Seeing our favorite characters pass away tugs at the heartstrings. It doesn't matter if it's fantasy and the real-life actor is alive because cinema immerses us enough to suspend our disbelief - and that's what's magical about it. But that's also what makes it hard to get over it when television networks and streamers decide some cast members will be no more. So join our pity party as we think back on the most heart-wrenching deaths to hit our screens.
The Walking Dead's Carl Grimes
By the time Carl was killed off in The Walking Dead, the show had made a habit of killing off fan-favorite characters. But the fans that stuck with the show up until this point likely had no idea the series would go as far as killing off the main character's own son. Carl was supposed to survive and show the audience that a brighter future was still possible and that Rick Grimes was working to preserve just that for his son.
However, it was not meant to be, and it really shouldn't have come as a surprise after all of the unceremonious deaths Hollywood pulled off every season with this show.
Game Of Throne's Ned Stark
Ned Stark's death in Game of Thrones probably does more to set the tone than any other death in a modern TV series. By the time he was captured and walked in front of the crowd, the series had already shown audiences this was not going to be your typical fantasy series. However, unless you'd read the books, Stark's death came as a wild surprise for just about everyone watching. It also represented the fact that heroes don't always survive or go out swinging.
The death capped off a pretty exciting first season, but it would be far from the last iconic death scene the series gave fans.
Forrest Gump's Bubba Blue
The death of Bubba Blue in Forrest Gump is one of the most tragic in a film filled with heartache. Even more so when you consider both he and Forrest and probably a whole lot of other people don't want to be in a jungle fighting and would rather be back home living their lives. So, it's really quite heartwarming when Forrest goes back to live life as he imagined Bubba would've wanted to live his, becoming a shrimper and opening his own company.
Bubba's death had one of the largest impacts on Forrest's life, and his final ode to his friend would turn out to make him a pretty wealthy man.
Dexter's Rita Morgan
Dexter's wife, Rita Morgan, had a pretty tumultuous life, first as the wife of a deadbeat husband that abused her and then as the wife of a husband who only pretends to live an ordinary life. So, when Dexter finishes off a serial killer after having sent Rita and his son away, it comes as a shock for fans to see Dexter return to find his son lying in blood. The killer had visited them before Dexter caught up to him.
The scene also mimics Dexter's own traumatic experience, adding another layer of tragedy to this story. Rita never really found happiness, and just as it seemed she was on the cusp of it, she is killed off.
The Sopranos' Christopher Moltisanti
The Sopranos was known for surprising its audience with character deaths. However, hardly anyone saw Christopher Moltisanti's death coming, at least not in the way it took place. The tragic death made audiences sympathize with a character who'd been viewed as a nuisance up until that point. Moltisanti's uncle Tony ended up strangling him after he crashed his car while he was high. Fed up of constantly having to bail his nephew out, Tony kills his once protege.
The scene is tragic because up until that point, Tony seemed like one of the only characters who took pity on Moltisanti. He raised him and taking his nephew's life signaled a turning point in Tony's character.
Lost's John Locke
Lost treated its fans to some pretty surprising twists and turns throughout its run, not all of which were welcomed by everyone. However, John Locke's death seemingly came out of nowhere, and his meeting with Ben began as a simple plea to return to the island. It ended in Ben hanging Locke, but for those that have watched the show, this wouldn't be the last time fans would see Locke on screen.
Since we're on the topic of spoilers, we might as well reveal how one of the most contentious shows in history ended. Basically, it is revealed that the island was a kind of purgatory, and all the characters were sent there to help lead each other into the afterlife. This is why Locke eventually makes a return.
Titanic's Jack Dawson
In another iconic movie, Jack Dawson's death at the end of Titanic came as he sacrificed himself to save Rose. After watching the two grow closer and come to understand each other during a marathon drama, the audience was forced to watch as Dawson slowly succumbed to hyperthermia and slipped beneath the waves. It didn't matter that hundreds of other people were slowly freezing to death around Rose; this one death was where the real heartache came.
It was also where the controversy came, with fans lamenting that Dawson could have fit on the same door Rose was on and would never have had to sacrifice himself.
