But before we start, a few notes. First of all, for the purposes of this list, it had to be a lead player who left. For some casts, this can be summed up as a call to judgment, so we welcome the debate in the comments. And second, it must be characters who have left mid-series, rather than departures or late-series deaths (which occur more frequently).
Having said that, let’s go! Here are some examples of television programs that have dropped a main character …
Frank Underwood of House of Cards (Kevin Spacey)
House of Cards helped put Netflix on the map as the go-to source for the original series with his story of a reclining, maneuvering and murdering politician Frank Underwood and his trip to the Oval Office – and beyond. But after five seasons, TV star Kevin Spacey has been charged with sexual misconduct, and soon after, Netflix announced that House of Cards will end with its sixth season and that Spacey has been laid off. Robin Wright, who plays Frank’s wife Claire, has taken the helm for the past year, with a trailer revealing that Frank was apparently dead between seasons.
Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead (Andrew Lincoln)
When it was learned that Andrew Lincoln would leave The Walking Dead after the ninth season of the series, most fans assumed that his character Rick Grimes would be killed in the great tradition of Walking Dead. But in fact, Rick continues to live … and will return as a series of Walking Dead TV series, at least one of which will apparently debut in theaters.
Roseanne’s Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr)
About 20 years after its airing, sitcom ABC Roseanne returned with most of its original cast intact – despite the fact that the 1997 series “finale” upset the whole premise of the series by revealing that ‘Much of what had been described was the imagination of the main character. This was basically overlooked during the series’ revival in 2018, but ABC split from the main character’s real counterpart following Barr’s racist comments. Roseanne, the character, was killed and a new version of the show, The Conners, was launched the following season.
Ragnar Lothbrok of the Vikings (Travis Fimmel)
Ragnar Lothbrok, the legendary Viking king, explorer and father of many sons, was an essential part of the epic historical drama of history for four and a half seasons. Represented with charisma by the actor of Australian origin Travis Fimmel, Ragnar was a larger than life character, endowed with a great sense of humor, courage on the battlefield and a dedication to his family who made him an endearing hero. After the shocking events of the end of season 4 that resulted in his death, many wondered how the series would survive without such a dynamic track. Fortunately, the creator of the series Michael Hirst filled the very large shoes of Ragnar by focusing on the exploits of his sons, like Bjorn, Ivar and Ubbe. Together, Ragnar’s sons keep a good memory of their father.
Nate Fisher six feet underground (Peter Krause)
This HBO series could have had all of their cast on this list if we didn’t have our “no last episode” rule (yes, they killed everyone – pretty beautifully – in the last episode). But in both cases, Peter Krause’s Nate Fisher died before this finale, although only four episodes before. The character’s death was a shock, occurring immediately after his recovery and after coldly telling his wife that he wanted a divorce. Krause would continue to appear in the final episodes of the series, but only as an aspect of Nate appearing to family members.
The Wire (Idris Elba) Russell Stringer Bell
The Wire is considered by many to be one of the largest television shows ever made. Created by former journalist David Simon, the series spans five seasons, covering various aspects of criminal life in the Baltimore, Maryland area. For British actor Idris Elba, this was a major role, embodying the highly intelligent gangster Russell “Stringer” Bell. Bell was unlike any of his criminal underworld counterparts because he wanted his empire to be run as a legitimate business. To better understand how to do this, Bell began taking classes at a local community college. At times, Bell seemed to be too smart for anyone to take over him … until Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) ended up killing Bell in season 3. While the series would last two more seasons , Bell’s absence was keenly felt.
Dr. Mark Greene of Emergency (Anthony Edwards)
Dr. Mark Greene survived eight seasons of RE, which you need to remember the A curious-era television show known as the 1990s (and early 2000s), when streaming was just a fantasy flight and digital downloading was just a dream. He had brain cancer and died later, and the man was sad. And then there was the funeral! Ugh. Greene’s legacy would continue to be in the series for years after Edwards left, and the actor finally appeared in a flashback episode in the final season.
Lt. Col. M * A * S * H Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson)
Man. After three seasons, Henry Blake – the boss, in a way, of the beloved Mobile Surgical Hospital – returned home. He was fired and returned to the United States. They even had a party for him! And then … the final scene of the episode struck, where the rest of the M * A * S * H gang learns that Henry’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. “There were no survivors.” A nation of viewers cried at the time, and they did not know that M * A * S * H was just starting with the punches.
Babylon 5 Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare)
Michael O’Hare was the lead role in the cult science fiction series Babylon 5, but after a season it was written and replaced by Bruce Boxleitner captain John Sheridan. The creator of the series J. Michael Straczynski said at the time that he and O’Hare agreed that the character should leave the series, and that it was not a “Tasha Yar situation”, referring Denise Crosby’s brutal departure in Star Trek: The first season of the next generation. O’Hare finally returned for the “endless war” in two parts, where the character received a tremendous and resonant shipment. Years later, after O’Hare’s death, Straczynski revealed that the actor had suffered from a mental illness and that this had played a role in his departure.
Angel’s Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter)
Cordelia has undergone quite an evolution since her debut on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an insane support player for the psychic monster hunter and second leader on Angel. Unfortunately, in the fourth season of Angel, the character took a strange and nasty turn (it turns out that she was possessed), and actress Charisma Carpenter was finally excluded from the series when Cordelia fell into the coma. She returned for a final episode, and quite memorable, in the last season of the series where she died, but only after giving Angel one last gift.
