Tyler Barrol, Revenge
Every primetime soap worth its suds needs an off-his-meds mental patient, and in Revenge, that character was Tyler Barrol. Originally introduced as Daniel Grayson’s Harvard roommate, Tyler turns out to be a hustler who specializes in conning wealthy, elderly gay men and is bent on riding his internship at Grayson Global to riches — and not necessarily by proving to be an excellent employee. After weeks of blackmail, scheming, manipulation, holding people at gunpoint, and the rather unfortunate seduction of poor Nolan Ross, Tyler ends up dead on the beach at Daniel and Emily’s engagement party. In the midst of a struggle, Daniel shoots his ex-friend, and Emily’s associate Satoshi Takeda knocks him out before finishing off Tyler. So it’s not exactly how he dies that’s so crazy; it’s the complicated question of who is responsible for his death, and who will be punished for it.
Violet Harmon, American Horror Story
It’s hard to pick just one of American Horror Story’s innumerable grisly deaths, but the demise of the Harmons’ angsty, outcast teenage daughter is the one that sent shivers up our spine for weeks. Midway through the season, disgusted and confused by her ghostly boyfriend Tate’s past, she swallows a handful of pills. Thankfully, Tate saves her — or that’s what we think, until we slowly begin to realize, just before she does, that Violet can’t leave her haunted house anymore. And that’s when we learn, four episodes after the suicide attempt, that she really did die that day. In a moment of terror and gore, Tate shows Violet her rotting corpse, which he’s hidden in a crawlspace, and reveals to her that she’s been dead for weeks.
Renly Baratheon, Game of Thrones
We are inattentive Game of Thrones viewers at best, so we have to admit that it took us a while to grasp the idea of Red Witch Melisandre giving birth to Stannis’ creepy smoke baby. (Pretty sure our exact words were, “Excuse me, what is it that just came out of that woman’s vagina?”) Once we had, it didn’t take long for the “shadow” to strike down Renly, who you’ll remember as the king candidate who marries Margaery Tyrell but far prefers the company of her brother, the Knight of the Flowers. Anyway, suffice to say that we’re on the same page as Davos about the smoke baby. Ew.
We were surprised to learn, towards the end of this season, that Community would be killing off a character. But it was with characteristic brilliance that Dan Harmon and co. dispatched with Star-Burns — the aging drug dealer/enthusiast whose ridiculous facial hair earned him his nickname. We don’t actually see him bite it in “Basic Lupine Urology,” the Law & Order parody/tribute episode, but we do learn that he dies when his car is rear-ended and the meth lab in his trunk explodes. Of course, despite the fact that Dino Stamatopoulos, the actor who plays Star-Burns, wrote Entertainment Weekly an email explaining why he asked to be written off the show, it’s revealed in the season finale that the character faked his own death. This might technically make him an inappropriate choice for this list, but you can’t deny the hoax’s vivid believability.
Shane Walsh, The Walking Dead
It had been clear since Season 1, when he almost kills Rick in the woods and then attempts to rape Lori, that Shane Walsh needed to die. But who would have thought taking him out would be such a complicated process? First, realizing that his former partner and friend is trying to kill him, Rick stabs Shane. Then he pops back up as a walker — because by this point in the show you don’t even have to be bitten to reanimate — and Carl shoots him in the head. Were we the only ones who hated Shane enough that seeing him die twice was actually kind of satisfying?
Lexie Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
You expect a certain number of deaths on a medical drama, especially in a season finale. But did anyone see the plane crash that killed Lexie — and only Lexie — coming? Or that it would take seeing her crushed under the debris and doomed by her injuries for Mark to admit his love for her? It was a shocking storyline, and one that was all the more surprising, considering all the talk in years past that Lexie would become the show’s main character.
Jimmy Darmody, Boardwalk Empire
One of TV’s biggest surprises of the year was the death of Jimmy Darmody, one of Boardwalk Empire‘s main characters, at the hands of his former mentor. “This is your choice, James,” said Nucky Thompson before pulling the trigger, underlining that it was Jimmy’s actions that sealed his protégé’s fate. Michael Pitt’s character was almost as central to the show as Steve Buscemi’s Nucky, and his attempt to oust the corrupt politician as Atlantic City’s bootlegging kingpin provided much of its drama. To say it’s hard to imagine what Boardwalk Empire will be like without him would be a massive understatement.
Nan Flanagan, True Blood
It’s hard to pick just one True Blood character to highlight, because the Season 4 finale was such a bloodbath. But the craziest death is always a vampire’s True Death, and Nan Flanagan’s didn’t disappoint. Cut loose from the Authority, she showed up to recruit Bill and Eric to her side, but made the mistake of using her knowledge that Sookie is a fairy as leverage. That’s when Eric zoomed around the room decapitating Nan’s many guards and Bill put a stake through her heart, creating a rather dramatic blood volcano. “We are not fucking puppy dogs,” he seethed.
Gus Fring, Breaking Bad
In case the photo above doesn’t say everything you need to know about the end of Gus Fring, we’ll only say that he died as he lived: with a calm so deep and inappropriate as to be wholly terrifying.
Lane Pryce, Mad Men
Last but certainly not least, there’s Lane Pryce, a minor tragic hero whose inability to ask for help when he needed money set off a chain reaction of small disasters that led to his suicide. At first, when Don gave him a pep talk to accompany his dismissal from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, we thought he might pick himself back up and try again. But when he failed to kill himself in his new Jaguar, we understood the enormity of the situation and guessed what would happen even before poor Joan tried to nudge open his office door. The moment when Don and Roger busted in to cut him down and we caught a glimpse of Lane’s body was among the darkest we’ve ever seen on television.