In a little over a decade HBO dramas have pushed TV to its limits, both in terms of quality and in what they’ve gotten away with showing. If you’ve watched a TV show in the last few years that contained epic quantities of sex and violence, there’s a very good chance you might have been watching HBO. However, even in dark and violent shows there are scenes which stand out in terms of drama and shock value, and help to define a series as a whole. These are the scenes that, in many years to come, we’ll turn to our relatives and say: “Did you ever watch that show where the barbarian killed the other guy by pouring gold onto his head?” Here, we list 10 of the most shocking scenes in HBO history.
If you haven’t seen these shows there are SPOILERS ahead. And, depending on what your job is, some of these video clips might be NSFW.
10. The Sopranos: Ralphie’s Death
It’s sort of surprising that psychotic, stripper-murdering mobster Ralphie Cifaretto wasn’t killed earlier in The Sopranos, but the scene was unexpected enough to be truly shocking. Mob boss Tony Soprano suspected Ralphie of burning his prize racehorse to death and that, combined with his previous “disagreements” with the man, was enough to seal Ralphie’s fate. After a bruising fight the whiny New Jersey mobster ended up strangled to death in his own kitchen and later dismembered. Even more strangely, the character had actually taken a turn for the better in the same episode and shown some signs of regret for his previous actions, and the deed he was accused of in this scene was, for once, something that most people wouldn’t think deserving of murder. Bonus silliness points for the Tom-and-Jerry-style fight scene involving pots, pans and cans of fly spray.
9. Game of Thrones: The Golden Crown
A lot of things about the relationship between Khal Drogo and his underage wife Daenerys were shocking, but the death of creepy, sister-lusting romantic rival Viserys Targaryen was really the icing on the cake. Viserys was one of the weediest and most pathetic characters in Game of Thrones’ first season whilst Khal Drogo was like Genghis Khan in eyeliner and well known for brutally killing anyone who pissed him off at the first opportunity. Thus, Targaryen biting the dust was a foregone conclusion (after taking his sister hostage and demanding an army and a crown), with Drogo getting around the rule which prevented him from spilling blood in the sacred city by pouring a pot of searing molten gold over Targaryen’s head (this being the barbarian version of irony). The impact of the scene is only slightly reduced by how easy it was to melt a mass of gold jewellery in an ordinary stew pot, which is probably impossible under the ordinary laws of physics.
8. Generation Kill: Trombley Shooting Civilians
To borrow a Hank Hill quote for Generation Kill’s Trombley: “That boy ain’t right.” Dead-eyed and seemingly morbidly fascinated with the whole process of war, it really wasn’t a surprise when he was the first of the marines to be caught firing on civilians. In this scene, one of those wounded by US fire finally catches up with the marines. The bloody scene really brings home how brutal a fast-paced war on the ground can be for civilians, particularly in the team’s confusion and moral dilemma over whether they should deliver the boy into proper medical care, thereby risking the lives of US soldiers.
7. Deadwood: Eye Gouge
Gritty wild west drama Deadwood was never sunshine and roses, but the brutal fight between henchmen Dan Dority and Captain Joe Turner in season three really upped the ante. Dority, chief underling of Deadwood’s long running sort-of bad guy Al Swearengen (played by the formidable Ian McShane), had developed a bitter rivalry with his counterpart Captain Turner and in the end the two decided to settle their differences the traditional wild west way – a messy brawl in the mud in the middle of the main street. Giant Cartman look-alike Turner initially seemed to be beating the less chunky Dority, nearly drowning him in a disgusting puddle of what we hope is mud. At the end of one of the best fights in TV history, Dority gained the upper hand by gouging his opponent’s eye out in a truly stomach-churning scene.
