TV’s Most Meaningful Deaths of 2017

'Game of Thrones,' 'Walking Dead' Among Top TV Deaths of 2017

It’s a little macabre but true nothing that gives a TV show a bit of sizzle like having a key character shuffle off his or her mortal coil. With so many shows on the air, it’s no surprise that TV’s character body count keeps rising. Here’s a look at the deaths of some prominent characters that left viewers in mourning this year.

“American Horror Story: Cult” — Ivy, Winter, Meadow, et al
True to form for FX’s scary anthology drama, the new season started with a couple of grisly deaths, including two new victims for Twisty the Clown and the slaughter of a city council member and his wife — the latter was key to a chain of events Kai (Evan Peters) needed to be able to rise to power. These were only the beginning murders, though, in a long list of twisted slayings by various members of the hive mind. The ones that provided the biggest punches to the gut were Ivy (Alison Pill), poisoned by her wife Ally (Sarah Paulson); Winter (Billie Lourd), strangled by her own brother after being accused of being a mole within the “organization;” and Meadow (Leslie Grossman), who shot herself after staging a shooting at a political rally so Kai could survive a seeming assassination attempt and gain more attention around his campaign.

Big Little Lies” — Perry Wright
It’s a credit to actor Alexander Skarsgard that he could make viewers sympathize on any level with Perry Wright. Skarsgard’s performance allowed us to see a violently conflicted man who was tortured by his inability to control his base impulses to batter his wife, played by Nicole Kidman. Perry met his end by being shoved down a steep flight of stairs by another woman who was triggered by seeing him raise a hand to his wife in public. As he tumbled to his death, there was relief but also sadness for the fact that a horrific cycle of violence that could only be broken with more violence. It’s no wonder Kidman and Skarsgard both garnered Emmys and have been soaking up more nominations for their work.

“The Deuce” — Thunder Thighs
HBO’s drama about porn and prostitution makes it crystal clear from the start how brutal the mean streets were for streetwalkers in the early 1970s. Most of the prostitutes have encounters with men who are more turned on by violence than sex. Still, the murder of Thunder Thighs (aka Ruby), played with humanity by Pernell Walker, was shocking. A sadistic john shoves her out of a hotel window, as if she was trash to be discarded on 42nd Street.

Game of Thrones” — Olenna Tyrell, Petyr Baelish, Viserion
Lady Olenna (Dianna Rigg) was known for her sharp tongue, even in the face of death. After joining Daenerys’ fight against Cersei, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) offered to show Olenna mercy by letting her drink poison. After she downed the lethal libation, she defiantly told Jaime that she was the one who had Joffrey killed. Meanwhile, one of the most duplicitous characters in all of Westeros proved no match for the combined might of the Stark sisters. Baelish (Aidan Gillen) did all he could to turn Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) against each other, but they turned the tables on him, leading to him begging for his life before Arya cut his throat. And finally, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) flew one of her dragons north to assist Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but the great beast was killed by a well placed spear from the Night King. The undead king then resurrected Viserion, using its fire to melt down The Wall and allow his army access to Westeros.

“Halt and Catch Fire” — Gordon Clark
In the second season of the AMC period emerging tech industry drama, Gordon (Scoot McNairy) began to experience symptoms that at first glance appeared to be from his recent drug use but were later found out to be the result of being exposed to toxic elements from the parts that make up the computers that made his career. His condition was said to be untreated and one that would cause him to further decline. But for a chunk of time it almost seemed like he was back to his old self again and was even about to embark upon a revolutionary relaunch — until the fourth and final season’s seventh episode, “Who Needs A Guy.” in which he suddenly succumbed, ultimately dying of a stroke. To lose a pivotal character so close to the end of a series is not uncommon in dramatic television, but here his absence forced the show to slow down momentarily — to allow its characters to grieve and ultimately to let the audience reflect on what they’ve meant to them.

