32 Of The Most Shocking Moments In Television History

Sean Bean on Game of Thrones
(Image credit: HBO)

Twists and turns and shocking moments are why we love great TV. There is nothing like a moment on your favorite show that sends a cold shiver up your spine and has you thinking about it for days, weeks, or even months after it happens. The moments that get everyone talking and sometimes change pop culture completely. This is our list of just some of our favorite times television shows left us speechless. 

Warning! Major Spoilers Below!

Michael K. Williams on The Wire

(Image credit: HBO)

Omar's Last Moments - The Wire

Omar Little from The Wire is one of the greatest characters in TV history. For most of the show, Omar is the ultimate survivor in a dangerous game of life and death on the streets. Then suddenly, in the third-to-last episode of the series, he is gunned down in a convenience store by Kenard, a mere child. It's shocking and tragic for viewers who had come to love the troubled character. 

Michael Crawley driving on Downton Abbey

(Image credit: PBS)

Matthew Crawley's Crash - Downton Abbey

The Season 3 finale of Downton Abbey pulls the rug out from under its fans in a hurry. It seems like the season will end on a happy note, with Lady Mary coming through a tough delivery of her first child and issues with the estate settled. That's when it happens, Matthew Crawley, out for a drive, comes head-on with a truck and is killed. It's sudden and shocking. 

Charlie holding his hand to the porthole in Lost

(Image credit: ABC)

Not Penny's Boat - Lost

Lost provided weekly twists and turns that the loyal fans of the show obsessed over for days. One moment that caused months of discussion came in the Season 3 finale when Charlie, on the verge of drowning, used his last moments to convey that the boat they thought belonged to Desmond's fiancee, was not, in fact, Penny's boat. 

Mrs. Landingham on Lost

(Image credit: NBC)

Mrs. Landingham's Car Crash - The West Wing

The final episode of Season 3 of The West Wing, called "Two Cathedrals" is often cited as one of the show's best episodes. It's also one of its most tragic for something that actually happens off-screen, Mrs. Landingham's death in a car crash. Dolores Landingham was beloved by her fellow characters and fans of the show, and her death, as she drove her new car back to work, is probably the saddest moment in West Wing history. 

Sean Bean on Game of Thrones

(Image credit: HBO)

Ned Stark's Loses His Head - Game Of Thrones

We could populate this entire list with just shocking Game of Thrones moments and the first really "holy cow" moments came in the penultimate episode of Season 1 when the hero thus far of the story, Ned Stark, met his swift end on the order of King Joffrey. It was one of the most meaningful deaths of the series and showed viewers that no character was ever safe. 

Negan on The Walking Dead

(Image credit: AMC)

Negan And His Baseball Bat - The Walking Dead

In the final episode of Season 6, The Walking Dead introduced its most terrifying villain of the whole series, Negan. To show just how terrible he was, the show provides possibly the most shocking moment of the series, when Negan takes his baseball bat to Abraham and Glenn's heads in one of the goriest moments in TV history. Audiences lost two of their favorite characters and gained a villain to despise. 

A scene from Severance

(Image credit: AppleTV+)

Helly's Outie - Severance

Throughout all of Season 1 of Severance, viewers are left pondering what exactly the purpose of the workers is. We also see the newest team member, Helly, fight and claw to get out, a rebel against the system. In the finale, we learn who Helly's "outie" is, and it's shocking, as she's the daughter of the company founder, but her "innie" is ready to take down the system. 

The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones

(Image credit: HBO)

The Red Wedding - Game Of Thrones

The Red Wedding has been hailed as one of the most shocking moments in all of TV history. Coming in the penultimate episode of Season 3, Walder Frey's betrayal of the Starks led to the terrible deaths of Robb Stark, his wife Talisa, and his mother Catelyn. It truly shook the entertainment world.  

Patrick Dempsey looks unhappy as Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy.

(Image credit: ABC)

Dr. McDreamy's Car Crash - Grey's Anatomy

Dr. Derek Shepherd's death at the end of Season 11 of Grey's Anatomy was a brutal, stunning moment that broke millions of fans' hearts. While on the surface it seemed like a heartless way to end a show favorite's run on the show, for showrunner Shonda Rhimes, it made more sense than discarding all that was wonderful about Shepherd's relationship with Meredith. 

Krysten Ritter as Jane in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

(Image credit: Ben Rothstein/Vinton Productions)

Walter Watching Jane - Breaking Bad

One of the most brutal scenes in the brutal show that was Breaking Bad was Walter coldly watching Jesse's girlfriend take her last breath without lifting a finger to help. He needed her out of the picture, but it was a glimpse into how far gone Walter was at that point. 

