Twists and turns are par for the course in pretty much any film or television show, but personal betrayals are in their own category. Whether it’s for personal gain, glory, money, politics, or pure power, one character betraying another makes audiences gasp, and gives a show a fascinating, unpredictable narrative. Lovers turn on each other. Children double-cross their parents. Lifelong friends become bitter enemies. It’s shocking, it’s horrifying, and it keeps fans glued to the screen.
From everyone’s favorite dragon-filled fantasy series to beloved sitcoms to teen soaps to offbeat comedies to acclaimed prestige dramas, the small screen is home to plenty of juicy, shocking betrayals that blew audiences away when they first aired. Whether you’re a fan of action-packed thrillers, modern comedies, or HBO classics, these unbelievable moments of treachery, duplicity, and disloyalty are sure to leave you shattered. Here are just a few of the most shocking betrayals in TV history — and this should go without saying, but massive spoilers ahead!
Nina Myers shows her true colors on 24
When it premiered in the fall of 2001, Fox’s spy drama 24 was an immediate hit, thanks in large part to its unique framework. With 24 episodes per season, each episode fills one hour in a particularly action-packed day for counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). Needless to say, he faces numerous crises as he tries to keep the United States safe.
Jack Bauer’s very first bad day, which makes up the show’s first season, is a strong showing right out of the gate. It sees Jack work to protect the Democratic candidate for President, Senator David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), from an assassination attempt. At the same time, Jack must protect his own family from terrorists as well. Right when it seems as if Jack has finally triumphed, his right-hand woman at the CTU (which stands for Counter-Terrorism Unit), Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke), reveals herself as a mole for the terrorists and kills Jack’s wife Teri (Leslie Hope) in the process. In the wake of this stunning twist, Jack not only loses faith in those around him, but also loses his beloved wife … as well as their unborn child, as Teri was newly pregnant.
The Red Wedding takes place on Game of Thrones
No show has cornered the market on betrayal quite like Game of Thrones did, and the show’s infamous Red Wedding delivers one of the most unforgettable betrayals in television history. As the War of the Five Kings rages on, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), promises himself in marriage to one of Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) many daughters. Unfortunately, he falls in love and elopes with a healer from Volantis named Talisa (Oona Chaplin). Walder Frey accepts Robb’s apologies and offer to marry his uncle, Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) to a Frey girl instead, but the wedding doesn’t exactly go as planned … at least not for Robb, Talisa, and Robb’s mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley).
As the reception unfolds, Catelyn, seated next to her longtime friend and apparent ally Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), realizes something is amiss when the doors are locked, and she discovers Roose is clad in armor under his dress clothes. Before she can act, Frey soldiers murder her men, brutally stab Talisa in the stomach, and skewer Robb with arrows, with Roose delivering the final blow. Left alone and in total anguish, Catelyn kills Walder Frey’s newest wife before her own throat is slit. All in all, the Red Wedding stands as one of the most horrifying betrayals in television history, nearly ending the Stark line over a single broken promise.
Michael’s gambit is revealed on The Good Place
In Michael Schur’s daring afterlife comedy The Good Place, viewers meet Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who is told by a gentle, kind otherworldly being named Michael (Ted Danson) that she has died, but was a good enough person to enter the Good Place after her death, as opposed to the frightening, ominous Bad Place. Eleanor seems pleased, but it turns out she’s hiding a terrible secret: Michael has her confused with a different Eleanor Shellstrop, and she, a self-professed "Arizona dirtbag," doesn’t belong in the Good Place at all.
Alongside her fellow humans in the Good Place, socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), doofy Florida DJ Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), and indecisive philosopher Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), as well as the omniscient neighborhood assistant, Janet (D’arcy Carden), Eleanor must figure out why she’s in the Good Place. In the process, the group discovers something much more shocking: When backed into a corner, Michael is forced to reveal, complete with an evil laugh, that he’s actually a Bad Place architect who has trapped four humans under the pretense that they’re in the Good Place. Michael eventually ends up working with the humans to revamp the afterlife’s entire system, but this twist initially sets him up as a pretty nefarious character, turning everything viewers know about The Good Place on its head as the first season draws to a close.
