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Nashville tricked its viewers into thinking their whole TV world wasn’t about to come crashing down.
Leading lady Rayna James (Connie Britton) was faced with two brushes of death during the Feb. 16 episode of the country drama. After surviving a scary encounter with her knife-wielding stalker, Rayna was being safely escorted out of harm’s way — only to have her police car get struck by a truck on her way home to Deacon (Charles Esten) and her waiting daughters.
The CMT series (formerly of ABC) used the familiar TV trope of death by car crash to ultimately send off its star in a blaze of glory. After allowing its viewers to let out a sigh of relief — again — as she seemed to be recovering in the hospital, Rayna ultimately died of complications from the injuries she suffered in the crash in the following episode.
One week later, Nashville will now be dealing with the all-encompassing reverberations of Rayna’s death, as the surrounding characters will be forced to grieve, heal and eventually fill the void left by the show’s star.
In Nashville‘s case, the decision to continue on without its brightest light was Britton’s. The Friday Night Lights alum told The Hollywood Reporter she had been debating moving on from the series even before the country music soap was revived by CMT.
Rayna’s death only adds to the paranoia TV viewers already feel when watching their favorite characters hop into a vehicle for a drawn-out scene. While many shows lean on vehicular-related accidents to further storylines, the fatal car crash is often reserved for a series’ defining moment.
Case in point: The seven memorable characters who met their untimely end by a car crash below. Grab your tissues and take some solace in knowing Rayna has good company in the fast lane to TV heaven.
Nashville‘s Rayna James
Rayna’s death brought an end to months of speculation about Britton’s exit from Nashville. Landing at CMT this summer after the series was canceled by ABC, Britton told THR the show felt “solid and stable” and that it felt like “the right time.” After coming to a decision with the showrunners and creator Callie Khouri that Rayna would never abandon her family, death was their only creative option. With two episodes left in the first half of the season, co-showrunner Marshall Herskovitz says to expect an “immediate reaction to the death and then have this sense of at least the beginnings of what life will be like without Rayna.”
Grey’s Anatomy‘s Derek Shepherd
Rayna isn’t the only leading character to go out from a T-bone collision. After saving a family from a horrible car crash, Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) had his own car struck by a truck while leaving the scene. After announcing, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” he reached under his seat to answer his cell phone and suffered the blow. He ended up in a hospital that wasn’t well-trained enough to save him, forcing his wife and leading lady Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) to pull the plug. The devastating death of the Grey‘s fan-favorite came as an extra shock, as the leading man had one year remaining on his contract at the time. The gaping hole sees Meredith still dealing with grief, single parenting and coping with life after Derek two seasons later.
Dawson’s Creek‘s Mitch Leery
Long before Derek’s foreboding driver’s reach came Mitch Leery’s (John Wesley Shipp). During a late-night milk run, the father to leading man Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) took his eyes off the road when he dropped ice cream and crashed his car into an oncoming driver. Mitch’s death came after a blow-up fight with Dawson, inacting a lifelong change for the WB drama’s leading character.
The O.C.‘s Marissa Cooper
Another star who never emerged from a wreck is Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), who died in the arms of boyfriend Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) after her drunken ex drove the pair off the road in the season three finale. Despite reports of her behind-the-scenes behavior, series creator Josh Schwartz said the decision to kill the show’s leading lady was purely a creative one: “It had as much to do with creatively feeling like this was always in the cards for this character and she was an inherently tragic heroine, and part of the Ryan/Marissa story was him trying to save her from a fate that she couldn’t be rescued from.” The show aired for one more season.
Downton Abbey‘s Matthew Crawley
Hearts broke everywhere for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) when her husband Matthew (Dan Stevens) died in a car accident moments after the birth of their son during the PBS series’ third season Christmas special. Stevens had famously asked to written off the show, resulting in creator Julian Fellowes delivering the blow to fans with the fan-favorite character’s final scene.
Brothers and Sisters’ Robert McCallister
Viewers of the ABC family drama knew Rob Lowe’s exit was coming, but that didn’t make the episode depicting the crash that would ultimately claim his life any easier to watch. Lowe’s Robert McCallister died in the fourth-season finale multicar pileup that nearly claimed wife Kitty (Calista Flockhart) and other members of the tight-night Ojai clan. The fifth season opened one year later, with Kitty finally making the painful decision to pull the plug on Robert, who had been in a vegetative state since the accident.
Sons of Anarchy‘s Jax Teller
Talk about a blaze of glory. SAMCRO leader Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) ended his life in the series finale when he drove his motorcycle into an oncoming truck. After nearly everyone in his life has died, many as a result of his own actions or choices, his final act brought his Shakespearean fate full circle by fulfilling his father’s legacy and recreating the image of what he long thought was a fatal self-inflicted crash.
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