Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.
It is very easy to become heavily invested in the characters on TV shows. When something tragic happens to them, viewers are often left shattered. This is a list I've created highlighting some of television's most heartbreaking moments that are sure to leave you sobbing. Grab a box of tissues and check out who made the final cut. (Warning: This post does contain spoilers for popular shows).
Grey’s Anatomy: Denny’s Death
Falling for a patient with heart-failure may not have been the wisest thing to do, but that's exactly what happened when Izzy fell in love with Denny on Grey's Anatomy. The sparks between the pair were obvious from the beginning, and watching their relationship blossom on screen was truly heart-warming. While Denny awaited a much-needed transplant, the two became engaged and started planning their future. It appeared the couple would actually get their happy ending, when Denny was given a new heart (due to Izzy recklessly cutting the LVAD wire and raising his donor level).
Alas, wedding bells would not ring for the beloved pair, as Denny had a stroke and died from transplant complications. It's hard for fans to get the image of a devastated Izzy lying across his hospital bed out of their minds. The doctor wasn't able to accept what happened, and her emotional reaction broke hearts everywhere.
The Walking Dead: Daryl Puts Down Merle
It's safe to say The Walking Dead has had its fair share of tragic deaths and heartbreaking moments. Brothers Daryl and Merle Dixon had a complex, love-hate relationship throughout the show but ultimately kept a strong, deep bond. During an ongoing battle with Season 3 villain the Governor, Merle attempted to ambush him with walkers and prevent him from killing anyone else at the prison (mainly Daryl). After fighting off henchmen, the vengeful Merle is shot in the chest by the Governor. The gut-wrenching scene where Daryl finds his big brother's reanimated corpse is truly devastating.
Daryl broke down in tears as he continuously pushed walker Merle away. He is able to let out all of his frustrations and anguish over his brother by repeatedly stabbing him, killing Merle for good. It remains one of the saddest and painful deaths on the show.
Boy Meets World: Mr. Feeny’s Final Dismissal
Boy Meets World was a feel-good sitcom that introduced us to the iconic bromance of Cory and Shawn, and the epic romance between Cory and Topanga. The show was full of life-lessons, and the character of Mr. Feeny truly resonated with viewers. He was constantly trying to guide Cory and the others throughout their young lives, and was a mentor to the gang. During the show's series finale, we saw the characters heading in different directions. Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric were all heading to New York City. Angela decided to move overseas with her father, and Jack and Rachel joined the Peace Corps in Guatemala.
In the emotional final scene, Cory, Shawn and Topanga are back in their old sixth-grade classroom, along with Eric. They all express their love and gratitude for one another, specifically Mr. Feeny. Once they leave, he stares at an empty classroom and says goodbye, uttering, "I love you all. Class dismissed." It was truly a bitter sweet feeling, that was sure to bring you tears.
How I Met Your Mother: Marshall’s Father Dies
When comedy shows venture into dramatic territory, it can often be shocking for viewers. Marshall learning of his father's death on How I Met Your Mother was no exception. Jason Segal, who portrayed Marshall, had absolutely no idea what was coming in the script, and was told to react in the moment. Segal knew something was brewing for the lovable character, but had no idea just how sad it would be. He requested not knowing his co-stars' lines so that he would have a true, authentic reaction to the news.
The scene where Lily tells Marshall what happened was shot in one take, and Segal's "I'm not ready for this" was the actor's genuine reaction to finding out the news. It was a crushing moment on the show and continues to breaks hearts of those who watch it.
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Friends: The Last Goodbye
When any show comes to an end, viewers are often emotional and hesitant to say goodbye to the characters they know and love. A show as beloved and dear as Friends was sure to have a tear-jerking goodbye, and it definitely delivered. In the final episode of the series, the gang stands in Monica and Chandler's empty apartment, glancing around the barren space as they prepare to move forward. Seeing the iconic purple apartment devoid of all the familiar belongings and furniture was sob-worthy, and as all the friends turned in their keys, it was nearly impossible not to cry.
