Every TV series has that one episode that really tugs at the heart strings. When the characters we love suffer, we suffer. But there are some shows that bring empathy to a whole new level. By killing off beloved cast members, they reframe the story in a way that not only induces ugly tears, but acts as a game changer for what's to come.
We took a look at TV's most gut-wrenching episodes and ranked them according to which installments brought the most devastation. With a heavy heart we bring you: the eight most devastating episodes of all time.
WARNING: Life-altering spoilers ahead.
9. "ER," Season 6, Episode 13, "Be Still My Heart"
"ER" saw a lot of gore, but the brutal nature of Lucy's murder definitively shook viewers. The fact that this eager medical student picked up on her murderer's mental issues and was ignored only served to highlight the destructive nature of her death. As Carter -- who ignored her warnings -- was also stabbed, the two were left to stare at each other beneath the gurney, helpless, in the place they should have felt the most safe.
8."Buffy The Vampire Slayer," Season 5, Episode 16, "The Body"
Dealing with death was always rather commonplace for Buffy and the Scooby Gang, but in her mother's passing our heroine was rendered completely powerless. The lack of music in "The Body" only made Mrs. Summers' death by brain aneurysm all the more unsettling. The episode is especially intense because it shows a very realistic fatality juxtaposed with the fantastical ones with which Buffy is accustomed.
7."Grey's Anatomy," Season 6, Episode 23, "Sanctuary"
At this point in "Grey's Anatomy's"
four-hundred-thousand 10-year run, pretty much every episode is the most devastating episode ever ... to the extent that the devastation and massive disasters happen with such frequency that tragedy becomes boring. Yet, the end of Season 6 constituted a moment in the show that allowed for the poignancy of a shooting to be traumatic beyond the death and heartbreak it caused. The microcosm of Seattle Grace was suddenly vulnerable in a way that seemed to open the flood gates for the plane crashes and sinkholes to come.
6."The Wire," Season 5, Episode 8, "Clarifications"
As Alan Sepinwall put it, "If 'The Wire' has ever had a hero -- someone who fits the mold of more conventional good vs. evil narratives -- it's been Omar ... A rogue this charming, this bad-ass, this larger than life -- he couldn't possibly die, could he?" And what's worse, of course, is the way he died -- not honorably on the battlefield of the street, but shot on a whim by a child. The terrifying randomness of Omar's murder is what makes "Clarifications" truly devastating.
5. "Downton Abbey," Season 3, Episode 9, "Christmas Special III"
Mary and Matthew's tortuously exhausting love affair made the snowy beauty of "Christmas Special II" all the more satisfying. Their happy ending felt like something not only they had earned, but a sort of reward to patient viewers. For the fantasy to be so artlessly destroyed (because Dan Stevens wanted to make a damn e-book, among other things) in "Christmas Special III" was reason enough to lose trust in the show -- especially since all the fatal plot devices of the early 20th century took so many lives before we were robbed of Matthew Crawley.
4."Dexter," Season 4, Episode 12, "The Getaway"
Saran-wrapped and awaiting certain death, Trinity (John Lithgow) tells Dexter to remember the importance of family ... all while knowing Rita's dead body awaits Dexter's return home. The blood-filled bathroom is even harder to stomach, because "The Getaway" briefly gave us closure through Dexter's genuine desire to finally be rid of his dark passenger and embrace his young family. With this scene we know Dexter will never be able to do any more than conceal the monster inside him.
3. "Mad Men," Season 5, Episode 11, "The Resignation"
Lane Pryce was hardly what one might call a beloved character, but the true pain of his suicide was not in the loss as much as the realization that the remainder of the office hardly ever got to know the man they found hanging dead. With this shocking climax of Season 5, Don felt -- more than ever -- like a wrecking ball, destroying everyone who crossed his path. Gruesomely swollen and laid out on the couch, Lane's corpse seemed almost like a sacrifice to the extreme pressures that continue to pervade SCDP.
2. "Breaking Bad," Season 5, Episode 14, "Ozymandias"
In a lot of ways, "Ozymandias" was as inevitable as Walt's eventual fall. Although, that certainly didn't make watching it any easier. Matt Zoller Seitz likened the experience to “being on an old wooden roller coaster that thrilled and terrified you but made your back hurt so bad you worried that maybe you ruptured something.” Only as we watched Walt's life spin out of control in a vortex of lies, betrayal and death, was the true impact of his transition into the Heisenberg monster fully realized.
1. "Game of Thrones," Season 3, Episode 9, "The Rains of Castamere"
The scale of devastation brought about by The Red Wedding extends beyond anything else on this list. Whether expecting this scene or shocked by it, Catelyn Stark's final scream was enough to destroy any "Game of Thrones" fan. In a way, the Lannisters killed more than just Cat, Robb, Talisa and Grey Wind. As Rolling Stone said of the episode, "['The Rains of Castamere' killed an idea. In the world of the show, it killed the hope of the North, the spirit of independence and rebellion and justice that promised one last bloom of warmth before the coming winter if the Starks had prevailed over the Lannisters."
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