*SPOILER ALERT! Continue at your peril...
Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad
There was never really any question that Walter White would survive his teacher-turned-drug-kingpin career. When a child was shot dead before his eyes and he failed to show any sign of grief or remorse there was a feeling he was beyond redemption. But Walt? Despite his sometimes less than legit law enforcement tactics, he was the good guy. Or the not-so-bad guy. So when he was assassinated and buried in a shallow grave in the desert, it was one of the biggest shocks in a series that specialised in the kind of twisted shocks that frequently left the audience agog, waiting for the, 'Wait a minute, it's only a dream', like a dog awaiting the return of a dead owner.
Dan Conner in Roseanne
When the show wrapped after nine years in 1997, Roseanne Conner revealed that the whole series had been a story written about her life and she had changed elements of reality in order to cope. Whilst viewers thought the family had won the lottery and her hubby Dan, played by John Goodman, had survived his heart attack, the reality was that he had died. The camera lingered on his empty chair and many a teenage sniffle echoed across the living rooms of the world.
Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones
Four seasons into Game of Thrones and key character deaths are almost a trademark of the series. However, when Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) was beheaded in episode 9, he was the first. Bean had fronted all the posters - he was Game of Thrones. The death prompted a massive fan backlash in the US, with many pledging to boycott HBO. Given that George RR Martin's books, on which the TV series is based, however, charts his demise, you could argue that most 'true' fans knew it was in the offing.
Maude Flanders in The Simpsons
Since the days of early Disney we've been conditioned to believe that cartoon characters can't die. Even if they do they simply grow wings and float Heavenward, strumming a harp. So, when The Simpsons killed Maude Flanders in a darkly comic but non-cartoony way (by falling off a grandstand), it felt a little unnerving.
Brian in Family Guy
The same can be said for Brian in Family Guy. Yes, he was a talking dog, but killing Brian was like killing Bart in The Simpsons or Ross in Friends. He was an integral part of the show. Seth MacFarlane, who created the show and voiced Brian, never gave fans any reason for murdering the cartoon canine which made it all the more unsettling.
Teri Bauer in 24
The final episode of the first season of 24 saw Jack Bauer's wife Teri, who had spent the previous 23 hours enduring kidnap, rape, and amnesia, dying tragically in her husband's arms. Although it was Jack rather than Teri who most inspired fans to become invested in their plight, it was still a kick in the stomach for fans, many of whom simply refused to believe she was actually dead and awaited her return in season two.
Lucy Knight in ER
A medical drama Romeo and Juliet scenario played out on ER when Carter and Lucy were stabbed by schizophrenic patient Paul. As Carter drops to the floor he sees Lucy already lying there, dying from her wounds. What makes it all the more poignant is the fact that Carter had just received a Valentine's card from Lucy. Their colleagues battle to save her, but slips away. Sniff.
Nicholas Brody in Homeland
Much of the appeal of Homeland lay with Brody and the struggle to decipher his motivations. Was he good? Was he bad? Was he both? And how would that play out? The first two seasons hinged entirely on this question. Without that hook how could Homeland exist? And yet, at the end of season two he is hanged publicly in Afghanistan as Carrie watched from the camouflage of the crowd. Soon it was clear that the cavalry the viewers were expecting would never appear and Carrie's sense of helplessness and shock was shared with the audience. Powerful stuff.
Adriana La Cerva Sopranos
Given Adriana's unwavering loyalty to her husband Christopher, despite being recruited by the FBI as a mole, and the fact she tried to find a way out for them both in the Witness Protection Programme, her husband's decision to tell Tony Soprano about her plan is all the more shocking. Adriana has been around for five seasons and yet fans see Tony call to tell her Christopher is in hospital and Silvo Dante will drive her there. Instead, he drives her to remote woods. When she realises what's happening she tries, but fails, to escape.
Rita Morgan in Dexter
Nobody expected Rita to die in the fourth season finale. She had been a key character since the beginning of the series. To protect the twist ending of Rita's death, Dexter producers imposed strict security measures, which included the distribution of fake alternate endings and forcing staff members to sign non-disclosure agreements. It had the desired effect - nobody saw it coming.