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How These Actors Found Out They Were Going To Be Killed Off

It's always a little depressing when a character you really love is killed off. Even though we all know it isn't real, we miss their presence onscreen, and we feel for the other characters who have to go on without them. Character deaths can be surprisingly emotional moments for audiences — haven't we all shed a tear for a fictional protagonist who was dealt a lethally unfair hand?

And if you've ever taken a character's death to heart as a fan, you can probably imagine that it's often difficult for an actor to accept that it's time to take their final bow. Saying goodbye to the character, as well as their fellow cast members, is hard — even if they know it's the right time for their character to go. Here's a look at how some actors from popular shows and movie franchises found out they were getting the axe, and why some of them still wish they'd gotten a little more time in front of the camera. 

Jared Harris - Mad Men

With his career and finances in shambles, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) tragically took his own life in season 5 of Mad Men. After he was caught embezzling thousands of dollars to pay off a tax bill, he knew he had no chance to get back into Don Draper's good graces, and his attempts to build a life for himself in America had failed. Seeing no way out, he hung himself in his office.

Jared Harris found out what was about to happen to Lane after the cast read through the script for episode 10. Producer Matt Weiner gave each actor individual notes, but left Harris for last. "Once he spoke to everybody he said come up to my office. Now that is a bad sign. Then he offered me really expensive brandy. That was my second bad sign," he told the Los Angeles Times

Harris was sad to leave the show behind, but said he completely trusted Weiner's judgment, and he knew that Don Draper was the only character who was guaranteed to stick it out until the end of the series. 

Feel like the story behind Lane's death is giving you deja vu? It's because Harris later played Valery Legasov in the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and his character met a similar end. 

Taryn Manning - Orange Is the New Black

When Netflix released the first season of Orange Is the New Black in 2013, Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning), a.k.a. Pennsatucky, was the character everyone loved to hate. She was brash, hypocritical, and self-righteous, and she liked to antagonize the other women in Litchfield Prison. But as each season slowly revealed more of her backstory, she became more sympathetic, and as she turned her life around and began studying for her GED in the final season, it looked like better things were finally around the corner for Pennsatucky. 

But it all came crashing down at the end of season 7, when Pennsatucky overdosed on fentanyl after struggling during her GED — and Manning was just as upset as the fans about Pennsatucky's fate, which she learned when creator Jenji Kohan and producer Tara Herman personally called her to let her know. She admitted that finding out Pennsatucky's fate was an unpleasant surprise, because she was hoping her character would move beyond the trauma from her past. But she trusted that the writers knew this would be a more powerful ending. "It made me kind of bummed, to be honest, because Pennsatucky is so much smarter now," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "But I'm a team player. I understood because it was really going to evoke emotion."

Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones

Perhaps no one was more shocked by Daenerys Targaryen's decision to destroy King's Landing in season 8 of Game of Thrones than Emilia Clarke. Although her character was always assertive and bold, she typically unleashed her dragons on traitors and slaveowners, choosing to exercise restraint rather than follow in the footsteps of her father the "Mad King." 

But in the penultimate episode, she gave into every ounce of rage she felt and torched the city with her last dragon, killing thousands of innocent people. Some fans had spent nearly a decade rooting for her to take the throne, believing that she would be a merciful ruler. Instead, her story ended with Jon Snow driving a sword through her heart to stop her from scorching the Seven Kingdoms. 

Clarke had no idea that Daenerys would take such a dark turn until she finally got the scripts for season 8, and she could barely process what she was reading. "I, in some kind of a daze, walked out of my house," she told Access Hollywood. "The only thing I took was my keys, and about three hours later I arrived back home, and I still hadn't taken it all in."

Tom Payne - The Walking Dead

In a show like The Walking Dead, any actor knows that they could be up on the chopping block next — after years of fighting zombies, a lot of cast members have put their characters to rest. Despite all the casualties that have already occurred on the show, Tom Payne, who played Paul "Jesus" Monroe, felt like the writers needed to raise the stakes. While shooting season 7, Payne told the writers, "We're having a war, you know, and people aren't dying... there's too many people on this show, you need to kill some people. Kill me, I don't care, just kill some people." 

