Back to IndieWire

The 16 Most Shocking TV Moments of 2016 (So Far)

It's been a bonkers year for television so far, and so these moments were only some of the surprises that had us gasping this year.

Archer Game of Thrones Veep X-Files

Warning: Spoilers below for the listed shows. 


The Clothespin

Time-jumping Jake (James Franco) may have been a man of the modern world, but even he was not ready to hear about Sadie’s (Sarah Gadon) wedding day deflowering by her ex-husband Johnny (T.R. Knight) that involved him having a clothespin clipped down between his legs and raping her. Wait, what? While we put a pin in that moment (aka, hit pause) so we could frantically Google “clothespin penis,” it dawned on us just how twisted Johnny actually was and how it was just a taste of the sadism to come. (Hanh Nguyen)

“The Americans”

THE AMERICANS -- "The Magic of David Copperfield V. The Statue of Liberty Disappears" Episode 408 (Airs, Wednesday, May 4, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Alison Wright as Martha Hanson. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

“The Americans” Says Goodbye to Two Favorites

“The Americans” is always shocking when you least expect it, and never was that better exemplified than in Season 4 — first when Nina’s luck finally ran out in Episode 4, and soon after when we said goodbye to Martha in Episode 8. Nina (Annet Mahendru), who had been living in a Russian prison for more than a year, was read her sentence and immediately executed at the end of “Chloramphenicol,” shocking many who believed there was more in store for the crafty KGB secretary-turned-double agent. Martha, meanwhile, wasn’t killed, despite a number of scenarios that could have led to just that (including the brief possibility of suicide). Instead, she was whisked away on an airplane to Russia at the beginning of Episode 8, “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” never to be heard from again (presumably). The timing and execution made both acts surprising to viewers — happening almost too naturally, too realistically, to exist on TV — proving once and for all there are few shows as grounded as FX’s drama about a family of undercover Soviet spies. (Ben Travers)


ARCHER -- "Deadly Velvet: Part I" -- Episode 709 (Airs Thursday, May 26, 10:00pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin), Lana Kane (voice of Aisha Tyler). CR: FX

An Archer-Less “Archer” Season 8

When “Archer” Season 7 began with Adam Reed’s titular star face down in a pool, riddled with bullets and reportedly dead, it wasn’t all that alarming because there was an entire season left to explain why Archer wasn’t actually a goner. Maybe he was holding his breath. Maybe it was some other guy in a mask, a la “Mission: Impossible.” Maybe it was a robot designed by Krieger to look and act exactly like Archer, and that needed to be killed in order to dupe a movie starlet into confessing to multiple homicides. One of those may be what actually happened, but it’s what happened next that shocked us: Archer might actually be dead! Season 7 ended on both the robot Archer and the real Archer terminated, leaving fans with an excruciating wait to find out the truth…or with the most depressing finale of all time. (Ben Travers)

Better Call Saul

Michael McKean in "Better Call Saul."

Chuck Goes Down

All season long, “Saul” had been building to something with Chuck (Michael McKean) and his mysterious medical condition, and it came with a THWACK at the end of Episode 9, “Nailed.” When Chuck put his mental and physical health in jeopardy to confirm his suspicions regarding brother Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) latest betrayal, there were clearly going to be consequences. But watching Chuck disintegrate inside the copy shop, before collapsing with a brutal hit to the head against a counter, was a slow-mo trainwreck that was simultaneous and inevitable at the same time. (Liz Shannon Miller)

“Broad City”

Ilana and Blake Griffin’s Sex Scene in “Broad City”

“Broad City” was surprisingly packed with shocking moments in a killer third season. From the hilarious opening bathroom montage (addictively creative) to Ilana and Lincoln’s dramatic “break-up” (bold and unexpected), Season 3 really went there. But never were they more out there than this:

Broad City Ilana Glazer Blake Griffin gif

Need we say more? (Ben Travers)


Catastrophe Season 2 Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney

Time Jump!

“Shock” usually implies a somewhat rude awakening. The word “upsetting” is actually in the definition, but — in case this wasn’t clear already — that’s not always what we’re referring to on this list. And “Catastrophe’s” Season 2 time jump is anything but unsettling. It, much like the accidental pregnancy that set up the series, turned out to be quite the pleasant surprise. After ending Season 1 on Rob (Delaney) and Sharon (Horgan) still pregnant with their first child, Season 2 launches as if we’re picking things up right where we left off. Sharon’s pregnant. The two are trying to have sex. They fight. Then they have sex…and in walks a little boy. Surprise! The couple is actually ready for baby No. 2, and this “twist” couldn’t have set things up any better for an insightful new season. (Ben Travers)

“Game of Thrones”


Hold the Door

Although Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) burning down the Dothraki patriarchy and Cersei (Lena Headey) wildfire-nuking the Sept of Baelor to eliminate her enemies were both honorable mentions as game-changers, it was a single, more heartbreaking death that made the most impact this season. We finally discovered through Bran’s visit to the past the origins behind Hodor’s (Kristian Nairn) name and signature phrase. Unfortunately, this occurred when present-day Hodor was torn apart after being told to “hold the door” against the murderous wights, which created a feedback loop the broke young Hodor’s mind and vocabulary forever. (Hanh Nguyen)

“The Girlfriend Experience”

The Girlfriend Experience

The Sex Tape

Christine (Riley Keough) entered the world of “transactional relationships” hoping to keep it separate from her personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, that was impossible, as those associated with her clientele proved to be vengeful. “Chelsea’s” sex tape was perhaps the catalyst for her eventual decision to embrace her non-legal profession fully, but if she hadn’t been forced to publicly embrace her source of additional income, the show might have taken a very different turn. (Liz Shannon Miller)

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey and Nathan Darrow in "House of Cards."