The Green Mile's John Coffey
The Green Mile is a movie that follows the story of inmate John Coffey and his guard Paul Edgecomb. Coffey is jailed and sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, and Edgecomb soon discovers that despite Coffey's huge stature, he couldn't hurt a fly. In fact, it's revealed later that Coffey was just trying to heal the children he was accused of murdering. The story is a great example of what Hollywood can deliver when it's not trying to kill off every other character in a story.
Actors Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan are also excellent in this film, which ultimately explores the themes of compassion and understanding. Coffey's death hits all the harder when his character is given time to develop and is explored in front of the audience.
A Walk to Remember's Jamie Sullivan
Like The Notebook, this movie was originally written by author Nicholas Sparks. However, Jamie Sullivan's character was based on Spark's own younger sister, who passed away in 2000. A Walk To Remember follows Sullivan as she falls in love. However, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer and realizes she only has one more summer to spend with her newfound boyfriend named Landon. Landon quickly proposes, and the audience watches as the two spend their last days together.
Yes, it's another teen tearjerker about love and death, but it also asks the audience how they would choose to spend their last days if they were in a similar situation.
The Wire's Omar Little
Who doesn't love a Robin Hood figure? The Wire's Omar Little was just that throughout the series' run. He robbed Baltimore's wicked and kept a moral code in a place that is thriving with crime and poverty. It made the audience sympathetic to Little's character and hoping he would make it out alive, even though we all probably knew deep down inside the odds of that were pretty low.
However, he certainly deserved a better way to go out than being shot in the back of the head by some random kid trying to find notoriety. But maybe this was just a commentary on the fragility of life, and the dangers of a life lived like Little's.
Little Women's Beth March
Perhaps one of the most iconic deaths in cinema history, Beth March is one of many sisters in Little Women. When younger, she develops scarlet fever and never fully recovers throughout the book or film. The story revolves around the sisters and their ups and downs throughout life. However, they always have each other to rely on, which makes Beth's death all the more heartwrenching.
The scarlet fever she develops eventually catches up to her, sending the purest and most innocent sister to her deathbed. Her death signifies that she was too good for this world.
Sons Of Anarchy's Opie Winston
While Sons of Anarchy wasn't shy in letting the audience know this was going to be a brutal drama involving a lot of death and deceit, Opie Winston's demise still hit pretty hard. It was also extraordinarily brutal. After landing in prison, Opie and a couple of other main characters must submit to a rival, who makes them choose who among them will die. The fact that Opie then steps up on his own accord showed the audience his true character and made his death all the more tragic.
The TV series basically centered around another character named Jax and his family's biker gang. However, Jax and Opie were best friends, which had audiences expecting that Opie would make at least a couple of more seasons.
Game of Throne's Red Wedding
Referred to as The Red Wedding by characters in the show, this event not only shook fans but reminded them that Game of Thrones would not be pulling any punches during its run. The audience had already experienced the death of Ned Stark and a couple of other important characters up to this point, but the death of other Stark family members, such as his oldest son and wife, came when everything seemed to be turning around.
Robb Stark's quest to revenge his father's death was picking up steam, and we were just introduced to a likable new character. Even better, the two had fallen in love. What could go wrong at this point? Apparently, a lot.
Game Of Throne's Margaery and High Sparrow
The fact that these two characters met their demise wasn't all that surprising in a series full of deaths. However, the abrupt and brutal way Cersei Lannister suddenly turned the tables on her two rivals after being humiliated time and time again shocked just about everyone. It showed that she would do just about anything to stay in power at this point, even if that meant blowing up one of the oldest places in Westeros and taking out a princess in the process.
And while the High Sparrow's death might not have been worth shedding a tear over at this point, Margaery was quickly becoming a fan favorite. But, by this point, audiences were probably aware that those didn't do very well on this show.
Boardwalk Empire's Jimmy Darmody
Boardwalk Empire was another gangster-oriented show that of course wasn't afraid to kill off characters in the same vein as The Sopranos or The Wire. However, killing off Jimmy Darmody in the second season proved what can go wrong when producers decide to ax one of their leading stars a bit too early. Darmody ends up meeting his end after being talked into killing his surrogate father, Nucky Thompson.
Of course, the killing doesn't go as planned and Nucky comes back for vengeance, putting a bullet in Darmody's head after settling all of his debts. However, the show got a bit stale after the charismatic Darmody was put down.
