest of the series, as it never really did recoup after such a huge character loss.
Neal Cassidy/Baelfire (Once Upon a Time – Season 3) – One would think that the son of the all-powerful Rumpelstiltskin would be the last on the list of characters that would meet a deadly fate. Another show that plays with death like a toy, many other Once characters had experienced temporary death — the loss of their heart, being cursed, and being brought back to life with true loves kiss. Season three’s Zelena (The Wicked Witch) would prove to be the gang’s biggest foe, causing heartbreak and bloodshed in her wake. This terrorizing beauty made sure no one stood in her way, including Rumpel. The expanded family paid the ultimate price when Belle helped a grief-stricken Neal try to find a way to bring back his father from his own sacrifice. Regrettably, this meant sacrificing a life for a life as the two were tricked into resurrecting Rumpel only for Neal’s life to be taken in the process. The Dark One tried everything in his power to bring back his son, but Zelena’s magic and havoc was too strong. Neal begged to be let go of, to die a hero – and that’s what he did. Not only was Neal one of the best additions to the show, but he also showed a true chemistry with Emma, son Henry, and the rest of Storybrooke. His death came too soon as Michael Raymond-James’s series regular status on the show only lasted one season. The potential was wasted for his character and growth as his death only served as an easy plot device to later move Emma and Captain Hook closer to each other.
Mitchell (Being Human UK – Series 3) – Supernatural shows are no strangers to death, but when that death is of a main character it’s jarring, nonetheless. The UK version of Being Human saw a huge shift in character and story after its third season. One of the only shows to successfully transition into an entirely new cast, the loss of the first group of supernatural entities living in a house together was still traumatic. Vampire [John] Mitchell had been on a long and hard road to overcome his blood addiction. Constantly struggling to be as human as possible and do the right thing, the charming vamp relapsed and fought his way through his urges with the help of werewolf best friend George and ghost girlfriend Annie. Mitchell’s ultimate sacrifice came when a faction of vampires were gearing up to take control. It was either Mitchell join them or subject himself to a fate worse than death. In the Being Human world there was no afterlife for the soulless vampires and Mitchell knew that to save his roommates and loved ones he would have to help stop the war before it began. He had taken part in the murder of an entire train of innocent humans and had given into his most basic vampiric urges. But he had fallen in love, making every effort to pick himself up again, and giving his life for the ones he cared for most would be his final act. Faced with the choice of killing his best friend or die himself, George made his most gut wrenching decision as he delivered a stake into Mitchell’s chest. The loss of Mitchell was so big and painful that the rest of the original cast exited soon after, making way for a new group of supernatural roomies. Mitchell’s was the first of a handful of big moves for the UK edition that still makes one tear up to this day.
Henry Durham (Being Human US – Season 3) – It’s hard to mourn and move on from a character’s death, especially when said character didn’t even perish on screen. Aidan’s progeny, Henry, was a great addition to the US version of Being Human in its second season. He was compelling and easy on the eyes. We watched as Aidan struggled to rebuild a relationship with the “son” he had banished almost a hundred years earlier. Aidan struggled to keep himself cemented in the human and vampire worlds and Henry struggled for acceptance from his maker and the vampire community that had exiled him. Season three found most of the Boston vampires dead, wiped out by a horrible virus that only knocked humans into bed for a few days. The vampire flu was unavoidable, but Aidan helped himself and Henry from feeding off of tainted blood. Henry, though, would prove he wasn’t as strong as his maker. The vampire couldn’t control his hunger, feeding on diseased blood and contracting the fatal illness. Henry’s final speech to Aidan was his goodbye as he reminded his “father” that they were vampires, not humans. Henry walked off, letting the virus take him. Except, viewers never watched Henry die; Henry walked off, presumably turning into a pile of dust. But this was a character who had proved his survival skills, a trait Aidan made sure to remind his vampire son of over and over again. It’s hard to accept a characters death when their final moments aren’t even seen on screen and they have a history of making surprise entrances. Unfortunately, Being Human ended after its fourth season and it’s still unknown if Henry ever did miraculously survive the vampire flu.
