Well this is definitely the roughest going for any post I’ve written so far. Let me tell you, finding and watching all these clips? I’ve been weeping steadily since about the third one. You’re welcome.
I think I’m in the minority when it comes to tv characters dying. And by that I mean I’m not often all that outraged by it. There are certainly characters that I have and will mourn, but I’m not throwing in the towel if my favorite bites it. And I’m not one to find death a cop out for the writers – I’ll leave it to others to think up crazy ways to write off their favs. Death happens to every one of us. It’s how all our stories will end. And it almost never gives us a clean wrap-up.
So I get that people are up in arms right now about Derek Shepherd’s last episode. But I’m not one of them.
Television isn’t story telling the same way other mediums are. There are so many moving pieces, so many variables, and sooo much time to cover. Stories on tv don’t move in the same way they do in a novel or a movie. Those – even the longest novels – have a compactness to them. Novels are contained in the mind of one person. A movie has only 2ish hours to say everything it needs to. Television? Television plods. On and on.There are arcs that rise and fall. Characters come and go. Yes, these stories build on what’s come before, but it often can’t be as focused or as linear or as compact as a novel or a movie. But that’s okay. It is its own form of storytelling.
Because it’s storytelling in a different way than movies or novels, death can happen differently in a television series. Death doesn’t have to be poignant. It doesn’t have to be particularly relevant to the major story arc you’re telling right now. Your main character can die and the story can still continue.
Derek Shepherd is dead. Like everyone will be eventually. His death wasn’t particularly meaningful. But neither are most people’s. I’m sad that he’s gone. He was a great character. But the fact that he died doesn’t negate the eleven years we had with him. He’s still a great character.
To be honest, I haven’t watched the episode. I’ve gotten a few seasons behind on Grey’s Anatomy and want to do a whole re-watch instead of just picking up where I left off. But from what I’ve heard – despite people’s outrage that he’s gone – it was an excellent hour of television. And that’s all I want out of a show.
So here, after that ridiculously long introduction, here are my top ten tv death moments. Some of these are death scenes. Some of these are memorials. Some of these are moments of grief. But all them were moments that have stayed with me.
1. Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This was one excellent hour of television. The choice to leave out a soundtrack, to bury the characters and the audience in nothing but the sounds of death and grief and of life still going on without Buffy’s mother was both exhilarating and harrowing. In every second you could just feel that something was off, that something was missing. The silences were palpable and heartbreaking and just thrust home that Buffy’s world would always be a little quieter now without the sound of her mother’s voice.
2. Finn Hudson, Glee
Like I said above, one of the tenets of television is the shear amount of unknown variables a show runner has to deal with. And none is more tragic than the death of an actual cast member. Rachel may have been the star, but Finn Hudson was the heart and soul of Glee: a reluctant leader who often came up short, but always stood tall and tried again. The death of Cory Monteith certainly had a profound affect on the cast and on the story – the last two seasons and the planned ending had to be completely re-conceived. But even though season five and six certainly had some missteps, one thing that stood out as always well done was the continued story of the Glee Club’s, and especially Rachel’s, grief. The Finn Hudson tribute episode wasn’t really a story – in fact, Finn’s cause of death is never revealed – it was simply a moment of shared mourning.
3. Charles Percy, Grey’s Anatomy
Okay, for some people this may be an odd choice. But even over some of the actual main cast members, Charles death is always the one that hits me the hardest. In fact, this is the clip that made me start to cry as I was putting this whole thing together. And I don’t even really like Charles. To be fair, I think the emotion in his death comes more from Dr. Bailey. A shooter, who’s loose in the hospital, corners her and Dr. Percy. Charles is shot while Dr. Bailey escapes a similar fate by claiming to be a nurse. Both her terror and her guilt feed into the breakdown she has when she realizes the elevators are off and she can’t get Charles to an OR. But she squares her shoulders and pulls him into her lap and promises that she will be there as he dies.
4. Marvin Erikson, How I Met Your Mother
Sometimes it comedies that can really gut punch you with an emotional moment like this. Because you’re not expecting it. Even in an episode like this where there’s an actual countdown in the background of the episode. Lily and Marshall are trying to have a baby and when Lily arrives in her cab Marshall is bursting with good news, and the audience is ready for the countdown to stop and reveal that Lily’s pregnant. But instead, the episode ends with Marshall learning that his father has had a heart attack and died.
