Killing off a major character is one of the biggest risks a show can take. Some of these deaths end up paying off nicely; others go down in history as the death that killed a series. And then you have the deaths that, ultimately, don’t make much of a difference either way.
In honor of Homeland‘s return—which comes back to Showtime after killing off Brody in season 3—we went back to see how a handful of other beloved series fared after offing major characters:
Death: Nicholas Brody, season 3 finale
Critical/audience response: The first hour of season 4’s two-hour premiere had fans thinking that Homeland was back in all its glory, though an unforgettable bathtub scene in the second hour would quickly overshadow everything else that happened in the show’s return.
Ratings: Homeland‘s first episode—well, first two—without Brody averaged 1.6 million total viewers, down from its season 3 finale, which garnered 2.4 million viewers. Ratings were also lower than they were for season 2’s opener.
Death: Marissa Cooper, season 3 finale
Critical/audience response: Although most critics agreed that season 4 was the show’s best since its premiere season, fans were divided; some simply couldn’t get a grip on The O.C. without Marissa. Generally, though, the consensus is that the series’ quality improved after her death.
Ratings: Unfortunately, Marissa’s shocking demise couldn’t goose the ratings for a show that had been on the decline since season 1. Though season 3 averaged 5.6 million viewers—the series’ lowest since its launch—season 4 only pulled in an average of 4.3 million. In the middle of The O.C.‘s 16-episode fourth season, the show was canceled.
The Good Wife
Death: Will Gardner in season 5, episode 16
Critical/audience response: Even before Will’s death, season 5 was shaping up to be one of the show’s best. On Rotten Tomatoes, the season’s average rating scored a 9 out of 10, the show’s highest season to date. And thus far, season 6 has proven to be yet another strong year.
Ratings: The promise of a “can’t miss episode,” made Will’s death the season’s most-watched with 10.959 million viewers. But the next few episodes fell to 9 or even 8 million viewers. That being said, Will’s death didn’t greatly affect the season’s viewership numbers as a whole.
Death: Prue Halliwell, season 3 finale
Critical/audience response: Although fans worried about what Prue’s death would do to the series, the addition of Rose McGowan to the cast easily filled the hole that departing star Shannen Doherty left behind. Soon enough, the sisters were back to business as usual (and fighting amongst themselves a lot less).
Ratings: Although fans didn’t seem too angered by Prue’s absence, the show’s ratings never fully recovered. With seasons 1 through 3 all garnering an average 4.7 million viewers or more, the seasons after Prue’s death never climbed higher than 4.5 million.
Game of Thrones
Death: Eddard Stark, season 1, episode 9
Critical/audience response: Stark’s death was the first of many shocking exits on the show. (Well, at least for people who hadn’t read George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga.) It really made clear that nobody’s safe on Thrones—a philosophy that’s only grown more true in later seasons. All in all, most agree that the show’s only gotten better as time went on.
Ratings: No offense to Mr. Stark, but his death didn’t have much impact on the show that continues to break ratings records to this day.
Death: Allison Argent, season 3 penultimate
Critical/audience response: According to Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score, fans were not happy with Teen Wolf‘s Allison-less season 4. Season 1 got a 70/100, followed by an 80 for season 2, a perfect 100 for season 3, and an audience score of 67 for season 4.
Ratings: After achieving a series high rating with 1.98 millions viewers in season 3, on average, season 4 fell slightly to an average of 1.61 million viewers.
Death: George O’Malley, season 5 finale
Critical/audience response: George’s death took fans into season 6, which struggled through his loss and the eventual loss of Izzie Stevens. However, the season 6 finale—in which Shonda Rhimes sent a hospital shooter to clean out some unloved new characters—remains one of the show’s best episodes. From there, the response to the series has continued to ebb and flow.
Ratings: By the time George died, the show had already been slowly declining in the ratings for years, never again achieving the highs of season 2 (which earned an average of 19.44 million viewers). And George’s death didn’t help the show recover. It slipped to 13.26 million viewers on average in season 6; season 8 was its lowest-rated, with an average of 10.92 million viewers. The numbers have, however, stabilized in recent years.
Death: Mark Green, season 8’s penultimate episode
Critical/audience response: Between the long buildup to Mark’s death and the show’s ability to shift its focus to John Carter, the transition to a show without Dr. Green worked fairly seamlessly. Was he missed? Absolutely. Did his absence ruin the show? No.
Ratings: After fluctuating between an average of 19 and 30 million viewers each season, the death of Mark Green began the show’s decline. However, that decline was very slow, which probably proves that Mark’s death wasn’t totally to blame. Seasons 9 and 10 both pulled in an average of more than 19 million viewers, but season 11 started to slip with only 15.17. The show’s lowest-rated season would be 14, with an average of 9.2 million viewers; ER ended the following year.
Death: Matthew Crawley, season 3 finale
Critical/audience response: Matthew’s shocking death angered many fans, but it wasn’t until the third episode of season 4 that the show took what many considered to be its worst turn yet: Anna Bates was raped. So the show’s biggest misstep might not have had to do with Matthew, but it did happen after his death.
Ratings: After Matthew’s death, the show’s fourth season premiered in the U.S. to 10.2 million viewers, making it the largest audience for PBS in more than 10 years. From there, any changes probably had more to do with the aforementioned scene than Matthew.
Death: Rita Morgan, season 4 finale
Critical/audience response: Rita’s death was utterly shocking—and the show struggled to move on after she was murdered, turning in a few subpar seasons (focused on the Barrel Girl Gang and the Doomsday Killers) before rebounding somewhat in season 7.
Ratings: We can all remember that Dexter’s series finale—quality aside—was Showtime’s most watched episode of any original series ever. So there’s that.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Death: Tara Maclay, season 6, episode 19
Critical/audience response: Much like season 6 as a whole, Tara’s death is hit-or-miss with fans. Some loved Willow going dark; others hated it. But for the most part, the show’s quality remained unaffected by the loss of such a crucial character.
Ratings: Buffy’s last season, post-Tara, did feel the impact in ratings. After maintaining an average of 4.4 million viewers per season (or higher) for the past three years, Buffy‘s final season average fell to 3.8. The only season that did worse? Season 1, which had an average of 3.7 million viewers.