The greatest sign of a good writer is how heartbroken you feel after they kill off a character in their story. If I’m completely honest, I thought this idea to write about the top 10 saddest fictional deaths would be fun. I could write about my favorite stories, movies, and shows and get paid for them. I regret it. After putting this list together, I’m just sad. I’ve repeatedly watched clips of some of the saddest deaths, so I could write this dumb article, and I hate myself for thinking this was a good idea. At least I have my dog as some sort of emotional support.
Normally I would rank a top 10 list, but I just don’t have it in me. I can’t rank the best/saddest/most impactful fictional death. You can’t ask that of me, and I simply refuse. So my list is in no particular order. These fictional deaths left me a blubbering mess when I first watched them; they still affect me now. (Also, spoilers ahead for the following; The Legend of Vox Machina, The Beginning After the End, and One Piece)
Top 10 Saddest Fictional Deaths
Maes Hughes (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
Are you an anime fan if you haven’t watched Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood? It is a perfect story; almost every anime fan I know has watched it. If you like anime and haven’t watched it, run to Crunchyroll and do yourself a favor. That said, be prepared for some of the biggest gut punches ever. None hit harder than Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes (posthumously promoted to Brigadier General). Who doesn’t love a goofball father obsessed with his wife and daughter in a world as bleak and damning as Fullmetal? He was a ray of sunshine in his world, but he was also a soldier and a wise man despite his goofy demeanor.
The nature of Hughes’ death and the reaction of those who cared for him are what got me the most. He discovered a government secret and was killed for it. Then, he was shot by a homunculus who took the form of his wife. His last words that no one could hear were to his daughter. But nothing broke my spirit more than his funeral. His toddler daughter breaks down and yells that she wants her daddy, and his closest friend Colonel Mustang dons his hat and utters the most iconic line from the show, “It’s a terrible day for rain,” as tears stream down his face.
Boromir (Lord of the Rings)
Talk about the most perfectly imperfect character. Boromir is all of us. We all like to think we are someone else in the Fellowship, but we are human, and we would all most likely react to the call of the ring as Boromir did. But how many of us would have the strength of character to redeem ourselves like he did? Boromir dies defending Merry and Pippin. It’s a touching moment of redemption, and I love everything about it. But let’s be completely honest with ourselves, the thing that makes Boromir’s death so iconic and sad, besides his redemption to the hobbits, is the last line he utters with his dying breath. “I would have followed you, My Brother. My Captain. My King.” (Literally getting teary-eyed just writing that out.)
Portgas D. Ace (One Piece)
I’m a late convert to One Piece. However, I made a deal with one of my college roommates. I catch up on One Piece, and he watches the entirety of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy, and everything Star Wars. Yes, there are more One Piece episodes to get through than stars in the sky, but it was the only way to get him to watch the movies I knew he would enjoy. And to make it clear, I hated One Piece for the first 100+ episodes.
Nothing could prepare me for the Marineford War arc and the absolute giga chad sacrifice from Bon Clay to get Luffy to where he needed to be. I thought that sacrifice was the definition of pain, but then I had to watch Ace die. I sobbed alone in my dark, cold room at 3 am when I saw Akainu’s lava fist go through Ace’s chest. And in his final moments, Ace thanked Luffy for loving him. Ace comforted his brother, and I could not handle it. Also, Jinbei is the GOAT, and I’m so happy he is finally a Straw Hat. Thinking about Ace’s death still hurts six years later, but ever since then, I have been a ride-or-die One Piece fan. It had hooks in me before that arc, but now there was no going back.
(No, Whitebeard is not on this list. It’s the top 10 saddest fictional deaths, not the most hardcore deaths in fiction. He was shot by guns and cannons and stabbed by spears and swords, but there was not a single mark on his back. Whitebeard might have died at Marineford, but no one could call him a coward, not when you die standing up.)
There is no great example of a story’s power than the first ten minutes of UP. Pixar animators had us crying over Ellie’s life, love, and death. No one was ready for the opening scenes of UP. Pixar/Disney doesn’t shy away from tough topics like death. I watched Buffalo stampede Mufasa and Simba cried over his father’s lifeless body. , but at least with the Lion King, there was a build-up to the heartbreak and pain. In UP, Pixar started their movie by ripping our hearts out and throwing them on the floor. Those animators probably take great pride in how badly they messed us up. Ellie’s death hurt me when I was 12, and I refuse to give them the satisfaction of putting me through it ever again.
Vax’ildan (Critical Role Campaign 1: Vox Machina)
I like Critical Role, but it’s a lot sometimes. I’m trying to keep track of every little thing Oda comes up with in One Piece, and Brandon Sanderson keeps me on my toes with every new book he releases. What I’m trying to say is that there are only so many lore-heavy franchises I can juggle in my mind, and Matt Mercer loves lore and world-building. I am more partial to Dimension-20. (Brennan Lee Mulligan’s short but impactful Dungeons and Dragons campaigns hit the sweet spot for me.) However, if you have 447 hours to go on an adventure with everyone at Critical Role, then by all means, jump into the amazing world Matt Mercer built. (I watched Campaigns 1 and 2 over the pandemic.)
If you’re familiar with Critical Role and invested the time to watch all of campaign one, then you know the heartbreaking moment that Vax’s fate was sealed. He was pledged to be the Champion of the Raven Queen after the group defeated Vecna. There was hope that we could wiggle his way out of the contract with the help of a very powerful Wish. Sadly, that wish was used for something else and Vax had to leave everyone he ever loved. The thing that always gets me is Vax appearing briefly for his twin sister’s wedding. The sad and happy tears I shed watching Vax again were borderline cathartic for me. Vax was such a cool character who did everything in his power to protect those around him and I’m still not over it.