Well, they took his advice to heart. In the middle of shooting season 8, he got an unexpected call from showrunner Angela Kang. Before picking up, he joked to his girlfriend, "Maybe it's 'the call.'" As it turns out, his instincts were correct, and Jesus was about to meet his end. Thankfully, Payne was happy with his final fight sequence — even though it didn't go in his character's favor. "All I care about is the story, and if the story is good, and they do it in the right way, then I don't care," he later insisted. "And if I help to tell that story, in a cool, surprising, and shocking way, then I'm down with that, and I think they really did that with the exit.

Robert Downey Jr. - Avengers: Endgame

Every Marvel fan knew there was no way all the remaining Avengers were getting out of Avengers: Endgame alive — but the moment when Tony Stark harnessed the power of the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos for good, at the cost of his own life, was still gut-wrenching. The death of Iron Man hit hard for many fans — after all, he's a central character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first Iron Man film was the movie that started it all. 

Accepting that his time as Iron Man was over after a decade wasn't easy for Robert Downey Jr. Before making any final decisions, directors Anthony and Joe Russo personally approached Downey about their vision for his character arc. "Once we decided we wanted this kind of ending for the character, we certainly wanted to make sure Robert was comfortable with it, just because of his enormous contribution to the MCU. We did pitch it out," Anthony Russo told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think Downey may have had mixed emotions... but I think at the end of the day, he totally accepted it."

Brett Tucker - Station 19

If any of your favorite shows have Shonda Rimes at the helm, you're probably used to saying tearful goodbyes to beloved characters. Station 19, a Grey's Anatomy spinoff, can be an emotional rollercoaster. The series follows the lives of the firefighters at Seattle Fire Station 19, and in this line of work, important characters are always at risk of meeting a tragic end. 

In season 2, Fire Chief Lucas Ripley (Brett Tucker) runs into a fire to save the captain of another fire station, but his risky decision exposes him to hydrofluoric acid, which ultimately kills him. Shortly before his death, he and his girlfriend, fellow firefighter Victoria Hughes, discussed the possibility of marriage – but after the fateful blaze, Vic is left to go on without him. 

Brett Tucker was prepared for what was coming, but the rest of the cast wasn't. "I kind of knew early on, at the start of the season, actually," he told Shondaland. "They did pretty well to keep it under wraps." Tucker added that the relationship with Vic, which made the episode so much more heartbreaking, wasn't originally planned — it was inspired by the natural onscreen chemistry between the two actors. 

Todd Lowe - True Blood

In season 6 of True Blood, Terry Bellefleur (Todd Lowe) joined the show's body count. While wracked with guilt over murdering Sergeant Patrick Devins in the previous season, Terry came up with a plan to stage his own suicide — even though he had been acting in self-defense, he couldn't live with himself after taking Devins' life. But when his wife Merlotte and her coworker Arlene arranged for a vampire to "glamour" him and erase the memory of what happened to Devins, he also forgot his suicide plot. 

While taking out the trash, a vampire hiding in the dumpster attacked Terry, and having forgotten all about his original plan, Terry never saw it coming. But Todd Lowe was at peace with showrunner Brian Buckner's decision. Buckner took him out for a drink to let him know that Terry's time was up. Lower was perfectly happy with this — he was also ready to move on from True Blood. "It made good sense. It was the right time. I was happy to die for the good of the many and for the good of the show," he told Rolling Stone

Oona Chaplin - Game of Thrones

There are two kinds of Game of Thrones fans — the ones who got hooked on the show, and the ones who'd read every book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire before the first episode even aired. Those who fell into the second camp already knew that Robb and Caitlyn Starks' lives would be cut short at the Red Wedding in season 3. Because their characters' deaths had been planned years in advance, both Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley knew that their time on the show was coming to an end. But Oona Chaplin, who played Robb's wife Talisa, wasn't sure what the future held for her character. 

