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Making drama to die for

A character dying in a TV drama isn't always that big a deal. Where would the soaps be, for instance, without the revolving door through which disposable characters enter and leave, often in a wooden box?

Midsomer Murders has chalked up more casualties than a small-to-medium war. The high body count in the CSI franchise, meanwhile, compels its writers to continually dream up ever more gruesome ways of despatching the victim of the week to that great whizz-bang-whoosh flashback in the sky.

Deaths such as these don't really count for much. The characters are usually little more than human props anyway, mere kill fodder to propel the story forward. You know they won't live beyond the first commercial break.

It's a different matter when a major character viewers have grown to love, or grown to love to hate, dies suddenly. The "Red Wedding" wipeout of the Starks in last year's season of Game of Thrones was one of the most memorably shocking scenes in TV history.


The first episode in the new series of BBC2's excellent Line of Duty pulled off a gobsmacker moment of its own last week. Jessica Raine, from Call the Midwife, was introduced as DC Georgia Trotman and seemed set to be a major new character – until the very last scene, when she was thrown to her death from a hospital window.

If we were to rattle off all the occasions down the years on which a major character was killed without warning we'd be here until the middle of next week; a few, however, really stick in the memory.

You'd expect plenty of deaths in a hospital, though probably not among the medical staff. During its 15-year run ER was ruthless about killing off key characters right up to the final season, when Dr Pratt died of injuries sustained in an explosion.

Other notable ER demises include Dr Romano, who was killed by a falling helicopter and medical student Lucy Knight, stabbed by a psychotic patient.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer also had a big 'Sudden Character Death Syndrome' hitlist.

LA Law sent detested shyster Rosalind Shays plummeting down an empty lift shaft.

The Sopranos' Adriana La Cerva met her end in a chilling execution in the woods.

24's Jack Bauer is apparently indestructible; his wife Teri, however, wasn't.

In the very first episode of The Shield, Vic Mackay set the tone when he shot his young partner, Terry Crowley, through the head.


The death of The Wire's Omar, the criminal it was okay to like, wasn't entirely unexpected, given his line of work. What made it shocking was that Omar's killer was a child.

Drama deaths are one thing; having a popular character in a comedy die is a trickier proposition. One of TV's most famous sudden deaths was that of M*A*S*H's Henry Blake. The episode was a turning point for the series, which gained a new maturity and sense of realism. Having Victor Meldrew die in a hit-and-run in the final episode of One Foot in the Grave, on the other hand, was sour and pointless.

But if I had to single out one character death as the most memorable, it would be Hank Schrader's in Breaking Bad. While you kind of suspected Hank would be killed, the fact that he knew it was inevitable 10 minutes before the shot was fired made for powerful drama, especially since we'd watched him evolve from manly-man jerk to something like a hero.