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The Entire Dexter Timeline Explained

"Tonight's the night." With those three simple words, we meet Dexter Morgan, blood spatter analyst by day, serial killer of those who have managed to weasel their way out of justice by night. Despite this out-there premise, "Dexter" explores the primal questions that define a person's life. What is the nature of good and evil? How should one find and define their place in society? And, biggest of all, what does it mean to love? All this and more is wrapped up in 96 episodes (so far).

As is to be expected, a whole lot of blood is spilled over the course of the show's eight seasons. This mayhem happens for lots of different reasons, and can't be solely attributed to Dexter's proclivities, or those of his prey. So much happens in "Dexter," in fact, that it can be difficult to keep track of it all. Dexter Morgan may live in darkness, but his fans don't have to. This is the entire "Dexter" timeline, broken down from the show's bloody beginning to its fiendish finale.

Making a monster with a moral code

Young Dexter Moser and his older brother Brian are traumatized when their mother, Laura, is brutally murdered before their very eyes. Dexter and Brian are left in a pool of her blood for two days before cops, including Dexter's eventual adoptive father, Harry Morgan, discover them.

Harry adopts three-year-old Dexter, but resigns seven-year-old Brian to a life in foster care, because he believes the boy is too damaged to ever readjust. But, as Harry quickly discovers, Dexter isn't all that well-adjusted either, displaying all kinds of violent tendencies. So, Harry gives Dexter a code that dictates he must only kill guilty people and never get caught.

When Dexter kills his first person as a teenager, Harry finds him in the carefully orchestrated act. The brutality of it shocks Harry into suicide, an event that is whitewashed as a heart attack for most of Dexter's life. In Season 8, we learn that Harry was actually working under the instruction of Dr. Evelyn Vogel, a psychiatrist with a specialty in psychopathy who is the person who truly created Dexter's code and instructed Harry in how to implement it.

The Ice Truck Killer

Each season of "Dexter" pits Dexter against a serial killer. Season 1 focuses on the Ice Truck Killer, a man who kidnaps and murders sex workers, drains their blood, and paints their fingernails different colors before dumping their bodies. Dexter is intrigued by the lack of blood, and also the fact that the Ice Truck Killer seems to know exactly who he is. Meanwhile, Dexter's sister, Debra, begins dating Rudy Cooper, a handsome doctor who works in prosthetics and eventually asks her to marry him. She eagerly accepts. 

Debra is also a cop trying to move from vice to homicide, and she enlists Dexter's help in solving the Ice Truck Killer case. Things come to a head when it turns out that Rudy is actually Brian Moser, Dexter's brother, who has also turned into a serial killer. When Brian kidnaps Debra and offers her on a slab for Dexter to murder, Dexter is torn between his love for his adoptive sister and his desire to know his brother. Ultimately, he chooses Debra. Dexter kills Brian and makes it look like a suicide, a decision that ends up haunting him for the rest of his life.

Meeting Dexter's colleagues and girlfriend

Season 1 introduces a number of characters who are vital to Dexter's personal life and career. Dexter's colleague in the forensics lab, Vince Masuka, is a DNA expert who brings some much-needed comedy into the darkness of Dexter's world. Dexter's boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta, initially nurses a crush on Dexter, which seasoned fans might be shocked to recall, given later events. She tries to ask him out on multiple occasions before being quietly rebuffed. 

In contrast, Sergeant James Doakes resolutely distrusts Dexter. Doakes is the only one who suspects Dexter's nice guy veneer is a sham, but he has nothing but intuition to go on ... at first. Two more of Dexter's bosses, Detective Angel Batista and Chief Thomas Matthews, round out his working life. The latter man was a close friend of Harry Morgan, and the one responsible for helping both Deb and Dex get into law enforcement themselves.

Season 1 also introduces Dexter's girlfriend Rita Bennett, and her children, Astor and Cody. Rita has been badly abused by her jailbird ex-husband Paul, and Dexter only begins dating her because she doesn't like sex and makes for good cover. Dexter frames Paul to get him back in prison, an event that echoes across his turbulent relationship with Rita.

The Bay Harbor Butcher

As Dexter tries to move on from killing his brother Brian, divers off the coast of Biscayne Bay discover his gruesome body dumping ground. Thus, Dexter finds himself investigating, well, himself in Season 2.

It is Debra Morgan, promoted to homicide, who discovers the link between the identified victims of the Bay Harbor Butcher: They all had criminal pasts and escaped accountability. Doakes' bad feeling about Dexter only heightens, as the fear of being caught causes Dexter to act more irrationally than usual. Special Agent Frank Lundy's arrival complicates things further, especially when he begins a secret romance with Debra. 

