Before you start reading, I must warn you that this is a SPOILER HEAVY list, obviously. Read at your own discretion.
I wrote this in response to the end of season 3 of Game of Thrones. When I first started watching the series, I wanted to read each season’s corresponding book before I watched the adaptation. Given the length of the novels, my impatience and fear of being spoiled I stopped about 1/3 of the way through the second book and got caught up on the series.
Thankfully, I avoided all spoilers for the end of season three. What I got in return was one of the biggest “HOLY SHIT” moments in recent television memory. It’s the moment everyone has been talking about and now that I’ve finally seen it, I’ve been inspired to make a list of the most tragic moments in television. Enjoy.
The Most Tragic Television Moments (According to The Obsessive Viewer)
In no particular order
Game of Thrones – Season Three: The Rains of Castamere
Tiny and I talked at length about Game of Thrones’ highly memorable and tragic third season in our special Game of Thrones episode of the podcast. Be sure to check that out.
My God. Worst wedding ever. I simply can’t get the scene out of my head. And it hurts.
In season one, Robb Stark agreed to marry one of Walder Frey’s many daughters in exchange for a favor as the War of Five Kings got underway. Unfortunately, Robb fell in love on the battlefield, got married and knocked up his new bride. To make up for going back on his word, Robb offers his uncle Edmure Tully to take his place on the altar.
What follows is one of the most tragic and horrifically ruthless things I’ve seen on television. After the “bedding ceremony”, where the bride and groom are whisked away to consummate their marriage, it’s revealed that Walder Frey has orchestrated a trap for the unsuspecting Starks. As the band starts playing “The Rains of Castamere”, the room is closed off and Catelyn notices Stark ally Roose Bolton is wearing armor. He shrugs heartlessly at her as she realizes what his betrayal means.
What comes next is swift and bloody. Robb’s pregnant wife is stabbed repeatedly in the stomach while arrows hit his chest. Chaos ensues as the Stark soldiers are mercilessly torn apart. Catelyn holds a knife to Walder Frey’s wife’s throat. She threatens to kill her if he doesn’t let Robb go. Frey simply says he’ll find another wife. Robb crawls to his dead wife, then gets to his feet. He sees his mother and gathers the strength to say one heartbreaking word. “Mother?” Before he’s stabbed in the abdomen.
Catelyn slits Frey’s wife’s throat and stares at her dead son, emotionally destroyed to the point where she becomes instantly catatonic. The camera lingers on her face, drained of life, before her throat is slit and then it cuts to black.
It’s a devastating sequence. Suffice it to say, the Stark deaths and disfigurements that have happened throughout the series prove that it’s hard to be a noble person in George R.R. Martin’s world.
Adding to the tragedy of the Red Wedding was the fact that Arya Stark, who’s spent the last couple seasons separated from her family, was feet from the door leading to the massacre and watched as her brother’s caged direwolf was killed. It echoes back to season 1, when she stared helplessly as her father was beheaded. That, for me, makes it all the more difficult to watch.
The Shield – Season Seven: Family Meeting
The Shield finale is one of the best series finales I have ever seen. It may actually be the best, now that I think about it. It’s difficult to conclude a series filled with characters that you’ve spent seven seasons setting up for downfall. Shawn Ryan not only concluded his series in a satisfying way, he concluded his characters in a way that left me in a daze for several weeks after it aired. Not to mention, he also forever changed the meaning of the words “family meeting” for me.
After seven seasons (3 years in The Shield’s timeline) the strike team was reduced to shambles in a Shakespearean tragedy that played out in a final season that serves as a perfect example of how to resolve antihero character arcs.
Breaking Bad – Season Two: Phoenix & ABQ
Breaking Bad ended its second season with a pair of highly memorable episodes. Walt sells off the remaining 38 pounds of meth but, seeing the heroin in Jesse’s room, decides to hold off on giving Jesse his share. Jesse’s girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) threatens Walt into giving Jesse his share.