Mr. Burns on The Simpsons

(Image credit: Fox)

Who Shot Mr. Burns? - The Simpsons

Season Six of The Simpsons ended with one of the all-time great cliffhangers after most of Springfield was angry with Mr. Burns for one reason or another and he winds up shot. Was it Homer? Mr. Smithers? Tito Puente? No, it was none of those, when it was revealed in the Season 7 premiere that it was... Maggie? Eh, best not to think about it too much. 

Matthew Fox on Lost

(Image credit: ABC)

"We Have To Go Back" - Lost

It was five words that sent shivers up the backs of fans in the Season 3 finale of Lost. For almost three seasons, fans were used to the flashback element of the show, and in that finale, it seemed like a regular Jack flashback. That is until Kate appears and Jack implores her to go "back" to the island with him, revealing that we'd all been watching a flashforward

Sarah Clarke on 24

(Image credit: Fox)

Nina's The Mole - 24

Fox's 24 took the world by storm in its first season with its white-knuckle action and near-constant cliffhangers. One reliable part of the team was Nina Myers, Jack Bauer's righthand woman at CTU. That is until it's revealed that she'd been a mole all along and was working with the enemy, which Jack learned when he found that Nina had killed his wife. 

Joe Pantoliano in The Sopranos

(Image credit: HBO)

Tony And Ralph - The Sopranos

For much of its run, The Sopranos relied on twists and shock-endings less than other shows of the time. That doesn't mean the show didn't have them. One prominent example was when Tony Soprano suddenly attacked Ralph Cifaretto, offing him a brutal fit of rage over a number of Ralph's past deeds. 

Diana Muldaur and Richard Dysart on LA Law

(Image credit: NBC)

Rosiland Shays' Elevator Fall - LA Law

Going way back to the 1980s, when shocking twists were few and far between, one of the most surprising moments on TV was the death of Rosiland Shays' on LA Law. Shays was a polarizing character, but she walked into an empty elevator shaft in Season 5 and fell to her death, it shocked everyone. 

Kate Mara and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

(Image credit: Netflix)

Zoe In The Subway - House Of Cards

Zoe Barnes was a key character in the first two seasons of House Of Cards. The reporter was both an antagonist and a friend of Frank Underwood. In what seemed like a relatively benign moment as Zoe waited for a subway, she was suddenly pushed by Frank in front of an oncoming train.

Samira Wiley on Orange Is The New Black

(Image credit: Netflix)

Poussey Gets Suffocated - Orange Is The New Black

On Orange Is The New Black, Poussey was a fan favorite. She was thoughtful and caring, so when she was killed by a guard during a protest, it shocked and saddened everyone watching. One of the hardest moments in the show. 

Jack Gleeson in Game of Thrones

(Image credit: HBO)

The Purple Wedding - Game Of Thrones

King Joffrey Baratheon was one of the greatest villains on Game of Thrones and in TV history. By the time Season 4 rolled around, fans had had enough of the evil brat. That's why his death in Episode 2 of Season 4 was both shocking and satisfying. 

Luke Perry on Beverly Hills, 90210

(Image credit: Fox)

Dylan's Father's Car - Beverly Hills, 90210

Most of the twists and turns on Beverly Hills, 90210 were about teenage love triangles or midterms. Very rarely did the show ever tackle more serious issues, but when it did it usually involved Dylan. Like when Dylan's father was blown up in his car as Dylan watched. Intense. 

Jeffrey Wright in Westworld

(Image credit: HBO Entertainment)

Bernard The Host - Westworld

Westworld was never shy about shocking fans, and although the signs were there, and fan theories abounded over Bernard's real place in the robot theme park when it was revealed he himself was a host, it still came as a huge surprise to many. Not as shocking as some on this list, but one heck of a twist. 

Tony Soprano

(Image credit: HBO)

It's one of the most hotly debated moments in television history. The final scene of The Sopranos. While Journey plays on the jukebox, the tension builds if for no other reason than audiences knew something had to happen as the show wrapped up. Then it happens – or doesn't happen – when the scene suddenly goes black, the music stops, and the credits roll. Did Tony die? It doesn't matter, the discussion is what matters

McLean Stevenson on M*A*S*H

(Image credit: CBS)

The Plane Crash - MASH

In a lot of ways, MASH changed television, and one thing they were pioneers of was having a beloved character suddenly die. Such was the case in the finale episode of Season 3 when Colonel Blake gets discharged from the army and is headed home, only to suddenly die in a plane crash off camera. Famously, the cast was not told of this detail until the scene was shot and in many ways, their reactions were the same as the audience's, shock and sadness. 

