(Warning: Spoilers galore for "The Good Wife" and "House of Cards" below.)
From the moment the gunshots rang out, one after another, during the "The Good Wife" Sunday night, hope filled the gap between what we heard and what we saw.
Viewers knew that Will Gardner, the hard charging, ethically flawed lawyer who is the virtual co-star to Julianna Margulies' title character on the CBS drama, was in the courtroom his distraught client filled with bullets.
But even after the camera showed Will sprawled on the floor, barely breathing, even after a doctor minutes later solemnly walked out from behind the emergency room treatment area curtain, a sense of disbelief and a glimmer of optimism pervaded – until viewers saw the lawyer’s lifeless body.
The murder of Will Gardner marked the most stunning moment and the biggest turning point yet for "The Good Wife," which has proved in its four-plus seasons to be one of network television's strongest, most consistently twist-filled adult dramas. The episode also marked the latest, unexpected death of a major character on a high quality TV show – putting another stake in the heart of the old television trope that you don’t kill off co-stars without warning.
Season 2 of "Boardwalk Empire" ended with main character Nucky Thompson executing his treacherous surrogate son, Jimmy Darmody. Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" ended with the car crash that killed Matthew Crawley. Season 2 of "House of Cards" began with Vice President Frank Underwood pushing his mistress, reporter Zoe Barnes, to her death in front of a Washington Metro subway train.
Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the characters' demises is that word didn't leak beforehand online. Less surprising is how the Internet lit up after the various deaths. Gardner’s murder proved no exception, quickly becoming a trending topic on Twitter. “Crying my eyes out! Shocking plot twist...,” one viewer tweeted, as reactions ranged from sadness to anger.
The changing, but always intense relationship between Margulies’ Alicia Florrick and Josh Charles’ Will Gardner propelled the show as he went from her old law school buddy to mentor to lover to bitter rival. Even after Alicia left to start her own firm, her paths kept crossing in odd ways with Will, who, before his death, held the key as to whether her wayward governor husband would face voter fraud charges.
“The Good Wife” has thrived by constantly moving forward with smart, hard-to-forecast turns. Now we’ll see whether the fatal shooting of Will Gardner becomes a legal-shark-jumping moment. An extended preview after Sunday’s episode offered tastes of what's to come, including the welcome return of Michael J. Fox's recurring character, savvy lawyer Louis Canning, in a presumably larger role.
The only safe prediction is that “The Good Wife” can never be the same – and can never surprise fans like this again. The show’s creative team has turned expectations upside down, robbing the characters and viewers of any sense of permanence with a searing, evolving drama we have to see to believe.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.