The Notebook's Allie Hamilton And Noah Calhoun
Of course, a love story would have a both heartwarming and tear-inducing ending. The movie starts with the older versions of Noah Calhoun and Allie Hamilton talking about their own story and the way they met. Calhoun is telling the story of their lives to his wife, who now has dementia. The audience is then brought in and we witness it from beginning to end.
That ending comes when we see that the two bodies of the husband and wife have been found. The two die in their sleep, but they die together while holding hands.
Breaking Bad's Gus Fring
Gus Fring's death in Breaking Bad was definitely expected. We mean, Fring was basically the biggest and baddest villain in the southwest. He was a meth kingpin, while Walt and Jesse were just a couple of upstarts. The two groups were bound to clash in a dramatic fashion. Still, you know you don't want to mess with a particular villain when their key feature is to sit there with a blank look on their face.
So, when Fring finally met his end it was as if Walt and Jesse had finally climbed that hill so to speak. They were the big shots after Fring's death.
The Sopranos' Adriana La Cerva
Adriana La Cerva's death in The Sopranos is really more of a tragedy than a surprise. By this time, the audience is well aware that the show's producers have no qualms about suddenly and ruthlessly killing off important characters. And the audience can feel the tension building as soon as the police begin to put pressure on La Cerva. The fact that she tries to convince her boyfriend to join her in witness protection and live a peaceful life only makes it all the sadder.
After Tony learns of the police trying to put pressure on La Cerva, he has Silvio Dante drive her out to the woods. Halfway there she realizes what is happening and tries to escape, only to end up with a bullet hole in the head.
The Avenger's Tony Stark
A lot of people think that had actor Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man not been as successful as it was, then we might not have gotten the MCU. While that's kind of hard to say for certain, what isn't is that the actor fits the role of Iron Man perfectly. The snarky, confident Tony Stark we learn about and come to understand after multiple films eventually meets his end at the hands of Thanos in The Avengers: Endgame.
The fact that audiences spent so much time with the character and saw him develop makes his demise all the more heartbreaking. However, in true superhero fashion, he goes out saving the universe.
Game of Throne's Lyanna Mormont
It's no secret that Game of Thrones never let us catch a break. The creators and directors were ruthless in the way they killed off fan favorites like a sport - but that's probably part of what made the hit series so epic. Yet that didn't make the death of little Lyanna Mormont any less hurtful. The young character was initially supposed to appear in only one scene, but it wasn't long before audiences fell in love, and they kept her on.
The talented actress and fierce character graced our screens for three seasons before producers killed her off during the Battle for the Dawn at Winterfell.
The Tudors' Anne Boleyn
The Tudors is a series that depicts royal life under the infamous Henry VIII of England. It's not so much a surprise then that audiences would eventually witness one of the most shocking deaths in history be played out in the series. However, after two seasons of getting to know Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn fans were understandably upset when the cunning queen became the next of Henry's wives to lose her head.
Audiences also noted how her absence seemed to bring down the entire show, which was never really the same without her charisma and charm. However, she does return briefly as a ghost in the series finale.
Westworld's Dr. Robert Ford
Westworld's excellent storytelling ensured that this death brought up more questions than it answered. Dr. Robert Ford is known for being a master manipulator throughout the series, so when he suddenly meets his end, it leaves some fans a bit skeptical. That skepticism turns out to be well placed as his murder by a robot servant turns out to be all a part of his plan to seek revenge.
It also turns out that Ford's consciousness lives on. Ultimately, the robot commits the murder in an attempt to find freedom, only to prove that there is always somebody else pulling the strings.
Romeo And Juliet
Of course, we had to include one of the most famous death scenes in history. Romeo and Juliet were reimagined for Hollywood in 1996, though the original story could probably be considered one of the first teen dramas in English literature. It follows the tale of two teenagers who meet and fall in love. However, because two's families despise one, another tragedy is sure to follow.
It does follow, and Juliet takes a poison that makes it appear as if she is dead. However, Romeo doesn't know of her plan to fake her own death and takes his own life when he finds her body. Juliet awakes and then does the same.
Stepmom's Jackie Harrison
The producers of Stepmom really did a good job in not turning this film into another trope-filled story about an evil stepmom. Instead, the film focuses on death, loss, and moving on. Jackie Harrison does find herself at odds with her ex-husband's wife, but she eventually comes to realize these are faults within herself and not in the other woman. Her terminal illness eventually leads to her death off-screen, but that doesn't stop it from being just as powerful.
