From surprise exits to surprise appearances and every dick pic in between, 2021 delivered its fair share of television shocks. (We still haven't wrapped our heads around everything that happened in Squid Game.) Below, we've rounded up the 31 moments that we haven't stopped thinking about since they first made our jaws drop.

Most Shocking TV Moments of 2021
Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX; FX; Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios; Noh Juhan/Netflix; Macall Polay/HBO; FOX via Getty Images
squid game
Credit: netflix

All of Squid Game

The desperate players on Squid Game were shocked when they learned how deadly the game they signed up for would be, but that was just the beginning. Squid Game made it clear that only one person would win, and therefore survive, yet it still managed to fit in more shocking moments in a single season than other shows do during their entire run. Devastating decisions were made during the marble game —Cho Sang-woo's (Park Hae-soo) betrayal and the truth about Hwang Jun-ho's (Wi Ha-joon) missing brother are examples of how the hit series kept delivering. The most impressive thing about Squid Game is that it saved its biggest surprise for last: the lovable elderly Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su) was the ringleader of the game. That reveal is the one viewers, and certainly Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), will never recover from. —Alamin Yohannes

Get Back - Paul McCartney creating the song "Get Back"
Credit: Disney +

Paul McCartney writes "Get Back," The Beatles: Get Back

All seven-plus hours of Peter Jackson's candid Beatles doc are a treasure trove for both diehard fans and Beatle agnostics alike. But easily the most thrilling moment comes in part one, when a bearded Paul McCartney is improvising on his guitar. He starts with nothing, and then, in a matter of minutes, he's crafted the bones of what will become "Get Back," seemingly conjuring that familiar melody out of thin air. Before long, George Harrison and Ringo Starr join in, and the result is an early version of one of the band's most iconic songs — a stunning glimpse into one of the most famous creative processes of all time. —Devan Coggan

Credit: Chad Kirkland/Bravo

Jen Shah's arrest, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City

Months before the second season of RHOSLC premiered, fans already knew that confrontational queen bee Jen Shah had been charged with fraud. Having already seen the headlines did nothing, however, to dull the impact of watching the scandal go down on the show. With most of the cast gathered on a bus about to leave on a girls' trip, Jen took a short phone call, then quietly asked for help removing her microphone before excusing herself with a story that her husband was in the hospital. Moments later, a SWAT team and small army of DHS, FBI, and NYPD officers swarmed the parking lot, looking for Jen; later that day, she appears leaving a federal courthouse — wearing a fur coat, her hair in box braids — in one of the most instantly unforgettable images the reality franchise has ever delivered. —Mary Sollosi

Never Have I Ever

Paxton's hit by a car, Never Have I Ever

We knew Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) attempting to date two guys at once was going to end badly — we just didn't expect it to end this badly. After endeavoring to simultaneously date Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewinson), Devi's two-timing blows up in her face when she decides to throw a going-away rager and both guys want to attend as her boyfriend. She tries to keep them on opposite sides of the party, but of course, they find out. When Paxton storms out, Devi hot on heels apologizing, he lashes out, telling her, "Get over yourself Devi, as if you could hurt me." Well, she might not be able to, but a car that comes out of nowhere and hits him sure does. Never have we ever been more horrified than at the sight of this collision. —Maureen Lee Lenker

Credit: Byron Cohen via Getty Images

Titus Makin leaves The Rookie

Back in January, Titus Makin told EW he had considered leaving The Rookie before it returned for its third season because of the George Floyd murder, the ensuing social justice movement, and his struggles as a Black man portraying a cop. But after working with creator Alexi Hawley to give his character a storyline that directly tackled racism and corruption in the police force, he decided to stay. But in the season 4 premiere, his character, Jackson, was abruptly executed and shoved in a trunk. Even more shocking — Makin didn't shoot the sequence. They used a body double and never showed his face. He didn't do any exit interviews and was absent from social media for months, never commenting on Jackson's brutal — and sudden — departure. —M.L.L.

