On any TV show, there’s always a main character the audience is meant to root for. That protagonist might not necessarily be a “good person” (see The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc.), but they’re reasonably charismatic and their lives are interesting enough to keep you watching. Generally you want them to succeed, even if what they’re succeeding at is something objectively despicable like building and maintaining a murderous criminal enterprise (again, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc.).
TV writers will also give you someone to root against. That’s what makes stories interesting – nobody wants to watch Tony Soprano and his associates sit around and make a lot of money without any real struggle.
No, you have to give Tony problems and pit him against criminals who are even more monstrous in order to keep the plot interesting. Case in point: Season 2 of The Sopranos had Richie Aprile, and right after Richie is shot dead, Season 3 and Season 4 set up Ralph Cifaretto as the “big bad”, and after Ralph is killed, Phil Leotardo is introduced and assumes the role of easy-to-hate antagonist.
When such monsters meet their ultimate end, it’s an occasion that calls for celebration rather than mourning. In my view, the following are the 10 most satisfying deaths in recent TV history:
10. Stringer Bell (The Wire)
Drug kingpin Stinger Bell is a cool, charming guy – it’s all but impossible for him not to be, considering the fact that he’s played by Idris Elba.
But Stringer is as cold as he is cool, ordering the tragic shooting of teenage dealer Wallace in Season 1 without a moment’s hesitation (this incident also gave us the classic “Where’s Wallace?” scene). Sure, Wallace was snitching, but for a non-evil person, the prospect of killing a kid would at the very least inspire some sort of moral crisis. For Stringer, it’s just business.
It was downright poetic to see Stringer gunned down in one of his real estate developments that he spent so much time on to prove to the world he was more than just another drug dealer, trapped in a room on the wrong end of a gun much like Wallace was back when he was slain.
9. The Governor (Walking Dead)
You’ll find people like The Governor in any post-apocalyptic story: psychopaths who will take advantage of the absence of general law and order and kill one or two (or ten) people if it happens to benefit them. The Governor got a death just as violent as the ones he inflicted on so many people: stabbed in the back, and then shot in the head. The only question now is what terrible fate awaits Negan…
8. Viserys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
Right off the bat, Game of Thrones lets you know what kind of show it’s going to be (bleak, brutal). The very first scene of the series features Viserys basically trading away his sister to be a “queen” (more a sex slave, really) in exchange for an army. The tables get turned pretty quickly though, as that sister goes on to become one of the most powerful people in the GoT universe, and Viserys gets a face full of smelting-hot gold.
7. Nameless Child-Murdering Duo from Season 3 (Breaking Bad)
The deaths of most of the characters on this list were satisfying because they had a long history of being vile on their respective shows.
That’s not the case with these 2 guys – they have a combined total screen time of 10 minutes, tops. They don’t even have names. But they did indeed kill a kid, which is always an effective trick for turning an audience against a character, and Walt running them over in his signature Pontiac Aztek is one of the most shocking and memorable moments of the series.
6. Dr. Romano (ER)
Okay, so Dr. Romano didn’t kill any children or anything as obviously heinous as that.
He was to ER what Simon Cowell was to American Idol – mean, sarcastic, and everybody loved to hate him. The ER audience collectively cheered when a helicopter tail rotor cut off one of his arms, and they loved it even more when he later killed by… a falling helicopter (congrats, ER writers – Alanis Morissette would be proud).
5. Vice President Walden (Homeland)
Homeland’s first couple seasons were truly excellent TV – and part of what made the show so good is that rather than the usual patriotic us vs. them approach to the issue of terrorism, it wasn’t afraid to make some US officials as villainous as the terrorists they we chasing.
One of the big reveals of Season 1 is that Vice President Walden knowingly bombed a school and killed 80+ children in an effort to take out his top terrorist target, Abu Nazir. At the end of Season 2, Abu Nazir finds a way (with the help of US marine turned undercover al-Qaeda operative Nic Brody) to kill Walden by remotely turning off his pacemaker. It’s pretty hard to root for al-Qaeda, but Walden had it coming.
4. Gus Fring (Breaking Bad)
The cat-and-mouse game between Walter White and Gus Fring made for some of the most compelling content of Breaking Bad (Fring wasn’t necessarily any worse than Walt on a moral level, but he also was the kind of guy who would threaten to murder an infant), and it all ended with a booby-trapped wheelchair.
3. Ralph Cifaretto (The Sopranos)
Now, nobody’s really a “good guy” in The Sopranos. Just about every character has a few murders under their belt.
Ralphie was the absolute worst, though. His behavior was so disgusting that even a career criminal and experienced killer like Tony Soprano couldn’t tolerate it. Tony was always an animal lover, so when he figures out that Ralph burnt down a stable for the insurance money with the horses still inside, that was the last straw. Of the many people who got killed in The Sopranos, Ralph suffered one of the more drawn-out deaths. Good riddance.
2. Phil Leotardo (The Sopranos)
Sopranos, again? Well, a lot of truly despicable characters got whacked over the 6 seasons of The Sopranos, so it’s hard to keep it to just one on this list.
Like Ralph, Leo went out of his way to be sicker than he had to be. Also like Ralph, he didn’t get a death as simple as a gunshot to the back of the head –actually, he does get shot in the head, but that’s followed by the more gruesome detail of a car slowly rolling over and crushing said head.
1. Joffery Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
As with The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, I’m going to have to double-dip once more.
Just about everything Joffery did was reprehensible. He may not be the only character like that on TV, but a lot of the people who have no morals make up for it a bit by being charismatic and competent, like Stinger Bell. You can respect a lot of the characters you don’t like, in other words. That’s not the case for Joffrey – he was cowardly and stupid in addition to being a straight-up sadist. Here’s a highlight reel of Joffery at his worst.
Watching Joffery choke to death was made me far happier than watching someone choke to death ever should.