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The Most Brutal Deaths In The Sopranos

Before the 1990s, TV shows often dealt with adult themes ("Dragnet," "Hill Street Blues"), but rarely depicted anything close to tangible, horrifying, real-world violence. "Miami Vice" was cool and glamorous, but violent? No, not even by the standards of the 1980s. 

This all changed in the '90s, with envelope-pushing network series like "NYPD Blue" and "Twin Peaks," and the rise of HBO. Unrestricted by traditional broadcast standards, showrunners dealt with adult themes in adult ways — and the result was shows like the 1999 – 2007 run of "The Sopranos," which followed in the footsteps of 1997 – 2003's "Oz," a brutal HBO prison drama that took many viewers into a fictionalized but "real" prison environment for the first time. 

During its 86 episodes, Tony Soprano's mobster friends and family amassed a body count of just under 100 people. As this comprehensive infographic details, these hapless souls were dispatched in a wide variety of ways. But, which were the most brutal? Let's take a closer look at the carnage — but first, you might want to put on a raincoat to protect your clothes from pesky blood stains. 

Tony Kills Fabian Pretrulio – Season 1, Episode 5

While "The Sopranos" had a critically-beloved run that resulted in 21 Emmys, "College" (Season 1, Episode 5) might be the most highly-regarded episode, right up there with "Pine Barrens" and "Whoever Did This."

The defining encapsulation of Tony Soprano's balancing act as half gangster, half family man, the episode employed this stark contrast to depict a man attempting to violently multi-task, but with both worlds constantly threatening to fall apart. Okay, maybe Tony was more like 3/4 gangster, 1/4 family man. 

The episode began with Tony and his daughter Meadow touring universities in Maine, some 500 miles away from New Jersey. During a stop at a gas station, Tony noticed a familiar figure cleaning his car. When Christopher Moltisanti ran the plates, Tony knew it was Fabian Petrulio, a former "made guy" who was put into the witness protection program after becoming a valuable informant. 

Of course, Fabian spotted Tony, too — and the result was a sharp detour from college recruitment. After 24 hours of following each other, Tony proved himself to be a 250-lb ninja, pouncing on Fabian with a Garrotte wire, strangling him to death. It would be the first of Tony Soprano's eight murders on the show.

Brendan shot in the eye – Season 1, Episode 3

The first season of "The Sopranos" made several nods to "The Godfather" series, playing off audience expectations based on the characters in those classic Francis Ford Coppola films. 

Silvio's impersonation of Michael Corleone's famous "Godfather III" declaration ("Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!") was taken a step further with the hit on Brendan Filone, Christopher Moltisanti's friend and "colleague." As Brendan relaxed in a steamy bath, slimeball Mikey Palmice shot him in the eye — just like Moe Greene in the first "Godfather."

The audience never sees the impact of the bullet — that's conveyed with some elaborate toe acting — but we did see the grisly aftermath. There aren't too many good ways to shuffle off this mortal coil, but poor Brendan may have met one of the worst.

The Mustang Sally debacle -- Season 3, Episode 5

Season 3, Episode 5 opened with Mustang Sally, a despicable scumbag, attacking Bryan Spatafore with a golf club, causing massive damage to his skull and leaving him for dead on the sidewalk. Performed by the late Brian Tarantina, Sally did this during a public argument with his girlfriend, who had the nerve to ask Bryan for a lift uptown.

Unfortunately for Sally, Bryan was the brother of Vito, one of Tony's men. Soon enough, Mustang Sally had a target on his head, and Tony wanted Bobby Baccalieri Sr. to do the hit, even though he was suffering from advanced lung cancer. Actor Burt Young must have given himself a raw throat, as most of his work here is conveyed through a series of coughing and spluttering. It was a wheezing, eye-watering, gory cough that was hard to watch.

Although concerns were voiced about Bobby's suitability for this hit (especially from his son Bobby Jr.), Bobby Sr. possessed a serious case of bloodlust. Mustang Sally being his godson seemed to only add to the excitement of the hit, which unfolded with a blown-off ear and brain matter on the ceiling. 

Once he was done, a blood spattered Bobby Sr. drove away smoking a pack of Camels, sending his shredded throat into such a frenzy that he crashed into a signpost and died on impact. An utter debacle, all around.

Ralph Cifaretto beats Tracee to death – Season 3, Episode 6

In an interview with the University of Vermont, actress Ariel Kiley said that the murder of her character — Tracee, a stripper at the Bada Bing — caused "a lot of subscribers" to cancel their HBO service. If any episode was going to have that effect, "University" was it.