A whopping 52.5 million viewers tuned in to say goodbye, and fans everywhere were apprehensive to part with the lovable gang they spent 10 years watching. Though 14 years have passed, the Friends finale remains an emotional moment in television history.
M*A*S*H: Hawkeye’s Repressed Memory
Perhaps one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching episodes to ever air on television, the series finale of M*A*S*H left viewers stunned. A major focal point in the episode was when Hawkeye Pierce recalls a time that they picked up some refugees and soldiers, during which an enemy patrol was coming. The bus he was travelling on had to hide off the road and the occupants were forced to be quiet. Hawkeye described a refugee woman carrying a chicken that would not stop clucking, and how he ordered the woman to quiet the chicken. She then killed the chicken to silence it.
In a devastating reveal, Hawkeye breaks down sobbing and confesses that the refugee was not carrying a chicken, but actually a baby. She had smothered the child to death at Hawkeye's insistence. The traumatic recollection shocked viewers, and has remained one of TV's most heartbreaking moments.
Dexter: Trinity Kills Rita
The hit Showtime series Dexter told the story of the titular character who was both a forensic blood splatter technician and vigilante serial killer. Dexter was "born in blood", essentially because he witnessed his mother murdered as he sat in her blood for a days. This background molded him into the killer he became. Dexter's rivalry with another murderer, the Trinity serial killer, caused the same traumatic experience to happen to his son Harrison. He comes home to find his wife Rita dead in the bathtub, and his child sitting in the bloody water. An utterly shocked and devastated Dexter quickly grabs his son, but in many ways the damage is done.
Harrison may very well be stuck in the same patterns that plagued his father, and seeing the child touched by such tragedy was heart-breaking. Rita was a positive and loving presence in Dexter's life, and her death was a tough pill to swallow.
Sons of Anarchy: Opie’s Ultimate Sacrfice
Jax and Opie were the definition of true brotherhood, and their friendship was one fans couldn't get enough of. Opie was put through the ringer over the course of the show, having dealt with the cold-blooded murder of his wife Donna at the hands of his fellow club members. In an emotional and heart-breaking Season 5 episode, Jax and his Sons' brothers are incarcerated. Nemesis Damon Pope ordered Jax to give up the life of one member, in exchange for the freedom of the remaining two. Jax refused to comply and had planned to give himself up, when Opie intervened and therefore sacrificed himself.
The sob-worthy moment when Opie told Jax "I got this" and seemingly accepted his fate was horrible. Seeing a helpless Jax watch in anguish as his friend was beaten to death with a pipe broke hearts, and many viewers wept at the ultimate sacrifice for friendship.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Will’s Breakdown
Though often fun and quite silly, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did indeed have its share of heartbreaking moments. When Will's father breezed back into town, he hopes it will be for good this time. The two spend time together and bond, making plans for the future and effectively getting Will's hopes up. His father's decision to leave once more crushed the young man, making him wonder why his father seemingly didn't want him. In an intimate and tear-jerking scene, Will ponders this with his Uncle Phil, while experiencing various stages of both anger and sadness.
Will made a vow that he would be a better father than the one he had, and broke down to his Uncle when he questioned why his dad didn't want him. It was in this scene that Will Smith truly showed off his acting capabilities, demonstrating his diversity and that he was more than just a funny-man.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Death of Joyce
Buffy battled vampires and monsters on a regular basis, protecting her friends and family at all costs. When her mother Joyce was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the slayer is completely taken aback. Watching her struggle with something natural and not supernatural, was difficult for viewers. Buffy's reaction to finding her mother unresponsive on the couch broke hearts everywhere, as she frantically attempted to wake her up. During the scene, there is no background noise or music, just pure emotion. When Buffy calls 911, it was shot in just one take (a testament to Sarah Michelle Gellar's acting skills).
Seeing not only Buffy struggle with the loss of her mother, as well as the Scooby Gang, was extremely difficult to watch. When the titular character is used to slaying monsters, it was disheartening that she couldn't protect her mother from death. Watching the episode is truly a sob-worthy experience.
