Game of Thrones Red Wedding

Weekend Roundtable: Shocking Character Deaths

Ohmigod, you guys! Can you believe that [redacted] and [redacted] got killed off in that big movie in theaters this week? Spoiler Alert: This week’s Roundtable is about other character deaths we did not see coming.

Needless to say, we’re giving away some big plot twists here. If you haven’t seen some of these movies (or one TV show), you might want to scan through the highlighted titles before reading too closely.

Luke Hickman

For those who have seen the original 2002 Hong Kong film ‘Infernal Affairs’, there may not have been any surprises in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 adaptation, ‘The Departed‘. Going into it blind, however, the final act of the film came as a total shocker to me.

I ate up everything about ‘The Departed’. It was the first Scorsese film that really resonated with me. As I watched it in the theater for the first time, I soaked it in. The cast, script, plot, editing and music harmoniously worked together to make a flawless product. The farther I got into the film, the more tense I became. Few movies have made me want to see justice served more than this one, so when deep undercover cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) finally nabs the crime lord’s mole, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), an audible “Yeah!” probably escaped my mouth. But shock filled me the second the elevator doors opened and DiCaprio’s brains were splattered on the wall behind him.

What an amazing twist! It’s rare to see one of a movie’s lead actors knocked off in the end, paving way for the bad guy to win. Another twist changes everything again, but what a shocker when the screwed-over good guy dies so quickly, bluntly and without a chance.

M. Enois Duarte

Immediately, my first instinct for this topic was the Red Wedding in Season 3 of ‘Game of Thrones‘. Nothing has ever made me scream at my television set like I did that night. This was the same year I finally purchased a monthly subscription to HBO Now specifically for the show. My normal habit is waiting for the Blu-ray release of a season, but by that point, I was completely absorbed with the world of Westeros and its politics. Like many, I was definitely House Stark by the end of Season 2, so entering the third season, I was flying the Stark banner high. Everything was going great for the family with little sprinkles of hope throughout, but then suddenly, out of nowhere, a wedding performed for establishing peace – and a smart war strategy – rapidly shifts to disaster and one of the most emotionally draining episodes of not only the series but arguably of all television! I was left in such shock, it actually took me several hours to process the whole thing and finally accept that absolutely no one is safe on this show.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Whatever marquee draw ‘Deep Blue Sea‘ held pretty much began and ended with Samuel L. Jackson. Playing one of the wealthiest men to ever walk the Earth, Jackson is in the middle of a stirring monologue after things first go south in this flooding research station teeming with hyperintelligent sharks. The music swells, the camera pulls in, and Jackson’s billionaire starts to detail the next steps necessary to survive the catastrophe. He’s about a quarter of the way through Bullet Point #1 when a shark swoops out from behind him, takes a healthy chomp, and drags its dinner down into the ocean depths below.

It’s a complete and total shock. You don’t kill off your biggest name so cavalierly. In any other movie, Jackson would have at least made it to the final reel, if not survived all this toothy havoc outright. After all, it’s not too hard to draw parallels between Jackson’s character and John Hammond – two arrogant billionaires whose monstrous genetic experiments escape captivity – and Hammond survived two ‘Jurassic Park’ movies!

Even the way that director Renny Harlin stages the death is designed to catch the audience off-guard. I’ve been trained to spot surprises like this because of the way the camera is invariably positioned. If someone’s in the middle of talking and the camera is suspiciously far back, there’s little doubt that something will soon fill that empty frame. Jackson’s death scene in ‘Deep Blue Sea’ comes during an oppressively tight close-up. Much like Jackson’s character himself, the audience literally can’t see it coming.

Josh Zyber

After a series of flops nearly crippled his career, director William Friedkin bounced back with the 1985 crime thriller ‘To Live and Die in L.A.‘. The film stars William Petersen and John Pankow as a pair of ethically-challenged Secret Service agents whose zeal to take down a notorious counterfeiter (Willem Dafoe) leads them to make some really bad decisions that spiral wildly out of control. Petersen’s is clearly the dominant of the two leads, an antihero that audiences can’t help rooting for even as he digs himself deeper into corruption and drags his partner down with him. It’s a genuine shock, therefore, when he gets killed off before the movie’s climax and the story shifts focus over to Pankow for the last act.

The way Friedkin handles the twist really pulls the rug out from under the audience. Petersen doesn’t get any sort of dramatic or prolonged death scene. He’s gunned down in a shootout and his partner barely has time to check the body before being forced to leave it behind. The story moves right on before viewers can even process the magnitude of what just happened, which ultimately leaves them unsettled and uncertain how the finale will play out.

Hilariously, the studio executives were so concerned about this twist that they forced Friedkin to shoot an epilogue showing that Petersen’s character actually survived the shooting after all. To his credit, the director had nothing but disdain for this idea and shot the scene as poorly as he could to ensure that it wouldn’t be used. You can see the footage in the Deleted Scenes section on the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray.

Your Turn

What shocking character deaths blew you away? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. Tom Spall

    I remember a crappy action film called 15 Minutes starring Robert De Niro and Edward Burns. Clearly De Niro was the lead character but then the bad guys killed him half way through the story and I almost shit my pants when that happened.

  2. Bolo

    ‘Easy Rider’ is full of surprise deaths. Watching the film the first time, I didn’t expect any of the main characters to die, let alone all three of them. The film is before my time and Jack Nicholson was a huge star at the time I first saw it, so it was quite shocking that his role turned out to be so small. The ending fake-out, where it seems like the rednecks are going back to help the main characters but really they’re doubling back to finish them off, was also a big punch to the gut.

