The Top 10 Times TV Completely Shocked Us

TV Lists Shocking Moments
The Top 10 Times TV Completely Shocked Us

Are you watching The Good Place? You absolutely should be. Now in its second season, the show never ceases to surprise and defy our well-honed expectations. Every episode ends on a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. After a game-changing Season One finale, the show then proceeded to have what could have been the entire second season take place in the season premiere.

In honor of the show’s midseason finale this Thursday (8:30 p.m. on NBC, and fret not—it returns in January), we looked back at the other times TV has totally surprised us.

10. Carrie cheats on Aidan with Big on Sex and the City
Episode: “Easy Come, Easy Go” (3.09)

The hero of the story isn’t supposed to be a cheater. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Aidan (John Corbett) have a nice relationship—too nice. So when Big (Chris Noth) comes back into her life, bemoaning his bad marriage and confessing his love, Carrie can’t resist his bad boy charms. Soon she’s smoking again and succumbing to her worst desires. That the HBO series, at the peak of its zeitgeist moment, would let its heroine make such a colossal and gut-wrenching mistake was appalling, upsetting and, most of all, relatable.

9. Monica and Chandler sleep together on Friends
Episode: ”The One with Ross’s Wedding: Part Two” (4.24)

The central couple on Friends was Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Everyone knew this. We were all deeply invested in their will-they-or-won’t-they-and-why-is-Ross-marrying-someone-else romance. So having Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox) sleep together before we even knew we wanted them to gave fans something they didn’t even know they needed. It invigorated the show and left us all gasping.

8. It was all just a dream on Newhart
Episode: “The Last Newhart” (8.24)

Even if you never watched this show, you know its instantly iconic ending. Dick (Bob Newhart) wakes up in bed, but it’s not Joanna (Mary Frann) sleeping next to him—it’s Suzanne Pleshette, who played Newhart’s wife on The Bob Newhart Show. The moment fused together the two beloved series and gave Newhart, a comic genius for the ages, a great way to say farewell to the medium he brought so much joy to. All series should take note: This is how you end a show.

7. A woman dies while giving birth on ER
Episode: “Love’s Labor Lost” (1.19)

Doctors on TV shows are supposed to save the day. Patients aren’t supposed to die. Especially not ones who come in to deliver a baby. But that’s exactly what happened in this harrowing hour of television. Only in its first season, this nail-biting episode defined ER as a show willing to allow its heroes to make tragic mistakes.

6. Will dies on The Good Wife
Episode: “Dramatics, Your Honor” (5.15)

I’ll never forget my utter denial when Will (Josh Charles) died The Good Wife. Even when we saw his corpse, I still thought there was no way the show would kill off his character. Was it an elaborate dream sequence? Will’s death was shocking and abrupt. There was no warning—just like tragic losses unfold in real life. Like Alicia (Julianna Margulies), I thought we’d have more time together.

5. Paige learns the truth on The Americans
Episode: “Stingers” (3.10)

The Americans never gives the audience what’s expected. Since the series premiere, viewers were waiting for the Jennings’ eldest child to discover her parents’ true profession. The entire third season of this phenomenal drama was centered on the battle for Paige (Holly Taylor). The Centre wants her to become a second-generation spy, and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is ready for that. Philip (Matthew Rhys) wants no part of it. But in the end, it’s Paige who forces the issue, demanding that her parents tell her the truth. And to our collective great surprise, they do. Of course, all her guesses (they’re in witness protection, they’re aliens) pale in comparison to the reality. Paige’s entire life has been a lie. The fallout from this revelation was devastating. Paige and the show were never the same.

4. Angel becomes Angelus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “Innocence” (2.14)

It’s the age-old trope, and truth—men change after you sleep with them. But for our heroine Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) the change was traumatic. Angel’s (David Boreanaz) one moment of true happiness removed his soul and transformed him back into the vicious, heartless vampire Angelus. Viewers—so delighted that Buffy and Angel were finally together—never saw it coming. What’s worse was Buffy’s realization that she would have to kill Angelus. It was a defining moment of this brilliant series.

3. The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones
Episode: “The Rains of Castamere” (3.09)

Though this one wasn’t a shock to everyone, those of us who came to Westeros through HBO’s fantasy epic and not George R.R. Martin’s novels were ill-prepared for the bloodletting of “The Rains of Castamere”—and that’s saying something, since Game of Thrones has never been shy about sudden reversals of fortune. Still, the massacre of Robb, Talisa and Catelyn Stark at House Frey, orchestrated by the nefarious Tywin Lannister, is so jaw-droppingly violent, so narratively unexpected, that it must be first among equals among Game of Thrones’ many surprises. Don’t believe me? Watch this compilation of fans reacting to The Red Wedding, a moment so shocking it almost qualifies as traumatic. —Matt Brennan

2. The screen cuts to black on The Sopranos
Episode: “Made in America” (6.21)

Almost everyone thought their power had gone out. No amount of TV watching had prepared us for this. It’s the stunning conclusion of “Made in America,” the unexpected cut to black, that still, ten years later, leads to arguments: Was Tony taken out, or was he just paranoid? What of his wife, his kids? Does it matter? Was the choice to end it this way even any good? It creates untold suspense from small talk, sidelong glances and the bell on the door before leaving us hanging—the last, best feat of a series that counts among the finest ever made. —Matt Brennan

1. “We have to go back!” on Lost
Episode: “Through the Looking Glass” (3.22)

My now-husband took the brunt of my shock. I kept screaming at him, “It’s not a flashback! It’s a flash forward!” Sure, there were hints throughout the episode (why was Jack drinking?), but nothing prepared us for the moment Kate (Evangeline Lilly) got out of the car and emerged from the shadows. She wasn’t on the island anymore, and neither was Jack (Matthew Fox). Who got off the island? Who got left behind? Never has a TV series shocked us so much by upending the entire structure of the show with one dramatic line of dialogue. I wonder if TV will ever be able to shock me in the same way again.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .

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