    Laganja Estranja literally dropping down out of nowhere to lipsync on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 6
Credit: Paramount +

Laganja Estranja leaps into frame — literally, RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 6

The RuPaul's Drag Race camera crew shot Laganja Estranja's jump-split entrance like an action scene in a Hollywood blockbuster. The season 6 alum's grand return to the main stage as one of All Stars 6's lip-sync assassins was captured from multiple angles — side-stage, top-down, from the center — properly signaling that an icon was about take her spot under the lights. After squealing her signature catchphrase ("Come on All Stars 6, Let's get sickeniiiiiiiing!"), Laganja twirled so hard on the main stage she actually caused light injuries (okay, maybe not, but that shot of her jacket slapping Silky Nutmeg Ganache in the face during the lip-sync is priceless), but her overall presence ultimately soothed the soul and primed us for her starring role on a future All Stars whenever she's ready. —Joey Nolfi

Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Marvel Studios

Evan Peters sprints into Westview, WandaVision

Few shows on TV this year sparked as much obsessive fan analysis as WandaVision did. (If we never hear the name "Mephisto" ever again, it'll be too soon.) But the moment that really sent fans into a theorizing tizzy was the arrival of Wanda's long-dead brother Pietro Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver, at the end of episode 5. Except he wasn't played by MCU actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson… He was X-Men's Evan Peters, a.k.a. the other Quicksilver, from a different universe entirely. The eventual reveal of Ralph Bohner's true identity split fans: Some were hoping Peters' arrival was proof of a future X-Men crossover, while others found the Ralph reveal to be a masterful bit of trolling. Either way, we can all agree that Wanda opening the door to find her dead brother wearing a different face was a major WTF moment.  —D.C.

Framing Britney Spears
Credit: FX

Reckoning with early-aughts misogyny, Framing Britney Spears

Many of the details and new allegations about Britney Spears' (now terminated) conservatorship, laid out between February's FX documentary Framing Britney Spears and its September follow-up Controlling Britney Spears, were harrowing to learn. Perhaps most disturbing, however, was the first film's examination of the media circus that surrounded the pop icon in the 2000s — the mockery, harassment, shaming, and objectification she suffered as a young woman in the public eye. The doc shared old clips that many of us had seen before, recalling a moment we'd lived through and at least passively absorbed. But looking at it with two decades of distance, it was shocking to rediscover that such treatment had ever — and in our own lifetimes — been considered normal. The reminder prompted a collective reevaluation of the cultural outlook on Spears and her Y2K peers, and it further motivated the fans calling for the singer's liberation. —M.S.

The Morning Show
Credit: Apple TV+

Bradley kisses Laura, The Morning Show

The Morning Show has had its fair share of twists, but this one was definitely the most surprising. In the third episode of the Apple TV+ drama's sophomore season, renowned journalist Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) — whose career hit a road block when she was outed years earlier — is assigned to interview both Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) and Alex (Jennifer Aniston) in anticipation of the latter's return to the titular daytime news program. Initially, it seemed as though Laura was going to become Bradley's mentor after following her around on the election trail, but that turned out not to be the case because Bradley impulsively kissed Laura as she was asking her toughest question. Thus, the show revealed that Bradley is queer, a fact felt like it came out of nowhere because her sexuality never came up in the first season. —Chancellor Agard

The Good Doctor
Credit: Jeff Weddell/ABC

Osvaldo Benavides leaves The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor was barely into its fifth season when it lost another actor. On Oct. 26, news broke that Osvaldo Benavides, who joined the medical drama as Dr. Mateo Rendón Osma in the season 4 finale, was leaving the show without any reason given. Benavides' departure was so shocking because he had just been promoted to series regular in the spring. Not only that, but he was also introduced as a major love interest for Christina Chang's Dr. Audrey Lim, who gave him a job at St. Bonaventure at the beginning of season 5. But clearly it wasn't meant to be. Benavides made his final appearance in the season's fourth episode, and his absence was explained in the following episode. —C.A.

Prince harry and Megan and Oprah
Credit: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

Royal family bombshell, Oprah with Meghan and Harry

TV news has not been doing bombshell interviews like they used to, so expectations for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's first big sit-down since leaving the Royal Family were pretty tempered. But wow did Oprah Winfrey remind us why she was a permanent fixture of our screens for decades, asking the Sussexes all the right questions. It was chilling to hear how the royals have managed to repeat history, with a lack of support for Meghan going through a mental health crisis mirroring the treatment of her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana. Once the unique element of the Duchess of Sussex being biracial became part of the conversation, jaws dropped at the revelation that while she was pregnant with son Archie, there were several "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born." It proved with all certainty that Meghan was not the family member who needed to be silenced. —Marcus Jones

Midnight Mass
Credit: Netflix

Zach Gilford goes up in flames, Midnight Mass

With clear eyes and a full heart, Zach Gilford's Riley Flynn makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his childhood love, Erin (Kate Siegel), and to warn her about the mysterious miracles happening to the residents of Crockett Island. After being turned into a vampire of sorts, Riley rows Erin out into the water in the moonlight and they have a long talk about faith, the afterlife, and everything that's happened to Riley since he returned home — and knows it will all seem pretty unbelievable until she sees it for herself. Which is why she (and the rest of us) then watched in horror as the sun came up and Riley burst into flames before her eyes. An absolutely gutting ending to one of the show's most moving scenes. —Jessica Derschowitz

