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The Most Tragic Characters In TV History

In the long history of television, there have been many characters who, for one reason or another, have faced a tragic situation. Even sitcoms occasionally force their characters to deal with the harsh realities of real life. A character might die, face an illness, or lose their job, all of which is fairly normal TV storytelling. TV also has a history of creating characters who have seen far more than their fair share of tragedy, though. For whatever reason, these characters seem to be doomed to suffer, no matter where they find themselves in life. 

The following characters haven't just faced one tragedy — they've faced several. In the face of this unending wave of misery, some characters become utterly crippled by fear and sadness. Others, meanwhile, decide to persevere in spite of the insane level of adversity that they face. Whatever their reaction to it is, though, it's impossible to deny that each of these characters has suffered more than any person, real or fictional, ever should. 

John Locke (Lost)

John Locke is the tragic heart of Lost. He endured a heartbreaking childhood as an orphan and then met his real father, only to discover that the man was a con artist, deceiving him so that he could eventually steal his kidney. Then, after his father broke his heart, Locke tried to keep him from hurting other people. For that, he was shoved out of an eighth-floor window, causing paralysis that kept him in a wheelchair for the next four years. 

When Locke emerges on the island, it seems like he's put his past tragedies behind him. On the island, though, he finds that he can't leave his past behind. John's faith is tested repeatedly, and he ultimately leaves the island in order to convince others that they have to come back. When he fails, he attempts to hang himself, only to be given renewed hope by Ben Linus, his former enemy. Then, Ben strangles him, ending the life of a man who was beset by tragedy at a young age and suffered constantly for years afterward. 

Will Byers (Stranger Things)

Will's disappearance is the mystery at the heart of the first season of Stranger Things, but things don't necessarily get better for him once he's been reunited with his friends. After spending a week in the Upside Down, Will is haunted and taunted by the evil forces that still live in that parallel universe. His mother is eventually forced to perform a sort of exorcism in order to rid him of the evil forces from the Upside Down that are seeking to control him. 

Things are a little bit calmer for Will in the third season of Stranger Things, but he still has to recover from the fact that his mom's boyfriend was murdered and deal with the fallout from his mother's decision to move the family away from Hawkins. You can also add a deadbeat dad who doesn't have any interest in him to the list of Will's tragedies. Will's life may be on an upswing, but he's had to deal with plenty of terrible stuff for a kid his age. 

Meredith Grey (Grey's Anatomy)

When you're the lead of a show that's run for more than a decade, you're bound to face some tragedy. That's even more true when the show is Grey's Anatomy, which is not at all afraid to throw its characters into truly terrible situations. Meredith Grey has seen her fair share of trauma over the years. She's lost her husband to a car accident, been in a plane crash, and had to deal with a shooter inside of her hospital. 

Meredith isn't alone in facing traumatic events in the show, but she's been around longer than basically anyone else. Grey's Anatomy is a drama series in the truest sense of the word, which means that its heroine is often forced to go through the ringer. At the end of the day, though, Meredith and the show around her are optimistic about the human condition. Grey's Anatomy is a series about hope, even if its heroine is one of the most traumatized women on television. 

Jesse Pinkman (Breaking Bad)

When Jesse Pinkman meets Walter White, he's a bit of a degenerate, but he's still a kid. He's got a meth addiction and is a low-level drug dealer, but he isn't a murderer and is still basically a good person. Over the course of his relationship with Walt, though, all of that basically evaporates. He loses Jane, the girlfriend he loves, and basically everything else in his life. By the end of season 5, Jesse has been imprisoned by actual Nazis and is being forced to cook meth for them in chains. 

By the standards of Breaking Bad, Jesse gets a relatively happy ending. He doesn't die, and he has a chance to lead a relatively normal life. Still, Jesse is unlikely to ever recover from the trauma he faced throughout his time with Walt, and he'll always be looking over his shoulder. Jesse lost everything, and he was forced to start over. That fresh start isn't the worst thing in the world, but it doesn't change everything that he's already been through. 

Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones)

Unlike many of the characters on this list, Sansa ultimately gets a happy ending. She's crowned Queen in the North and is respected as the leader that she's grown into over the course of the show. Unfortunately, Sansa's journey on Game of Thrones came with a lot of pain and suffering, too. She saw her father get beheaded, was betrothed to a sociopathic monster who loved to torture and murder people, and was ultimately sold into marriage to another sadist who repeatedly assaulted her. 

Things get better for Sansa later on in the show, but the traumas that she faces in those early seasons are ones that will ultimately define her life. While the series may believe that they were ultimately necessary to turn Sansa in to the queen she eventually becomes, the truth of the matter is that trauma doesn't shape or mold you. It just exists with you, a painful reminder of the terrible things you've already lived through. Sansa may lead a good life now that she's an adult, but her past doesn't just go away. 

Kenny (South Park)

For most of the characters on this list, their tragedies are part of who they are, but they're not the only thing that defines them. Unfortunately for Kenny, his tragic life and death(s) is basically the only thing most people know about him. Whether he's offered up as a sacrifice or decapitated with a pair of scissors, Kenny dying is as common on South Park as profanity, and it's something he's magically recovered from at the beginning of the next episode. 

