Homelander's eyes glow in The Boys

When viewers think of "The Boys," many of them probably focus on the show’s biting humor or its bombastic gore before they consider its devastating emotional beats. The satirical superhero series is full of gut-wrenching emotion and heartbreaking moments, made all the more affecting by its stellar cast. "The Boys" digs into what it really means to have unlimited power in a world ruled by greedy CEOs and mendacious media companies, and it uncovers a great deal of sorrow in the "collateral damage" that is often ignored by more straightforward superhero stories.

The characters in "The Boys" mourn many different types of deaths: deaths of loved ones, deaths of dreams, and deaths of hope. Guilt and loss guide so many of their actions, yet they keep creating new avenues for those heavy emotions. The show interrogates the myth of superheroism, batting away nearly every opportunity for love or happiness. This list takes a look at those dashed hopes and losses, ranking the saddest moments in "The Boys."

14. Hughie asks Starlight for special treatment at the Believe Expo

Starlight on stage in The Boys

Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is appearing at the Believe Expo, an evangelical conference featuring Christian superheroes. Hughie (Jack Quaid) accompanies her, ostensibly as moral support, but unbeknownst to Starlight, he’s really there to try to blackmail evangelical Supe Ezekiel (Shaun Benson) into giving up information on Compound V. Already disillusioned with the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness of the expo, which isn’t the beacon of light and hope she remembers it being from her youth, Starlight is crestfallen when Hughie asks her to pull some strings and get him a highly coveted (and outrageously expensive) Diamond Club Pass so that he can meet Ezekiel face-to-face.

At this point in the series, Hughie is the only person who treats Starlight like a real person — like Annie, her real name — rather than a famous superhero. When he asks for her to use her fame and connections to do him this huge favor, he completely destroys the one part of Annie’s life that she felt belonged to her and her alone. Though Hughie is trying to use her for his own ends, he also genuinely cares for Annie, making it doubly heartbreaking as he watches her face fall when she believes that she has no one left in the world who likes her for who she is rather than what she can do for them.

13. Ryan takes Homelander’s hand and leaves with him

Butcher, Ryan, and Homelander in The Boys

Homelander (Antony Starr) has tracked down his son Ryan (Cameron Crovetti) and introduced him to Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) as his grandson. Though Soldier Boy rejects the family reunion and engages Homelander in battle, Maeve defeats Soldier Boy, leaving Homelander and Ryan free to continue their father-son bonding out from under the watchful eyes of the people who have been trying to protect Ryan from his psychopathic father. Feeling like no one else in the world cares about him other than Homelander, Ryan begs his father to leave with him, taking his hand as Butcher (Karl Urban) watches in pain.

So many of the Boys’ efforts in Seasons 2 and 3 revolve around keeping Ryan safe from Homelander’s influence. Butcher promised Becca (Shantel VanSanten) on her deathbed that he would protect her son at any cost. It’s devastating to see an innocent child succumb to Homelander’s brainwashing, particularly knowing how many people have suffered and died to prevent that exact occurrence. Seeing how Homelander turned out, and knowing that Ryan will now likely go down the exact same path, is a gut punch to viewers, who are essentially watching the birth of another generation of fear and hatred happen in real-time.

12. Popclaw dies

Popclaw and A-Train talking in The Boys

The Boys blackmailed superhero Popclaw (Brittany Allen) into telling them everything she knows about Compound V. This is a big problem for her boyfriend A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who’s addicted to the drug and its performance-enhancing qualities. The episode "Good for the Soul" opens with him pumping Popclaw for information on the blackmailers. Once he has everything he needs from her, they reminisce about their first date and say "I love you," at which point A-Train jabs Popclaw with four full syringes of Compound V, killing her via overdose.

Popclaw has only ever existed on the periphery of the series. Her biggest desire is for A-Train to go public with their romantic relationship, but he keeps putting her off because it might damage his career. She remains on the outside even with her own boyfriend, and the forlorn "Why?" she utters when she realizes that he is murdering her is heartbreaking. Most Supes are not good people, but many of them still have human moments, and this is one of those times when the viewer feels the full weight of the pressure bearing down on people like A-Train. If he didn’t have to deal with Vought’s dehumanizing demands, or wasn’t sucked in by fame over all else, Popclaw — the woman he loves, who is nothing more than a liability to his bosses — would still be alive.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

11. Mother’s Milk watches Todd take pictures with Janine at her birthday party

Mother's Milk and Janine in The Boys

The Boys are a found family, made up of lost and broken people. Butcher, Hughie, and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara) have all lost loved ones to Supes, and Frenchie (Tomer Capone) is a lonely man constantly searching for connection and guidance. Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso) is the only family man in the group. Though his grandfather was also murdered by a Supe, his ex-wife Monique (Frances Turner) and his daughter Janine (Liyou Abere) are still very much in his life, and he often feels torn between his duties to his two very different families.