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier- Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Credit: Marvel Studios

Julia Louis-Dreyfus joins the MCU, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Marvel loves a surprise cameo, but it was still a shock to see Selina Meyer herself pop up in the MCU. The comedy legend made her unexpected debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, immediately making mischief (and sporting a pretty suave purple-blue streak in her hair) as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. Louis-Dreyfus later showed up again in the end-credits scene for Black Widow, so it's probably a safe bet that Marvel fans haven't seen the last of the contessa. —D.C.

Credit: Graeme Hunter/HBO

Roman sends a dick pic to his dad, Succession

Be careful who you text. No, like, really careful. Riding high on a possible business deal that'd elevate his standing within Waystar Royco and his family, Kieran Culkin's Roman Roy means to send a photo of his, um, sensitive materials to J. Smith Cameron's Gerri but accidentally sends it off to dad Logan Roy (Brian Cox) instead, imploding the negotiations and torching his standing in the Roy hierarchy. Culkin's facial expressions when Roman realizes what he's done are masterful — has a phone buzz ever been so ominous? — and I'm still recovering from the residual cringe of watching it unfold. —J.D.

Credit: The CW

Lindsey Morgan exits Walker

Aside from Cordell Walker (Jared Padalecki) himself, Lindsey Morgan's Micki was the star of the CW's Walker. So, when she announced that she'd be leaving in the middle of the hit show's second season, fans were stunned. Not only was Micki crucial to the show, but she was in the middle of one of her biggest storyline yet, as she was dealing with some very personal undercover work. But by the mid-season finale of the show's second season, she'd be gone, deciding to hand in her badge, break things off with Trey (Jeff Pierre), and head home to re-evaluate what she wants in life. —Samantha Highfill

Cowboy Bebop
Credit: Netflix

Ed appears at the last second, Cowboy Bebop

The original Cowboy Bebop anime revolves around four human characters: Deadpan mercenary Spike Spiegel, gruff ship captain Jet Black, femme fatale Faye Valentine, and androgynous hacker Edward. But as Netflix launched its live-action adaptation this year, only the first three were visible (played by John Cho, Mustafa Shakir, and Daniella Pineda, respectively). Fans were left wondering, had Ed been forgotten?
It was only in the very last minutes of the final episode that Ed finally appeared. As portrayed by Eden Perkins, the live-action Ed was…extremely loud and shrill, as if the anime character had been cut-and-pasted into three dimensions with no modulation whatsoever. The surreal spectacle of Perkins' Ed screaming at the camera was obnoxious enough to make the scene go viral on social media, providing a fitting capstone to an aggressive marketing campaign that insisted on drawing unflattering comparisons with the animated original. The final punchline? The show has already been canceled by Netflix! That's all you get! —Christian Holub

Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist canceled

Does NBC hate joy? That's the only explanation I've got for why the network canceled Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist this year. Sure, okay, yes, logically I understand that the wonderfully heartwarming musical dramedy didn't exactly chart high ratings throughout its two short seasons. But the charming ensemble of Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, Mary Steenburgen, Peter Gallagher, and the rest of the incredible cast delivered multiple, impressive, Broadway-level musical numbers in every episode, hit exhilarating highs and devastatingly emotional lows with their consistently awards-worthy acting, and the will-they-won't-they romance at the center of the story kept faithful fans hooked no matter who Zoey was with. What more could you possibly want from a show, especially one that premiered at the start of the pandemic and delivered two fantastic seasons when we needed them most? The Roku Channel sweeping in to temporarily save the series with the holiday movie Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas was a nice consolation prize, but I'll never forgive NBC for closing the curtains on one of the best musical series I've ever seen. —Sydney Bucksbaum

Pam and Tommy, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson
Credit: Hulu; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

First photo of Sebastian Stan and Lily James as Pam Anderson, Pam & Tommy

Hulu woke up and chose violence this past May when the streaming service released the first photos of Sebastian Stan and Lily James as Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson from Pam & Tommy. The upcoming limited series sounds scandalous from its logline alone — it's a comedic take on the true story behind the release of the first ever viral video in history: Their sex tape. But the photo of James looking unrecognizable as Anderson, biting Stan's nipple ring as he shows off his tattooed torso as Lee, sent shockwaves through pop culture as it made the rounds on social media. The actors' transformation into the infamous '90s tabloid couple was absolutely jaw-dropping with how realistic it was. Just check out that side-by-side comparison! Months before any actual footage was released, we were already dying to see this series. Other studios, take note: That's how you do a successful first look. —S.B.