If Kenny remembers what has happened to him, it means that he's the most traumatized character in the history of the medium. Even if he doesn't, though, that doesn't make the tragedy of his repeated deaths mean any less. Kenny dies for our amusement, and while that is undeniably hilarious, it's also a tragedy of epic proportions. After all, we didn't laugh when Ned Stark was decapitated, and it only happened to him once. For Kenny, death is as familiar as every other part of life. It's a routine. 

D'Angelo Barksdale (The Wire)

The Wire is a show about tragedy. Its characters are all victim of a system that none of them had a hand in creating, and their lives and deaths don't mean anything in the face of the system that they exist within. Although any number of Wire characters could have qualified for this list, including Bubbles, Wallace, and even Stringer Bell, D'Angelo Barksdale is the character whose tragedy is the most profound. 

Over the course of the show, D'Angelo loses friends and eventually takes a lengthy prison sentence after being convinced by his own mother that he shouldn't turn against the drug empire that has fueled his family. Even when he's in prison, Stringer determines that D'Angelo may still have information that could compromise the organization. As a result, D'Angelo is killed in prison, and it's made to look like a suicide. Even after he took a 20-year sentence, he wasn't safe from the organization that he had once been deeply loyal to. 

Toby Flenderson (The Office)

The most obviously tragic thing about Toby in The Office is the way he's treated by Michael, his manager. Michael is not nice to his other employees, but his insensitivity is never malicious and generally stems from his own idiocy. With Toby, though, it's personal. Michael hates Toby because of what he represents. Toby's an HR man, and, as Michael sees it, he's there to tell Michael he can't do whatever he wants at all times. 

The tragedy of Toby's life extends far beyond Michael, though. He's a glum, humdrum man who's divorced from his wife and has a daughter that he tries desperately to please. He's not beloved by anyone in the office, although no one hates him in quite the way Michael does. What's more, he has an affection for Pam that is apparent to everyone but is not reciprocated. Good things rarely happen to Toby. Although he hasn't been physically abused the way some of the other characters on this list were, the emotional abuse he's gone through is more than enough to make him a deeply tragic figure. 

Matt Jamison (The Leftovers)

Throughout its run, The Leftovers offered fans a thorough examination of what depression and misery look like. The show tells the story of a group of characters who are living in a world where two percent of earth's population has vanished with no explanation. In the wake of that event, everyone's lives are in ruin, and that's especially true of Matt Jamison. Matt starts the show as a devoted pastor who is preaching to a tiny congregation, one that has largely lost faith in the wake of the devastation of the mass disappearance. 

Over the course of the series, Matt has a reckoning with his own faith in a series of standalone episodes that feel almost like stories out of the Book of Job. In these episodes, Matt is tested over and over again. He gets locked out of the town he's living in, mugged, or is party to a lion escape. The episodes are filled with crazy, strange events, and they all seem designed to test his faith. Ultimately, Matt dies of cancer, never fully resolving his own faith, even as he comes to accept that his life is coming to an end. 

Bojack Horseman (Bojack Horseman)

Of the many characters on this list, Bojack Horseman is the most complicated. Plenty of tragedy has certainly befallen him as a character, but that tragedy isn't as cosmic as he might want it to be. Instead, Bojack is personally responsible for much of his own suffering, in part because he's both a narcissist and an addict. He's partially responsible for the death of Sarah Lynn, one of his co-stars on the show that made him a star. He's largely friendless, mostly because he alienates anyone who tries to get close to him. 

Bojack is undoubtedly a sad figure, but that's partially because of his own decisions. There's no doubt that he had a rough childhood. His father was cruel to both him and his mother, and his mother was horrendously abusive toward her son. All of that informs the tragedy of Bojack's life, even as he seems perpetually incapable of making the decisions that would require him to grow. Instead, he's caught in a loop where he perpetuates his life's greatest tragedies over and over again. 

Carl Grimes (The Walking Dead)

The Walking Dead is another show where every character is, in one way or another, tragic. After all, each and every one of these characters is living through a zombie apocalypse. In terms of the character who has the most tragedy placed in their lap, though, that has to be Carl Grimes. Carl goes from being a pretty innocent kid in the show's early seasons to being a hardened killer by the time he dies. 

Along the way, he loses his mother, fights off countless hordes of zombies, and has to kill a few people as well. Carl learns to be a ruthless killer, just like everyone else who's still alive in the world of the series. Even though he learns how to do what it takes to survive, Carl's life ultimately ends tragically. He's bitten by a zombie, and instead of turning into one himself, he decides to take his own life. Even after he was forced to grow up way too fast, it wasn't ultimately enough to save him. 

Christopher Moltisanti (The Sopranos)

Christopher Moltisanti is troubled from the second we meet him. He's a young mobster, eager to prove himself, and he's lost his father. As a result, he relies primarily on Tony to act as a father figure for him, and that doesn't always work out the way Christopher might hope it would. Christopher struggles with addiction throughout his time on The Sopranos and eventually develops a reputation as a screwup who is incapable of completing any job right. 

In the end, Christopher is one of Tony's many victims. Tony may love Christopher like a son, but his priority is always going to be the family business, and no person can get in the way of that. Christopher dies at the hands of the man he once thought he could trust with his life. He's a victim of mob philosophy, where death is just the ultimate punishment for being bad at your job. It's a tragedy, even though it's one that Christopher probably should have seen coming.