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television

For TV viewers, a year of mourning

Dan Stevens (left) as Matthew Crawley and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey.” Crawley was one of two characters on the popular show who died.

Nick Briggs/ITV for “Masterpiece”

Dan Stevens (left) as Matthew Crawley and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey.” Crawley was one of two characters on the popular show who died.

‘O, Death, won’t you spare me over ’til another year?”

For some characters on television in 2013, the Grim Reaper answered that question with a definitive no.

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(It seems like this should go without saying in a year-end piece, but just in case: Big — like deathly big — spoilers are ahead for those who aren’t caught up on many TV shows this season, so proceed at your own risk.)

Death on TV, as in real life, is inevitable, and this year a slew of main-title-sequence characters were sent to that great TV graveyard in the sky. And that’s to say nothing of the hordes of guest stars and recurring players who met their maker, or the groups of characters that bought the farm along with their shows. (R.I.P. “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” “Spartacus.”)

Killing main characters has always been a tricky business, especially when those characters are popular with viewers. (Often in these cases, showrunners — with the occasional prodding of networks — will devise dramatic contrivances to keep characters around long past their view-by date.)

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Killing them and keeping it a surprise is even trickier. Internet spoilers add a hurdle, and sometimes even networks and the shows themselves tease an imminent demise to draw eyeballs. All of which may undercut the shock when it finally does happen.

This is particularly true in the new era of shows announcing their end dates. When that happens, we know big names will be getting the figurative (and sometimes literal) ax. And villains of the season? Their days are numbered from the first twirl of their mustache.

To a degree, viewers can accept onscreen endings if the character’s death is inventive and makes narrative sense, as opposed to the story simply running out of juice. (Or an actor wanting to leave.) Showrunners in 2013 didn’t stint on variety when it came to methods.

Among the many who passed on — and this is not a comprehensive list — were Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of “Homeland.” His death was among the most expected on television; Brody’s luck finally ran out at the end of a hangman’s noose.

The bullet that claimed Detective Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) on “Person of Interest,” however, definitely came (figuratively) out of left field. As did the impaling of Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) on “Arrow.”

Several series also offered twofers.

Even though “Game of Thrones” fans not versed in the George R.R. Martin books on which the HBO series is based were prepped for shocks by the offing of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in the first season, this year’s bloody “Red Wedding” massacre that claimed the lives of Stark’s widow Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and eldest son Robb (Richard Madden) still managed to jolt.

Brian from “Family Guy.”

“Sons of Anarchy” — one of the shows with the highest body count of the year — offered up a Charming bloodbath that found former SAMCRO leader Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and the good doctor Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) on the business ends of a gun and a carving fork, respectively. Clay’s death was a long time coming, and Tara’s may have been telegraphed, but both managed to set up important pivot points for the show.

Meanwhile, at “Downton Abbey,” the Crawley family was mourning the deaths of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Sybil Branson (Jessica Brown Findlay). The characters departed “Downton Abbey” via car wreck and eclampsia, respectively.

Of course, not everyone who left the main title sequence of a TV show this year shuffled off this mortal Nielsen coil.

Some characters simply said sayonara. In a firestorm of fan outrage, Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) departed “NCIS” and was last seen saying a tearful goodbye to Tony (Michael Weatherly) on the tarmac. New York cop John Munch (Richard Belzer) retired from the NYPD on “Law & Order: SVU.” Notably, Belzer played the Munch character — as he ascended through the ranks — on 10 different TV shows, from “L&O” to “Sesame Street” to “30 Rock.”

Other main characters appeared to die, only to be resurrected. We’re looking at you, Brian from “Family Guy.”

Although it was harder to say goodbye to some characters than others, hopefully, these deaths and departures — some shocking, some overdue — will mean fresh faces and ideas for the shows who lost them. May they rest — or live offscreen — in peace.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman
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