It was a truly rancid 50 minutes, much of it focusing on the cyclical nature of Silvio Dante's club, where women come and go like they're on a production line. During her brief stint at the club, Tracee became attached to Ralph Cifaretto, perhaps the worst individual in Tony Soprano's gang of psychopaths. Already a single mother, we learned of her deprived, abusive upbringing, which had given her an endearing vulnerability but also a repressed anger. Soon, Tracee was carrying Ralph's baby, but he went days without calling her.

During a debauched party at the Bada Bing, Tracee and Ralph argued in the dark, dank car park. He easily manipulated her with talk of sharing a "little house," but the talk soon turned contentious, leading her to attack Ralph and strike him around the face. Ralph responded with a backhand blow before punching her to the ground and smashing her face against a guardrail, killing her. I

It was a sickening end to one of the show's most pitiful victims.

Tony Kills Ralph Cifaretto -- Season 4, Episode 9

Tony never liked Ralph Cifaretto, even before he killed Tracee or refused a conciliatory drink. The only thing that kept Ralph breathing was his ability to crack heads and earn money. 

That changed, however, with the death of Ralph's racehorse Pie-O-My, for whom Tony had genuine affection. Although the old girl got some big wins at the track, she was blighted with colic and other expensive maladies, costing Ralph thousands in medical bills. Ralph also had to share his winnings with Tony because in the mob world, everything flows up. 

So, when Pie-O-My died in a stable fire, Tony became suspicious. The fire department declared it an accident, but Tony knew Ralph had access to skilled arsonists such as Corky Ianucci — hired to immolate Artie Bucco's restaurant in Season 1. After viewing Pie-O-My's charred remains, he drove to Ralphie's house to break the bad news. Sincere condolences were then followed by snide remarks, which were followed by physical violence involving a colander, a carving knife, and a can of bug spray. 

In this violent tussle, Tony overpowered Ralph and began battering his head into the stone tiled floor, shouting: "She was a beautiful, innocent creature, what did she ever do to you?!" Whether he was referring to Pie-O-My, Tracee or perhaps both was unclear. 

Paulie suffocates Minn Matrone – Season 4, Episode 12

Paulie Gualtieri was a stone cold gangster — a career criminal among career criminals. But like any good Italian boy, he also loved his mother, Nucci (Frances Esemplare). 

Just as Tony did in Seasons 1 and 2, Paulie paid for his "ma" to be in the finest retirement community in north Jersey, but she struggled to fit in with her clique — who were arrogant and disdainful — especially Minn Matrone, who lived outside the commune but made regular visits. Paulie was on his best behavior around the "girls," yet was ultimately unsuccessful in endearing his mother to the catty pensioners, who thought Nucci was the mother of a no-good crook. 

What else could Paulie do but live up to that designation? When he got wind of Minn's life savings, which she stashed under her bed, Paulie —  struggling to find good earners and with a relationship with Tony under strain — broke into Minn's house, rummaged under her bed, and smothered her to death. 

This plot development didn't go down well with Tony Sirico, who pleaded with showrunner David Chase for an edit. "David, I come from a tough neighborhood," the actor recalled saying in a 2012 Vanity Fair oral history of the series. "If I go home and they see that I killed a woman, it's going to make me look bad."

Chris and Paulie accidentally whack a waiter – Season 5, Episode 1

Chris and Paulie had one of the most amusingly contentious relationship on the show, always bickering and often times coming to blows. This acrimony was central to "Pine Barrens," a self-contained story of the hapless pair lost in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. 

Their relationship's most brutal occasion occurred outside a restaurant, after Chris had been forced to foot a $1200 tab that Paulie increased with frivolous purchases. Just as the pair began to square off, a waiter approached them with complaints over his small tip. Much like Michael Imperioli's previous character Spider in "Goodfellas," the waiter made the fatal error of insulting two egotistical mobsters. 

Naturally, Chris responded by throwing a brick at his head, sending him into a violent seizure. Realizing that he was in a very bad way, Paulie finished the waiter off with a round to his chest, then made off with the money they had just paid.

Adrianna's execution – Season 5, Episode 12

This was one of the cruelest murders on "The Sopranos" for two reasons. The first is an obvious one, that shooting a woman in the head as she crawls along a forest floor begging for her life is a despicable act, and a horrible thing to witness; there's also the build-up, as the FBI put Adrianna in an impossible situation, demanding information from her with little regard for her safety. 

