1. Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul didn’t know it, but show creator Vince Gilligan was planning to kill him off at the end of the show’s first season. The aftermath envisioned by Gilligan was particularly harsh, and set Walter on a brutally violent quest for revenge that would have also killed off his son. Studio execs were horrified by this idea, and everyone was already loving Aaron Paul so much that the idea didn’t make it very far after the initial suggestion. It’s not like the rest of his life was a tea party, but at least he made it through the finale.
2. Cindy Chandler, Lost
Don’t remember Cindy? She was in the pilot episode, initially just called “Flight Attendant #1,” and was seen right before the fateful crash of Flight 815, serving Jack (Matthew Fox). That was going to be the end of her, but one of the producers liked actress Kimberley Joseph and brought her back. In season two, we learned that she had survived and was living with The Others. She turned up a few more times after that, although I’ll be honest, I don’t really remember her.
3. Nicole Wallace, Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Who knew Kevin Arnold’s sister could be so evil? Olivia D’Abo also played criminal mastermind Nicole Wallace, con artist and murderer. She was all set to be killed off in 2005, but they shot two different endings for the episode, with entirely different outcomes. In one, she was gunned down and in the other she escaped. Viewers could watch both versions, and then vote for the one they preferred. 53 percent of them voted to keep her, and so it was.
4. Dr. Julie Parrish, V
Remember V? Not the short-lived update with Elizabeth Mitchell, but the original one from the ’80s? Julie (Faye Grant) was one of its heroes, but died (heroically, of course) in the second season premiere. They never aired it, which didn’t seem that strange given the mish-mosh of series episodes and TV movies that were hard to keep track of anyway, and show creator Kenneth Johnson (of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman fame) wrote a novel taking the story to the next level, where Julie survived after all.
5. Joe Coffey, Hill Street Blues
I remember this one vividly, and not just because I recently binge-watched the three seasons Hulu has about a month ago. (Why only three seasons, Hulu?) Coffey (Ed Marinaro) was killed off in the first season, but after it aired, producers decided he should stay, so when the show came back, it was revealed that he’d been taken to the hospital in time. Hooray! Sadly, they killed him off again, this time permanently, in season six.
For the record, Andy Renko (Charles Haid) was also supposed to be dead at the end of the first episode, after he and partner Bobby Hill (Michael Warren) were gunned down by junkies, but both survived the ordeal and went on to become two of the show’s most memorable characters.
6. Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown, Doctor Who
English actress Nicola Bryant played Doctor Who’s first American companion, and did, in fact, get offed on the show rather spectacularly. An alien monster transplanted his brain into her body, and during a fight, she was killed. While she was never seen again on air, viewers later learned that she had survived, recovered from her ordeal, and married a warrior king. Phew!
7. Chiana, Farscape
As it was originally written, Chiana (Gigi Edgley) was going to die just as she saved hero Crichton (Ben Browder) from the shot of an alien villain. But everyone thought Edgley was too appealing to get rid of, and they rewrote the episode so she could stay on until the series ended.
8. Erin Harkins, ER
ER producers brought Erin Harkins (Leslie Bibb) to County General Hospital as a love interest for Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic). Erin Harkins was supposed to die in a car accident caused by Dr. Kovac, but writer/producer David Zabel couldn’t bring himself to kill her off, for the sole reason that he’d named her after his wife. He changed the storyline so she survived, and within a few more episodes she left the series, safe and sound.
As everyone who’s ever watched a soap opera knows, dead doesn’t always mean dead on TV. Characters return, either in new storylines—they really faked their deaths and went into hiding!—or in flashbacks and alternate universes. Patrick Dempsey fans, take heart.