Ask not for whom 24‘s death clock tolls. (Warning: Spoilers ahead from last night’s episode.) Some fans are still hoping that Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard, pictured) didn’t really die after falling victim to his own deadly syringe. After all, though he appeared to expire in Jack’s arms, we didn’t actually see him breathe his last, as we did Lynn (Sean Astin) earlier in the episode, plus (as commenters to’s 24 TV Watch have noted) the episode’s final clock readout wasn’t silent for him, as it has been for other key characters who have died, like Edgar last week. And finally, three important characters in two episodes seems like a lot, even for this show. Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that Tony (one of the few remaining characters who’ve survived all five seasons so far) really is dead, given this posting on the 24 website, not to mention two newspaper articles published today.

The New York Times reveals that Tony was initially supposed to die in the season opener, in the same explosion that killed his wife Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth), but producer Howard Gordon reconsidered. Gordon also suggested that when 24 goes off the air, it’s likely to end with the death of protagonist Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). ”He’s a tragic character,” Gordon says, ”and tragedy ends in death.”

Unexpected deaths of prominent characters has been an unavoidable TV trend this season. The Times article also notes the death of The L Word‘s Dana (Erin Daniels) from breast cancer on this week’s episode, not to mention noteworthy deaths on Lost, Smallville, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, and other shows. According to the Los Angeles Times, you can chalk up writers’ willingness to kill off beloved characters to a couple of things: free-floating post-9/11 dread, and reality TV shows like Survivor and American Idol, which have made viewers accustomed to seeing their favorite personalities booted from the show on a regular basis.

Still, the L.A. Times writes, some TV fans think the death toll is getting too high. Certainly some actors do; Louis Lombardi is still upset over the death of his popular character Edgar during the final moments of last week’s 24. Still, with more deaths promised over the next few months on 24, as well as Lost, The Sopranos, The Shield, ER, and even Everwood, it doesn’t look like the bloodletting will end any time soon.

addCredit(“Carlos Bernard: Joe Viles”)