“Face Off” (Oct. 9)
Drug kingpin Gus quietly slips into the nursing home room of cartel rival Hector Salamanca to administer a fatal dose. Instead, mute Hector repeatedly hits his communication bell, igniting a hidden bomb in his wheelchair. After the explosion, Gus walks out and straightens his tie, as the camera pans across to reveal that half his face has been blown off.
“What Does the Bee Do?” (Oct. 16)
As she feeds stroke patient the Commodore, father of her son Jimmy, Gillian Darmody begins recounting the night he raped her as a gifted sexual conquest after a party. Emboldened by her current caretaking power over the infirm old political boss, she vengefully slaps him, then again, then repeatedly, while all he can do is whimper helplessly.
“Get Gellar” (Nov. 27)
Until Dexter opens a freezer and discovers the person he thinks is responsible for ritualistic serial killings, Colin Hanks’ character appeared to be a decent weakling dragged into a deadly game by a doomsday killer. The shock came to viewers when Dexter discovered the leader (Edward James Olmos) was long dead and put into cold storage by his protege.
“Christmas Special” (Feb. 19)
After spending the season forced into an engagement that would clearly ruin her life, Lady Mary is finally given the keys to her emotional freedom by her father, Lord Grantham. Her multitude of expressions in this moment might be the finest moment of acting we saw in 2011-12.
“GAME OF THRONES”
“What Is Dead May Never Die” (Apr. 15)
The imp Tyrion lays out a careful plan to smoke out conniving Cersei’s informant by telling his suspects about different suitors for his niece. When Cersei angrily confronts him using the name of the would-be husband, the mole is revealed — and his competitors realize his irreverent behavior and small stature camouflages a man not to be underestimated.
“THE GOOD WIFE”
“The Penalty Box” (Apr. 22)
Alicia sits in on a seemingly routine client meeting that turns ominously threatening when suave drug lord Lemond Bishop blames Kalinda for the sudden federal scrutiny he’s recently been getting, bringing a new level of dangerous consequence to Kalinda’s mysterious dealings.
“HELL ON WHEELS”
“God of Chaos” (Jan. 15)
The obsessed Bohannon seems to have closure after killing the last man on the list of marauders who raped and murdered his wife. But when he discovers he offed the wrong guy, he rides out of town knowing he killed an innocent man, and the guilty one is still out there.
“Grace” (Oct. 9)
In the dead of night, Sgt. Brody silently removes himself from his bedroom — wife still asleep — and heads to the garage. There he lays out a mat, washes his hands, cracks the garage door open to catch some first light, and prays to Mecca, this tense series’ revelatory first indication that its ex-captive returning hero may not be all he seems.
“Episode 6″ (Sept. 21)
The intrigue of the show’s political mystery comes to a head when Freddie steps in at the last minute and interviews a member of Britain’s parliament live on the air about the government’s role in Egypt, a conversation so provocative that electrical power to the news program is ordered to be cut.
“Slaughterhouse” (April 10)
We always wondered how Robert Quarles’ under-his-sleeve weapon would be disarmed, but we never imagined it would be this literal. As Quarles extends to fire, Ellstin Limehouse takes his cleaver and, in a jaw-dropping moment, chops Quarles’ arm off in one strike.
“Episode Nine” (March 25)
The inevitable stretch duel in the Western Derby between Nick Nolte’s Gettin’ Up Morning and Pint of Plain — technically owned by Dennis Farina but with Dustin Hoffman paying the actual millions up front — was as gorgeous a scene of any shot on TV in recent memory and also one of the most thrilling.
“A Little Kiss” (March 25)
Megan surprises Don with a birthday party he doesn’t want, capped by her mesmerizing song-and-dance to the sultry French tune “Zou Bisou Bisou.” Never has the generation gap between them been so apparent, as Don’s obvious discomfort at seeing his wife performing in front of his co-workers clashes with her unselfconscious display, setting up future riffs.
“SONS OF ANARCHY”
“Burnt and Purged Away” (Nov. 22)
There’s only so much lying a biker can take from his club president before firing off a few rounds into his chest, and that’s exactly how Opie responded to Clay. The moment was seasons in the making, and came as the Sons’ hierarchy was disintegrating.
“Legacy” (Feb. 14)
Michael Cudlitz’s gay LAPD office John Cooper certainly could understand the emotional pain of a gay teen contemplating suicide. Cooper tried to talk him off a rooftop — hoping the boy could see a future for himself.
“What Is New Orleans” (June 19)
There’s no shortage of heartbreak in the world of “Treme,” but it particularly stung when Harley, musical mentor to Annie and so many others, was shot dead as he tries to mediate during a street holdup. It reinforced the prevailing sense that tragedy is right around the corner and set the stage for the next set of struggles to overcome.
“And When I Die” (Sept. 11)
Even with death a constant, it’s always a shock when someone near and dear bites the big one. Tara springs to Sookie’s defense when she’s attacked by a vengeful were-gal and gets half her head blown off.
“THE WALKING DEAD”
“Pretty Much Dead Already” (Nov. 27)
The tireless search for young Sophia resulted in Rick’s son getting shot, outsider Daryl finding a mission in his life and divisions between the survivors growing red hot. It culminates in the zombified Sophia coming out of Hershel’s barn during a massacre. Rick takes aim, and kills her in front of her mom and others, altering everyone in the process.