Janine means the world to M.M. His guilt over being absent for a large part of her life is never more evident than when he watches another man — Todd (Matthew Gorman), Monique’s new boyfriend — take family photos with her at her Supe-themed birthday party. Todd wears a Homelander costume, further twisting the knife and letting M.M. know that Janine lives in a world wholly separate from his own. He can’t tell his daughter the truth, and he can’t be a part of her big happy family anymore. The work he’s doing to try to make her world safer has taken its toll, as he starts to lose his connection to her, bit by bit.

10. Black Noir dies

Homelander attacks Black Noir in The Boys

Black Noir has been a cipher for most of the series, often to comedic effect. The truth behind his expressionless mask is horrifying and heartbreaking, though. As viewers learn in "Here Comes a Candle to Light You to Bed," Soldier Boy bullied and beat Black Noir relentlessly, to the point where Black Noir has lasting brain damage. Possible side effects of that trauma manifest in the form of cartoon characters that come to life and give Black Noir a pep talk about confronting Soldier Boy once and for all. Those characters reappear when Homelander confronts Black Noir about his parentage. Though Black Noir is the only member of The Seven whom Homelander trusts, Homelander still kills him for keeping the secret that Soldier Boy is actually Homelander’s father.

It would be gut-wrenching enough just to see the lights in Black Noir’s eyes go out as the cartoon characters back away from his mask’s reflection. The cartoons are diabolically adorable, making the audience sympathize with Black Noir despite his monstrous actions in the past. Knowing the trauma and degradation Black Noir has gone through, and seeing the childlike way he deals with it, turns this formerly mysterious character into one of the most tragic figures in the entire series. Adding to the tragedy is that this is perhaps the only time the audience has seen genuine remorse on Homelander’s face. He’s a stone-cold killer, but it causes him real anguish to murder Black Noir, and the audience feels every ounce of that pain as Homelander’s face contorts while he kills perhaps the only friend he’s ever had.

9. Maeve jumps out of the Vought Tower window with Soldier Boy

Dominique McElligott as Queen Maeve in The Boys

Ironically, given the way Queen Maeve (Dominique McElligott) became pigeonholed after Homelander outed her in Season 2, Episode 4, "Nothing Like It in the World," "The Boys" never seemed to know what to do with her character in Season 3. She felt sidelined for most of the season, working through her bitterness and apparent hopelessness off-screen. She gets possibly the series’ most heroic moment, however, when she selflessly tackles Soldier Boy and dives out of the window just as he is about to explode. Soldier Boy’s inability to control his power coupled with its capacity for catastrophic devastation makes him a bigger threat than even Homelander, and Maeve sets aside her goal of defeating Homelander in order to serve the greater good.

Maeve knows that exposing herself to Soldier Boy’s power will strip her of her own superhuman abilities, so she has no way of knowing whether she will survive the one-two punch of the explosion and the fall. It’s a beautiful redemption arc for a character who has struggled with her own lack of heroism throughout the series, one that left fans briefly mourning assuming the popular character may have not survived. The scene is made all the more poignant when Maeve shares a knowing look with Starlight just before she makes what could be the ultimate sacrifice.

8. Butcher gets stuck in his own mind and watches Lenny’s death

Butcher screams bloody face in The Boys

Billy Butcher is an antihero many viewers love (and hate) to root for, and there are few moments when the audience feels more sympathy for him than when he is trapped in his own mind watching his little brother end his life. When Hughie and Butcher hunt down Mindstorm (Ryan Blakely), a former teammate of Soldier Boy’s who can lock people in their own worst memories, Mindstorm attacks Butcher and sends him to moments from his childhood that cause him the most pain and guilt. Butcher left home early to escape his abusive father, not knowing that his absence would cause his dad to abuse his younger brother, Lenny (Jack Fulton), with even more ferocity. Six months later, Lenny killed himself because he couldn’t take the abuse any longer.