What happens next is a series of events that ends in tragedy. By pure happenstance, Walt meets Jane’s father at a bar. Her father, having just had a major confrontation with her, espouses on the troubles of fatherhood with Walt. The conversation leads Walt to swing by Jesse’s to make amends. Unfortunately, the pair is passed out following their last hurrah with heroin. Walt tries to shake Jesse awake and, in the process, causes Jane to roll over on her back. She vomits, asphyxiates and dies.
It’s fascinating to see Walt’s reaction as he watches Jane gurgle her final breath. You can see the conflict in his face and the emotion as he lets her die. It’s a great scene and a big stepping stone for Walt in his eventual transformation into full-blown Heisenberg.
Jane’s death has far-reaching consequence as the season ends with Jane’s dad returning to work as an air traffic controller. Unfortunately, he isn’t ready and his preoccupied mind causes the mid-air collision of two airplanes. Right over Walt’s home. It’s a highly memorable ending to a great season of television.
Boardwalk Empire – Season Two: Georgia Peaches
The final scene of Georgia Peaches blew me away. It marked a return to form for the show, which had experienced a sluggish few episodes. The episode ends with Manny Horvitz murdering Jimmy Darmody’s wife and her latest lesbian lover. Any gangster drama is going to have its share of casualties. But when a heartless gangster kills an innocent person, it can turn the mirror on the characters of the piece. It can lead us to question who we’re rooting for. With Manny’s haunting words “Your husband did this to you” just punctuates the cruelty of the act.
What made it more tragic wasn’t just the fact that Angela Darmody’s death left her son motherless. It was knowing that Jimmy’s mother Gillian, a woman with a loose moral compass, was going to step into that role.
Lost – Season Five: The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham & The Incident
For five seasons of Lost, there was one character that was steadfast in his belief in the power of the Island. Not only that, he believed that they were put on the Island for a reason. Of course, I’m talking about everyone’s favorite box company grunt, John Locke.
Locke spent his entire life as a punching bag. He was abandoned by his parents, manipulated into giving his con artist father his kidney and then paralyzed when his father pushed him out of a window. But his belief in the Island was (for the most part) always steadfast. He knew the Island was his destiny.
In season 4 it’s revealed that the body Jack is visiting in LA belongs to Locke. Later, in season 5, we see Ben Linus strangling Locke in a hotel room, probably out of jealousy or merely as a means to get back to the Island himself. It’s all good, though, because Locke is brought back to life on the Island later.
The tragedy, however, is that pesky “Dead is Dead” rule. In the season 5 finale we learn Locke is still dead and the man using his appearance is the personification of the malevolent force of the Island, hell bent on escaping.
The moment we see that Locke is still dead brings about a moment of unspoken sadness. In the end, Locke wasn’t destined for greatness. He was chosen, sure, but he didn’t have the destiny he so desperately desired. Jack carried on his legacy and became the man Locke wanted to be. But there’s still Locke, dead in the crate. Tragic.
The Wire – Season One: Cleaning Up
It’s been a while since I’ve watched season 1, but Wallace’s death really hurt. Bodie and Poot were in charge of killing their friend who, as it turns out, wasn’t a threat to them. All the actors in the scene were great. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Wallace in season 1 was really impressive and I’m very happy to see him get more and more work. He’s a very good actor.
DeAngelo asking Stringer what happened to Wallace is heartbreaking.
Sons of Anarchy – Season Five: Laying Pipe
I said my peace about Sons of Anarchy a while ago on the blog. I think it’s a mediocre (at best) soap opera that happens to center around a motorcycle gang full of anti-heroes. I could be a lot harsher. The truth is, for me, Sons of Anarchy just can’t escape the shadow of its “big brother” TV show counterpart, The Shield.
Having said that, last season Sons bid adieu to the one sympathetic character the show had. Opie was the one likable guy in the cast. He was the one guy I could get behind. I don’t have a problem with antiheroes at all, I should say. This list alone is replete with antiheroic dramas. I have a problem with not being able to connect with characters because of poor writing. At the end of the day, I just don’t care about any of the Sons. Save for Opie.
Opie had a rough time on the series. His wife was murdered by a fellow Son in a plotline that was almost a carbon copy of something from The Shield. Later his father was gunned down. Again, by a Son. He made the smart move and got out as he realized an affiliation with the club meant death. Unfortunately, he was right. It was noble of him to sacrifice himself, even if the writers beat his “I got this” line to death with a pipe of repeated dialogue throughout the season.