    I’ll also throw in the opening scene from ‘Scream’. Craven is at the top of his game crafting this solid tense sequence and punctuating with the death of the most famous person in the film.

  3. Csm101

    Damn you Adam, that was the first one that came to mind!
    Horror movie sequels pull this trick on us sometimes. Friday the 13th Part 2 kills our final girl from the first movie just a few minutes into it. Which gets me thinking to Alien 3. Hicks and Newt crashing into the prison planet left me unsettled for the duration of Alien 3. Especially seeing Hick’s mangled remains.

  4. Chris B

    Ryan Gosling going out in the first act of The Place Beyond the Pines was a pretty big shocker. Or Brian Cranston getting killed off in the first 45 minutes of the new Godzilla was a shocker and a detriment to the rest of the film….more recently, Glenn being killed off TWD by Negan made my jaw drop.

  5. David W.

    Llewelyn Moss’ death in “No Country for Old Men” was a surprise for me. What really made it shocking was that it happened off screen after we had gone through a cat an mouse chase between him and Anton Chigurh. Not being able to see it really left a sense of doubt that is actually happened.

  6. It wouldn’t have been shocking to anyone who’d read the book beforehand (which I hadn’t), but I broke out in tears at the revelation of Leslie’s death in ‘The Bridge to Terabithia’. I genuinely had no idea anything like this would happen.

  7. EM

    The original Night of the Living Dead would be a great time but, I think, not a truly great film if it were not for the final death. Not just a twist or a shock or a punch in the gut, it’s a statement.

  8. Guy

    Firefly was and still is the only Whedon television series I’ve ever paid attention to in any real way, so I was 100% unaware of his reputation as an out-of-the-blue character killer. Cut to watching Serenity (literally alone) in theater and there are no words to describe how utterly unprepared I was for Wash to get impaled in the middle of a sentence, especially right after the danger seemed to have passed. It had its effect. I was an exposed nerve the rest of the movie.

    Around that same time, I was introduced to stunt casting, even if I neither knew that term nor would understand the concept for a few more years. Terminator 2 and The X-Files made Robert Patrick a recognizable face to any genre fan coming of age in the 90s. I’d already been watching Stargate SG-1 with MacGyver as the main character, so when a Stargate spin-off was showing up with the T-1000 as the team leader, I naturally expected him as the lead like the show wanted me to. Well, him dying during the two-episode premiere shocked the hell out of me. These days I read media news, so I’d know he only signed on temporarily, but back then I was just along for the ride.

  9. William Henley

    I will second Game of Thrones, but my shock did not start with the Red Wedding. Truthfully, every single character death has come as a surprise. I am to the point now where I am just waiting for someone to be killed off, but it usually happens when I am least suspecting it, and usually not the character I was anticipating. Of course, even more frustrating is that, in the books, when characters are then brought back to life, or they are not really dead, then they don’t do anything with them.

    Neo at the end of Matrix Revolutions. I mean, he has already died and come back to life once. But then again, Matrix Revolutions was not well written.

    Dumbledore. The wizard that did in Grindlewald, the only wizard Voldermort was scared of, done in by Snape, of all people. While there were other deaths in the Harry Potter series, even before this, this was the only one that caught me off guard. And I still don’t consider Snape a good guy – I understand why he did what he did, and can even symphathize with him, but that does not make him a good person. I will say the only other death in the series that kind of caught me off guard was Dobby.

    Claudia in Interview With The Vampire. One of my absolute favorite movies and books, I must have read it 4 times and seen the movie 25 times or more, yet her death still bothers me, but I think this is more due to Kirsten Dunst’s performance than the character itself (it bothered me in the book, but not as much as it did in the movie).

    Tasha in Star Trek The Next Generation. Granted, no one liked the character, but there is no doubt that that episode was written for the sole purpose of killing her off. As far as Star Trek is concerned, I cannot say Spock, as the first classic Star Trek I ever saw was The Voyage Home (I started with the first season of STTNG, then saw Voyage Home, then a movie here, an episode there, as the classic series was not being run at the time and I had to rent them from Blockbuster Video). I was seven or eight when TNG started, so yeah, Tasha’s death surprised me.

    I am sure there are others – if I was at home, I could probably go through my movie shelves and pull out a ton more, but these are the ones that stand out the most.

  10. Nestor

    When I was a little kid the death of Mickey in Rocky III was pretty shocking. I was 5 years old when I watched this movie back in 83ish. And don’t get me started with Bambi’s mother’s death. My dad took me to the reissue theatrical release in 1982. That was brutal. The death of Lt. Col. Austin Travis in Executive Decision caught me completely off guard as well.

    As far a modern movies go, I was pretty shocked at the demise of Han Solo. I was not expecting that. Lucas’s death in transformers age of extinction was surprising and unfortunate. He was the only entertaining thing going on in the entire movie.

    • Jon

      I had heard rumors that Han was getting killed off but the second he stepped onto that walkway with a missing railing over a bottomless pit I knew what was going to happen. Seriously does anything good ever happen in Star Wars when there’s a bottomless pit in the scene?

    • William Henley

      To me, it happened so fast, that I hardly registered it. And being that it was the first movie of a new trilogy, I was thinking “The villian can’t be turning after only one movie”

  11. dave

    For me it would have to be Clea Duvall’s death in season 1 finale episode, of the criminally underrated HBO show Carnivale. It also has the best use of Hans Zimmer’s “Journey to the line,” since the thin red line. #Management

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