Threads and Game of Thrones among TV's most shocking moments

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

*Spoilers for Game of Thrones season one below*

From gut-wrenching revelations to murders no-one saw coming, television writers have long understood the power of shocking their audience.

Sudden deaths, surprising reveals and tragic talking-points all drive controversy and conversation among drama viewers. As do eye-wideningly dark on-screen events.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

We asked members of our Screen Babble discussion group on Facebook to pick their most shocking TV moments. Here's what they had to say.

'I don't think many kids slept well'

When gritty British drama Threads aired on the BBC in 1984, it sent shockwaves across the nation. Imagining people fighting for survival after a nuclear strike, the sight of an atomic bomb hitting Sheffield proved too much for some.

Karen Dunn, watching as a young teenager at the height of the Cold War, recalls the moment "scared the living snot" out of her.

Britain in chaos: Threads painted a stark picture of a post-nuclear Sheffield

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We were being warned about the devastation which could be caused by cruise missiles, there had been a false alarm in the Soviet Union about the launch of US missiles, and the missiles at Greenham Common were always being featured on the news.

"Quite frankly, I don't think many kids slept well for weeks after seeing Threads."

The not-so-Happy Valley

Another Yorkshire-set TV show adept at shocking was acclaimed crime series Happy Valley. Nick Mitchell highlights a desperate, vicious fight between Sarah Lancashire's copper Catherine and villain Tommy Lee Rocye in season one ("a brutal, hard-to-watch moment in a dark but great show"), while Sue Dougall still flinches at the memory of the scene where Royce runs over a young policewoman.

Game of Thrones: the king of shocking deaths?

(Warning: spoilers for Game of Thrones season one below)

One show comes up time and time again when it comes to characters being brutally and unexpectedly killed off. And that show is Game of Thrones.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The epic swords and scheming saga, itself based on the convention-defying fantasy novels of George RR Martin, arguably changed the TV drama rules when it landed in 2011. And it was all due to the death of one beloved protagonist.

"For me it has to be Ned Stark's death in Game of Thrones," says Linsey McQueen Carson: "He is a major character - really cool, charismatic, all round good guy and family man. Then BOOM! Dead."

Alan Clark agrees that Sean Bean's amiable Northern Lord getting the chop shook him. "I think it was the first time I had seen such a major character of a show killed off so soon."

"It was a 'WTF-just-happened' to such a main character moment," Saleha Lokhat adds. "Never saw it coming in a million years."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"After that you sort of knew anything could happen," notes Mandi Dunford.

But even so, Karen Dunn speaks for millions when she sums up another infamous and bloody sequence later in the saga: "I hadn't read the books so had no idea it was coming."

'I remember sitting in stunned silence'

Of course, Thrones isn't the only show to have left fans reeling from a surprise death.

Lee-Ann Gilligan points to The Walking Dead, when a certain character had their "head bashed in" by villain Negan.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Deaths in The Wire, Spooks, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, MASH, West Wing, The Sopranos, Chicago Hope, Boardwalk Empire, House Of Cards, Breaking Bad and Dexter are also flagged up by Screen Babble members.

Such scenes can leave a long and enduring impression too.

Gareth Maddieson was thoroughly traumatised by Blake's 7's final episode in 1981, in which the main characters were killed off.

"It showed me at a very young age [that] just because these characters were the "heroes", their safety wasn't guaranteed. Quite a thing to learn at 6 or 7!"

Steve Wilkins was similarly shaken by the same TV moment. "The death of every single character you have invested time in over the previous years... I remember sitting in stunned silence after it ended. I couldn’t quite believe what I’d just seen."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Tales of the unexpected

Off the wall moments can sometimes take audiences aback even more than losing a favourite character.

A certain much discussed twist in The Good Place, and the random appearance of a UFO in Fargo's second season, are both flagged up by Craig McLeod.

For Karen Dunn, the finale of Little House on the Prairie "when they blew up Walnut Grove" qualifies, though it "was more funny than shocking!"

Offbeat comedy The Good Place has its fair share of surprises (Photo: Netflix)

Elsewhere, more serious revelations abound.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Matt Healey claims the reveal of a Cylon infiltrator's identity early on in Battlestar Galactica left him stunned, while Linsey McQueen Carson can't shake the memory surrounding the reveal of Suzanne's offence in prison saga Orange Is The New Black.

"It was harrowing, unexpected and gut wrenching. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried - one because of the impact on the victim, but two the actress's portrayal of the character's mental health is amazing."

• What TV moment shocked you? Have your say by joining Screen Babble on Facebook