(The only other major D&D deaths that got me were Lapin Cadbury and Princess Jet Rocks. A Crown of Candy is, to me, perfect storytelling. Definitely an unconventional pick for top 10 saddest fictional deaths.)
Stoick the Vast (How to Train Your Dragon 2)
We all have arbitrary hills we will gladly die on no matter what other people say. Mine? How to Train Your Dragon is the single greatest trilogy ever put on the big screen. Hiccup and Toothless elicit such happiness that it’s actually kind of concerning. The soundtrack is iconic. Character development through the movies should be an example in every creative writing class. And there was no better character development than Stoick the Vast, Chief of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe and proud father to Hiccup. His death played right into some personal issues for me. Supportive, loving fathers giving their all to protect their kids always, and I always mean, leave me a sobbing mess.
(Can we talk about Stoick seeing his wife again, whom he thought was dead? They had arguably the most intimate and loving scene EVER, and then he freaking dies. Dreamworks hates all their cowards for taking Stoick away from us and us.)
Mr. Hooper (Sesame Street)
No writer’s room should ever have to figure out how to kill off a character because the actor died in real life. Fast and the Furious and Glee are prominent examples of this, but the one I want to talk about is Mr. Hooper from Sesame Street. Not only did the writer’s room have to deal with a beloved cast member dying and all the emotions they must have felt then, but they channeled their grief into something profoundly human.
Watching the adults of Sesame Street explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper wasn’t coming back because he was dead as a way to explain the nature of life, death, and grieving loved ones is easily a top 3 kids’ programming moment. They could have easily said that Mr. Hooper had moved away and shied away from the topic, but Sesame Street is better than that. They were intentional with everything that episode to not take away from the gravity of what they were teaching. Also, the episode aired on Thanksgiving so kids would be home with their parents if they had questions. Moments like that, watching a big yellow bird come to terms with the concept of death, sounds crazy, but it was such a powerful moment. They don’t make kids’ programming like they used to. (Except Bluey. Bluey is goated.)
Noble Six (Halo Reach)
There are two missions that define my generation when it comes to first-person shooters. “No Russian,” a litmus test we all failed, and “Lone Wolf,” I swear to you on everything I hold dear, I treated Lone Wolf like a real-life mission. I tried to stay alive for as long as possible. I refused to believe Noble Six’s death was the end of the story. Nothing would stop the oncoming waves. No matter how many Covenants I put down, they just kept coming as everyone on my team died around me. Halo 3 might be the golden age of Halo multiplayer, but Halo Reach is where boys became men. (I think I’m gonna play Halo Reach’s campaign after I’m done writing this article. Just to remind me of what peak video campaigns felt like, this list also includes Titanfall 2’s campaign.)
Is picking a whole team dying in a video game cheating on my top 10 saddest fictional deaths?
Littlefoot’s Mom (The Land Before Time)
What is it with kid’s movies and death? Sesame Street, UP, Inside Out (you may be gone, but never forgotten Bing Bong), Lion King, and so much more all deal with loss somehow, but the OG in ruining our lives is The Land Before Time. Littlefoot’s mother’s death is the most heartbreaking scene in a kids’ movie ever. I felt sad for Simba, but I had already felt sorrow and grief through the Land Before Time. If there was ever a reason to be pro-clean energy, it’s because I feel guilty for potentially using Littlefoot’s mom as gas for my car.
I loved this movie as a kid. What kid doesn’t love a movie about cute little dinosaurs, but that death was hard? Littlefoot didn’t eat afterward as he grieved his mother, and kid me had no idea what was going on the first time I watched this movie, but it has stuck with me to this day. I re-watched The Land Before Time after losing my grandpa in high school, and I don’t think I’ve ever cried harder at a death scene.
Reynold Leywin (The Beginning After the End)
The Beginning After the End is currently my favorite book/comic series. I love the magic system and world-building so much. My friend Matt and I are working on homebrewing Beast Wills from the series into D&D. (I know, we are a bunch of nerds.) I read this series chapter by chapter as they are released every week. Fridays are the best day, but not just because it’s the end of the work week. Except for the week, I read that Arthur’s dad, Reynold, died.
There was one thing I didn’t want to happen in this series, and it was reading Arthur grieve over a family member. Take anyone except his family, but the war arc came, and I knew someone would die. Reynolds was a capable fighter. He was the logical choice. Reading Arthur, one the mentally strongest characters I’ve ever seen, breakdown hurt me deep down. Arthur was a warrior king in his past lives, he retained those memories in his new ones, and people often remarked how Arthur never seemed to be a regular boy. But in those moments after the mana beast raids, we see a once great warrior king and now powerful general withered into a small boy mourning the only father he’s ever known. And his biggest regret was never telling his dad goodbye. (Excuse me while I wipe the tears away.)
Why Did I Do This To Myself?
I am in such a bad mood after writing this stupid article. Whoever’s grand idea was to have me relive the top 10 saddest fictional deaths is dumb. I’ll probably take it out on some toxic Overwatch players. Also,many deaths that didn’t make my list because I didn’t want my whole list to be anime (Jiraiya, Asuma, Kamina, Tatsumi, Itachi, and Rengouku, to name a few). And there are probably a few that I don’t remember because my brain was too traumatized and is trying to protect me (Bridge to Terabithia).