Driven mad by deceit, she told her fiancé Christopher of her situation, explaining that she hadn't given the feds any leads. He reacted by punching her in the face and nearly strangling her to death. As he broke down crying, she comforted him, heartbreakingly loyal even to such a disgusting pig. To pay her back, Christopher then went to Tony — who began the process of Adrianna's murder. 

All of that is hard enough to watch, but it's only compounded as the show moves along and the threat to Adrianna's life becomes palpable. We see her driving along the highway with a suitcase on the passenger seat — a sense of relief hitting the viewer, as Adrianna has perhaps escaped. 

But this is "The Sopranos," so the shot cuts to where she really is, Silvio's car. What we thought was her freedom was really just a cruel reverie, and what follows is perhaps the series' most tragic death.

Tony blasts Tony Blundetto – Season 5, Episode 13

Tony hated Ralph, but he loved Tony Blundetto. Or rather, he had an affection for him that was twisted with guilt because of a truck heist that sent Blundetto to the can for 17 years. 

Soprano was supposed to have been in Blundetto's place on that heist, but he was incapacitated by a bad panic attack. So, when Blundetto returned to his old stomping ground, Soprano wanted to accommodate him as best he could. After all, Blundetto had balls — and a 158 IQ — a rare combination. 

However, Blundetto became a free agent, whacking several people including Billy Leotardo — the brother of Phil Leotardo, the most vindictive man in the series. Not unreasonably, Billy's death sent Phil into violent frenzy, as he demanded to know where the "animal" Blundetto was and made threats against the whole Soprano crew, which Tony knew were very legit. Tony also knew that if Phil found Blundetto, his death would be agonizing. 

So, in an act of mercy, Tony lied in waiting at Blundetto's hideout. When Blundetto returned from grocery shopping, Tony blasted him in the head with a pump action shotgun, sending his body into a pile of logs. 

Paulie busts some Colombians – Season 6, Episode 3

Here's another bit of "Sopranos" spectacle that reminded viewers that this wasn't TV, it was HBO. Like the car crash beatdown in Episode 1, or the aforementioned Mustang Sally debacle in Season 3, the Colombian shoot-out was a flash of raw violence without much service to character or narrative. This, of course, to viewers was a good thing. 

This impressively bloody sequence — which made full use of old-school squibs — involved gunshot wounds to the throat, knife wounds to the chest, and a knee directly into Paulie's 'bawwlss', the pain of which lasted long after the bullets stopped flying.

Leotardo's crew whacks Vito Spatafore – Season 6, Episode 11

This was the moment that redefined Phil Leotardo as the worst kind of evil, reptilian scumbag. Already a nasty piece of work, his scheming brutality here was just hateful. 

After Vito was spotted performing a sex act on a man and then found in a gay club, he fled Jersey and went on the run, picking up odd jobs in rural New England. However, the reality of actually having to work proved to be too much, so Vito returned to Jersey claiming that his homosexuality was caused by medication and that he's all "better" now.  

Paulie wanted blood, but Tony was split. If he could, he'd make room for Vito somewhere, perhaps in a job "running girls" in Atlantic City. After all, he's a good earner. 

Unfortunately, in their malignant world, Vito's safety was impossible. So Leotardo and his men — including Fat Dom — waited for Vito in his motel room, where they ambushed him with duct tape and batons, beating him to death.

Fat Dom takes breaking balls too far – Season 6, Episode 11

Fat Dom took special glee in caving Vito's head in. You could see it on his smug, fat face. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he decided to drop by Satriale's pork store to speak with Silvio and Carlo about it. 

After a few preliminaries, Dom offered his "condolences," followed by a string of jokes about Vito's "tragedy." His eyes flickered between Sil and Carlo as he pushed things further and further, interrupted when Sil broke a dust buster over his head and Carlo plunged a carving knife into his huge gut. 

Following the fourth and final stab, Dom's hulking frame crashed onto the dining table, ruining a delicious plate of meatballs in the process. Which just doesn't seem like the considerate thing to do after a big, hearty meal has been prepared on your behalf.

Bobby Baccala does his first hit – Season 6, episode 14

Unlike his father — the executioner in the Mustang Sally debacle — Bobby Baccala was a "gentle giant" type. Soft, fat and cuddly. Unless, of course, you incessantly joke about his wife Janice, Tony's malignantly awful sister. 

This scene kicked off during Tony's birthday weekend at Bobby and Janice's cabin in upstate New York. The drinks were flowing so liberally that you could almost smell the liquor, and the vibes were good and the surroundings beautiful enough that you never could have seen what was coming — even on a show like "The Sopranos." 