It probably contributes to the death hitting harder, if anything. The audience knows she won't survive, and so does she, making the inevitable all the more scary and heartbreaking.
Game Of Thrones' Joffrey Baratheon
Joffrey Baratheon was probably one of the most despised villains in Game of Thrones. And his death was something fans celebrated after seeing him commit atrocity after atrocity. However, with so many heroes dying in the series, it was never a certainty that the villain who had Ned Stark decapitated would eventually join them. Luckily, his deeds were eventually rewarded, and he was poisoned in a very public way and choked to death in front of the court.
However, if you really think about it, his whole being was kind of tragic. He was the child of siblings, which the show heavily suggested was the reason he ended up so twisted in the first place.
Marley From Marley & Me
Yes, a movie about a dog and another heartbreaking death. It might be because the first deaths many are exposed to as children are those of animals, but that doesn't make these film's deaths any less hard-hitting. It's even sadder when you realize the movie is based on a true story. The film follows the life of Marley and the family that takes care of the misbehaving dog. Through thick and thin, the story builds until the family is forced to euthanize Marley at the end.
However, Marley does get to live his best life, and it's only because of age that he is put down. Even so, the movie makes us wish our furry friends could stick around just a little bit longer.
Logan is the final chapter in Hugh Jackman's brilliant on-screen performance as Wolverine. In it, the audience is treated to probably the best X-Men movie to date. It's also the most mature, delving into both contemporary issues and universal themes such as xenophobia, life, and death. We find Logan slowly losing his healing powers due to his age. He's also still searching for purpose after a life filled with violence and loss.
So, it's only fitting that he eventually gives his own life at the end of the film to protect a child who was cloned using his own DNA. The two get off to a rocky start but eventually warm up to each other, and by the end of the movie, Logan is left dead but finally content.
The Walking Dead's Shane Walsh
When Rick Grimes wakes up in The Walking Dead to find his former partner now with his wife and taking care of his son, the audience knows something is going to go down. What the series doesn't tell us at that moment is that Shane Walsh is slowly becoming more psychotic by the day and will eventually try to kill off his former partner in an ambush. It doesn't work, and Grimes exacts some revenge on behalf of fans.
While the show never explicitly stated it, Walsh's descent into darkness and his brutal tactics represented the new world Grimes woke up to find himself in. Not one of law and order, but instead of chaos and brutality.
Henry Blake In M*A*S*H
Probably one of the most iconic TV series of the 1970s, M*A*S*H follows the lives of medical soldiers during the Korean War. Despite the dark humor and bloody scenes we see the doctors partake in throughout the series, Henry Blake's death still came as a shock during a time TV series rarely killed off main characters. The war was bloody, but it was rarely shown on screen, instead, the audience viewed it from the lens of a team of doctors behind the front lines.
This gave the false sense of security that the beloved doctors would make it out, which was obviously not true for everyone. It was also poignant because of the fact that America was in the middle of one of its most bloody wars.
Big Love's Bill Henrickson
Big Love follows the life of a Mormon family practicing polygamy in Utah during a time the church is having a discourse about ridding itself of the practice. The family patriarch, Bill Hendrickson, has to juggle three wives, children, and modern American problems while keeping his not-so-modern lifestyle a secret. In a twist, the show ends with Bill being shot by a neighbor in front of one of his houses.
While the plot may seem pretty straightforward, if a little crazy, the series does a brilliant job of exploring issues of family, society, and religion. It also makes the audience sympathize with Hendrickson at the time of his murder.
The Affair's Alison Bailey
Compared to the world of Westeros or the Walking Dead, a story about infidelity doesn't give producers as many opportunities to ax some of their main characters. The timing of Alison Bailey's death in The Affair also contributed to surprising fans, being only a couple of episodes out from the second to last season finale. We mean, why would she not make it to at least the finale? Well, apparently, the actress wanted out of the show, and while it wasn't planned, that probably contributed to making her death all the more surprising.
Bailey was murdered by an ex-soldier, and when her two ex-husbands show up to examine the body, they conclude it was a suicide, adding a little tragedy to this sudden and dramatic death.