Poor Meechum

The fourth season of “House of Cards” seemed like it was going to take a relatively conventional path. Then, in Episode 4, an unhinged former reporter got a gun, and the entire game changed. Dearest Secret Service Agent Meechum (Nathan Darrow) — who was once the meat in a Frank/Claire sex sandwich — was killed protecting his President, catapulting the show into an entirely different direction. Even though it was a surprise, “House of Cards” didn’t shortchange this loss. It’s a show that does a nice job of honoring the innocent blood it spills. (Liz Shannon Miller)

“The Night Manager”

Tom Hiddleston as "The Night Manager"

Making of a Murderer

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) sacrificed much to go undercover to expose arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), but he blurred the line between good guy and bad by murdering Roper’s henchman Major Corcoran (Tom Hollander). What made the brutal killing worse was that Pine pummeled Corky with his bare hands, making it far more personal, intimate and horrifying. It looks like Pine took that edict to become the “second-worst man in the world” pretty seriously. (Hanh Nguyen)


Caitriona Balfe in "Outlander."

Claire Returns to the Future

“Outlander” returned for Season 2 like a cannonball jump into a freezing lake. Opening with the abrupt return of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to 1948, viewers were forced to confront the fact that Claire’s time in the 1800s had an expiration date — and large-scale consequences. Even more shocking, showrunner Ronald D. Moore left viewers wondering exactly what this meant for the show and for Claire’s relationship with Jamie (Sam Heughan). Overall, “Outlander” has maintained its commitment to making sure that the fans stay on their toes. Fortunately, our attachment to these characters keeps us hanging on, no matter how the weather changes. (Liz Shannon Miller)

“Peaky Blinders”

Cillian Murphy on "Peaky Blinders"

Tommy’s Betrayal

As violent and double-crossing as the Shelby family could be, its members had always remained loyal to each other… until the Season 3 finale. After mob boss Tommy (Cillian Murphy) almost lost his son to the corrupt Father John Hughes (Paddy Considine), extreme steps were clearly needed to ensure that the Shelby stranglehold on Birmingham was never again challenged. But no one expected in the episode’s last moments for Tommy to turn in his relatives en masse to the police in what we assume is a master plan with a twist sufficiently meaty enough to set up the series’ final two seasons. TOMMAYYY! (Hanh Nguyen)

“The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story”

Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown in "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story."

The Great Romance of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden 

The greatest and most surprising TV love story of this year (so far) may just be the bond between Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) and Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) as depicted on “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” We never knew just how deep that bond ran, and it proved charming, complex and beautiful, at times. The story was a completely unexpected but welcome component of FX’s engrossing take on “The Trial of the Century.”

By the way, knowing that our opinion about Clark and Darden (Clarden?) was not unique, out of curiosity we went online to see how much fan fiction had been written about our favorite couple of the year. Here’s the real shock: There was none. We checked multiple sites which publish fanfic, with multiple various search terms, and pulled up no results. How can this be? We literally have no idea. (Liz Shannon Miller)

“Silicon Valley”

Oh, the Bachmanity!

If we had learned anything from watching the boys of Pied Piper try to get their compression app launched, it is that success is fleeting and that things will inevitably go south. In the Season 3 finale, however, just as Richard (Thomas Middleditch) accepted that Pied Piper has been sold to his nemesis Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), he got uncharacteristically good news: the highest bidder was in fact Pied Piper friend and Chief Evangelist Officer Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller). A happy ending for Pied Piper? We’ll take it (until next season). (Hanh Nguyen)


Timothy Simons Jonah Veep Congress

Congressman Jonah Ryan

An excerpt from our Episode 5 review, when the idea of Jonah ascending the rungs of government was first hinted at:

So shocking, so repulsive and so terrifying was the thought of White House whipping boy Jonah Ryan having any sort of say in the future of our country. Then…it happened. Jonah. Won. While he did so in aptly satiric fashion, as the NRA used their political swing to get a self-titled MRSA-infection into Congress, the idea still stings. And he’s just getting started. (Ben Travers)

The X-Files

Gillian Anderson in "The X-Files."

That Cliffhanger!

As the clock wound down on “My Struggle II,” we kept wanting to believe that the last episode of “The X-Files” Season 10 wouldn’t end on an ultra-dramatic cliffhanger; that it would wrap up with something resembling a satisfactory conclusion; maybe even with Mulder and Scully sharing a nice moment together? But no. Instead, we got any number of crazy plot points leaping across the screen, including a full-on flying saucer looming over a Washington D.C. bridge. In the days when “The X-Files” was a regularly-occurring concern, that’d be fine. But in an era when getting the very, very busy Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny onto the same set at the same time is a Herculean effort, we were legitimately blown away by the decision. And this one wasn’t particularly fun. (Liz Shannon Miller)

Stay on top of the latest TV news! Sign up for our TV email newsletter here.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox