Not every story ends in death.
For the second year in a row, rather than the standard roundup of shocking character deaths on the small screen, The Hollywood Reporter also looks at the major cast departures that helped create new and sometimes bold narratives on their respective shows, while other beloved characters were able to get their happily ever afters.
From firings (Roseanne, House of Cards, The Ranch, Lethal Weapon), salary standoffs (The Walking Dead) and large-scale reboots (Suits), here’s a look at the 36 biggest TV deaths and exits of 2018. (Spoilers below, naturally.)
Roseanne Barr, Roseanne/The Conners
ABC canceled Roseanne hours after the star sent a racist tweet aimed at a senior adviser to former President Barak Obama. But weeks later, ABC handed out a straight-to-series, 10-episode order for The Conners, a Roseanne spinoff featuring the original cast, sans Barr. The embattled star has no financial or creative involvement in the spinoff, though she retains rights to her original character and any other potential spinoffs or reboots of the original series. The Conners premiere, meanwhile, revealed that the family matriarch overdosed on opioids. (Barr was, to little surprise, not happy.)
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
In a different world, Frank Underwood might have figured a way out of scandal, but after mounting allegations of sexual harassment, Netflix cut ties with House of Cards star and exec producer Spacey. Netflix later confirmed that the drama that helped the streamer enter the scripted race would end with season six, with a focus on Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood. Spacey’s Frank — as he was in the book that inspired the show — was killed off.
Danny Masterson, The Ranch
As the influx of sexual misconduct allegations started to crest at the end of 2017, Netflix fired Masterson following multiple allegations of rape. The investigation into the allegations had been going on for months, but the streaming giant was forced to address its relationship with Masterson after increased pressure from accusers and the general public. The Ashton Kutcher comedy series started the process of writing him out of season three. The original allegations came from a victim speaking as part of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Masterson appeared in the first half of season three but as of the upcoming second half, his character, Rooster, is missing after receiving a death threat and splitting town.
Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan and Tom Payne, The Walking Dead
The past several months have brought great change to AMC’s Walking Dead universe, first with the shocking death of Carl Grimes (Riggs), a massive deviation from the comic books by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. Carl’s loss quickly faded away once reports surfaced of leading man Lincoln leaving the series — albeit under considerably less grim circumstances, as it turned out: Rick Grimes lives on in the form of a developing series of films for AMC. Then there’s Cohan, who left the series and booked ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier following contract disputes with AMC; her future with the franchise remains very much unclear. The creatively retooled season nine underwent yet another shift with the death of Tom Payne’s Jesus, once again a big departure from the comic books, and one that toed the line of the series’ shaky history with the Bury Your Gays trope.
Clayne Crawford, Lethal Weapon
Producers Warner Bros. Television fired star Crawford from Fox’s Lethal Weapon reboot following multiple on-set incidents in which he was reprimanded and sent to HR. Among them were clashes with Damon Wayans during an episode that Crawford was directing and in which his co-star was injured during a stunt gone wrong. Warners refused to return the series to Fox with Crawford attached and instead brought in Seann William Scott to help fill the void. Fox then renewed the procedural for a third season.
TJ Miller, Silicon Valley
Miller’s Erlich Bachman was written out of the HBO comedy at the end of season four after producers told the actor and stand-up comedian that he’d be returning for a reduced role in season five. Miller instead surprised producers and opted to leave, giving a rambling and widely dissected interview with The Hollywood Reporter during which he compared his exit to a break-up. THR executive editor, television, Lacey Rose reported in a subsequent Silicon Valley cover story that the decision to cut ties with Miller had been a long time coming, with several sources associated with the show noting that the actor had “demons” and was known to self-medicate with alcohol and other substances.
Tessa Thompson and James Marsden, Westworld
Given the HBO science-fiction Western’s premise, flexible mortality is par for the course, even with its human cast. Look no further than Anthony Hopkins’ Robert Ford, gunned down in the first season finale, only to achieve a temporary digital resurrection in season two. With that said, Thompson’s Charlotte Hale was decisively killed during the season two finale’s most stunning twist, in which it’s revealed Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has killed and hijacked Hale’s body as a means of escaping the isolated park. Who will Thompson play in season three? It’s a wide-open question, especially as she and Marsden (whose Teddy Flood killed himself in an act of defiance, only to be shipped off to a digital afterlife) were not included in a group of actors who recently negotiated big pay raises ahead of season three, casting doubt on their future with the series.
Pauley Perrette, NCIS
The actress announced in October that she would be exiting the CBS procedural and wrapped her impressive 15-season run as forensic specialist Abby Sciuto in May. A week after her final episode aired, Perrette claimed she left the most watched TV series in the world after “multiple physical assaults.” Producers CBS TV Studios responded to Perrette’s claims in a statement: “Over a year ago, Pauley came to us with a workplace concern. We took the matter seriously and worked with her to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows.”
Sarah Drew and Jessica Capshaw, Grey’s Anatomy
The longtime series regulars were written out of the ABC Shondaland medical drama in May’s season 14 finale as part of a creative decision by producers Shonda Rhimes and showrunner Krista Vernoff. Capshaw, who was with the series for 10 seasons, saw her groundbreaking character Arizona reunite with ex-wife Callie and move to New York. Drew, meanwhile, had played April for nine seasons and was written out after she married former flame Matthew.
Ruth Wilson, The Affair
The reasons behind Wilson’s exit from the Showtime drama remain a mystery. In an August interview with THR, showrunner Sarah Treem said Wilson requested to leave the show. “That was a request, so that was decided basically before we started writing,” she said. “It wasn’t a discovery of any kind. That was very deliberate. And actually, we shot all of her work first. Her whole storyline was shot before we shot anything else.” Showtime said in a statement that the arc for Wilson’s Alison character “had run its course.” One thing the actress ruled out: her exit had nothing to do with salary parity. Meanwhile, The Affair will conclude in 2019 with its fifth and final season — likely without original series regular Joshua Jackson.
Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, Fear the Walking Dead
In the other half of AMC’s established Walking Dead live-action universe, season four of Fear was marked by comings and goings. Original Walking Dead star Lennie James (Morgan) hiked over from Alexandria to the Texas-based Fear, followed by a bevy of newcomers including genre favorites Garret Dillahunt and Maggie Grace as John and Althea. Their arrivals came at the cost of two veteran Fear the Walking Dead stars, however, as both Madison (Dickens) and Nick (Dillane) lost their lives within the first eight episodes of the new season. For Dillane, it was very much a matter of wanting to leave; for Dickens, less so. As such, Madison’s death drew sharp criticism from onlookers, not to mention the ire of many within the Fear fandom.
Cameron Moynahan and Emmy Rossum, Shameless
Moynahan opted to depart the series after a decade as his middle sibling character Ian was sentenced to jail for his role in a van explosion as part of a protest against gay conversion therapy. But it wasn’t all bad news for Ian as the character’s former boyfriend Micky (fan favorite Noel Fisher) made a surprising return as his cellmate. Rossum, meanwhile, has been the female lead, eldest sibling Fiona, since the show’s start. Her character will exit in the back half of season nine (airing in early 2019) as producers adjust the final two episodes of the season to write Rossum out after the actress opted to explore new projects.
Patrick J. Adams and Meghan Markle, Suits
The central couple on the USA Network “blue skies” legal procedural headed off into the sunset after seven seasons this year as newlywed Adams was ready for a change and to spend more time at home, while Markle had other royal engagements. The duo exited in the season seven finale when their characters, Mike and Rachel, tied the knot.
Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, Forever
“As you may have read somewhere by now, it’s almost impossible to review Amazon’s new series Forever,” THR‘s own chief TV critic Tim Goodman wrote in his review of the streaming service’s 2018 pseudo-comedy from Parks and Recreation alums Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, who requested absolute secrecy from critics in sending out the opening hours of their new series. In that same spirit, it’s almost impossible to talk about Armisen and Rudolph’s inclusion in this list without giving up the game. Here’s the fix: consult Forever for yourself, currently on Amazon Prime, and enjoy your well-earned “aha!” moment accordingly.
Katherine Langford, 13 Reasons Why
Netflix’s controversial YA suicide drama launched Langford to stardom and, at the same time, helped ignite a debate about when a limited series goes on (also see HBO’s Big Little Lies). Langford announced that her brief return in season two — which went beyond Jay Asher’s source material — was the end of the road for her Hannah. “In season one we really told Hannah’s story in its entirety,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “Coming back for this season was important … to continue the storyline for other characters who were really important that we saw in season one.”
Josh Malina, Scandal
Someone major had to pay the price for all the twists, turns and betrayals in the series finale of Shonda Rhimes’ ABC political thriller, and it was the guy with the biggest “white hat” on the show: Malina’s Attorney General David Rosen. The character was killed by the vice president, Cyrus (Jeff Perry), who had the biggest thirst for power of everyone on Scandal. (And that says a lot.)
Sydney Sweeney, The Handmaid’s Tale
From the moment of her introduction, Sydney Sweeney’s Eden is a character rooted in heartache: a pious teenager married off to Nick (Max Minghella), a man several years her senior, obviously in love with Offred (Elisabeth Moss). For much of her arc, Eden was poised as someone who could cause problems for Offred. Instead, in one of the Emmy-winning Hulu drama’s many harsh twists of fate, Eden was publicly executed for infidelity, a devastating death designed to fuel stakes heading into the subsequent season finale.
Connie Britton, 911
The Friday Night Lights and Nashville favorite only signed a one-year deal to play a 911 operator for Fox’s Ryan Murphy procedural and exited before season two. The Fox procedural recruited Jennifer Love Hewitt to help fill Britton’s void.
George Eads, MacGyver
The co-star of the CBS reboot will exit the series in early 2019, wrapping up his role as MacGyver’s (Lucas Till) partner. Eads, who has a history of on-set altercations, stormed off the show’s Atlanta set in October and wanted to quit the series. Producers supported Eads’ decision and released him from his contract. The character will be written out of the series.
Monica Raymond, Chicago Fire
Raymond announced her departure from NBC’s Dick Wolf procedural in May after a six-season run as fierce paramedic Dawson. The actress was one of the five original Chicago Fire regulars whose contracts expired after season six. Raymond was considered the female lead. Her exit came a year after Chicago PD star Sophia Bush opted to walk away from that NBC/Dick Wolf series.
Shelley Long, Modern Family
The long-running comedy made headlines ahead of its current 10th season when news broke that a member of the show’s central family would be killed off. Viewers largely guessed correctly as all the series regulars remained in place and producers opted to kill off Long’s DeDe, Jay’s (Ed O’Neill) ex-wife and Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) mother. The stunt was designed to illustrate how death can come at any time when people least expect it.
Rainer Bock, Better Call Saul
The Breaking Bad prequel series is a considerably less fatal affair than the crystal-meth crusade of one Walter White. But Better Call Saul isn’t just the story of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) becomes Saul Goodman. It’s also the story of how Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) becomes New Mexico’s premier hitman. Already incredibly accomplished through years on the police force, Mike made major strides toward the lethal man seen on Breaking Bad in the Saul season four finale, in which he’s forced to kill friend and colleague Werner Ziegler (Bock), deemed a flight risk in the mission to build the iconic superlab for Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). A quiet assassination under the starry Southwestern sky… it’s hard to imagine a more transformative setting for the menacing Mike.
Chris Marquette, Barry
HBO’s hitman series shifts back and forth between bleak comedy and bleaker drama with all the ruthless efficiency of its title character, but the fulcrum scene of the season is decidedly of the “bleaker drama” variety: Barry (Bill Hader) shooting his old friend Chris (Marquette) in the head, after an argument gone wrong. It’s the death of two men: Chris’ literal death, and the death of any illusion about Barry as a good guy who only kills bad people. This is a man who is willing to kill anyone in order to stay alive — a notion he proves again in the final moments of the season when he (probably) kills Detective Moss (Paula Newsome) to protect his own interests once again.
Scott Glenn, Castle Rock
Hulu’s Stephen King anthology series arrived with an uncountable amount of hidden references to the legendary horror author’s vast catalogue, including one character to link it all together: Alan Pangborn (Glenn), the protagonist of numerous King tales over the years. It’s quite the shock, then, when Pangborn meets his maker little more than halfway through the first season, accidentally shot to death by his lover Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek), suffering from dementia-driven delusions. It’s the emotional turning point for the inaugural Castle Rock tale, as well as the height of “The Queen,” easily the series’ single greatest hour to date.
Willa Holland and Paul Blackthorne, Arrow
The CW DC Comics drama underwent a pretty big shake-up in season six, which featured the exits of original series regulars Holland and Blackthorne. Holland departed in March as her character, Thea Queen/Speedy, left town in a quest to right her father’s wrongs. Blackthorne, meanwhile, saw his beleaguered Detective Quentin Lance killed off at the end of the season as the series hit reset for season seven.
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Viewers have known since season one that Emmy nominee Ventimiglia’s Jack Pearson died, and NBC used its hyped post-Super Bowl episode to reveal just how the family patriarch perished. As it turned out, Jack did not die in the fire ignited by an old Crock-Pot that destroyed the Pearson home. Instead, he died later at the hospital of catastrophic cardiac arrest, a side effect of massive smoke inhalation he experienced while rescuing his family and their prized possessions from the fire. Ventimiglia remains a major part of the NBC hit (and a series regular) as the time-twisting tear-jerker continues to explore Jack’s past.