Gossip Girl’s identity is revealed on Gossip Girl
Throughout campy teen soap Gossip Girl’s run, the wealthy, entitled teenagers living in New York City’s prestigious Upper East Side devote a truly unhealthy amount of attention to the anonymous "Gossip Girl." A mysterious blogger who uses a network of spies to collect salacious information from throughout the city, she covers everything from pregnancy scares to unexpected trysts. There are few subjects Gossip Girl considers taboo, and as a result, she destroys plenty of romances and friendships on the Upper East Side.
Ultimately, the show had to reveal Gossip Girl’s identity, and in the series finale, audiences learn that social-climbing Brooklyn outsider Dan Humphrey (You‘s Penn Badgley) was behind the blog all along. Though this ties up the narrative somewhat, it also presents some awkward and upsetting questions. Why would any of Dan’s friends ever speak to him again, after learning he shared their deepest secrets on the internet? And why did Dan, as Gossip Girl, constantly broadcast his own worst behavior to the world? To make matters worse, Dan’s on-again, off-again love Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), who was the subject of some of Gossip Girl’s meanest posts, not only ignores his betrayal entirely, but marries him at the end of the season, putting Dan’s horrible acts aside for good.
Ross and Rachel take very different "breaks" on Friends
Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) might be one of the most iconic couples in sitcom history, but their biggest relationship hurdle is one of the most bitter betrayals to ever hit the small screen. After Ross wrongfully accuses Rachel of having an affair with a coworker, the two decide to take a hiatus from their relationship in season three’s "The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break," giving one another a time-out from their tumultuous relationship.
However, Ross and Rachel approach the "break" quite differently, though they separately tell their friends they’re worried this may be the end. Rachel doesn’t stray, but Ross, who still thinks that Rachel is sleeping with her coworker, has a one-night-stand out of pure spite. When confronted, Ross tells Rachel, "We were on a break!" He fundamentally misunderstands the entire situation, and hurts Rachel in the process. Ross and Rachel might be endgame, but Ross’ version of a "break" almost breaks them completely.
Michael kills his friends to find his son on Lost
Stranded amongst the other survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 on a terrifying and mysterious desert island, Lost‘s Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau), along with his young son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), simply tries to get through each day. However, the survivors soon realize there may be more to the island than they first realized. Michael finds himself in a particularly desperate situation when Walt is kidnapped by "the Others," who dwell within the deepest recesses of the island.
After Michael is stranded on a raft in the ocean and survives yet again, it’s clear that he’ll stop at nothing to find and save Walt — and unfortunately, he proves that in the cruelest way possible. Goaded by the Others, who tell him that he will be reunited with Walt if he brings them other survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, Michael kills two of his friends, Libby (Cynthia Watros) and Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) in cold blood, before delivering four other survivors to the Others. Michael and Walt are reunited and ultimately leave the island together, but Michael’s betrayal is unforgettable.
Jon is betrayed by his own men on Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is largely populated with unsavory characters, but Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the apparent bastard of the Stark family, is an honorable man through and through. Unfortunately, when he serves as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in Thrones‘ fifth season, his sense of honor doesn’t exactly do him any favors. As the Night King and his undead army approach from the far North, Jon is determined to do whatever it takes to save not just his brothers in the Night’s Watch, but the wildlings who live beyond the Wall as well. Unfortunately for Jon, the wildlings and the Night’s Watch are sworn enemies. Ultimately, Jon’s attempt to unite them is his undoing.
Tricked by his own men into thinking that his long-lost uncle has returned from the wilderness, Jon is executed as a traitor by several of his underlings in the Night’s Watch, stabbed and left for dead in the cold snow at Castle Black as Game of Thrones‘ fifth season draws to a close. Jon Snow returns just two episodes into the following season, but that betrayal is brutal regardless of his eventual resurrection.
Stringer and Avon destroy each other on The Wire
Even after all these years, HBO’s The Wire is still regarded as one of the best dramas of all time, thanks in large part to the intense interpersonal relationships portrayed by a cast of phenomenal actors. Within the universe of The Wire, few figures loom as large as Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), a formidable and feared drug dealer in Baltimore, and his right-hand man, Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba). Their close relationship makes Stringer’s fate all the more tragic.
