Watching TV these days, it’s hard to go two episodes without a seemingly important character being killed off.
Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made a name for themselves by offing main characters in brutal ways, often with little to no warning. It’s led to outcry, threats of boycotting, and hours of hilarious reaction videos on YouTube.
Yet people keep coming back to those shows in droves, with Game of Thrones gaining more viewers year on year, and the majority of the off-season chatter on The Walking Dead being about just who Negan beat to death. While seeing characters we love get murdered every week can be emotionally punishing, there is something exhilarating about knowing that no one is safe. Gone are the days when having your name in the credits guaranteed your survival. No longer is the status quo God.
In today’s landscape, anyone can die at any time, and in any fashion - but these deaths still managed to shock everyone.
And it should go without saying, but spoiler alert.
10. Joyce Summers – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon has gained a reputation for shocking and sometimes unnecessary kills. His films have iced characters beloved for years, including Wash in the Firefly spinoff Serenity and Agent Coulson in The Avengers.
His TV shows have been merciless when it comes to thinning the cast, but nothing in his impressive repertoire has shown his brutality more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In its seven year run, it killed off Tara Maclay (incomprehensible shooting), Anya Jenkins (throwaway finale death), and even its title character twice.
But perhaps no death was more shocking than Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers. It wasn’t entirely unexpected – she first starts suffering from headaches and memory loss in the fourth episode of the fifth season – but when Buffy comes home to find her mother lying dead on the couch, it’s a truly affecting image.
The episode that deals with the aftermath of that death, “The Body,” is one of the most poignant explorations of grief in television history. Unlike almost every other character in the series, she wasn’t killed by a demon or vampire, but by natural causes, and that might be the most shocking thing of all.