Fall TV

Major death stuns ‘Sons of Anarchy’ fans early in Season 5

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Ryan Hurst as Harry 'Opie' Winston (James Minchin III/FX)

"Sons of Anarchy" isn't a lighthearted show. Fans have expected much more depth and intensity from creator Kurt Sutter, but what happened just three episodes into Season 5 proved to be a new turning point in the series, which scored big ratings with the installment (2.63 million among 18- to 49-year-olds). In fact, the episode beat out two 10PM network dramas to finish second in the time slot behind CBS' series premiere of "Vegas."

So what dramatic event had so many tuning in? A major character was killed off. While the death itself isn't unusual in TV drama, the fact that it happened early in the season is extraordinary. Sutter didn't wait until the finale to blow fans away.

Major spoilers lie ahead for those who haven't seen the episode "Laying Pipe."

Episode recap

The death in the SAMCRO family is a choice of with no good options. Drug kingpin Damon Pope demands half of SAMCRO's monthly drug money. In return, Pope's cronies ease up on the Sons. But the money must be paid in blood, as well; Pope is still vengeful because his daughter was offed by Tig in Season 4. Pope insists that one of the brothers in prison must die -- the choice is between Jax, Tig, Opie, and Chibs.

As the men grapple with who must die, Jax and Opie have a heart-to-heart moment in solitary. Jax reveals all the truths he’s been hiding, including the reason why he couldn't allow Opie to end Clay's life. It was more important for Jax to save the club, which leaves Opie dismayed. The brothers are then rounded up, and Jax is prepared to give himself up for the team as leader. Opie intercedes and says “no,” headbutts the Sergeant and is carried off. Opie is then beat to death by a prison gang.

Reaction and review

Motorcycle gangs are, obviously, not about sunshine and rainbows. Part of the series' draw, much like others on cable involving vampires and serial killers, is that any character can die at any time. Opie's death is heart-wrenching on many levels. His father and wife died for SAMCRO. Opie's two children are now fatherless.

A scene from the previous episode shows Opie getting his affairs in order with Lyla and the kids. It's as if Sutter foreshadowed the tragic end. Opie's life was never easy in SAMCRO -- watching his wife die at the end of Season 1, killing agent Stahl in Season 3, and then trying to kill Clay in Season 4. Opie's life seems to have been cursed from day one. His death may have been unnecessary, but at least he died honorably. In the unspoken code of how the club is bigger than any single member, Opie lived out that oath to the bloody end.

Other "Sons of Anarchy" deaths

Opie's death is probably the most painful for fans of the series so far, but it's certainly not the first. Half-Sack died for his brothers. Clay has come close to dying on several occasions. Piney's end was senseless, as he was in a drunken stupor. When the club goes to the hospital to inject cyanide in one of its victims, it's a way of explaining who really runs things in Charming, and that's not law enforcement. Tig's daughter's death had already set the tone for Season 5.

Fan reactions

Sutter warned fans this was coming. Entertainment Weekly revealed another death would happen early in the season. Tig watching his daughter burned to death at the hands of another gang was bad enough, but the body count may elevate if things continue at this frenetic pace.

Reactions on Twitter, retweeted by Sutter, varied. Fan Geoff Brouillette said, "I'm done watching Sons of Anarchy. I mean, how does Opie flat iron his hair in prison? Stupiddddddd." Twitter user Big Red exclaimed, "I don't think any show or movie has ever hit me like last nights episode, I couldn't say a word for the rest of the show." Sutter himself summed up the episode in nine words. "And as in life, sometimes the good ones die."

How this changes things

Opie was one of the most beloved characters on the show. Fans were rooting for him to just have the normal life that he so badly wanted. Like doing without an addictive drug, though, living without his true family would have been grueling for Opie. Repercussions are inevitable; there is no way the Sons will not avenge a death in the family. Going against a bigger gang has been done before (Jax against the True IRA), and SAMCRO may have to do it again.

Looking ahead

Thanks to the deal Jax pulled to get Tig out of prison, the next death may well rest in the hands of how this new development plays out. The next episode, entitled "Stolen Huffy," features lots of angsty goodness. Gemma confronts Clay in his weakened state, and the club tries to find a way to go after Pope even though he owns Oakland.

Somehow, Pope needs to die this season. Killing off a gang's leader is always epic, and it could lead to the eradication of the Sons for good. If the first four seasons are any indication, dying for one's friends may be how "Sons of Anarchy" ends up in the spring.

Watch a clip from "Laying Pipe":

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"Sons of Anarchy" airs Tuesdays at 10 PM on FX.

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