It’s easy to get completely drawn into your favorite shows. We can laugh, cheer, and cry for our fave characters. And we can be totally heartbroken for them. For every hilarious TV moment, there’s a moment that just shakes us to our core. Whether it be a tragic death or a life-altering break-up, there is plenty of cry-worthy TV scenes out there.
Many of the most heartbreaking scenes in TV history find the perfect blend of believability, pitch-perfect writing, and usually some kind of grand gesture you can only find on television. As much as we like watching love stories come together, it can be equally as fascinating to watch them fall apart. It can even be therapeutic to get a good cry in with the characters on a show. Things can’t be happy and merry all the time, even on television.
John Ritter dying in real life and on his TV show, 8 Simple Rules
When an actor dies in real life it’s always a hardship for whatever project they’re currently working on. Sometimes it’ll translate into a kind-of confusing recasting, an abrupt departure — or a killing-off of their character as well. Such was the case when John Ritter passed and suddenly his TV show had to figure out what to do with his character. As a way to memorialize him, the show had his on-screen counterpart also pass away, spending an episode working through grief for not only a character — but the man behind him. It’s emotional because of how real it feels and you know that those aren’t fake tears from the actors on screen.
“Hold the door!”, Game of Thrones
Simple yet lovable Hodor (Kristian Nairn) is easily one of Game of Thrones‘ best characters which is why his death was particularly painful. In the sequence where Hodor has to “hold the door” to keep the White Walkers at bay, we learn that through some time-traveling-mind-melding nonsense his “simple” nature (i.e., him only being able to say “Hodor”) is a direct result from this incident. His entire life was shaped by something that wouldn’t happen until he was far into adulthood, and in the end, this incident got him killed by a murderous undead horde. It’s heartbreaking to see how his life came full circle in some truly depressing ways only for it to end much too soon.
Marshall learning his dad died, How I Met Your Mother
Watching people learn a loved one has died on TV is always heart-shattering. It’s even more emotional when the actor doesn’t know what’s coming next in the script and has to react on the fly. This was the case on How I Met Your Mother when Jason Segel knew something big was coming for his character Marshall but didn’t know how sad it would be. Segal recounts not wanting to know his costars lines so he could have an authentic reaction to the news. The scene was shot in one take and was so perfect the first time that they didn’t even shoot it again!
Charlie’s Death, Lost
They were preparing us all season for the inevitability of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) dying. It was predicted, foreshadowed, and even almost happened a few times throughout the season. When we finally thought Charlie was going to be able to cheat death, he made the ultimate sacrifice. For his friends to get to safety, he trapped himself in a room filling with water and slowly drowned. It was one last heroic action from one of the best characters on the LOST. The true emotion comes from how Charlie turned his life around on the island. From heroin addict to pure hero, he truly changed his life and ended up saving everyone.
Kristina telling her family about her breast cancer, Parenthood
When Kristina (Monica Potter) is diagnosed with cancer, that’s sad enough. But when she has to reveal it to the entire Braverman clan? That’s pure heartbreak. The look of pain and shock on the family members faces as she tells them is enough to make even the strongest person weep like a baby. Cancer storylines are hard, especially since they’ve affected so many families in real life. But her announcement mimics the real-life reveals so many have had to do and that gives it a gripping authenticity.
Jesse calling Janes phone to hear her voice and the phone being disconnected, Breaking Bad
When Jane (Kristen Ritter) died we knew that it meant nothing good for Jesse (Aaron Paul). He was finally happy with someone when she was ripped away from him. His downward spiral after her death will tear your heart out on its own, but his calls to her take the cake. He continually calls her phone to hear her voice on her outgoing message. And then one day her phone has been disconnected and that voice is gone, never to be heard again. If you don’t tear up watching Jesse realize she’s gone for good, you’re not human.
The ending montage, Six Feet Under
It’s pretty sad when one character dies, but it’s extra sad when you watch them all day. This show about life, death, and overcoming grief ends with revealing how each of the main characters dies. It may not be today or tomorrow, but they all die someday and we see every single one. It’s a tearful reminder that nothing lasts forever, especially life, so we should live it while we can. This montage is a brutal mix of genuine sadness and some kind of inspiration.
Denny’s death, Grey’s Anatomy
Falling for a patient with heart failure may not be the smartest thing to do, but Izzie (Katherine Heigl) wasn’t always smart. When Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was admitted to the hospital, there were sparks off the bat. The two started to develop a relationship as Denny waited for a new heart and the two eventually got engaged. And then something amazing happened: he got his new heart and was stable (sure, because they *cut the LVAD wire* but alas). And then, one night, he had a stroke and died. The image of Izzie lying across him in his hospital bed is a jarring one. She’s so clearly not ready to accept that he’s gone and it’s painful to watch.
Dexter finding Rita’s body in the bathtub, Dexter
Dexter (Michaell C. Hall) was “born in blood” a.k.a. he saw his mother murdered and sat in the blood for a few days, which shaped him into the serial killer he became. His lifestyle and rivalry with another serial killer lead to the same happening to his son Harrison. When Dexter comes home to prepare to leave for a trip with his wife Rita (Julie Benz) he realizes she’s still there. And she’s not alive.
The image of Dexter finding Rita dead in the bathtub, and his child lapping in the bloody water, is one of pure shock. The repercussions are clear: Harrison may be stuck in the same patterns as his father because of this. Nothing is more heartbreaking than a child unwittingly touched by so much tragedy.