Dexter's relationship with Rita suffers, and he pretends to be a drug addict to throw Rita (and Doakes) off the scent. This leads to entanglement with a beautiful Narcotics Anonymous member named Lila West, who shares Dexter's violent tendencies. Things comes to a head when Doakes IDs Dexter as the Butcher through his blood slide trophies. Dexter kidnaps Doakes and takes him to a remote cabin, which Lila finds by stealing Dexter's GPS. She kills Doakes upon learning he plans to expose Dexter, and proceeds to threaten Rita's children. Dexter tracks her down in Europe, where he fatally stabs her. Doakes, tragically, is framed as having been the Bay Harbor Butcher.

Miguel Prado and the Skinner

Rita has had it with Dexter ... until she finds out she's pregnant in Season 3. This information sends Dexter into freefall: Can he possibly be a family man? He ends up taking a leap and asks Rita to marry him. Further complicating matters, Dexter goes after a drug dealer named Freebo and accidentally kills a stranger instead. Said stranger ends up being Oscar Prado, beloved brother of Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado, and Maria LaGuerta's ex. 

When Miguel finds Dexter actually killing Freebo, he charms Dexter into confessing he's a serial killer and convinces him they should team up. Dexter is still not over choosing Debra instead of Brian, and falls in deep with Miguel. Eventually, however, he realizes Miguel has used him to learn how to get away with murder after Miguel butchers Ellen Wolf, a rival defense attorney.

All the while, the Miami Metro homicide team is investigating a serial killer they call the Skinner. These plots converge when Miguel enlists the Skinner, aka George King, a Nicaraguan war criminal, to kill Dexter. Dexter manages to kill Miguel first and make it look like the Skinner's work. This doesn't stop the Skinner from going after Dexter, however. Dexter barely escapes, and manages to make it look like the Skinner hung himself. The season closes with Dexter and Rita getting married, a droplet of blood from his hidden Skinner injury landing on her dress.

Debra's complex personal life

In Season 3, Debra Morgan gets a new partner in Joey Quinn, whose brash personality and corner-cutting when it comes to procedure rub her the wrong way. Things gets worse when one of Quinn's confidential informants, Anton Briggs, turns out not to be on the books at all, even though Debra has been questioning him about the Skinner killings. Eventually, this makes him one of the Skinner's targets. 

Complicating things further is the fact that Debra and Anton develop feelings for each other. Their inappropriate relationship comes hot on the heels of Agent Lundy leaving her for a new case, even though they'd planned to take an extended holiday together. Here, we begin to see how much romantic fallout has taken a toll on Debra, though she doesn't let anyone but Dexter see it. While Debra and Quinn don't officially hook up for a while, Season 3 sets the tone for their roller-coaster relationship.

The Trinity Killer

Dexter begins Season 4 with a new home and a new son in little Harrison. But things aren't going smoothly: Dexter is under constant surveillance by his family and neighbors, leading him to kill folks that don't actually fit Harry's code. When Debra discovers that he's secretly kept his apartment, she puts more pressure on him to fully engage with his relationship. 

In the meantime, Frank Lundy returns to town on the hunt for The Trinity Killer. This killer murders according to a set cycle: First, he kills a young woman in a bathtub, then he forces a mother of two to jump from a great height, and finally, he bludgeons a middle-aged father to death. It takes Dexter all of five minutes to ID Trinity as Arthur Mitchell, a church deacon who uses build sites to kill and dump a previously unknown fourth victim in the cycle: Young boys he buries alive.

Using the alias Kyle Butler, Dexter ingratiates himself with Arthur, who maintains a public façade as a gregarious family man. Dexter quickly discovers that Arthur is a monster behind closed doors as well, physically and verbally abusing his family into terrorized submission. After a series of tense chases, Dexter finally gets Arthur on his table ... but not before Arthur murders Rita in the bathtub, leaving Harrison in a huge pool of her blood, just as Dexter was left as a child.

Debra and Lundy give it a go

Lundy's return to Miami Metro and Debra's life begins as a shock, but the pair quickly fall back into their old romance. Debra feels hopeful it will work this time, since Lundy is retired. Unfortunately, Debra's love life continues to be marred by tragedy when both she and Lundy are shot in cold blood. Lundy dies on scene from his wounds. 

The Trinity Killer initially seems like the most likely culprit, as Lundy was hot on his tail. But the investigation takes a sharp turn when we find out that Joey Quinn's manipulative journalist girlfriend Christine Hill is to blame. As it turns out, she's actually Arthur Mitchell's estranged daughter, and she shot Lundy and Debra in the hopes of winning back her father's affections. When she realizes that isn't going to happen, she kills herself in front of an already massively traumatized Debra.