Butcher has always been motivated by guilt and loss. His anti-Supe vendetta began after Homelander raped Becca, causing what Butcher believed to be her death. He failed to protect Becca and Ryan from Homelander and Stormfront at the end of Season 2, and he was unable to protect Lenny as a kid. (According to what his mind reveals, Butcher’s also worried Hughie will be the next major casualty in his life.) Seeing him forced to watch his worst nightmare play out right in front of him is devastating, and shows even more of what the character has buried deeply. Butcher is constantly trying to outrun his past; when he’s forced to stop running and face it, the audience mourns right along with him.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)‚Äč.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

7. Becca watches Ryan fly off with Homelander and Stormfront

Stormfront and Homelander smirking in The Boys

Becca spent Ryan’s entire life trying to teach him to be a good person. She left Butcher, the love of her life, and agreed to Vought’s demands so that she could raise her son to be the opposite of his deplorable father, Homelander. When Homelander learns that Becca is alive and raising their son far away from him, he inserts himself into their lives, violating Becca all over again. He salts the wound even more when he introduces Ryan to his girlfriend Stormfront (Aya Cash), a Nazi who wants to indoctrinate Ryan with her hateful philosophy. When Homelander and Stormfront reveal to Ryan that Becca hasn’t told Ryan everything about their lives and his powers, he tells Becca that he hates her, just before Homelander and Stormfront fly off with Ryan in their arms.

Long before viewers met Becca, she was one of the beating hearts of the show, due to Butcher’s fierce love for her and his devotion to avenging her supposed death. Seeing her panic and anguish over losing her son — the only thing she has left in the world after Vought took everything else away from her — is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the series. Not only is Becca suffering her worst nightmare, but an innocent young boy has been manipulated and kidnapped by nigh-indestructible Nazi psychopaths. The sadness and hopelessness that Becca and the viewers feel as they fly far away from her is a devastating blow.

6. Frenchie begs Grace to spare Lamplighter’s life

Frenchie in a forest in The Boys

CIA operative Grace Mallory (Laila Robins) has a long and complicated history with the Boys. She once tasked Frenchie with tailing Lamplighter (Shawn Ashmore), who was a member of The Seven at the time, after the Boys blackmailed him into becoming their spy within the Vought organization. When Frenchie had to abandon his post to take care of a friend who had overdosed on drugs, Lamplighter went after Grace but accidentally killed her grandchildren instead. Frenchie carries the guilt of their deaths with him every day, and Grace can barely bring herself to look at him.

When the Boys find Lamplighter in the present day and convince him to help them, Grace has a tense moment where she struggles not to kill Lamplighter. Frenchie convinces her to spare him, telling her that Lamplighter is wracked with guilt over what he did to her grandchildren and that he punishes himself far more than she ever could. It’s clear that Frenchie is also talking about his own guilt here, and his soulful pleading with her makes the standoff even more emotional. Three people, all devastated by the same incident, stare each other down as they wrestle with their guilt and sorrow over the lost children. It’s one of the most harrowing scenes in the series because of the raw pain on display for each character.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

5. Starlight realizes that heroes are terrible people

Starlight frowns in The Boys

When viewers meet Starlight, she is a sweet and innocent woman who wants to make a difference in the world. She’s a small-town Iowa girl who gets called up to the big leagues when she’s accepted as a member of The Seven. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for her to realize that her dream is a lie, as The Deep (Chace Crawford) assaults her, coercing her into a sexual act by convincing her that it’s the only way for her to remain in The Seven, or even to remain a superhero at all. Starlight grew up dreaming about being in The Seven and helping people, but when she finally reaches her goal, she finds out quickly that helping people is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Note: This ranking is based on Starlight having her dreams dashed, not on her assault. It is insensitive and insulting to try to quantify how sad it is for a person to be sexually assaulted. The ranking of this incident is solely based on Starlight’s disillusionment with the heroes she’s idolized her whole life as no one is willing to trivialize what happened to Starlight by placing her assault within any kind of hierarchical list.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

4. Kimiko watches Kenji die

Kimiko injured in The Boys

Kimiko has suffered so much loss in her life. She and her brother Kenji (Abraham Lim) were kidnapped from their parents by terrorists, who forced them to fight as soldiers and experimented on them with Compound V. When Kimiko and her brother are finally reunited, he becomes a pawn in the fight between Vought and the Boys. Stormfront, the newest member of The Seven, chases Kenji down, taunts him and hurls racist insults at him, and then kills him as Kimiko watches.

