Killing off main characters isn’t nearly as shocking anymore thanks to The Vampire Diaries, 24, Lost, Game of Thrones and others conditioning fans to prepare to lose beloved characters. Some shows, however, have found ways to take our preparation and acceptance of character deaths and turned it on its head by faking us out only to reveal someone didn’t actually die.
We’ll look at some of our favorites of the last ten years from both shows on the air and shows that have already finished their runs.
Spoilers ahead for the following shows: 24: Live Another Day, The Vampire Diaries, Prison Break, Lost, The Walking Dead, True Detective, Sons of Anarchy, Sherlock, Revenge, White Collar and ER
#10 President Heller, 24: Live Another Day
When I watched the episodes that showed President Heller killed by a drone attack, there was no doubt in my mind that he was dead, even without the silent clock. But one of my wise commenters pointed out that there were some random shots of Chloe doing some computer work that hinted at the fact that Heller wasn’t dead. And sure enough–they were right. Jack and Chloe worked together to fake out Margot and make her think she had successfully killed President Heller. At first, I was a little annoyed by the fake-out (mainly because it hadn’t even been hinted at), but with President Heller’s stirring speech about his daughter in the finale, I’m glad he didn’t die after all.
#9 Charlie, Lost
Yes, Charlie did die in the third season in easily one of the show’s most emotional, moving moments in the history of its run. But in the first season he almost died via hanging and was saved by Jack pounding as hard as he could on Charlie’s chest. I still remember that moment so, so clearly all these years later. How pale and still Charlie’s body looked. And the moment when the beautiful score stopped, the camera panned out and above Jack over Charlie’s body and I thought in that moment, that Charlie would be the first major death on Lost. He wasn’t and while some might call it a fake-out, I still get chills thinking about that moment.
#8 Carol and Judith, The Walking Dead
Both Carol and Judith have both disappeared for a number of episodes on The Walking Dead leading to a lot of speculation about their deaths. But one thing we have learned is that the producers, when they kill off characters, love to show the gruesome death in all its glory. So since we never saw such a scene for either of them, we never should have assumed that they had met their untimely ends. And for those of you who are saying AMC would never kill off a baby, need I remind you of the fact that they’ve had no problem killing off little girls at this point?
#7 Rust Cohle, True Detective
When a show says from day one it’s going to conclude its story at the end of its “first” season, you can’t assume the main characters are going to make it out alive. And so I went into the finale of True Detective expecting we might lose one or both of the main characters. Once Rust Cohle was stabbed by the Yellow King I thought for sure I was right, but sure enough, he survived his stab wounds. Sure, he wound up in a coma for a bit, but he then woke up a changed man, ready to let go of all the pain in his past.
#6 Juice, Sons of Anarchy
When Juice hung himself at the end of an episode in season four, I thought for sure he was dead. Until that is, you could just barely make out the sound of a tree branch breaking as the end credit title card popped up. It was a blink and you missed it moment and if you weren’t watching on DVR, you might have even dismissed it and thought you were hearing things. There was definitely debate during the week between that episode and the next one, but sure enough, we weren’t hearing things. The tree branch broke and Juice’s hanging failed. Lucky for us viewers since Juice has remained one of the most tortured, compelling characters on the show, especially as it enters its final season.
#5 Sherlock and Moriarty, Sherlock
If you hated Sherlock’s near-death at the end of season/series two, you have no one to blame but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself who tried to end his writing career by killing his most beloved character. He eventually brought him back and the TV show’s producers had to do the same thing after Sherlock jumped to his death during that finale. The series three opener, “The Empty Hearse,” presents three different options for how Sherlock ultimately survived but the audience is never presented with the “true” one because honestly, would you have been happy or satisfied with any of them? (The show, at the end of series three, even manages to undo the apparent suicide of Moriarty which is even more crazy given that he shot himself in the head.)
#4 Victoria Grayson and Lydia Davis, Revenge
At the end of the first season of Revenge, Victoria Grayson and Lydia Davis are involved in a plane crash. The audience assumed Lydia was dead since she wasn’t a regular cast member, but everyone was undecided as to Victoria’s fate. Perhaps the show’s producers were as well since it wasn’t revealed until the second season premiere that Victoria chose to never get on the plane. (Producers played coy all summer long.) Lydia also returned from the dead when it turned out in season three that she too never got on the plane. Will season four reveal the pilot never got on either?!
#3 Mozzie, White Collar
White Collar, like most of the initial run of USA original shows, never seemed to be a show destined to kill off characters. But after Neal’s best friend, Mozzie, was shot at the end of season two, it sure seemed like the show might be flirting with the idea of raising the stakes. But no, Mozzie survived his medically-induced coma and is still alive, reluctantly working alongside the “suit” and his friend Neal as the show enters its final, limited-run season.
#2 John Carter, ER
The episode where John Carter and Lucy Knight were stabbed in season six of ER still lingers in my head all these years later. It’s a startling sight, with Carter getting stabbed in the back and collapsing to the ground, only to see Lucy on the floor, bleeding out. While Carter was arguably the series lead for a number of seasons — the one you rooted for — ER had shown a willingness to kill off major characters. Even though Carter did indeed survive miraculously, he had lifelong kidney problems and developed a narcotic addiction that haunted him for the rest of the series.
#1 Jeremy Gilbert and Alaric, The Vampire Diaries
The Vampire Diaries, of all the shows on this list, deserves a special call-out. One of the things I used to love about the show was its willingness to kill main characters and keep them dead, even on a show where its easy to come back. Remember Vicky was killed in the first season! But lately, characters who died and stayed dead for multiple episodes or even multiple seasons are coming back in large numbers–namely Jeremy Gilbert and Alaric. Is it a near death if they eventually come back to life? I guess I’ll let you decide.
(The Vampire Diaries isn’t alone in killing off characters like Alaric who wanted to leave the show, only to bring them back later when the actor changed their mind. Think Dr. Tancredi who supposedly lost her head on Prison Break or Castiel basically exploding on Supernatural.)