Television has a way of getting to us. After season upon season spent investing time, energy, and emotion into the development and nuances of the characters in a given series, we often connect to TV characters in a way that we do not to fictional people in other forms of media. Watching heartbreaking things happen to characters you have come to know intimately often feels personal and devastating. Here are my picks for the ten saddest moments in television history.
#10: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – “How come he don’t want me, man?”
Whether you believe the rumor that Will Smith’s performance here was unscripted and reflected his relationship with his own father or not, this is a heartbreaking scene from a generally lighthearted show. In any event, Smith knocks this scene out of the park with an outpouring of emotion that any child whose parents were never there can feel.
#9: Scrubs – “Where do you think we are?”
Here we have another incredibly depressing moment that comes from a typically goofy comedy. Dr. Cox (one of my all time favorite characters in a comedy series, by the way) has been having an incredibly hard time dealing with the terminal cancer of his brother-in-law, who doubles as his best friend. Most of the episode, Cox struggles with the news by drinking to excess and exposing a vulnerable side that we didn’t know existed. This tragic episode culminates with the below scene; Cox and his brother-in-law joke with each other in a park, when J.D. (Zach Braff) comes across them. What J.D. reveals is one of the most crushing endings to an episode in a comedy series ever.
#8: Boy Meets World – “Class dismissed.”
If you’re anywhere near my age, you probably grew up like I did – with Cory Matthews, Sean Hunter, Topanga Lawrence, and of course, the wise, majestic Mr. Feeny. Yep, Boy Meets World is truly the program that evokes the most nostalgia for my formative years. And this scene, the last scene of the program in its seven-year run, makes the cut just for the bittersweet goodbye and quiet finality of the Boy Meets World era. Get your handkerchiefs ready.
#7: Sons of Anarchy – “Laying pipe”
Sons of Anarchy is possibly the most consistently tragic, violence-filled show on television. After watching the show for awhile you almost become desensitized to the deaths of characters, because you know better than to trust Kurt Sutter with your favorite character’s life. However, few scenes in the show are as hard to watch and outright depressing as the death of Opie Winston, Jax Teller’s right-hand man and moral compass. After this scene, it was clear that Sons could never have a happy ending.
#6: Breaking Bad – “Nothing personal.”
An incredibly violent show, Breaking Bad fans were certainly used to violence and death. But few killings in the show felt as cold-hearted and ruthless as Todd’s murder of Andrea – a true innocent. With her little boy in the house and Jesse Pinkman watching, bound and gagged in a car, as his girlfriend is killed in cold blood, this scene really yanks on those heart strings.
#5: The Sopranos – “Why you crying?”
Another show that was short on happy endings, The Sopranos made sure death came sooner rather than later for the vast majority of its characters. However, out of all the violence on the show, the death of Adriana La Cerva was particularly depressing. The resigned look on her face, the sobs as she realizes that the end is near, her feeble attempt to crawl away…sad stuff, man.
#4: Game of Thrones – “Bring me his head”
The Season 1 finale of Game of Thrones brought a twist that few (that hadn’t read the books) saw coming – the death of the show’s main protagonist. The decision to behead Ned Stark brought many viewers to tears…but more than that, it created a universal hatred of the misanthropic, depraved King Joffrey.
#3: Game of Thrones – “The Red Wedding”
Even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones, you’ve heard about this episode. There’s really nothing to say. Tragic.
#2: Breaking Bad – “You’re the smartest guy I’ve ever met…”
Of all the deaths in Breaking Bad, this was the hardest to stomach. Hank’s death meant the end of comic relief, the end of morality, and the end of any possibility of a happy ending in the show.
#1: Sons of Anarchy – “It had to be done…”
Speaking of shows that won’t possibly have a happy ending…the season 6 finale of SOA ensured that the upcoming, final season of the show will be more brutal than ever. After this episode, there remain zero main characters that can be objectively referred to as “good guys.” And the show got to that point with the most brutal, shocking, depressing death in the history of television.