Breaking Bad: Walt Lets Jane Die
Watching Walter White succumb to his dark and violent side was often difficult for Breaking Bad viewers, but regardless we continued rooting for the former chemistry teacher with an apt for making meth. However, in a Season 2 episode fans saw a whole new side to the character. His partner Jesse was in a relationship with Jane, and the two often used drugs with one another. A somber scene depicted Jane over-dosing on heroin, choking on her own vomit. Walter looked on at the scene, and instead of saving the girl, he let her die.
Many speculated the motives for such a heinous act. Walter wanted to keep control over Jesse and also stop him from using drugs, so he let Jane die in front of him. It was a cold-blooded and brutal scene that sent Jesse spiraling over the death of his girlfriend.
LOST: When Charlie Drowns
Though many viewers knew that the death of fan-favorite Charlie was inevitable, when the moment finally came audience's everywhere were left heartbroken. When it appeared as though Charlie would actually be able to cheat death, he made the ultimate sacrifice. In order for his friends to get to safety, he trapped himself in a room filling with water and slowly drowned. In his final moments, Charlie was able to get an important message to his friends before succumbing to the water. This final heroic action touched hearts, and helped shape the character into being one of the best on the show.
Charlie evolved throughout his arc on the show, going from a selfish heroin addict to the ultimate hero. Watching his death play out was horrible, and viewers were definitely reaching for a box of tissues.
The Walking Dead: Negan’s Murder Spree
Viewers always threaten to quit watching The Walking Dead if their favorite characters are killed off. However, season after season passes and the gory hit show continues to captivate audiences. The Season 7 premiere was both highly anticipated and feared, because it was announced in advance that a major character was going to die. In a shocking turn of events, not one but two main characters were bludgeoned to death by the bat-wielding Negan. Abraham and Glenn were brutally murdered, as their loved ones could only look on in horror. It was a sickening, heart-breaking moment for fans of the show.
Beloved pizza-boy turned hero Glenn was bludgeoned to death as his pregnant wife Maggie watched, angering viewers who adored the character since the first season. Wise-cracking red-head Abraham was also murdered, as his girlfriend Sasha witnessed the killing. The premiere has gone down as one of the most shocking and gut-wrenching episodes ever in television.
Desperate Housewives: Mike Gets Shot
Just when it looked as though Susan and Mike would get their happy ending, a mobster drove by and ripped away any chance of reconciliation. The two had their fair share of issues throughout the show, but fans continued to root for a reunion between the duo. When it seemed as though they were finally able to work things out and open up to one another, Mike was brutally shot on Susan's doorstep. Time stood still before the violent act, and his life with Susan flashed before his and the audience's eyes. Susan's frantic wailing and sobbing was chill-worthy.
Seeing the pair so close to getting a second chance was hard for viewers to accept, and Teri Hatcher's emotional portrayal of Susan was tragically beautiful.
Game of Thrones: The Red Wedding
Game of Thrones is notorious for being blood-thirsty and violent, and the episode that brought the demise of an entire family left viewers in utter shock. The aptly named The Red Wedding is fitting since it killed off some of the show's most beloved characters. Audiences could only watch in horror as Rob Stark's pregnant wife Talisa was stabbed, killing both her and the baby, his mother Catelyn had her throat slit, and Rob himself took multiple fatal arrows to the chest.
The bloody act of violence sent fans into a complete tizzy, flabbergasted that the writers would do that. However, those who read the books knew what was coming for the family and were not blind-sided by the brutal slayings of the beloved Stark clan.
© 2018 Rachel M Johnson
Rachel M Johnson (author) on January 20, 2019:
Hi Dina, I know what you mean. The Izzy and Denny storyline still breaks my heart anytime I attempt to watch it! Shonda Rhimes is a fantastic storyteller and really makes you invested in her characters.
Dina AH from United States on January 20, 2019:
I avoided quite a few of these shows, mainly the bloody ones. However, Grey's Anatomy easily destroyed me with this Izzy storyline. She upset me because she cares so much for her patients in earlier seasons, so this was not out of the blue at all. Goodness. I remember the aftermath of this loss. It kind of set the tone for what Shonda Rhimes is capable of doing to these characters.