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The Saddest Death In Criminal Minds Season 8

Over the course of 15 seasons, "Criminal Minds" racked up a massive body count, which is not all that surprising for a series focused on mass murderers and serial killers. Nonetheless, the death toll on the long-running crime drama is substantial. Even the series' least prolific "unsubs" managed to claim multiple lives, while heavy hitters like George "The Reaper" Foyet (C. Thomas Howell) and Everett "The Chameleon" Lynch (Michael Mosley) reached double digits.

On several occasions, the members of the show's Behavioral Analysis Unit were the ones forced to say final goodbyes to loved ones. Aaron Hotchner's (Thomas Gibson) ex-wife was brutally murdered by The Reaper, former agent Jason Gideon was killed (albeit off-screen), and David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) was by his ex-wife's side when she died from an intentional overdose.

For Season 8, the creative team behind the series added to the body count with bizarre and twisted killers like Adam Rain (Brad Dourif), who turned his victims into life-sized marionettes, and John Curtis (Mark Hamill), a copycat serial killer targeting the BAU. But the true heartbreak came in Episode 12, "Zugzwang," which once again brought death directly to the BAU.

Reid and Maeve fell in love before meeting in person

Prior to "Zugzwang," the season introduced a love interest for Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler). After the onset of frequent and debilitating headaches in Season 6, Reid eventually connected with geneticist Maeve Donovan (Beth Riesgraf). The two exchange frequent phone calls, as seen in Season 8, Episode 4, "God Complex." During one of their chats, Reid suggests that the two meet in person, but Maeve nixes the idea. She's concerned that her stalker — who has driven Maeve to extreme seclusion in her home — might target Reid.

A few episodes later, in "The Lesson," Reid and Maeve come to believe that her stalker has ended their obsession. With the threat presumably over, the two agree to meet at a restaurant. Unfortunately, Reid mistakenly thinks a man at the restaurant is Maeve's stalker. In a panic, Reid calls her, warning her away from the restaurant and postponing their long-overdue meeting. Though they delayed their date, Maeve has a book delivered to Reid in which she's highlighted certain text that expresses her love for him.

With one word, zugzwang, Reid knows Maeve is in danger

In "Zugzwang," Reid pages Maeve from a payphone, which was their habit in order to keep her hidden from her stalker. When the payphone rings, Reid is greeted not by Maeve's voice, but a disguised voice that says, "Zugzwang." As Reid later explains to Hotch, the term refers to the moment in chess when a player realizes they will be checkmated and they must decide to surrender or "play through to the bitter end."

Knowing that Maeve has likely been kidnapped by her stalker, Reid and the BAU spring into action, trying to find a woman whose face Reid has never seen and whose last name he doesn't know. While such a search seems impossible, the BAU has Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), who has proven she can find anyone with just a few taps and clicks. A search of Maeve's apartment shows strong indications of a struggle, and her parents suggest that her ex-fiancé  Bobby (Jay Hayden) may be behind her kidnapping.

A break in the BAU's case reveals a shocking twist

When the team interviews Bobby, he provides them with a set of photos taken when he and Maeve were still together — photos taken by the stalker. A sharp-eyed JJ Jareau (A. J. Cook) notices that in one photo the stalker has blacked out Maeve's face with eyeliner. Putting together seemingly insignificant details, Reid quickly deduces that Maeve's stalker is Bobby's girlfriend, Diane Turner (Michelle Trachtenberg). Her obsession with Maeve began when the latter was working at the university Diane was attending. Obsession crossed over to stalking, with Diane intent on taking everything Maeve has.

By the episode's end, Reid reaches the loft where Diane is holding Maeve. Having already shot and killed Bobby, Diane is completely unhinged when Reid arrives. She forces an unarmed Reid to deny his love for Maeve. When Diane kisses him, she fails to feel the emotion he has for Maeve. After a struggle, Diane pulls Maeve toward her and shoots herself in the head, with the bullet also exploding through Maeve's skull, killing them both.

Reid is broken after losing his true love

Given the love "Criminal Minds" watchers have for the kind-hearted Spencer Reid, it comes as no surprise that the episode featuring Maeve's death is considered the saddest loss of the season. It's why the BuzzFeed Community selected the scene as one of the series' saddest. Distractify included the episode on its list of saddest episodes, while TV Insider declared "Zugzwang" one of the series' most haunting.

On IMDb, the episode is rated the best of the season, with fans sharing some very strong opinions about "Zugzwang." Reviewer championbc-99-5005 hated seeing Reid in pain, believing he deserved more since he was the series' most sympathetic character, while ldddhunter was blown away by the episode, calling it one of the best ever. Over on Reddit, u/Liahkin found the episode incredibly depressing and sad, and u/WhatayaWantFromMe admitted that "Zugzwang" brought them to tears.

While "Criminal Minds" watchers know they're in for a dark and twisted hour, being labeled the saddest episode of the season (and, for some, the entire series) is a credit to the writers and the actors.