10 TV Characters Who Had to Die
Knocking off a fan favorite has emerged as one of the most impactful plot-development devices in modern entertainment. These days, the shock, outrage, relief, and happiness play out in real-time on social media, drumming up a frenzy of online debate.
In truth, showrunners have been killing off popular TV characters for decades and for a multitude of reasons. Actresses pass away, actors get mixed up in controversy, and plotlines grow stagnant, but the show must go on.
Today, we take a look at some of the highest-profile, TV character deaths that, without a doubt, had to happen. So, sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy this leisurely paddle down televisions proverbial River Styx.
1. Chef – South Park
Some of the most memorable moments of South Park’s long and storied tenure on television have come at the hands of Chef. The popular cafeteria cook was brought to life by legendary soul singer and voice actor, Isaac Hayes. Sadly, what Isaac Hayes giveth, he taketh away.
In a surprising twist of fate, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone killed the character off in 2006. The decision to kill Chef for good followed a behind-the-scenes spat between the creators and the actor.
Hayes, a devout Scientologist, criticized his employers for their satirical take on Tom Cruise and Scientology. Hayes requested to be let out of his contract following the episode entitled “Trapped in The Closet,” and the creators obliged.
2. Ned Stark – Game of Thrones
Let’s be honest, we should have seen this one coming. Sean Bean literally gets paid to die. Whether you knew that Ned Stark was destined for the chopping block or not, the scene was still impactful.
In HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones, Ned Stark serves as the veritable moral compass for the massive cast of schemers and cutpurses. The world grew to love “the man with the code” over the first season of Game of Thrones. As a result, his death at the end of season one sent Westeros spiraling into war.
Poor Ned Stark. We hardly knew you.
3. Charlie Harper – Two and a Half Men
It seems like forever ago, but there was a time when Charlie Sheen was the center of the digital universe. His struggles with alcohol, drug, and sex addiction were put on full display in a handful of prime-time interviews across the nation. In spite of all of his dangerous extra-curriculars, Sheen was still the leading man on one of the most popular TV sitcoms, Two and A Half Men.
But, as history clearly shows, all things eventually come to an end. Sheen was fired from the show. As such, his character was killed off due in large part to Sheen’s dangerous drug addiction and unpredictable personality.
Sheen would be replaced by Ashton Kutcher. However, that didn’t last long either.
4. Edna Krabappel – The Simpsons
Ask any teacher. They’ll tell you that Edna Krabappel from The Simpsons is their spirit animal. The fan-favorite was a jaded and love-sick teacher with a short fuse and a thirst for alcohol. The character was brought to life by the top-shelf vocals of actress Marcia Wallace.
Sadly, Wallace lost her life in 2013. As such, the showrunners retired the sassy schoolteacher. Edna’s departure and Wallace’s passing were honored on the show with several Easter egg style tributes peppered throughout the show.
5. Glen Rhee – The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is the perfect modern example of showrunners utilizing the death of a major character to drum up controversy and ratings.
Season six ended with the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. Not only did it mark the on-screen debut of the supremely badass Negan, but it also teased the death of a major character just before the credits rolled.
Though The Walking Dead TV show isn’t afraid of veering away from the source material, fans of the comic knew what was coming. In the end, episode one of season seven concluded with Glen’s horrifically violent end.
6. Frank Underwood – House of Cards
Remember when House of Cards was the pillar of Netflix’s original programming? The show paved the way for streaming-only programming, racking up award after award, for both the show itself and its lead, Kevin Spacey.
The thing is television does not exist in a vacuum. So, when your lead actor is embroiled in a decades-long sexual assault scandal, it can change everything.
And change everything it did. Netflix was quick to cut ties with Spacey, as were many of his business partners.
In the end, Netflix was forced to kill off Spacey’s character on the show, Frank Underwood. Thus, handing the Presidential reins over to his wife Claire (Robin Wright).
7. Livia Soprano – The Sopranos
House of Cards may have paved the way for Netflix’s original dramas, but HBO’s The Sopranos is the real trailblazer of long-form serial dramas. James Gandolfini’s iconic portrayal of mob boss Anthony Soprano’s struggle to the top of the New Jersey Mafia family’s food chain took the world by storm. And sure, Gandolfini deserves his due and then some. However, the conflict that kept the plot compelling wouldn’t be the same without Tony’s mother, Livia Soprano.
Livia Soprano was the narcissistic matriarch of the Soprano crime family, effortlessly moving the kings and pawns to bend at her will. Sadly, right when things were about to heat up, actress Nancy Marchand passed away from lung cancer. The death took many by surprise — fans and showrunners included.
The show survived, but who knows what it could have been had Livia Soprano, the master manipulator, endured the full run.
8. Derek Shepherd – Grey’s Anatomy
Fans of Grey’s Anatomy know what heartbreak feels like. Over the course of 11 seasons, the world fell in love with actor Patrick Dempsey’s character, Derek Shepherd a.k.a. McDreamy.
And who could blame them? Shepherd’s romance with the show’s lead character Meredith Grey was serious relationship goals. It appears that Patrick Dempsey had his own goals though.
After 11 seasons, the actor wanted the freedom to explore other acting opportunities as well as spend more time with his young family. Both Dempsey and show creator Shonda Rhimes agreed to an amicable split, and McDreamy was killed off of the show.
9. Susan Ross – Seinfeld
Sitcoms don’t get any bigger than Seinfeld. Don’t believe me? Next time your off sick from work, scroll your local TV schedule and count the number of daily Seinfeld re-runs. You’ll probably need all of your fingers and your toes to keep track.
Apart from the show’s quartet of lead actors, the show leaned on a rotating cast of regulars that popped in and out of Jerry’s circle from time to time. One of the main ones was George Costanza’s love interest Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg).
On-screen, Susan was the perfect prim-and-proper foil for the odd cast of misfits. However, the off-screen chemistry was something altogether different. The divide was so wide that co-creator Larry David killed her off in the most Larry David way imaginable. By feeding her toxic envelopes.
10. Lawrence Kutner – House
Kal Penn’s career has been quite the rollercoaster. The world fell in love with him in Van Wilder, and then again in Harold and Kumar. But it was his role in the popular medical drama House that cemented Kal Penn’s place in North American pop culture.
In House, Penn played Dr. Lawrence Kutner, a brilliant and enthusiastic doctor who always managed to figure out a patient’s illness right in the nick of time. But Penn’s rollercoaster career didn’t end there.
Penn — always engaged in American politics — was offered and accepted the job of Associate Director of White House Office of Public Engagement. He couldn’t juggle both jobs, so the show killed Lawrence Kutner quite dramatically at the end of season eight.