Terry O'Quinn in Lost

(Image credit: Lost)

John Locke's Wheelchair - Lost

Lost really set up early that it would be full of big reveals and one of the biggest in the first season was discovering John Locke was in a wheelchair in his flashbacks. It comes in the fourth episode of the series after Locke has been well-established as one of the most capable survivors on The Island and it was mind-blowing. Just what was going on, on this island?

Ray Wise on Twin Peaks

(Image credit: ABC)

Laura Palmer's Father - Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks wrote the book on spooky murder mysteries and set a new standard for appointment TV back in the 1990s. For most of the short series, the one question everyone needed to know, of course, was who killed Laura Palmer? We finally got our answer in Season 2 when we found out it was Leland Palmer, Laura's father. Had there been an internet in 1991, the revelation would've broken it.

Idris Elba stands in front of a window with a look of concern in The Wire.

(Image credit: HBO)

Stringer Bell's Last Stand - The Wire

Stringer Bell is one of the most consequential characters in the early seasons of The Wire and while his growing tension with his partner Avon Barksdale showed no signs of abating, you got the feeling that Stringer was going to win the battle for control of the organization. That all suddenly and violently came to an end when Omar and Brother Mouzone team up to take Stringer out. 

Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Michael (Ted Danson) laughing

(Image credit: NBC)

Not The Good Place - The Good Place

Sitcoms aren't often noted for their dramatic plot twists, which is what makes the one at the end of Season 1 of The Good Place so great. Eleanor and her friends never felt like they belonged in the Good Place and in the finale, they learn it's because they are actually in the Bad Place.  

Bobby Ewing on Dallas

(Image credit: CBS)

Bobby Ewing Reappearing - Dallas

Of course, Dallas is most famous for its "Who shot JR?" cliffhanger, the resolution of which led to one of the highest-rated TV episodes of all time. That wasn't the only big surprise to come from the show though. JR's brother, Bobby, died at the end of Season 8 and much of Season 9 is about his widow Pam dealing with it. Then, in the final scene of the season, Bobby suddenly reappears in the shower as if nothing had happened. It turns out, the whole season was a dream by Pam. Yeah, no one was really happy with that revelation. 

damian lewis on homeland

(Image credit: Showtime)

Brody Comes Back From The Edge - Homeland

For the entire phenomenal first season of Homeland, viewers are torn on whether to trust Brody is a good guy or believe Carrie that he's a bad guy. When it's revealed which side he stands on, one of the tensest scenes ever occurs when Brody almost goes through with his plot, but at the last second, decides not to. 

Janice on The Sopranos

(Image credit: HBO)

Janice And Richie - The Sopranos

Janice Soprano and Richie Aprile are an odd couple from the beginning and while it's not surprising that Janice would finally snap, it was still shocking when she did and shot Richie after a serious fight. 

John Lithgow on Dexter

(Image credit: Showtime)

Trinity Gets The Last Word - Dexter

Dexter on Dexter spends more time chasing the Trinity Killer than any other of his victims. When he finally catches the serial killer, it's supposed to be a win. Sadly for Dexter and Rita, Trinity has already killed Rita and it's a shocking reversal of emotions. 

kit harington as jon snow in the game of thrones finale

(Image credit: HBO)

For The Watch - Game Of Thrones

Even by Game of Thrones standards, the Night's Watch turning on Jon Snow and ambushing him was incredibly shocking. In the finale of Season 5, viewers were left to ponder if Jon Snow was actually dead. It was a long year of waiting for that answer for fans. 

Kal Penn on House

(Image credit: Fox)

Lawrence Shocks Everyone - House

It's rare for procedurals like House to have any really shocking moments, but towards the end of Season 5, provides one. Due to actor Kal Penn leaving the show to go work for the Obama administration of all things, his character Lawrence Kutner dies by his own hand off screen and leaves his co-workers, and fans of the show, devastated. 

There are, of course, many other examples, especially now, in the Golden Age of Television, but few can match the completely shocking moments on this list. 

Hugh Scott
Syndication Editor

Hugh Scott is the Syndication Editor for CinemaBlend. Before CinemaBlend, he was the managing editor for Suggest.com and Gossipcop.com, covering celebrity news and debunking false gossip. He has been in the publishing industry for almost two decades, covering pop culture – movies and TV shows, especially – with a keen interest and love for Gen X culture, the older influences on it, and what it has since inspired. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in Political Science but cured himself of the desire to be a politician almost immediately after graduation.