Regé-Jean Page exits Bridgerton

In-the-know romance readers probably expected breakout Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page to take a more minor role in future seasons as the action moved on to new romances. But probably few, if any, expected for him to exit the series that made him a star entirely. Page had only signed a one-season contract, so despite Bridgerton catapulting him to fame, he was ready to move on and tell new stories. The show's creators and executive producer Shonda Rhimes were shocked by audience's vociferous and vocal reaction to something they'd always presumed was part of the storytelling. We're still hopeful he could make a cameo in a future season, but for now, we must burn for his presence in his absence. —M.L.L.

Golden Globes
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Golden Globes are canceled

After a legacy of handing out some of Hollywood's most coveted awards, the Golden Globes were confronted about their lack of diversity. It was a conversation a longtime in the making, and one that had been brought up to no avail in the past. That's why it was particularly shocking when NBC finally decided to do something about it, making the bold decision to cancel the annual broadcast entirely. It's rare that Hollywood puts diversity ahead of a prestigious ceremony (and furthermore, an opportunity to make money), but it was a nice surprise. —S.H.

Credit: FOX via Getty Images

Emily VanCamp leaves The Resident

Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czuchry) and Nicolette 'Nic' Nevin's (Emily VanCamp) love story had sailed to new heights when The Resident fans got the devastating news that VanCamp was leaving during season 5. With a happy marriage and new baby, things were amazing for the central couple. But their story was cut short when a car crash leaves her with a traumatic brain injury early in the season. Watching Conrad and the Chastain family fight to save her (and fail) was gut-wrenching. Nothing speaks to how tragic a loss this was like The Resident jumping forward three years into a new chapter of the show a few episodes after VanCamp's exit because of just how deeply Conrad was grieving her death. —A.Y.

Emily in Paris

Emily in Paris gets Emmy nominations

When Emily in Paris hit Netflix in 2020, it was an instant hit. But that's not to say it was award-worthy television. Quite the opposite, actually. The story of Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), a selfie-obsessed American, living in Paris and struggling to learn the culture was a fun binge filled with ridiculous scenarios (and truly over-the-top outfits). But the biggest twist didn't take place during Emily's many adventures in France. Rather, it was  the show somehow landing multiple Emmy nominations that left us speechless. Not every hit show deserves an award. It's okay for some shows to just be fun. —S.H.

Credit: Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions

Mike Richards being named the new host of Jeopardy (and everything that came after)

TV's most mild-mannered game show turned into a succession drama to rival, well, Succession this year, starting when then-executive producer Mike Richards was announced as Jeopardy's new host in August. That was shocking enough — the relatively unknown Richards won the post over presumed frontrunner and Jeopardy legend Ken Jennings, as well as fan-favorite candidate LeVar Burton — but it was a mere prelude to the debacle that followed, as past offensive comments and other scandals resurfaced to dog Richards almost immediately. Despite taping a week's worth of shows, the disgraced Richards was ousted as both host and EP by the end of the month, leaving everyone to wonder how Jeopardy studio Sony Pictures Television could have mismanaged such a beloved TV institution so badly. At least record-breaking champion Matt Amodio was there to provide some consistency throughout the whole mess. —Tyler Aquilina 

Credit: Jojo Whilden/SHOWTIME

Damian Lewis leaves Billions

Since day one of Billions, the ferocious rivalry of Damian Lewis' swaggering, fast-talking billionaire Bobby "Axe" Axelrod and Paul Giamatti's power-hungry, grudge-holding U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades has been the driving force of the series. Yes, they were briefly allies, but Billions was always at its best when those two guys were in a room going at each other. And the masterful season 5 finale, "No Direction Home," brought back memories of the old days, with a few blistering interactions between Axe and Chuck. But it turned out to be a setup for the reveal that this would be the end of Lewis' time as a series regular. With Chuck closing in and Michael Prince (Corey Stoll) betraying him, Axe accepted defeat and fled to Switzerland to avoid arrest. While Prince might now be taking over his business, Axe will forever be our Billions king. —Derek Lawrence

Joaquin Phoenix gives out Best Actor
Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

The Oscars presenting Best Actor last

As the very strange 2021 Oscars wore on, it became clear that the award for Best Actor — which everyone assumed would go to the late Chadwick Boseman — would be presented last, a break from tradition that was widely seen as a ploy to end the show on an emotional high. But there were two big problems: Boseman didn't win, and the Academy's choice, Anthony Hopkins, didn't attend the ceremony, resulting in a thuddingly anticlimactic and extremely awkward conclusion. The Academy making the wrong choice isn't so shocking after all these years, but rarely have they done so in such spectacular and dismaying fashion. —T.A.

The Sex Lives of College Girls
Credit: HBO Max

Nico has a girlfriend, The Sex Lives of College Girls

For six episodes, fans watched hot frat guy Nico (Gavin Leatherwood) and small-town dork Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) fall for each other. From French tutoring dates to awkward family dinners, their unexpected bond grew, and fans grew attached. So it was both shocking and heartbreaking when, in episode 7, it was revealed that Nico had a girlfriend all along. (It was like McDreamy all over again!) By season's end, both Kimberly and Nico's girlfriend would know the truth, but as for Nico and Kimberly, their future remains unknown. Good thing the show's been renewed for a second season! —S.H.

The White Lotus
Credit: Mario Perez/HBO

Armond drops a deuce in Shane's suitcase, The White Lotus

So many theories swirled about who would wind up dead on The White Lotus, but none of us could have expected that solving the mystery would involve actual s--- going down. Fully fed up and out for revenge on his resort-guest nemesis Shane (Jake Lacy), White Lotus manager Armond (Murray Bartlett) breaks into the jerk's room — excuse me, the Pineapple Suite! — and proceeds to defecate in Shane's suitcase. That vengeance was short-lived, though, because Shane comes back to the room, discovers the "gift" that was left for him, and accidentally stabs Armond while looking for the intruder. Suitcase poop and a surprise stabbing? We'd call those the No. 2 biggest twists of the season. —J.D.

Credit: Colin Bentley/The CW

Madeleine Mantock leaves Charmed

Talk about deja vu. After three seasons as Macy Vaughn, the eldest sister of the Power of Three, Charmed star Madeleine Mantock announced she wouldn't be returning for season 4. As if the decision wasn't surprising enough on its own, it mirrored what happened with the original Charmed series years earlier when Shannen Doherty, who played eldest sister Prue Halliwell, also departed the show after three seasons. Perhaps there is something to this whole Power of Three business after all. —S.H.

Ted Lasso
Credit: Apple TV +

Nate's evil turn, Ted Lasso

Nate's (Nick Mohammed) mean streak was always lying-in-wait, and we got a taste of it with his obscenity-laden notes for the team in season 1. Still, we never thought he'd take it this far. Once Ted (Jason Sudeikis) added Roy (Brett Goldstein) to the coaching staff, Nate's entitlement and jealousy festered – and Richmond hath no fury like a Nate scorned. Instead of making things better for the next equipment manager, he bullied Will (Charlie Hiscock), continued to antagonize Colin (Billy Harris), and transformed from an insecure dreamer to a mean-spirited jerk. We don't know what's a bigger betrayal — making a move on Keeley (Juno Temple), revealing Ted's panic attacks to the press, or ditching Richmond to coach Rupert's (Anthony Stewart Head) new team. We just know each moment of treachery made us gasp and then hurl a slew of profanities worthy of Roy Kent at our television. —M.L.L.

Mare of Easttown
Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO

Zabel dies, Mare of Easttown

Mare of Easttown was a murder mystery, yes. But the story of small-town detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) desperately trying to solve her hometown's many mysteries was a pretty laidback series, until it took a turn in its fifth episode. After a suspended Mare convinces Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) to check out a lead, the two end face-to-face with the man responsible for kidnapping young women in their town. Moments after arriving, things take a turn for the worse, and Zabel ends up with a bullet in his head, something fans might've missed if they so much as blinked. Just like that, Zabel was dead and Mare turned into a different show. —S.H.

Sex and the City And Just Like That
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / HBO Max

Carrie doesn't call 911, And Just Like That

The premiere episode for the highly anticipated Sex and the City revival And Just Like That ended with a shocker — and no, not that the romantic hero of the whole series Mr. Big (Chris Noth) died from a heart attack after a Peloton workout. We're talking about the complete failure of his wife Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) to actually do anything about it after finding him collapsed on the floor (but still alive!) moments before losing him forever. Why didn't Carrie call 911? You would think that the whole cupcake-purse debacle of her disastrous first attempt at a wedding would have taught her to value the gift of a well-placed phone call. She could have saved the love of her life and we wouldn't all be forced to console ourselves with some snarky Ryan Reynolds voiceover. This isn't Peloton's fault! Blame Carrie! —M.S.

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