The Red Wedding, Game of Thrones
Of all the many deaths on Game of Thrones, the Red Wedding is the most devastating. The deaths of Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), her son Robb (Richard Madden), his bride Talisa (Oona Chaplin), and their unborn child is ruthless in execution. They’re slaughtered together at a wedding dinner out of nowhere by supposed allies. Catelyn’s screams as she sees her child murdered are piercing, and it’s hard not to mourn for this family. After all, they fought hard though it ended up being for naught as shifting alliances ended their lives. It’s classic GoT heartbreak through and through.
Adriana’s death scene, The Sopranos
This is one is so sad because of how inevitable it was. Adriana (Drea de Matteo) loved being involved in mob life with her boyfriend Christopher (Michael Imperioli), until the feds saw her as a weak link. She snitched information in an attempt to secure safety for her family. But when she finally thought she could tell Christopher everything and get him to run away with her, she was wrong.
In a heartbreaking decision from the mob family that she was a part of for so long, Adriana was “whacked” by longtime friend Silvio (Steven Van Zandt). Although she thought Sil was bringing her to the airport to meet Christopher, he was actually bringing her into the woods to her death. The moment of realization is heartbreaking as she tries to run, to no avail. She knew the consequences, but her death is tragic nonetheless.
Fry’s dog’s life without him in “Jurassic Bark,” Futurama
A guarantee TV tearjerker is anything that has to do with a sad dog. In the future, Fry (Billy West) finds his old dog calcified and hopes to bring him back. Fry learns that the dog was 15 when it died, meaning he spent 12 years alive without his owner and the Intergalactic delivery boy decides against it thinking the dog must’ve had a good life post-Fry.
What we learn in the end, though, that the dog obeyed his owner’s last command until his death: stay in front of the pizza shop where Fry worked. As we see the dog wait for years and years for his owner, it gets progressively sadder as the audience knows Fry never comes back. The montage ends with the dog laying down and closing his eyes one last time. And cue the waterworks. That poor loyal dog!
The last ten minutes of the Lost finale, Lost
The end of an epic TV show is always hard, but Lost was especially heartbreaking. You learn that the survivors from the island all created a place in the afterworld to find each other. Whether they died on the show or long after, they all met there in the end because the most significant time in their lives was spent together. It’s amazing to see couples reunited and friends hug again. To see how important these people were to each other really gives you ~the feels~ and you can’t help but cry thinking about all they experienced together.
Jimmy bringing a gun to school, One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill was a bit over the top when it came to most things but they executed this school shooting episode with surprising tact. When unpopular student Jimmy (Colin Fickes) decides he has had enough of being overlooked, he comes to school with a gun and no real plan. The entire situation is frantic and overwhelming as these teens try to come to terms with the situation they are in. A student is shot, and a parent, by the end of the ordeal. But it’s Jimmy’s suicide, and his plea to not hurt anymore, that takes the heartbreaking cake. You can feel the pain in his voice as he raises the gun to his own head. The repercussions of the shotting reverberate through the show for years to come, creating a multitude of other heartbreaking situations along the way.
Michael’s death, Jane the Virgin
Michael (Brett Dier) and Jane (Gina Rodriguez) were meant to be. As far as TV boyfriends/husbands go, Michael was kind of the best. So when the two got married and bought their dream house, viewers foolishly thought they would get to be happy. Alas, they did not get their fairytale ending. Michaels unexpected passing from complications after getting shot months before was a completely shocking twist. In a show where anything can and usually does happen, this was too much. Jane’s reaction as she found out the love of her life had died is absolutely heartbreaking. She falls to the floor in a mess of tears and screams. It’s difficult to watch and, luckily, the show let us skip the mourning process and jumped ahead three years ahead in the next episode.
Buffy’s moms death, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
On a show about vampires and demons, someone dying a natural, human death can be the scariest thing of all. Buffy’s reaction to finding her mother unresponsive breaks our damn hearts. The scene in which Buffy finds her mom and calls 911 was shot in one take, no cuts, with no music or noise in the background. It’s pure emotion. (Let’s all give a ton of credit to Sarah Michelle Gellar for that acting!) Buffy is tasked with protecting the world from danger but she couldn’t protect her own mother from death. Knowing that she’s feeling so helpless is the hardest thing to parse through in this sob-worthy scene — and the whole episode as the Scoobies try to cope. Try and watch her scream “mom!” and not tear-up, it’s just not possible.
Cory Monteith tribute, Glee
When Cory Monteith died in real life, many wondered how his show Glee would handle the tragic news. The episode in which they reveal that his character Finn had passed (tactfully not revealing how) is devastating. Everyone tries to come to grips with this young kid dying in his prime but it’s impossible to reconcile something like that. Lea Michele‘s Rachel gives the most startling performance as her onscreen and offscreen life was dominated by Monteith, with whom she was in a relationship with in real life. As you watch the episode you can feel the actual pain that entire cast feels and whether you were a Glee fan or not; it’ll make you cry like a baby.
Will’s dad leaves again, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince was a silly sitcom, but it had its moments of true heartbreak. When Will’s (Will Smith) father comes back into his life, he hopes it’ll be for good this time. The two bond and make plans which all leads to Will getting his hopes up. So his father’s decision to leave again is crushing for the young Will who just doesn’t understand why his father doesn’t seem to want him. He runs through anger and sadness with his uncle as he wonders aloud why this is happening yet again. His vows that he’ll be a better father than his own dad ever was also brought the tears. It’s hard to see any child feel unwanted by the person who gave them life, even if it’s only on TV. Smith cemented himself as an amazing actor with this scene and set the stage for the long movie career he would have post-TV.