The Barrel Girl Gang

"It was me," a distraught Dexter tells police after finding Rita's body. This odd statement sticks in Joey Quinn's craw so firmly that he hires a recently fired and bitter ex-cop Stan Liddy to help him tail Dexter. This complicates Dexter's life immensely, especially after he becomes entangled with Lumen Pierce, a survivor of the Barrel Girl Gang. Indeed, Season 5's serial killer isn't an individual, but a group of five men. Together, they go on a yearly "boys' trip" during which they kidnap a young blonde woman, sexually assault and torture her, then dump her brutalized body in a lye-filled barrel.

Dexter decides to help Lumen hunt down the men who hurt her. Eventually, Lumen and Dexter track down Jordan Chase, a motivational speaker and the perverse group's leader, to the camp where the gang's gruesome activities began.

Little do the pair know, however, that Debra is hot on their trail, without knowing who they are. She arrives at the camp after Dexter and Lumen have killed Chase, and gives them an hour to clean up and skedaddle. Thanks to plastic sheeting, she never gets a good look at them. Lumen finds peace in this final kill, and leaves Miami for good.

Joey Quinn and Stan Liddy

The enmity between Quinn and Dexter heats up further in Season 5, especially once Quinn tracks down Arthur Mitchell's son, Jonah, who is in witness protection. In the process, he almost IDs Dexter as Kyle Butler. Simultaneously, Quinn begins a relationship with Debra that quickly becomes intense. This causes Quinn to have second thoughts about pursuing Dexter, as it might jeopardize his new romance.

Unfortunately, Stan Liddy refuses to let his assignment go. He manages to get his hands on video footage of Lumen and Dexter dumping one of the Barrel Girl Gang's bodies in the usual spot. When Liddy tries to blackmail Dexter, Dexter kills him and accidentally leaves evidence on Quinn's shoe. This leads to Quinn's arrest, forcing Dexter to fudge the blood report, though he denies doing any such thing when Quinn attempts to thank him. This marks the first end of Debra and Quinn's romance.

The Doomsday Killer

A full year passes between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6. Dexter continues to struggle with fatherhood, serial killing, and his work at Miami Metro. He hires Angel's sister Jamie to be Harrison's nanny, freeing up time to find an old classmate, hunt a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy, and journey to Nebraska to investigate Jonah Mitchell, whom Dexter thinks might be following in his father's footsteps. All the while, Dexter is utterly off the rails and no longer operating according to Harry's code. 

Season 6's main plot revolves around the Doomsday Killer, a religious fanatic initially thought to be Professor James Gellar. This killer sets up gruesome biblical tableaus all over southeast Florida. Eventually, however, we find out that Travis Marshall, who first appears to be Gellar's mostly-innocent assistant, actually killed the unfortunate professor years before. He's been hallucinating Gellar ever since.

Travis kidnaps Harrison, intending to murder him, which Dexter is able to prevent. Dexter ultimately tracks him down to an abandoned church and affixes him to a table. Just as he plunges his knife into Travis' heart, Debra walks in. "Oh God," Dexter says, as the season ends.

Miami Metro's many shake-ups

Season 6 sees Maria LaGuerta get promoted to captain in an unscrupulous way: She blackmails Captain Matthews after helping him cover up a sex worker's overdose. As a final twist of his own knife, Matthews appoints Debra Morgan instead of Angel Batista to LaGuerta's old spot as lieutenant, despite knowing Angel is more qualified. Debra has problems of her own: It turns out her intense feelings for Dexter are not at all familial. She is about to tell Dexter about her not-so-sisterly love when she finds him killing Travis Marshall.

Dexter's colleague Vince Masuka causes his own stir this season by hiring a cute intern named Ryan. Unfortunately, she's looking to steal from the evidence locker, not learn about forensics. After selling one of the Ice Truck Killer's trophy mannequin hands, Masuka fires Ryan and hires Louis Greene, a web developer. As it turns out, he's weirdly obsessed with Dexter and happens to be the person who purchased the pilfered Ice Truck Killer hand. Louis has a strange role to play in Dexter's life going forward.

The Bay Harbor Butcher returns

Season 7 contains a number of competing and complicated plots. It picks up right where Season 6 leaves off, with Debra finding Dexter over Travis Marshall's body. Dexter manages to convince Deb this was a one-off, and she helps him set fire to the church. But in their rush to cover up Dexter's crime, Dexter drops his trophy blood slide, which Maria LaGuerta finds. Doakes wasn't the Bay Harbor Butcher, she realizes — Dexter is.

LaGuerta runs with this theory, even going to Matthews with her suspicions. But Matthews hasn't forgiven her, and he tips Dexter off. Dexter and Debra both plant evidence to gaslight LaGuerta. She resorts to releasing Hector Estrada, one of the men who killed Dexter's mother, in order to catch Dexter in the act. 