In the third season, after years of strife, Stringer and Avon are at an impasse, as each has given information about the other to various enemies throughout Baltimore. As the episode "Middle Ground" comes to a close, the two sit and have a heavily veiled conversation, both aware that they’ve betrayed the other. Though they never directly address it, both Stringer and Avon lay their cards on the table. Ultimately, Avon sends Stringer to his death to save himself by sending someone to kill Stringer at one of his own development properties the next day. Their attempt at mutually assured destruction is as heartbreaking as it is brutal.
Hank discovers Heisenberg’s identity on Breaking Bad
By now, pretty much everyone knows the overall trajectory of Breaking Bad, which sees mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) become a drug lord in the wake of a life-changing, late-stage cancer diagnosis. It’s cool as all get-out, which is why it’s easy to forget about every single person Walt betrays along the way. Chief among those is his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), a DEA agent actively searching for the mysterious kingpin known as "Heisenberg" — who just so happens to be Walt himself.
Hank and Walt share an easy camaraderie throughout the series, but all of that comes to an abrupt and heart-wrenching end in the first part of Breaking Bad‘s fifth and final season, when Hank sees a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in Walt’s bathroom and recognizes the handwriting from a recent crime scene. Staggered by the knowledge that his meek brother-in-law is Heisenberg, Hank tries to bring him to justice, but ultimately ends up another one of Walt’s victims, brutally murdered by white supremacist and rival drug dealer Jack Welker (Michael Bowen) right in front of Walt. Walt does beg for Hank’s life, but the damage is done, and his betrayal of Hank is horrifying to watch unfold.
Shane tries to trick Rick on The Walking Dead
If Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is the undisputed hero of the early seasons of The Walking Dead, there’s no denying that Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) is the obvious villain. After Rick rejoins the other survivors of the zombie apocalypse in Atlanta after leaving the hospital, Shane is obviously frustrated at his demotion from leader to right-hand man, especially as he has formed an intimate relationship with Rick’s wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Rick’s son, Carl (Chandler Riggs).
As the second season progresses, Shane grows more and more resentful of Rick’s reappearance, and ultimately comes up with a truly upsetting plan to remove his rival once and for all. After killing another member of the group, Shane tries to kill Rick, believing that he would serve as a better father to Carl and support system for Lori. But Rick ultimately gains the upper hand, killing Shane before breaking down in sobs. Shane and Rick’s relationship was fraught for sure, and Shane’s plan was horrific, but even so, Rick can’t help but mourn the man who tried to betray him.
Tyrion’s love turns on him on Game of Thrones
One of Game of Thrones‘ most complicated and fascinating characters, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is a scarily intelligent man and a shrewd strategist. Despite this fact, he often makes disastrous choices in his personal life. When it comes to love, Tyrion always looks for it in the wrong places, and Shae (Sibel Kekilli), a sex worker whom Tyrion meets towards the end of the show’s first season, is his biggest mistake.
At first, it truly seems as if Tyrion and Shae, who lovingly refers to Tyrion as "my lion," have a real bond and are truly in love. But when their connection is threatened as Tyrion is forced to marry Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Shae becomes vengeful. As Sansa’s handmaiden, Shae is privy to their relationship — or lack thereof, as Sansa and Tyrion never consummate their marriage — and grows more jealous by the day, which is made worse when Tyrion tries to bully Shae into leaving Westeros for her own safety. Enraged and hurt, Shae testifies against Tyrion in court when he’s wrongly accused of regicide, claiming he forced her into what was actually a loving and consensual relationship. Tyrion later murders Shae before escaping Westeros, making their relationship one of Thrones’ most upsetting entanglements.
Adriana’s awful fate unfolds on The Sopranos
Even within the colorful and charismatic cast of characters featured on HBO’s classic drama The Sopranos, Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) stands out from the pack. As the long-running girlfriend and eventual fiancée of mob boss Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) beloved mentee, Christopher Molisanti (Michael Imperioli), Adriana holds her own more often than not. But eventually, when her biggest secret is revealed, she faces horrifying consequences.
After the FBI identifies Adriana as a potential weak spot in Tony’s organization, the feds tell Adriana that she can either help them, or go to prison for petty crimes, including distributing drugs at a club. Left with no other choice, Adriana agrees to help them. However, once she’s equipped with a wire, she confesses everything to Christopher, who betrays her to his family and looks away as she’s brutally murdered by Tony’s associate, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt). Adriana was no angel, but she certainly didn’t deserve to be stabbed in the back by Christopher when all was said and done.