6. Oz: Beecher’s Revenge
All the stories about not dropping the soap turned out to be true in HBO prison drama Oz and prisoners were often free to do truly nightmarish things to each other. Middle-class inmate Tobias Beecher was totally unprepared for life in Oswald maximum security prison, and his first year was one long hell of bullying and rape by Neo-Nazi Schillinger. At the end of the season Beecher snapped and decided to show that he was going to stop taking his crap by, well, taking a crap on Schillinger. Beecher’s pooey revenge, one of the most imaginatively disgusting things depicted on television, was understandably the start of a vendetta between the characters which would continue through the entire run of the show.
5. Band of Brothers: Concentration Camp
After spending a lot of time in previous episodes worrying about the philosophical implications of the war, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne ran up against some more of its concrete realities in the appropriately titled episode “Why We Fight,” where they come across an abandoned German concentration camp. It’s the subtle details which really sell this scene, from the things which aren’t actually shown on the screen (the prisoner crying when he tries to talk about the women’s camp), to the impossibly thin inmates who appear in the background, to just how disturbed the hardened soldiers are by the whole situation. The powerful score, comparable to the one from Schindler’s List, also greatly adds to the effect.
4. Boardwalk Empire: The Greektown Murders
In Boardwalk Empire’s sixth episode, Enoch Nucky’s muscle Jimmy Darmody and Al Capone (yes, that Al Capone) decide against going ahead with their truce with Sheridan; easier, they think, just to rub them all out. The thing that makes this scene work is the build-up; it initially seems like the gangsters’ plans have failed, with Sheridan and his crew back in control of the situation, but then the group gets to the fake receptionist… The scene’s brutality and swiftness is the other thing which helps to make it shocking – everything turns to shit (and gunshots) in a matter of seconds.
3. The Wire: Omar’s Death
The Wire has been hailed as one of the best TV series ever made, and a big part of its appeal was resident anti-hero Omar Little, the shotgun-toting, larger-than-life Robin Hood figure of modern-day Baltimore (and Barack Obama’s favorite character in the show). In a world where everything was gritty, morally grey and falling apart at the seams, Omar was practically Superman – a tough, resourceful thief who only stole from drug dealers and never hurt the innocent. After surviving daily brushes with death for five seasons, he was finally killed – shot in the side of the head by a little kid (and we mean little) who happened to get the drop on him. The show’s creators have said that they did this deliberately to show that in the world of The Wire, even heroes can die.
2. The Sopranos: Adriana’s Assassination
The Sopranos was one of the first shows to define the HBO brand and this scene was one of its most shocking moments. Sexy moll Adriana had been the long-term girlfriend of Tony Soprano’s protÃ©gÃ© Christopher Moltisanti, lasting multiple seasons in the topsy-turvy world of The Sopranos and had gone on to become a popular fan favorite. After being manipulated by the FBI into becoming an informer in season five, she made the mistake of breaking down and confessing everything to her boyfriend, Chris. Given that Chris was a psychotic mobster, this proved to be a bad idea and, out of the blue, she was killed off with brutal finality by Consigliere Silvio. The scene was so dark that many fans refused to believe her death was real, citing the fact that the murder took place off camera unlike nearly every other “whacking” in the series. A 2005 statement from the actor who played Silvio confirmed that the character was dead. He is reported to have asked: “Do [the fans] think I was shooting squirrels?”
1. Game of Thrones: Jaime Lannister Pushes Bran Stark Out Of A Window
With a pilot featuring multiple decapitations, a sex crazed dwarf and not one but two instances of incest, Game of Thrones was in danger of looking like “Caligula: The Series.” Tongues were ripped out, hearts were eaten, major characters were killed off and everyone was having sex everywhere (and let’s not forget the awesome finale, as summarized by the lead image). Up until this point Jaime had seemed like a cool, sympathetic character (of which there are few enough in Game of Thrones) – this scene totally turned our perceptions of him around. Jaime Lannister pushing Bran Stark out of a window defined the tone of the series – a random sex scene (involving twins), followed by the cold-blooded attempted murder of a child. The scene single-handedly sets the events of the entire series into motion; truly a terrific cliff-hanger… or cliff-plunger, as the case may be.