Homeland” — Peter Quinn
The intrepid CIA operative played by Rupert Friend cheated death at the end of Season 5, but Peter Quinn couldn’t outrun the Grim Reaper forever. He went down in a hail of bullets and blaze of glory in the Season 6 finale. He not only saved Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison once again, but also Elizabeth Marvel’s President Keane and democracy itself. Fans may have quibbled with aspects of Quinn’s hardened character in his last season but his demise was suitably heroic as sacrificed himself for the larger mission of driving Carrie and Keane to safety. And Quinn’s death puts to rest the will-they-or-won’t-they storyline regarding his (mostly unrequited) love for Carrie.

“Jane The Virgin” — Michael Cordero
After Jane (Gina Rodriguez) finally married Michael (Brett Dier) on the CW’s take on a telenovela, he was shot in the hallway of the hotel where she worked. He managed to survive the gunshot and a subsequent risky surgery, only to die episodes later (Season 3, Episode 10, “Chapter Fifty-Four”) due to lingering complications (an aortic dissection). Not only was it a devastating blow for Jane herself, but so too for the audience who, despite off-handed lines of dialogue about Michael not feeling 100% as he prepared to take the LSATs and finally go for a new dream, felt blindsided. What added to the traumatic nature of this death was that it was sudden, but there was no time to grieve after, as the show then jumped forward in time.

“Nashville” — Rayna James
The ABC-turned-CMT country music soap opera put its leading lady in peril quite a few times before ultimately pulling the plug, so to speak, on the character. Back in the first season finale, she survived a rough car crash, only for the fifth season to take the danger to multiple other levels. First there was her dealing with an armed stalker. Then just as she was out of the woods there, she was in another car accident. And though she came away from the scene and put in the hospital just like the first one years ago, ultimately complications from this crash proved fatal, and she passed away in the aptly-titled Season 5, Episode 9, “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” It was an extremely emotional event because Rayna had only recently truly rekindled things with Deacon (Charles Esten) but also because she was newly inspired to write music after her experience with the stalker. But furthermore, it was a game-changer for the show that had Britton in top billing for years and had just moved to a new network.

“Orphan Black” — Mrs. S
The final season of BBC America’s clone drama couldn’t end without at least one major character sacrificing his or herself for the greater cause, and in the eighth episode. “Guillotines Decide,” that fell to Sarah’s adoptive mother Mrs. S aka Siobhan (Maria Doyle Kennedy). A fighter to the literal end, when Ferdinand (James Frain) came looking for revenge after being betrayed by Rachel (Tatiana Maslany), he shot Mrs. S, but she shot back. Although she didn’t survive, she took him with her and managed to exposed the shady Neolution group, too. Her final scene came with some sharp emotional turns and kept the stake of the final season extremely high.

“This Is Us” — William Hill
Spending multiple episodes knowing William (Ron Cephas Jones) was not going to make it past the first season of NBC’s hit then-freshman family drama somehow still did not soften the blow for just how poignant saying goodbye to the man the audience, and his biological son Randall (Sterling K. Brown) had just been getting to know. In the 16th episode of the first season, entitled “Memphis,” father and son took a road trip to soak up as much time, make as many memories, and reminisce and learn, for William and Randall respectively, about Hill family history and younger William’s life as possible. Although William knew he wouldn’t be returning from the trip, Randall was must less prepared to see such a sharp decline. But seeing him step into the role of caretaker, holding his father’s head and telling him to breathe like his adoptive father Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) used to do for him took the usual tearjerker level of the show to a whole other level.

The Walking Dead” — Sasha
Sasha (Sonequa Martin) had been with the show since Season 3, proving herself time and time again to be a great fighter and compassionate friend. But after Abraham’s (Michael Cudlitz) death in the beginning of Season 7, she was never the same. After a failed attempt to kill Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), she killed herself with a poison pill and reanimated as a walker in “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.”

Variety’s Best of 2017