Kimiko’s only goal up until this point has been to find her brother and get them both to safety. She’s never been in control of her own life, and just when she thinks she’ll have the chance to gain that control, it’s ripped away from her by a superpowered Nazi. The fact that she is so physically close to Kenji when he dies drives that point home: she was so close to getting the one thing she wanted in life, but now she’s truly lost everything. In a show filled with death and loss, seeing Kimiko lose her brother still hits harder than almost any other scene.

3. Baby Homelander plays peekaboo in the Vought lab

Baby Homelander empty room in The Boys

"The Boys" often examines the fraught relationship between heroism and innocence, and nowhere is that innocence portrayed more heartbreakingly than in the depiction of a young Homelander being raised in a Vought lab. Homelander didn’t grow up in a home with a family; he grew up in a sterile, locked room, being peered at through a window by scientists. When Dr. Vogelbaum (John Doman) looks in through the observation window and sees young Homelander, he covers his eyes in a game of peekaboo, eliciting delighted giggles from the boy as he sits on the cold lab floor with only a blanket to keep him company.

No matter how reprehensible Homelander is as an adult, it’s impossible to look at him as an innocent baby and feel anything but pity for him, and sorrow for what Vought would turn him into. As he flashes back to the memory, Homelander’s face contorts through a myriad of emotions in Antony Starr’s brilliant portrayal of Homelander’s arrested development. He’s the most powerful man in the world, but he also remains the loneliest child in the world, constantly seeking a way to fill the void in his soul that the Vought scientists systematically and methodically inculcated in him.

2. Becca dies

Becca cries with Butcher in The Boys

Butcher’s whole life as a member of the Boys has been driven by his love for Becca. Becca’s whole life after Ryan’s birth has been driven by a desire to keep her son safe and make sure he has a loving mother to guide and protect him. Both of their worlds come crashing down when Ryan accidentally kills Becca as he tries to protect her from Stormfront. Becca makes Butcher promise to look out for Ryan and make sure he knows her death isn’t his fault, but as "The Boys" proves time and again, guilt can take you down some very dark paths.

Not only is Becca’s death a gut punch because of how invested the audience is in her relationship with Butcher and the tiny glimmer of hope that comes from their reunion, but it’s also a reminder of how vulnerable Ryan is and how easily he could succumb to the corruption and heartbreak that seems to follow everyone who comes into contact with Compound V. He lost his mother and he may have lost the one person who could keep him from turning to the dark side of superherodom. Becca’s death is a personal tragedy for Butcher and Ryan, but it’s also a tragedy that could change the entire world for the worse.

1. Maeve begs Homelander to save the little girl on the plane

Maeve faces crying girl in The Boys

Homelander and Maeve are dispatched to a plane that has been hijacked, in the hopes that their heroic act of rescuing a plane full of people will convince Congress to allow superheroes into the military. When they arrive on board, the passengers rejoice that their saviors have arrived, cheering and applauding them. However, when the Supes go into the cockpit and find an armed hijacker, Homelander accidentally melts the control panel with his laser vision, ensuring that the plane has no hope of making it safely home. Homelander tells Maeve that they have no choice but to leave the terrified, screaming passengers, who beg for their lives and ask the superheroes why they’re just leaving them to die. Maeve grabs a little girl and her mother, pleading with Homelander to at least save them, but he refuses to leave any witnesses alive. Homelander flies Maeve off the plane, and they watch as it slowly descends into the ocean.

The passengers’ dawning realization that the heroes can’t and won’t save them is agonizing to watch. Their jubilation over their supposed rescue followed so closely by betrayal and disbelief is a hideous rollercoaster ride that underscores the vast gulf between the altruistic public image of superheroes and their craven reality. Maeve’s desperate attempt to save even one or two of the doomed people on the flight highlights how helpless even she is in the face of Homelander’s utter contempt for humanity and Vought’s constant focus on the bottom line. Maeve never really recovers from her inability to be a hero that day, and the audience doesn’t either.