The character of Talisa was created specifically for the show, and in the books, Robb's wife didn't attend the Red Wedding. When Chaplin received the scripts for season 3, she found out that she would, in fact, be at Robb's side during the wedding, and her fate was sealed. Yet nothing could have prepared her for just how gory her onscreen death would be: A pregnant Talisa was stabbed in the stomach several times. "I was praying for a cool death and when I read [the script] I was like, 'F***, everyone dies!' But even when it was on the page it was nothing compared to what it was like on the day," she told Digital Spy

Steven Yeun - The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead, weak characters are picked off early and often — but season after season, original cast member Glenn (Steven Yeun) proved he wouldn't be an easy target, up to and including his unlikely, dumpster-assisted escape from a writhing mass of zombies in season 6. When the season 7 premiere aired, fans were therefore all the more horrified as Glenn was brutally beaten to death by Negan, the leader of a group called the Saviors which violently oppressed other bands of survivors. His gory demise might have come as a surprise to some, but even before reading the script, Yeun had suspected that Glenn wasn't much longer for this world.

The Walking Dead is based on a comic book series, and while the show doesn't always align with the comics, many of the major events are the same. Aware that his character died in the source material, Yeun just had to wait to see which direction the writers would take. When it finally happened, he was both sad and relieved — he missed his co-stars and being part of the show, but at the same time, he admitted that he felt "trapped" while playing Glenn. "I never felt like he got his fair due. I never felt like he got it from an outward perception," Yeun told IndieWire. "That person was inherently trapped in whatever people thought he was."

Michael Pitt - Boardwalk Empire

When a showrunner knows that a particular character is going to die in upcoming episodes, they often make an effort to tell the actor face to face. If they can't arrange a meeting in person, a phone call might suffice. Unfortunately for some actors, this isn't always the case, and they find out in a less personal manner. Just ask Michael Pitt, who played Jimmy Darmody on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire.

Game of Thrones received lots of praise for being bold enough to kill off major characters like Ned Stark early on in the show, but it wasn't the first series to do so — when Jimmy died in season 2, Boardwalk Empire fans were caught off guard because he was a main character. While shooting the first season, Pitt wondered if Jimmy's life would be on the line eventually — in fact, he requested that his character go out "in the worst way possible" — but when it was time to tell Pitt, executive producer Martin Scorsese was fishing in upstate New York with no cell service, so series creator Terence Winter had to email him instead. "Ultimately, I felt horrible, but I had to send him an email: 'I don't want you to get the script and read this, but you sort of knew where this was going,'" he told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was totally fine with it."

Scarlett Johansson - Avengers: Endgame

Tony Stark wasn't the only Avenger who gave his life for the cause in Endgame. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, was also one of the casualties. In order for Clint Barton to retrieve the Soul Stone, the Red Skull required the sacrifice of someone he loved, and Romanoff had no choice but to follow his command and hope that the Avengers would succeed in their quest. Thankfully, her character's death was not in vain.

Naturally, Johansson felt sorry for her character when she learned that Natasha wouldn't survive the film, but she got a pretty sweet consolation prize: she would be starring in the MCU Phase 4 film Black Widow, which would reveal her character's backstory. Studio head Kevin Feige gave her the good and bad news around the same time. "Well, I guess, it may be sort of simultaneous? I don't know, all time is an illusion. It gets all blended together at this point," she joked in an interview with ComicBook.com. "But Kevin [Feige] may have been saying that just to soften the blow. I know how it goes!"

Ian McElhinney - Game of Thrones

Every actor who signed on to Game of Thrones knew that their character's survival was never guaranteed, but some of the actors thought they had a pretty good idea of their characters' lifespans — as long as the writers followed the books. For better or worse, the script deviated from the source material on plenty of occasions, meaning that some were in for a nasty shock when the writers killed them off early. That's exactly what happened to Ian McHelinney, who played Daenerys' advisor Ser Barristan.

An avid fan of the books, McHelinney knew that Barristan was still alive in George R.R. Martin's story, and he assumed he'd be sticking around for season 6. He realized something was up when he received the season 5 shooting schedule and found out that he was only slated to appear in a few episodes. When he got a call from the showrunners about his early exit, he learned that Ser Barristan would be murdered by the Sons of the Harpy during their rebellion against Daenerys in Meereen. "I thought this season I was going to have more to do, and I was really looking forward to that," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm disappointed. But I think you have to accept — as I have accepted — that the demands of TV are different than the demand of book writing."