5. Tricia Miller, Orange is the New Black
Spending time in prison is no easy thing for anybody. It’s dehumanizing and traumatizing, and Tricia never had enough people looking out for her. She was a troubled kid who tried to do right, but never quite managed to. And in the end, it was her addiction and an enabler of the worst kind that caught up with her, leaving her to overdose in a supply closet, then be framed as a suicide. Her found family doesn’t forget her, though, and come together to remember the good girl Tricia wanted to be.
6. Ben Sullivan, Scrubs
Maybe another odd choice considering this character was only in three episodes. But as Dr. Cox’s best friend who died suddenly, he made an impact. The episode is framed as if Dr. Cox is angry at JD for letting just another patient die, with Ben continuing to follow Dr. Cox around the hospital laughing and joking with him. It’s only at the end of the episode when we think Dr. Cox and Ben are walking to Dr. Cox’s son’s first birthday that the audience realizes that Dr. Cox has been in denial this whole time, talking to his friend’s ghost as he and JD head to the funeral. The moment the switch is revealed and Dr. Cox has to face his friend’s death – his friend who’ll never get to meet his son – is both shocking and sobering, finally seeing this man who seems so hard and emotionless let go.
7. Crixus, Spartacus
Basically everyone dies in Spartacus. If anyone wants to watch this show, this is what I tell them. Everyone dies. There are literally only six recurring characters with names that are still alive at the end of the show. So get as attached as you want, but know it’s not a question of if but when. Some of these deaths are glorious, falling in the heat of battle. Some of these deaths are cruel and gruesome. Some of them seem a long time coming, some of them are shocking and sudden. At first I thought to show Spartacus’ last moments. Then I thought I would choose Varro, as his was the death that really spurred Spartacus to rebellion. But in the end, I chose Crixus’ funeral. Though it may be Crixus especially they are honoring with the funeral pyre, it is all those who have fallen to Rome that the rebels remember. And as they raise their voices together to honor their dead and condemn Rome’s cruelty, I just get chills.
8. Ellen and Jo Harvelle, Supernatural
The apocalypse is nigh, Heaven and Hell are fighting over the Winchesters, and everyone is just trying to make it out alive. Jo is badly injured in a fight with a Hell Hound (literally, one of the hounds of Hell), and she knows she’s not going to make it out of their hold up alive. So she offers to stay behind and let her mother and the Winchesters escape out the back as she blows up the hardware store, and herself and the Hell Hounds with it, with a self made shrapnel bomb. She keeps a brave face on as she’s strapped in, but starts to lose it when Ellen sits down next to her, unwilling to leave her child behind. These were two great characters and I was so sad to see them go, but their death was one of bravery and sacrifice, and Sam and Dean lived to fight another day.
9. Aiden, Teen Wolf
Unpopular opinion time: I wasn’t all that bothered by Allison Argent’s death. Yes, I was sad to see her go, but the actress wanted off the show and I steadfastly believe that there was no other way to write her off. Allison would never have left her friends to got to France, as so many people seem to want. She was with them to the death. As for the death scene itself, it would have been way more impactful if it hadn’t been teased all season long. Maybe a re-watch where I’m not just waiting for it to happen will prove better. Instead, for me, it was Aiden’s death that actually had some bite to it. He’d spent the season being rebuffed by Lydia, being told how bad of a guy he was. And when he finally went to step up, to prove himself on the right side of things, he’s killed. Bleeding out in his twin brother’s arms, tears streaming down his face as he asks Ethan if he’s hurting too, Aiden’s death made me actually care about him.
Unfortunately, I can’t find a clip just of his death scene, so here’s a short little fan vid someone made of Aiden’s death story. I don’t necessarily agree with it (in my opinion he wasn’t fighting or dying for Scott – even if he did want in his pack – it was Lydia) but you get the idea.
10. Dolores Landingham, The West Wing
I don’t think I have a lot to say on this one. Jed Bartlett really says it all doesn’t he? “It was her first new car, and you hit her with a drunk driver. Was that supposed to be funny?” Very few things are a more powerful portrayal of grief than President Bartlett, standing in the Cathedral that housed Mrs. Landingham’s funeral, shouting at God in Latin.
And there you have it. Ten solid moments of death and grief. Ten moments that amount to end of someone’s life. It’s okay when a character dies. It’s just the end. Not their story.