LaGuerta's plan almost works. Eventually, however, Dexter devises a plan to kill both her and Estrada. As Dexter stages their murders, Debra arrives. Soon after, LaGuerta wakes up from sedation. LaGuerta begs Deb to kill Dexter, or at least arrest him, but instead, Debra murders LaGuerta in cold blood. This is the beginning of the end for her and her brother.

The arrival of the Koshka Brotherhood and Hannah McKay

Season 7 also features a storyline that starts when Deb's new detective, Mike Anderson, is killed by a Koshka Brotherhood mob enforcer named Viktor Baskov. This brings in Viktor's lover, Isaak Sirko, the group's leader. This subplot further ropes in Louis Greene, whose obsession with Dexter has turned extra weird. He ends up getting killed by Sirko on Dexter's boat. Things get further complicated when Quinn becomes entangled with a woman who works at one of the Koshka Brotherhood's strip clubs.

Season 7 also introduces enigmatic poisoner Hannah McKay, who ends up falling in love with Dexter. Through Hannah, Dexter sees a future for himself and his son. He decides he's willing to give up everything he's built in Miami to be with her — until Hannah poisons Debra, and she almost dies in a car accident. Dexter once again chooses his sister, and gets Hannah thrown in jail for the murder of Sal Price, a journalist writing a book about her. Hannah, ever resourceful, fakes a seizure and escapes.

The Brain Surgeon

In Season 8, Miami Metro is on the hunt for the Brain Surgeon, a serial killer who removes the portion of the brain that corresponds to empathy. To assist, they bring in Dr. Evelyn Vogel, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist with particular expertise in psychopaths. Dexter quickly finds out that Dr. Vogel knew his father, and that she was the one who actually created Harry's code. Dexter also discovers that Dr. Vogel's own son, Oliver Saxon, is the Brain Surgeon. In a tense showdown, Saxon kills his mother and sends Dexter on a wild chase.

All the while, a severely traumatized Debra Morgan quits Miami Metro and goes to work for a private investigation firm. Debra's romantic feelings toward her brother have shifted into hatred: When she learns her father killed himself upon confronting Dexter's madness, Debra tries to kill herself and her brother by driving her car into the water.

Meanwhile, Hannah McKay returns to Miami. She rekindles her relationship with Dexter so intensely that when Dexter finally has the Brain Surgeon on his table, he realizes he only wants to be with Hannah and Harrison in Argentina. He spares Saxon and calls Debra to arrest him. Saxon escapes, however, and shoots Debra square in the gut before fleeing.

The end arrives

"Dexter" closes with a series of tragedies. Debra slips into a vegetative state, spurring Dexter to find Saxon, who has been arrested. Dexter kills him with a pen, and manages to make it look like an act of self defense. Meanwhile, Hurricane Laura is barreling toward Miami. Dexter sends Harrison off to catch a flight to Buenos Aires with Hannah, promising he will meet them there. 

Dexter takes Debra off life support, then wraps up her body and sinks it in his usual spot. This act acknowledges that, in the end, Debra is Dexter's final victim.

While Hannah and Harrison do make it to Buenos Aires, the news reports that Dexter Morgan died in the hurricane: His boat is found among the wreckage with no body in sight. As it turns out, Dexter Morgan faked his death. Our last glimpse of him captures a silent, bearded man who works as a lumberjack and lives alone in a cabin out in the Pacific Northwest.

Dexter's loose ends

Dexter Morgan might manage to fake his death, but he leaves behind a number of loose ends.

Hannah McKay's friend Arlene Shram knows the truth about Dexter and their plans to go to Buenos Aires. Arlene is on the radar of private investigator Jacob Elway to boot. Then there's Lumen Pierce, who knows almost every single one of Dexter's secrets. She'll probably keep quiet, given her own dark acts — but can she stay silent forever?

The Trinity Killer's son, Jonah Mitchell, also knows about Dexter, as well as his alias, Kyle Butler. Last we see him, he's out in Nebraska. Joey Quinn came darn close to questioning him: Might Quinn revisit his theory that Dexter isn't who he seemed, now that he and Debra are both apparently dead?

We also have Dexter's stepchildren, Astor and Cody, to consider, who live in Orlando with their grandparents. Astor knows that Dexter has beat up abusers in her orbit, and that they've left town, been thrown in jail, or ended up dead — starting with her father, Paul Bennett. Does she suspect Dexter? 

Finally, Captain Matthews knows LaGuerta believed Dexter was the Bay Harbor Butcher. Might innocent Sergeant Doakes' name finally be cleared? Time will tell when "Dexter" returns for its ninth season.