The ANYONE CAN DIE trope has really escalated in the modern television era to the point, really, that it does feel like, unless their name is in the show’s title, any character can die at any time. This wasn’t always the case. The Sopranos had a lot to with the transformation, and then Game of Thrones upped the ante by taking out seriously major characters often early in their runs.
But often, even if it is a main character, you get a sense that it’s coming, either because events seem to be leading in that direction (Justified season two, most of The Sopranos deaths), because casting news in the trades gives it a way (Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead) or because either the showrunner or the network advertises a major death in an upcoming episode (Sons of Anarchy, specifically last season’s major death) so while the identity may be a surprise, the death itself often is not.
Probably one of the truest examples of the unexpected, “Woah! Where did that come from!” death would be the box cutter episode of Breaking Bad, when Gus unexpectedly and without warning grabbed his henchman Victor — who was up to that point smiling — and slashed his throat. NO ONE saw that coming, and the only reason it doesn’t rank below is because it didn’t involve a major character.
Those are my favorite death scenes — the kind that come out of f***ing nowhere. These are the ten most unexpected, what-the-f*ck-just-happened deaths in television’s modern era. Spoilers abound, but with one exception (the very first death, which is from Game of Thrones), the deaths in question are all at least a year old.
Robb Stark, Game of Thrones
The only reason the death of Robb Stark — and Caitlyn Stark, and Robb’s wife — isn’t ranked higher is because — unless you were completely oblivious to the ways of the series –we knew someone was going to die in the ninth episode of the third season. The surprise — the shocking, upsetting, devastating surprise — was in the identities of the deceased. Book readers obviously knew, and even among those who might have surmised that someone was going to die at the Red Wedding, few would’ve guessed that practically everyone would die, including two of the series’ main characters, two who were thought to be among the main protagonists. (The death of Ned is not included on here, if only because — while it was surprising to see the main character die — he was being executed, something that had been in the works since the previous episode). The unexpected death of Robb’s wife was so shocking, in fact, that Jeff Garlin vowed to quit the show.
Lori Grimes Walking Dead — People die on The Walking Dead all the time. Much of the original cast is no longer around, and Shane — the second male lead in the series — had been killed the season finale before. Still, it came as an unexpected shock when the lead female character — or at least, the character who started the series as the lead female — had to be killed WHILE giving birth. The only reason it wasn’t a bigger shock was because Sarah Wayne Callies and others had suggested that Lori was a character that needed to die for the good of the overall series, so some may have expected it sooner or later, though few expected it so early in the season.