Top 10 Most Shocking and Surprising Television Scenes in the 21st Century

Tags: #BreakingBad ,   #BuffytheVampireSlayer ,   #GameOfThrones ,   #TwinPeaks

Dan N. Scarborough

Dan N. Scarborough

Last updated:  2023-05-16 06:00:08

We are currently in the new golden age of television programs. The growth of this market increased the budget significantly, allowing for a lot better staff in front and behind the camera. The television Renaissance began in the mid-1990s with shows like "Friends" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The development of broadcasting technology brought TV shows to even bigger audiences, further increasing their quality. In the last 20-something years, many moments like deaths left the viewers speechless. As we'll pick the top ten scenes that took people by surprise, be aware that there are plenty of spoilers ahead.

10. "True Detective" - The Gundown

Six minutes, one take, no prisoners

When "True Detective" first appeared, everyone was shocked by the fantastic performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The former's character of Rust Cohle was among the most unique. Sardonic, sharp, and nihilistic, Cohle dabbled on the dark side for too long. 

However, this show has demonstrated its cinematic prowess in the shootout scene. This brutal sequence found our leading man in the middle of a drug bust gone wrong. Cue six minutes of nonstop action caught in one take. This scene came out of nowhere, proving how unpredictable "True Detective" is.

9. "Game of Thrones" - Red Wedding

Wedding from hell for any planner

Before it deleted itself from any relevance, "Game of Thrones" was a wildly popular show. The media were buzzing all over about its daring approach to epic fantasy. However, nothing could prepare the viewers for the shocking plot twist of the Red Wedding. 

One of the main plotlines of "Game of Thrones" was the feud between Starks and Lannisters. The Red Wedding ended that feud, but it also killed three of the main characters. As it turned out, the Red Wedding was the peak of the show and everything that happened after it was influenced by it, in one way or another.   

8. "Lost" - Opening Scene

Plane down, passengers around, and one doctor trying to save them all

"Lost" is one of the series that overstayed its welcome. In the late seasons, it became apparent that the writers didn't know how to finish the story well. Nevertheless, "Lost" gave us plenty of memorable moments and plot twists. Although nothing would be able to overcome the opening scene of the pilot episode, pun intended. 

The hectic, tense atmosphere of the plane crash, with hazards and injured people all over, grabbed viewers and didn't let go. This scene was so impressive that it made people watch "Lost" even after becoming meme material.

7. "Breaking Bad" - White vs. Fring 

Clash of the kingpins

Unlike our previous entry, "Breaking Bad" was meticulously written from beginning to end. This saga about a disgruntled chemistry professor turned drug kingpin is one of the best and the most influential TV shows in history. 

The most compelling part was the conflict between Walter White and Gus Fring. Cold, calculated, and intelligent Fring proved to be one of the most formidable opponents for White. Their face-off included betrayal, car bombs, poison, and ultimately, a fatal bell ring and one of the best makeovers in TV history. 

6. "Battlestar Galactica" - The Final Five

Among Us on a galactic level

"Galactica" is one of the classic science fiction franchises from the early days of television. The series was rebooted in 2004 and became tremendously popular. The modern version tapped into the American sensibility after 9/11 and used that fear of unknown danger to build an atmosphere.

This time, Cylons weren't shiny tinfoil robots but human-like beings. Therefore, the danger for the Galactica crew could come from any person. The reveal of the final five Cylons on the Galactica was masterful, and it still didn't spoil the mysterious atmosphere of the show.

5. "The Sopranos" - The End?

Did Tony meet his end?

"Sopranos" is the TV show that started the golden age of TV. This intriguing multi-layered story about a mob boss going through an existential crisis has received massive accolades. It also influenced almost every TV show coming after it. Therefore, the almost perfect TV show was crowned with a perfectly ambiguous ending. 

What happened to Tony in the end? Was he capped or went to prison or none of those? Only the show creators know for sure. More than a decade after the Sopranos finale, this is still one of the most influential scenes in television history.

4. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - Mom?

How to break an unbreakable character?

"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" is the TV show that showcased Joss Whedon's writing ability. Not anyone could turn a show about teenage vampire killers into a beloved story full of memorable and charming characters. Now, the big question is, how to shock someone who fights supernatural beings daily? 

The answer came in its heartbreaking glory during the fifth season when Buffy finds her mum died of an aneurysm. What followed is one of the most heart-wrenching displays of coping with the death of a beloved person. It's still harrowing even to remember.  

3. "Twin Peaks" - The Answer

Some questions are better left unanswered

"Twin Peaks" was a TV show that was a herald of things to come when it comes to television. This complex, multi-layered story mixed supernatural and scary with everyday sights and scenes. That's something David Lynch likes to do! The central piece of "Twin Peaks" was the murder mystery of Laura Palmer.

As the TV show goes on, it turns out this peaceful mountain city hides more secrets than CIA archives. David Lynch and Mark Frost actually didn't want to reveal the mystery of Laura Palmer's murder, but they were pressed by network executives. The mystery reveal was shocking and scary, like nothing has ever seen so far.

2. "Mad Men" - The English Patient

The lawnmower incident

"Mad Men" is considered one of the most stylish TV shows created, with smoothness and suave radiating from every frame. Who would think the show about an advertising agency in the 1950s would become such a success? Yet, under that calm and suave demeanor lies a ruthless world where everyone is the enemy. 

The best example of the unpredictable nature of this show was the shocking death of an English advertising wunderkind. While most of the violence in "Mad Men" is emotional, this scene is very visceral and bloody. More shocking than the violence itself is that you didn't see it coming. 

1. "The Wire" - Farewell, Omar

The streets don't forgive

David Simon's "The Wire" is considered one of the best TV shows of all time. Similar to his other creations, including "Homicide" and "The Deuce," "The Wire" is gritty, realistic, and with down-to-earth characters. The only exception was Omar Little, brilliantly portrayed by sadly late Michael Kenneth Williams. 

Omar was larger than life, a combination of Robin Hood, Batman, and Punisher. He never uttered a cuss and robbed only drug dealers, confusing both policemen and criminals. Omar's departure was in stark contrast with his character, and it served as a cold snap back to reality. The mastery of "The Wire" writing and characters is still unprecedented. 

A good shocking moment usually comes from averting the expectations about the plotline. It is not easy to write a startling twist while keeping the consistency of the world and characters. That's why a perfect shocking moment will stay remembered, and it would usually define the TV show it is a part of. 

What's your favorite shocking TV moment? Which ones would you add to this top ten list?

Cover photo: Possessed Photography/Unsplash



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