No matter my feelings toward Sons of Anarchy, I have to applaud the show for actually having the balls to kill off a fan favorite character in such a brutal manner.
The Walking Dead – Season Three: Killer Within & Clear
I liken The Walking Dead to Sons of Anarchy in that, it’s a show I watch just to watch. There are cool elements to the series, the zombie effects are incredible. But I watch it for its entertainment value. I don’t get much else out of it as I do with Boardwalk Empire or Breaking Bad.
Every now and then, however, The Walking Dead will do something insane that tears me apart. Season three had two things.
Lori was no one’s favorite character. But her death was handled in such a great way that I had to include it here. Having a woman die in childbirth only to have her young son shoot her in the head to prevent her from coming back is one of the most tragic scenarios I can imagine.
Clear was far and away my favorite episode of the series’ first three seasons. We were introduced to Morgan and Duane in the stellar pilot episode of the series. We didn’t see or hear from them again until Clear and when we did, we wish we hadn’t.
It was heartbreaking seeing the broken, barely sane Morgan. Hearing him recount the story of losing Duane was really hard to watch. It was an all too rare glimpse at the bleak reality of the show’s apocalyptic world.
24 – Seasons One & Six: 11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. & Day 6: 5:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.
I was a hardcore fan of 24 for a while back in the early aughts. There are two scenes that I wanted to include in this list. The first being the obvious choice of Jack losing his wife to the treacherous Nina Myers. The final shot of the season, and the introduction to the ominous silent clock, of Jack cradling his dead, pregnant wife in his arms after saving the day was tragic to say the least. It made for a hell of a way to conclude a season.
The second scene I want to spotlight comes from the highly panned season six of the show. Day 6 was far from my favorite season. That didn’t stop it from having a sad but powerful finale. Jack, after once again saving the world, goes to see his former boss.
As a result of Jack’s actions, the Chinese held Jack’s former girlfriend, Audrey, captive. Jack threatens the former Secretary of Defense, Audrey’s father, until he’s granted access to Audrey. Jack sees his former girlfriend in a vegetative state and realizes how much pain he inadvertently caused her. He leaves, knowing he’ll never see her again and hangs the price of his actions over his head.
It’s also worth mentioning that the scene in which Jack confronts Secretary Heller is by far the best acting work Kiefer Sutherland put in to that series. It’s really impressive work.
Scrubs – Season Five: My Lunch
Man, talk about a downer ending. Dr. Cox finds a way to save three patients with transplants from a dead woman he and J.D. knew. Unfortunately, the woman had rabies and all three transplant patients die in a montage set to The Frey’s “How to Save a Life.”
As a whole, the episode is very well put together. Cox and J.D. can’t stand an annoying woman they keep running into. They don’t pick up on subtle indicators that her life is in tatters and she could really use someone to talk to. She dies and J.D. is left devastated, beating himself up for not taking the time to stop and help her. Dr. Cox takes him out of his bout of melancholy by explaining to him that “once you start blaming yourself for people’s deaths…there’s no coming back from that.”
Ignoring the rather “out there” proposition that one woman’s organs would just happen to be a suitable candidate for three transplant patients sitting in the same ICU as the dead woman, the episode ends spectacularly. Seeing Cox working to resuscitate a man he had a rapport with is powerful. When it’s all said and done and we see Cox broken, he admits the man wasn’t in need of an immediate transplant.
When Cox leaves and J.D. repeats Cox’s “there’s no coming back” warning from earlier in the episode, John C. McGinley turns around and hauntingly delivers a powerful three word response. “Yeah. You’re right.”
Band of Brothers – Why We Fight
I saved this one for last because it is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever watched. When Easy Company liberates the concentration camp, it shined a new light on one of the darkest pieces of history. It moved me beyond words and sickened me to my core. For this scene alone, I firmly believe Band of Brothers should be required viewing for anyone in high school.
So there you have it. What are your most tragic scenes? Leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ObsessiveViewer, like the blog on Facebook and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast.
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