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The most genuinely heartbreaking moments in television history

When the small screen shook us to our core

The most genuinely heartbreaking moments in television history

Sometimes there's an episode of television - or a scene - or a moment - that just hits you. You weren't prepared.

You know like that time a kid in Year 6 punched you, a small child in Year 4, in the stomach and the life drained out of you and you crumpled to your knees and then fell with your face pressed against the cold gravel, the world just a blur, the sky turning a weird shade of purple, and you just couldn't speak? You were fine eventually but with a lasting bruise - physical, psychological - that you wouldn't forget in a hurry. Yeah, it's just like that. 

The last episode of The Walking Dead was very, very much like with many still reeling from its impact and so, in its honour, here are the most "I'm just going to crawl into a ball and stay very quiet for a while" moments in television history.



No. Shut up. Don’t say it. The one where Fry’s dog waits for him and then dies is not ‘sadder’. That is pure tearjerker, whereas this is far more complex, far more devastating and far more uplifting. This ep actually confronts the fact that Fry left an entire life behind in the 2000s, something which is usually reduced to joke fodder. It beautifully ties together sibling rivalry and resent, the idea being ‘remembered’ and legacy, and the enduring poignancy of the small tributes we make in honour of the loved ones that leave us behind. - Tristan Cross

The OC

Romeo & Juliet didn’t have shit on the millennial love story of Ryan Atwood & Marissa Cooper, tragically cut short by a fiery car crash, which left the sixth form student me bedridden for an entire week. But at least she didn’t have to stay around to witness the abysmal last season. - Jamie Carson

The Sopranos

Watching the show, you kinda know that bad things are going to happen to most of the characters. You watch with a detachment. But Adriana - lovely Adriana with her nails and her tennis and her stupid little dog - seemed like she’d get out. Even with her low-level snitching, you wanted her safe. And then Sylvio showed up. Let’s take a ride, he says. I looked at the screen: No. Don’t do it. They get in and drive, they drive and drive, Adriana’s chewing gum slowly turning stale, Sylvio chatting about nothing, driving way out into Pine Barrens, middle of nowhere, and it dawns on her… Finally she catches up that they’ve caught up to her and just stares out the window, waiting for her fate… It’s a show I can watch again and again and again - but not that episode. Once was too much for me. - Sam Diss

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The episode of Buffy where her mum died (The Body) was literally the most harrowing thing I’ve ever watched. Ever. Our badass heroine was torn apart from the inside out and reduced back down to a little girl again, utterly lost as she was forced to go through the motions of reporting her mother’s death to the authorities. She had to visit the school and tell her sister about it -  we never hear what is said, but we see it through a window, and we can only imagine what they’re both going through. Meanwhile friends all experienced grief in all the ways (anger, misery, punching the walls), but it was Anya’s bewildered response to humanity that really destroyed me.

Her quote: “I don't understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's - There's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid. And-and Xander's crying and not talking, and-and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”

My soul: ripped in two. - Kayleigh Dray

Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman is powerful television because it leans into its abject misery to tell us brutal truths about how fucking awful everyone is capable of becoming. Season Two’s penultimate episode sees Bojack, at his lowest point, commit to a series of devastating decisions that culminate in him trying to sleep with the teenage daughter of an old flame. It’s absolutely brutal watching him get caught, and heart-breaking to see someone repeatedly spiral out of control... - Chris Mandle


Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

My heart. The episode title: Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse. My heart. Will’s father, played by Broadway legend Ben Vereen, walks away again. The moment when Will Smith announced himself as an Actor. Standing in that living room… I’ve got something in my throat… The tears welling in Will’s eyes. The… No. No, I’m fine… Oh god. The hug at the end. Oh god. Just turn it off. - Sam Diss

Game of Thrones

After a series-long victimisation of Tyrion, his principled - albeit partial-to-incest – warrior Prince Oberyn had Cersei’s Mountain beat. I’m screaming “finish him, for fuck’s sake!” But Oberyn wanted more: he wanted a confession. Oberyn is strutting, making threats and demands then – from out of nowhere – The Mountain pulls him to the ground, confesses, and smashes his head to pieces. Cersei wins and Tyrion is sentenced to death: refused to watch the show for a full-on month afterwards. - Oobah Butler


Such is the frequency with which long lost friends bounce around the wards of Sacred Heart (seriously, if you’ve a coronary heart issue then you’d best take it elsewhere), it seemed entirely plausible that Dr. Cox’s cancer-stricken goofball best mate Ben Sullivan (aka George Of The Jungle’s Brendan Fraser) would tail the doc for an entire episode. I bought it hook, line, and sinker too; right until the end of the episode, when Perry and Ben, arriving in formalwear to some outdoor event, are revealed to be at Ben’s funeral. It’s testament for a show that deals in death so often that this one absolutely floored me. Perfectly filmed, unforgivingly executed. - Joe Ellison

Question Time

I think you could tell the opportunity to be a guest on the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme meant a lot to him. He’s spent the last however many years trying to establish himself as a professional footballer with something to say. Someone who’s happy to be debated and proven wrong, as long as he’s given the opportunity to speak his mind.

This episode of Question Time, filmed in Heathrow, was his big coming-out party as a Respectable Personality. Unfortunately, in the first five minutes, he compared the leaders of our main political parties to “four ugly girls” in a nightclub. It was a grim, unedifying thing to say and it fed into the whole “footballer as sex thug” narrative he’s desperate to get away from. I don’t believe Joey Barton is a sexist pig (he claims he was nervous and didn’t know what he was saying). I don’t believe he’s a genius, either.

But I would like to live in a world where footballers don’t aspire to being blank, cliché-spouting ciphers. Seeing Joey Barton shoot himself in the foot so publicly was heart-breaking in a way because so many young footballers would have been watching it thinking “yeah, I won’t be trying that, ever”. - Joe Mackertich


When Brody died in Homeland, I think a tiny part of myself died, too. Not because he was hung in front of an angry mob (sad, though), but because it was the end of him and Carrie: two messed up, confused, brilliant but emotionally tortured characters who so totally shouldn’t have fallen in love.

It was like watching every car crash relationship you’ve ever had play out on screen: a passionate mismatch that’s never, ever going to end well but you can’t do anything about it because you’re. So. God. Damn. Obsessed. There’s a lesson in all of this, kids. Stay away from guys who try and kill a roomful of high-ranking US officials with a suicide-bomber jacket. - Louise Donovan

Breaking Bad

They couldn't get Hank, you thought. They could kill anyone but they have to spare good Hank, you thought. Little more than a breath later, a bullet having snuffed out his virtuous flame, you felt a hot anger bubbling up inside you, all of your preconceptions in tatters, all of your precious predictions aflame, until, with one eruption, with tears stinging your disbelieving eyes, you let out a scream that shook the walls: "Gggnnnnnooooooaaaaaarrrrrr! HAAAAAAANNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKK!" - Ralph Jones