If there’s one thing we’ve learned as TV fans throughout the decades, it’s that gut-wrenching situations often make for some great television.
It’s not that we want our favorite TV characters to suffer; it’s just that sometimes, their happiness isn’t nearly as compelling. Watching some of our favorites on this list — like Veronica Mars‘ titular sleuth, Parenthood‘s Kristina Braverman and The Walking Dead‘s Carol Peletier — rise from the ashes of despair gives us plenty to root for and oftentimes provides heaps of inspiration and powerful moments.
But first: the sadness. For this list of soul-crushers, we scoured older gems like Six Feet Under, Party of Five and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, while also shedding additional tears for current shows such as Euphoria and Grey’s Anatomy. From an addict’s heartbreaking confession to an emotional intervention and one of the wildest (and harshest) American Horror Story scenes ever, this list features some of the best/worst moments from the annals of modern TV history.
A bit of housekeeping: We made a conscious effort NOT to bog this list down with too many of the usual and expected DEATH-RELATED gut punches. (Been there, done that, have the tombstones.) But that doesn’t mean we excluded them outright — look no further than our This Is Us and Nashville entries for prime examples that shot straight to the top of our minds… and the bottom of our hearts. (If you’re feeling particularly morbid or want to further grieve some lost favorites, be sure to check out TVLine’s revisiting of the 100 Most Shocking TV Deaths Ever.)
Check out our full list below, but remember: We purposely aimed NOT to re-re-revisit too many of The Usual Deathly Suspects, instead allowing only a very select few. Did we forget a TV episode that you painfully but fondly recall? Hit the comments with your suggestions!