After nine seasons, the revolutionary sitcom All in the Family has turned into something completely new, called Archie Bunker’s Place and is more in the title bar of Archie rather than the Queens house where All in the Family was centered. As a result, Archie Edith’s wife became a peripheral character, until she was killed between the first and second seasons. The one-hour special episode of season 2 portrays an Archie in denial unable to cope with the death of his wife … until he finds his slipper under their bed and is overcome by grief. Crushing.
Charlie Harper for two and a half men (Charlie Sheen)
Here’s another one that happened off-screen and between seasons, but it’s a little trickier. After star Charlie Sheen had a very public argument with the producers of Two and a Half Men, he was fired from the series and the character was written (he was allegedly hit by a train and died). But his ghost returned the following season, only now Charlie Harper was played by Kathy Bates and, he said, trapped in a woman’s body in hell. But a few seasons later, in the series finale, Harper’s death was restored for not having happened at all … then he was killed anyway by a piano falling in the dying moments of the series. So we broke our own rule on it. Where did we do it?
Prue Halliwell by Charmed (Shannen Doherty)
Charmed’s witches started like Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs… before Rose McGowan replaced Doherty as long-lost half-sister in season 4. Who knows what really happened for Doherty leaves the series – rumors of tension on the set abounded. But we do know what happened to her character Prue, at least: in the cliffhanger of season 3, she was attacked by a demon named Shax. Yes, Shax. And at the start of Season 4, Prue turned out to be dead.
Homeland’s Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis)
Homeland became an instant hit for Showtime in large part due to the compelling momentum between CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and the potentially trapped saved prisoner of war, Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). The first season worked so strongly due to the big question of whether or not Brody had been transformed by his time with al-Quaeda, and the revelation of his true allegiance at the end of the season was a great shot. sending for season 2. But ultimately Homeland was the story of Carrie, not the story of Carrie and Brody, and in his third season in the series, the character had seriously started to exceed his reception. Her death, while tragic, allowed Homeland to reinvent itself and continue to advance Carrie’s story.
Marissa Cooper of O.C. (Mischa Barton)
Oh, Marissa Cooper. There has been a lot of speculation over the years about what drove The OC to kill its main lady, but the ultimate answer turned out to be just a boost in ratings. His tragic and premature disappearance certainly made people talk – The OC, which tended to cover as many stories in a season as other shows were set in their series, had to outdo themselves for the twists . Killing Marissa, never allowing Ryan and her to get together, was that the right call? The OC only lasted one more season, and although some contend that it was an increase in the quality of pop culture sensation after its quality was reported in seasons 2 and 3, it was never the same after the loss of Marissa Cooper.
Eddard “Ned” Stark from Game of Thrones (Sean Bean)
The disappearance of Ned may not have been a shock to fans of George R. R. Martin’s books, but for oblivious newbies, this massive twist in Season 1 established Game of Thrones as a show where really nobody was safe. After decades of stories in which the idealistic hero is saved from certain death in no time, Ned’s death presents itself as a powerful subversion of fantasy tropes (and the rules of pop culture in general). Let’s not forget, he was the guy on all the posters of season 1, which makes his early exit from the game even more convincing – and paving the way for the many supporting characters from the first season to put their time under the projectors, helping the series evolve into a real whole.
Grey’s Anatomy Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey)
By the time Patrick Dempsey decided he wanted to break free from Seattle Grace in 2015, he had stayed with the show for 11 seasons – longer than most shows even stay on the air – and Grey’s Anatomy had already survived the releases high-level stars including Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, Isaiah Washington and TR Chevalier. But saying goodbye to “McDreamy” was undoubtedly the end of an era, given that the relationship they / they don’t want between Meredith Gray and Derek Shepherd has been the engine of the series since the pilot. The show and Meredith survived the loss (it’s currently airing season 15), but if we never hear “Chasing Cars” again, it will be too soon.
Billy Thomas of Ally McBeal (Gil Bellows)
Ally McBeal was always a deeply surreal show obsessed with the love life of its main character, but like Mer and Der on Grey’s Anatomy, the show could not resist returning to the star dynamics of its titular heroine and his first love, Billy Thomas, whenever he had the chance. Billy was the darling of Ally’s law school who ended up married to one of their classmates (but who clearly always carried the torch for our neurotic protagonist) and we always had the feeling that Ally and Billy were in the final stages … at least until season 3, when Billy appeared to have a midlife crisis, whitened his blonde hair and became a womanizer – a complete 180 character that we learned more late was due to a brain tumor that shockingly killed him out of nowhere. After her untimely death, the series tried to find the magic of Ally and Billy’s sexual tension with boyfriends like Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Bon Jovi, but by then, we had lost that feeling of love .
Will Gardner of the Good Wife (Josh Charles)
The Good Wife seemed to take a page from Ally McBeal’s playbook in the dynamic between Will and Alicia Florrick of Julianna Margulies – they were former friends of law school who always carried a torch for each other , but never managed to choose the right time, even after starting to work together. Despite a torrid affair (made more risky since Will was still Alicia’s boss at the time) and obvious soul mate status, the two were denied their ultimate happy ending after Will was shot in the room audience ratings by a struggling customer in Season 5 – leaving Alicia (and viewers) haunted by what could have been for the rest of the series.
Note: this story was originally published in November 2018. It has been updated with new information.