How about that "Game of Thrones," huh? The Internet lit up as soon as Season 3, Episode 9 ("The Rains of Castamere") aired and, by now, yak farmers in the mountains of Nepal know something big went down.
Watch the scene (spoiler alert!):
"GoT" has established quite a reputation with its Episode 9s: Season 1 had one of TV's most shocking moments (Ned Stark's beheading), Season 2 had one of the most epic (the Battle of Blackwater), and this season's ranks among television's most disturbing episodes. This is saying something, because it has some pretty stiff competition.
WARNING! The following videos contain graphic and mature content.
1. "Twin Peaks" — "Coma" and "Beyond Life and Death"
In a series full of disturbing episodes, two moments stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first is just a guy walking toward the camera. He's just a guy, and he's just walking. But David Lynch turns it into maybe the most frightening 20 seconds of television ever as Bob smiles his way over a table, then the sofa, then right up to the camera.
Then there's the final image of the series. Our hero, Agent Cooper has come back from the Black Lodge possessed by the spirit of Bob. He smashes his face into the mirror and giggles like a madman while asking, "How's Annie?" Again, it sounds innocuous, but in the hands of Lynch, it's anything but.
2. "X-Files" — "Home"
In another series full of disturbing episodes, this one stands head and stumps above the rest. It has it all: incest, infanticide, birth defects, mutant hillbillies, and murder by booby trap. Oh, and a crazy, limbless baby machine ranting about "the War of Northern Aggression." It's like "Deliverance" if it were directed by the guy who made "Saw."
3. "Little House on the Prairie — "May We Make Them Proud"
Media watchdogs pretend horrifying images on television are a totally new thing and point to the good old days of wholesome family fare like "Little House." Apparently their definition of wholesome includes a woman trapped in a burning building while the entire Ingalls family listens to her dying screams. The building is a school for blind orphans, and what gives the episode its "family values" is one of the Ingalls boys deciding to experiment with cigarettes and then causing the fire. So the next time you roll your eyes at the gonzo anti-smoking ads on TV now, know that it could be much, much worse.
4. "Twilight Zone" — "It's a Good Life"
In yet another series full of disturbing episodes, this one stands head and ... OK, just a head. In a jack-in-the box. Young Anthony rules a tiny Ohio town with his godlike powers that make his every whim a reality. Cross him and you get sent to the "cornfield" or worse. Five bonus points because in the theatrical remake, Anthony also takes away a little girl's mouth and, with it, any chance of you getting to sleep tonight.
5. "Too Close for Comfort" — "A Portrait of Henry"; "Diff'rent Strokes" — "The Bicycle Man"
Sometimes, it's just about context. Nobody minds a little casual sexual assault when it's on "Law & Order"; heck, they have an entire spinoff devoted to it. But when Jim J. Bullock gets raped on an episode of "Too Close for Comfort," then welcome to Disturbia, population: you.
Watch the full episode of "A Portrait of Henry":
In "The Bicycle Man," a pedophile plies young Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) with wine and tries to get into his pants. Five bonus points for nobody getting around to making a "pedal-phile" joke, but minus a thousand for ruining the idea of "a very special episode" for all time.
Watch the full episode of "The Bicycle Man":
6. "Doctor Who" — "Blink"
Sure, we know to be scared of serial killers and zombies and fires in blind orphan schools. But this episode teaches us to be afraid of statues and of blinking our own eyelids — two things that most people experience on a fairly regular basis. This is the episode that probably got writer Stephen Moffat his job as showrunner of "Doctor Who," and it's the best example of the show at its scariest.
Watch the full episode of "Blink":
7. "Grey's Anatomy" — "Sanctuary"/"Death and All His Friends"; "ER" — "Be Still My Heart"
Every hospital show basically follows the pattern of good at job/terrible at home. The juxtaposition of the doctors' tumultuous social lives makes their mastery of the operating room that much more impressive — like Michael Jordan, only with a scalpel ("In your face, Grim Reaper!"). That's what makes it especially distressing when they lose control, as in the episode of "ER" where a mental patient stabs Dr. Carter and he watches helplessly as Lucy Knight lies bleeding to death just out of reach.
In the episode of "Grey's Anatomy," all our Columbine/Aurora/Sandy Hook fears get played out on the residents of Seattle Grace ("Grim Reaper with the rebound!").
8. "True Blood" — "It Hurts Me Too"
What do you do to make sex exciting when you're immortal and have literally done it all? "True Blood" gleefully explores that idea with vampire Bill twisting his lover/maker Lorena's head completely around while they're, ahem, engaged. If you've never seen the show, you can be forgiven for not understanding why that qualifies as "gleeful," but trust us, it is.
9. Aphex Twin's "Rubber Johnny"; Tool's "Prison Sex"
The '90s were a weird and amazing time for music videos. A number of amazing film directors (Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Anton Corbijn) were cutting their teeth on a format that, just a few years before, barely rose above the level of public access television. Many will remember Tool's first two videos — both creepy stop-motion affairs. "Prison Sex" is probably about child abuse — though it's always hard to tell with a Tool song. And the idea behind the Aphex Twin video is it's the experience of a stoned raver. So if you're trying to scare your kids away from club drugs, you could do worse than to play this on a loop, "Clockwork Orange"-style.
"Prison Sex" music video:
"Rubber Johnny" music video:
10. Stephen King's "It"
A clown in a sewer. Whatever this TV movie's flaws (and there are many), this movie has Tim Curry as a clown in a sewer. A clown in a sewer! If that description doesn't send you screaming for the hills, do this: Imagine a clown. NOW IMAGINE HIM IN A SEWER.
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