Terms Of Endearment's Emma Greenway
This sentimental tearjerker from the 1980s follows Emma Greenway after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer and tries to make amends with her family. Greenway tries to resolve her long-estranged relationship with her mother while balancing her children, one of whom is also angry with Greenway. She eventually succeeds and passes away while in bed with her husband. There are no last words in this one, but there is a silent moment between characters that drives home the poignancy of the situation.
The final moment is a great example of how to show and not tell. There are no words spoken but the audience is still made to feel the remorse the whole ordeal carries with it.
Beaches' Hillary Whitney
Beaches is a story similar in scope to Forrest Gump. It's a classic that follows two friends throughout their lives and their different paths. It eventually culminates in one of the friends, Hillary Whitney, being diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. The audience witnesses her death after basically following her throughout her life and seeing the two friends reunite and break off ties several different times.
Luckily, amends are made in the end, and Whitney's best friend ends up adopting her daughter after she passes away. The story is one of friendship and how the seemingly small decisions we make every day have huge consequences throughout our lives.
You don't always have to know or see a character for a long time for their death to be impactful. Serenity's Hoban "Wash" Washburne is a great example of this. The series only lasted one season, but Wash was such a lovable and charismatic character that his loss was really felt by the audience. Wash ended up being speared by another ship while he was still at his controls.
Fans' reactions to the death probably played no small part in the series getting a film that saw the crew continue on their mission, albeit without pilot Wash.
South Park's Kenny McCormick
Ah, poor Kenny from South Park. The character has died dozens and dozens of times and comes back in the next episode as if nothing ever happened. What makes it even more tragic if you think about it is that Kenny's family lives in poverty, and the character is often treated as a prop in the show. However, his deaths aren't a social commentary and instead started out as a joke from the show's creators.
Luckily, they thought the joke was getting a little stale after the first five seasons or so, and Kenny dying has become much less a staple of the show. He only really dies anymore as a way to reference the series' early seasons.
The NeverEnding Story's Artax
Odds are you've heard of The NeverEnding Story at least in passing. And that's for pretty good reason. The 1980s fantasy might seem like another out-of-this-world kid's fantasy from the era, but it deals with some pretty heavy topics and delivers some pretty memorable scenes. Perhaps one of the best is the death scene of Artax, the main protagonist's horse and companion. Artax becomes bogged down in the Swamps of Sadness and perishes.
Luckily, the two are reunited towards the end of the movie. But, there's still not much sadder than a child losing their pet companion. It just seems to work for some reason.
Old Yeller, which revolves around a dog that bears the same name, is an absolute classic. It might be old, but the film's themes still hold up to this day. The movie follows Travis as he finds and is eventually saved by his beloved dog, Old Yeller. However, in saving his owner, the dog is bitten and catches rabies. Travis is then forced to put the dog down.
Old Yeller explores notions of bravery, friendship, and nature in what is an iconic coming of age story. It also happens to be one of the most tragic non-animated movies for children.
When it comes to animated films, Pixar is often held up among studios in producing timeless stories suitable for both children and adults. And the themes explored in Coco definitely fit into that category. Fans find Héctor escorting our protagonist through the underworld. The main character is trying to find who he thinks is his grandfather, but in a Shakespearian twist, he comes to find out that Héctor is his real grandfather.
He also finds that the man he is searching for stole Héctor's songs and fame when he was alive. Luckily, everything is set right by the end of the film, though.
Here we have another animated character we barely knew yet had us tearing up during the first act of a movie. The audience is given a look at Carl's life with his wife Ellie during the first part of Up. And while it's a life filled with happiness, it's also one filled with tragedy and regret at losing his wife, yet never taking her on a trip to Paradise Falls.
Determined to find some closure after his wife's death, Carl straps some balloons to his house and takes off on an adventure to finally see Paradise Falls, with a photo of Ellie in tow.
Some of the most tragic cinema deaths in history don't come from dramas or gangster flicks. Instead, they come from animated films. And there aren't many that can top the heartache accompanied by the death of Bambi's mother in Bambi. It is often the first we witness on screen as children, and it's there to remind us that life is fragile. But, that doesn't make the moment a fun time in a meadow is turned into a killing field, and we hear the sound of the rifle any easier.
Luckily, Bambi ends up finding a happy ending and goes on to become a somewhat steward of the forest. However, it's likely this imaginary death sticks around in most people's minds when thinking about film characters who are killed off.