Cyril O’Reily (Oz – Season 6) – On a show that centers around America’s toughest criminals, it wouldn’t shock anyone when shady goings on in a prison takes out one of its own. Fortunately for Oz, they built a series with a plethora of different and intriguing characters that one couldn’t help but root for. No character showed more compassion than Cyril O’Reily, Ryan O’Reily’s mentally handicapped brother. Cyril had been commissioned by Ryan to murder Gloria Nathan’s husband and Cyril, who could only comprehend at the mental capacity of a five year old, easily complied. The otherwise sympathetic Cyril was willing to do anything his brother asked of him. Cyril’s actions landed him straight in Oz and he became one of the most likable characters within a cast of degenerates. Cyril’s accidental but deadly actions in prison landed him on death row; the poor man couldn’t comprehend that he had made fatal mistakes. No appeals or a mental institution could help Cyril and in the show’s final episode and one of the shows more disturbing acts, Cyril was given the death penalty. This devastating final act was also one of the shows strongest moments. It showed how corrupt the prison system is and how even the most soulless of characters could have heart.
Tommy Merlyn (Arrow – Season 1) – Oliver Queen’s playboy best friend, Tommy, not only rose above his childish, egotistical ways, but also showed viewers that, indeed, a person can change. Although his relationship with his best friends ex came off as less than honorable at first, Tommy and Laurel Lance worked. Her stern demeanor and his care free views on life fit together, evening each other out in a way that made more sense than former beau Oliver and Laurel. Tommy overcame his spoiled upbringing and although it took a little push by his father, Tommy learned that hard work really does pay off. Tommy proved himself as a formidable character and presented himself as a sweet and charming brother type, not only protecting Thea, but holding onto Oliver’s double life as The Arrow a secret all the way to his grave. Tommy’s untimely death at the end of season one was a shocker that changed the course of many characters lives moving forward on the show. His absence was felt as Thea learned that Malcolm was, in fact, her biological father and as Oliver continued to take on the evil in Starling City.
Mike Ehrmantraut (Breaking Bad – Season 5A) – Perhaps a turning point for Walter White and the series as a whole was the accidental death of Mike. In a desperate attempt to procure the names of the men who worked for Gus and his operation, Walt fatally shot Mike in the former hitmans attempt to flee town. Walt’s shot was purely accidental as he only meant to scare the elder partner. Though Mike was by no means a “good” guy, he showed a ton of heart, especially in scenes depicting him and his young granddaughter. All the money Mike had been earning through Gus and Walt had been put away into savings for young Kaylee. Unfortunately, with the arrest of one of his men and the discovery of Walt’s true character, the money was seized into evidence. To this day, Mike remains one of the best characters Breaking Bad has ever created. With the announcement that his portrayer, Jonathan Banks, would be joining the prequel spin-off, Better Call Saul, fans don’t have to mourn his death too much longer.
Tracy McConnell (How I Met Your Mother – Season 9) – As depicted many times, a character death as a use of a plot device can prove infuriating and sloppy. No plot device was as obvious as the death of the titular character of How I Met Your Mother. Fan’s tuned in for nine years to finally meet the mother of Ted Mosby’s children, the love of his life. Tracy, who had been introduced in the finale of the eighth season, came to be adored and loved by viewers. She was smart, funny, and was the perfect match for the love inept Ted. Tracy and Ted were perfect for each other – soul mates. But that hadn’t been HIMYM’s long-standing plan. The plan from the beginning was for Ted and Robin to constantly play the “are they, aren’t they game,” going back and forth on whether they were meant to be together or not. Robin seemed happy with playboy Barney and Ted was growing and moving on in his life. But Tracy’s death served as the final blow to the series. Ted had spent nine years telling his children the story of how he met their mother, but it was really just a journey as to how he was rediscovering his love for their Aunt Robin. The series took nine years of great character growth, story, and suspense and flushed it down the toilet. By turning the mother into a device and having Tracy fall ill and die, the series ruined what it had stood for since the beginning.
Honorable Mentions: Bobby Singer and Kevin Tran (Supernatural), Zoe Barnes (House of Cards), Allison Argent (Teen Wolf), Robb, Catelynn, and Ned Stark (Game of Thrones), Debra Morgan (Dexter), Mike Delfino (Desperate Housewives), Everyone (Six Feet Under).