Top Ten: TV Deaths
On the day of Halloween, we take a somewhat morbid look at our favourite TV deaths. Careful, this contains spoilers for a lot of shows including Spooks, 24, The Wire, Oz, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Buffy, The Shield, Deadwood and Dexter.
Adriana La Cerva (The Sopranos)
Poor Adriana got caught up in the mob lifestyle after getting involved with Christopher, but ends up being forced to work as a mole for the FBI. When she is found out, the happy, nice facade of the mafia that we're used to seeing drops, as the normally charming Silvio drives her in to the woods and executes her. The creeping realisation on her face as she cottons on to what is happening to her, followed by her pleading for her life, makes it the most shocking of the series' deaths. More so as it's one of the few times we see one of 'our' protagonists kill an 'innocent'.
Ryan Chappelle (24)
It's hard to pick a single death from 24. When Jack's wife was offed at the end of the first season the tone was set, and a hell of a lot of major and minor characters followed. It's tempting to pick George Mason's heroic sacrifice as an example of one of those brilliantly sad feel-good deaths, but Chappelle's death was probably one of the single most harrowing things seen in eight series of 24.
Originally acting as the by-the-book foil for Jack's more 'improvisational' tactics, Chappelle's status as an officious antagonist was slowly eroded until we became somewhat sympathetic towards him. At this point, season villain Stephen Saunders, who Chappelle had made headway in tracking down, demands his execution on threat of releasing a huge bio-weapon.
Jack drives him to a train yard and shoots him in the back of the head. Plain nasty.
Fox don't like people putting clips on 24 on YouTube, so you'll have to settle for a recreation in Lego
Helen Flynn (Spooks)
Spooks now has a reputation for killing off its main characters on a fairly regular basis, but that reputation was earned in the second episode of the first series. Lisa Faulkner was a well-known face to TV viewers with prominent roles in Brookside and Holby City, and looked set to be playing a major part in the BBC's then newest drama, Spooks.
On her first undercover investigation, her cover is blown and she's tortured with a deep fat fryer in an attempt to get Tom to talk. It's the creeping realisation of what's happening that really gets you with this one: when her hand goes it's a bit nasty but it's perfectly possible for her to heal and stay on the show. When her head goes in you realise that this definitely won't end well, and it doesn't, as shortly after she's shot.
Augustus Hill (Oz)
Unlike Spooks, Oz was never a show that needed to establish its police on killing major characters. In its first season the HBO prison drama revelled in offing one character in every single episode. With its sizeable ensemble cast, it was clear from the start that no-one was safe.
With one exception. Harold Perrineau's character, Augustus Hill, was not only a prisoner, but he was also our narrator. He appears throughout each episode, setting up the theme, introducing new characters and so on. He addresses the audience directly, and it's a huge part of the show. Because of that reason, he's the one character that we assume is 'safe'.
So when he's finally killed, stabbed defending his godfather Redding, we get the most shocking death in the entire series. As to who takes over the narration in the final season? Well Hill continues to do it, from beyond the grave. And is joined by some of the other dead characters for good measure too.
Stringer Bell (The Wire)
Stringer was always the smartest of the 'villians' in The Wire, and something of a fan favourite, but he eventually gets caught in a web of his own trickery. His best friend sells him out to Omar and Brother Mouzone, and they track him down to an abandoned warehouse.
Stringer remains professional to the end, attempting to bargain, but realising he has no cards left to play, he calmly accepts his fate.
Curtis 'Lem' Lemansky (The Shield)
The Shield's strike team did a lot of bad things, but when they finally turn on one of their own, things get really nasty. They're manipulated into believing that Lem is going turn on them and give up the rest of the team, and while Vic won't believe it, it ultimately comes down to Shane to make the choice. Which he does by dropping a grenade into his car. Ouch.
The children (Deadwood)
It wasn't the death of any major character that had the greatest impact in Deadwood, but rather a duo of deaths that established just who one major character was. Cy Tolliver was introduced to Deadwood as the proprietor of a gambling joint and whorehouse, one supposedly more upper-class than Al Swearengen's joint over the road. He was far more well-spoken, his house and whores were cleaner, he seemed to be the 'nice' version of Swearengen. Of course, this being Deadwood, it just meant he was all the nastier behind the facade.
This is established for sure fairly early on, as two children try and steal from him. He has them beaten before finally executing them in what's probably the most graphic child-death scene ever show on television.
Tara (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Again, there are a lot of choices for this one. Jenny Calendar was the first big death of the show, and the death of Buffy's mother, Joyce Summers, was handled amazingly well. But for me Tara's death was the most memorable. In a show that generally featured people being mauled by vampires or killed by the weird supernatural threat-of-the-week, Tara's death was different. She was shot by a human bloke. The first time in the show anyone had ever been shot. For that reason alone it was shocking, and even felt a little bit unfair for a show that had never thought to even mention guns before.
I saw it in a room full of about 400 Buffy fans, watching it for the first time, cheering when actresses Amber Benson's name cruelly appeared in the episode titles for the first and last time, and sitting mouth-agape silence when it actually happened.
Rita Morgan (Dexter)
Dexter is victorious, having taken out his adversary for the season, the Trinity killer, he returns home to his family. Only to find that Trinity took one more victim before Dexter could reach him - his wife, Rita.
What makes it truly effective is that we don't see the actual killing, just Rita dead in a bathtub. But Trinity was a serial killer with a regular MO, we know exactly how he killed Rita - taking her into a bath and slicing her femoral artery - but we don't know the details. How did Rita react? What were her last moments like? Did Trinity reveal the truth about Dexter's serial killing ways to her or was she left to die in bewilderment and confusion at why this was happening to her? With both of them now dead, we'll never know for sure.
Leo McGarry (The West Wing)
Unlike the rest of the deaths in this list, this one happens off-camera. And also wasn't one that was planned. As The West Wing moved in to its final season, it shifted focus on to the election of a new President, with many of the existing characters taking a back seat as President Bartlett's term of office starts to come to an end. Then suddenly, out of nowhere on election night, we're told that he has died of a heart attack.
For someone watching it for the first time now, it'd be a somewhat shocking and confusing turn of events. For those of us that were watching it at the time, we had an inkling it was coming. Partway through filming the season, the man behind Leo, John Spencer, passed away from a heart attack.
The following episode features Leo's funeral, and the characters sharing their memories of Leo. One can't even begin to imagine how tough it would have been for the actors to film those scenes, right after the death of their friend and colleague of seven years. It's one of the most emotionally touching funerals ever shown on TV,
because you know that the sadness on the faces of everyone there was entirely real.