Ultimately, nothing could pacify the toxic relationship between Janice and Tony — who made a series of snide remarks about her promiscuity. An inebriated Bobby took exception, but Tony didn't take him seriously. As he made another salacious joke, Bobby punched him in the face. Tony, no doubt shocked by Bobby's newfound "balls," tore into his brother-in-law as best he could, but Bobby won the fight. 

Tony, of course, blamed things of his gunshot injury and the rug, but he seemed fine with his butt-whooping. In actuality, he was formulating a nasty plan to get his vengeance another way. 

Bobby had never killed a man, so Tony made that happen for him, organizing a hit on a Montreal hoodlum. The hit could be passed off as just part of Bobby's job, but Tony purposefully did this to make Bobby uncomfortable. Bobby passed the challenge, but it became a personal, bloody act

Tony curb stomps Coco – Season 6, Episode 19

Okay, this one isn't actually a murder. But it is so brutal, it has to factor into this list. In fact, many consider it the most violent scene in the entire show

It depicted what could happen when you insult an egotistical psychopath's most prized possession — his family. To people with "dark triad" personality traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy — the ostensible love they have for their family is often self-serving. Tony Soprano possessed all of these traits in spades, mixed with the Italian mob culture of displaying Catholic family values, laughable for obvious reasons. 

This means that Tony, a psychopath and "strict Catholic," was even more likely to view his family as a possession and an extension of himself. Salvatore "Coco" Cogliano should have known all this when he approached Meadow and her boyfriend in a New York restaurant, but he'd had too many Sambucas to care. He imposed himself on the table, saying that she had "cream" on her lip and that he would be 'happy to add to it." Pro tip: You don't want to do that to a mobster's daughter.

That's all he needed to say to seal his fate. The next day, after Meadow reluctantly told her father, Tony burst into Coco's hangout and brutally pistol whipped him, sticking the gun into his blooded mouth. Then, despite Butch's protestations, Tony placed Coco's mouth on the bar's footrest and kicked the back of his head, sending teeth flying across the floor. 

Phil Leotardo meets rubber – Season 6, Episode 21

This may have been the most cathartic moment of "The Sopranos." David Chase and his writers knew that they couldn't just whack Phil Leotardo. They had to get creative, and they did so brilliantly. 

Yet, Phil's death was not some overly-elaborate set piece, but instead a wonderfully chaotic, gory end to a genuine demon of a man. This was Season 6, Episode 21 — the final episode of what many still consider the finest show in TV history. 

Phil's Lupertazzi crime family had killed Bobby Bacala and seriously injured Silvio Dante in their attempt to kill the Soprano leadership and "do business with what's left." Tony and his family went into hiding as he tried to locate Phil, who had also "hit the mattresses." Just as the odds seemed stacked against Tony, he managed to sanction the hit on Phil, which was enabled by vital information from Special Agent Harris, Tony's old FBI foe who had been jaded by the War on Terror. 

The scene was modestly staged. Phil and his wife Patty were on a trip with their young grandchildren when they stopped at a gas station. Just before he went to make a phone call, Phil reminded Patty of some menial task that needed doing — and a gun appeared next to his head, firing a round into the base of his skull. Patty screamed as the hitman fired another round into his chest, making off in a getaway vehicle. 

In many ways, it was a standard hit. But then Patty put the automatic gearbox in drive as she exited the car in hysterics, inching the car forwards toward Phil's head and accidentally crushing it with the car's rear wheel. In the mob business, the end result was what they would label a "beautiful hit."

Tony Soprano is killed – Season 6, Episode 21

This is the big one, and it's one series fans have been taking apart, arguing, and replaying in their minds for over a decade. Did Tony Soprano survive the trip to Holsten's Diner

One argument is the point-of-view structure. Tony was the first to arrive at Holsten's Diner, taking a seat facing the door. Every time the door opened, Tony would look up, showing us the view from his perspective. When Carmela arrived, Tony looked up and we saw her enter from his perspective — repeated when AJ arrived a few minutes later. 

However, when Meadow joined the group, the shot of Tony looking towards the door was followed by perhaps the most famous cut to black in the history of pop culture. Some argue to this day that the black is what Tony Soprano's death looks like — the man in the Member's Only jacket killed him instantly with a bullet in a head. Of course, there are almost as many alternate interpretations as there are viewers who tuned in that evening to watch the series conclusion.

But if this dark denouement is how you look back on the ending, it's a brutal way to end the show. Not only was Tony murdered in front of his family, but his 86-episode story ended in an instant without any explanation. What happened? Who did this? It was a brutal death, and a fiercely brave creative decision from David Chase and his team of writers.